The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Sailboat Deck Layouts

I’m going to use the Outbound 46 as a base to write about optimal deck layouts for sailboats. Information that will help anyone to either select a good deck layout when buying a boat, or fix a screwed-up one on a boat they already have.

Good Deck Layouts Are Rare

That last sentence may surprise many since it would be logical to expect cruising sailboats to have good and functional deck layouts, but as an ex-sailmaker and longterm racer, the thing that never ceases to amaze me is that most boats, particularly those marketed as cruisers, come out of the yard with the rig and deck gear set up so poorly that actually sailing them is nothing but a huge chore, and it takes years for even a knowledgeable owner to sort things out—just read Colin’s trials and tribulations with the rig on his Ovni 435 to see what I mean.

This is so bad that I’m pretty sure that the popularity of in-mast and in-boom mainsail furling systems is in large part because most boats are so poorly set up for reefing that owners have been scared off simple and robust systems and toward complex, fragile, and expensive ones.

I will also write, once more, about speed. I know, we are cruisers, so why do we care? Well, up to you, but to me if we are going to really cruise under sail, rather than just motor around with an oversized flag pole and occasionally unroll a sail attached to it as we see so often these days, we might as well do it properly.

Seriously, a well set-up boat, efficiently reeling off the miles under wind power alone, is one of life’s sublime pleasures, and knowing that we can control the rig and shorten sail quickly and efficiently without automation or brute strength is the cherry on top.

Let’s look at how to do that:

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More Articles From Online Book: Sail Handling and Rigging Made Easy:

  1. Six Reasons To Leave The Cockpit Often
  2. Don’t Forget About The Sails
  3. Your Mainsail Is Your Friend
  4. Hoisting the Mainsail Made Easy—Simplicity in Action
  5. Reefs: How Many and How Deep
  6. Reefing Made Easy
  7. Reefing From The Cockpit 2.0—Thinking Things Through
  8. Reefing Questions and Answers
  9. A Dangerous Myth about Reefing
  10. Mainsail Handling Made Easy with Lazyjacks
  11. Topping Lift Tips and a Hack
  12. 12 Reasons The Cutter Is A Great Offshore Voyaging Rig
  13. Cutter Rig—Should You Buy or Convert?
  14. Cutter Rig—Optimizing and/or Converting
  15. Cruising Rigs—Sloop, Cutter, or Solent?
  16. Sailboat Deck Layouts
  17. The Case For Roller-Furling Headsails
  18. UV Protection For Roller Furling Sails
  19. In-Mast, In-Boom, or Slab Reefing—Convenience and Reliability
  20. In-Mast, In-Boom, or Slab Reefing —Performance, Cost and Safety
  21. The Case For Hank On Headsails
  22. Making Life Easier—Roller Reefing/Furling
  23. Making Life Easier—Storm Jib
  24. Gennaker Furlers Come Of Age
  25. Swept-Back Spreaders—We Just Don’t Get It!
  26. Q&A: Staysail Stay: Roller Furling And Fixed Vs Hanks And Removable
  27. Rigid Vangs
  28. Rigging a Proper Preventer, Part 1
  29. Rigging a Proper Preventer—Part 2
  30. Amidships “Preventers”—A Bad Idea That Can Kill
  31. Keeping The Boom Under Control—Boom Brakes
  32. Downwind Sailing, Tips and Tricks
  33. Downwind Sailing—Poling Out The Jib
  34. Setting and Striking a Spinnaker Made Easy and Safe
  35. Ten Tips To Fix Weather Helm
  36. Running Rigging Recommendations—Part 1
  37. Running Rigging Recommendations—Part 2
  38. Two Dangerous Rigging Mistakes
  39. Rig Tuning, Part 1—Preparation
  40. Rig Tuning, Part 2—Understanding Rake and Bend
  41. Rig Tuning, Part 3—6 Steps to a Great Tune
  42. Rig Tuning, Part 4—Mast Blocking, Stay Tension, and Spreaders
  43. Rig Tuning, Part 5—Sailing Tune
  44. 12 Great Rigging Hacks
  45. 9 Tips To Make Unstepping a Sailboat Mast Easier
  46. Cruising Sailboat Spar Inspection
  47. Cruising Sailboat Standing Rigging Inspection
  48. Cruising Sailboat Running Rigging Inspection
  49. Cruising Sailboat Rig Wiring and Lighting Inspection
  50. Cruising Sailboat Roller Furler and Track Inspection
  51. Download Cruising Sailboat Rig Checklist
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Dick Stevenson

Hi John
I could not agree with you more about how frequently boats with conventional mains are poorly set up for easy reefing and eventual dousing. It is another area where the maritime media/boatbuilders etc. have dropped the ball at educating owners how best to have their boat set up. Too many sailors (and their crew) get put off by a poor and difficult reefing set-up which likely means they have put off reefing and been over-canvased needlessly: always a lousy thing. Enough of that and they are buying a cabin in New Hampshire.
I urge those looking at in-mast or in-boom furling to consider that reefing and dousing the main can be easy and fairly fast and with a minimum of effort on a boat that is well set up for it. I then enumerate the myriad down-sides of particularly, in-mast reefing/furling and the benefits of a conventionally rigged main.
I am in no way a speed demon, but I like to sail and I like to sail well. You mention sublime pleasure in cranking out miles: my sublime pleasure often comes at watching superbly shaped sails at work; especially when in challenging weather, the third reef is in and working and that small sail is perfectly shaped to do its job and as bulletproof in functioning as can be devised.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Rob Gill

Hi John,
I totally get your “simplicity” approach and at mast mainsail handling preference. It just wouldn’t work for us and I suspect for many other cruising couples. I think I can see at least one hatch in the Outbound 46 hard-dodger top, which means adjusting the halyard / reefing lines and setting the mainsail / twist, should be simple enough from the cockpit, if (big “IF” I know) the reefing lines are well set-up.
And I personally like this set-up for short-handing. Our safety process requires a second crew to be in support, if someone leaves the cockpit (day or night, coastal or offshore). I would guess we could reef / shakeout a reef on the Outbound 46, without calling the off-watch crew – a real-plus in our book as we mostly sail two-up. Our first mate would not cruise with me if I left the cockpit every time we needed to take a reef in rough conditions. It’s that simple. And if something happened to me, there is no way she would go forward to the mast and handle the sail on her own. Whereas she can, and does, reef single handedly on our boat, and I would guess she could on the Outbound 46 set-up, which is almost identical to our boat – the difference is we have in-boom furling which simplifies operations further.
Likewise, the outbound 46 set-up would be easy and safe to hoist / lower / reef the mainsail when single-handing. I see so many single-handing yachts sailing just with their headsails, I suspect because on-mast mainsail handling leaves no one in the cockpit, if something happens. I often single hand our yacht with no loss of efficiency and really enjoy it.
Br. Rob

Mark Wilson

Dear Rob

Like you I mostly sail singlehanded or effectively singlehanded and I don’t really regard going forward in a rising wind as a pleasurable experience, especially in the dark. I’d like to add granny bars at the mast but worry that they would be extra deck clutter and spoil “the look”. But I’ve got to say I’m with John on this one. There’s quite enough string in the cockpit already without adding seven more bits. And, while in boom furling does look attractive, for me its too reminiscent of the appalling old rotating boom mainsail furling system I had on my first yacht, a Folkboat. The sail shape one got on that in any but perfect conditions was sad to see.

The sailor who puts in an early reef is a happy sailor. And probably longer living. How often is one surprised at the improved performance that results from under-pressing the rig ? And, while there is a lot that can lengthen the time at the mast putting in a reef, shaking an unnecessary one out really is a matter of seconds.



Lee Corwin

I own a Outbound 46 hull#50. Would add the following.
The hydraulic backstay is quite helpful reefing the Genoa. Put tension on that stay and she rolls up more easily.
Unless you tune the rig with more tension on the solent stay then the Genoa stay when the backstay is untensioned you get headstay sag on the solent.
You lose nothing upwind using the solent instead of the Genoa going upwind so the need to roll up the Genoa before tacking is a non issue as it ends up being a reaching or running sail.
We stand single watches. I love having both the primaries (powered) and the headsail reefing lines an arms length away from the wheel. I can reef under control, by myself with no engine nor AP. Then go forward and deal with reefing the main. I can do it under Hydrovane. Not needing to bring anybody up from below is wonderful.
I hate single line reefing on any boat. It better than in boom or in mast but not by much. If done get a Dutchman as well. That makes it easier to inch the main down and have both ends of the sail tension correctly as you can see what’s going on and the sail has no choice but to fold correctly. Outbound come single for first two and double for the third. Would think to get just two very deep reefs and make both double.
I have the survey being done on Tuesday. Then she’s gone as we transition to a Norhavn. The Outbound is the best mom and pop blue water cruising boat there is imho.

Marc Dacey

That’s how we went, but then as a comparatively heavy motorsailer, we tend to leave the full main up a little longer than some just to make the boat go. We have separate reefing lines, as well and have all halyards and related lines at the mast. We have preventers, staysail sheets, yankee jib sheets and occasionally, spinnaker sheets back to the winches (three pairs) in the aft cockpit position, where there is also end-boom mainsheeting (6:1) and a strong Garhauer traveller (3:1). Works for us to date. I have over the years become a touch suspicious about “convenience” unless the sea first makes its case.

Martin Minshall

I agree was many of your points and know by your article I am not going to convince you, but we love being able to put in and take out reefs in from the cockpit. We can easily put a reef in or shake a reef out in less than a minute on our 37 foot cruising boat. I have read Colin’s article and I think a single line for each reef is way too much friction. We use a second line to pull the tack into the right position at the goose neck. These lines on our boat are only 5/16. Each one is led from the reefing hook, through the reef tack crinkle to a carefully placed bullseye on the mast, through a pulley at the mast base and then back to a harken cam cleat next to my jammers. You never need to put this on a winch – the idea is to get the bullseye position such that you end up with the reef crinkle pulled into the goose neck at just the right position when the halyard is re-tensioned. The clew end is conventional – from a bowline positioned about 6 inches aft of where you could stretch out the foot of the sail at the reef point up through the reef clew cringle to pulleys at each end of the boom through a good block at the base of the mast and then to a jammer and winch at the cockpit. When putting in a reef we pull down on the tack line while easing the halyard. Don’t allow slack in the halyard – the jammer is cast off but the halyard is restrained by hand with a single turn around the winch. 2 or 3 times we will pause in this operation by locking the halyard jammer and pulling the slack out of all the other tack and clew reefing lines by hand. We have found that this is the secret to being able to complete the whole operation from the cockpit since minimizing slack loops prevents them getting caught up anywhere. We continue until the halyard is just past a mark on the halyard line and then put the tack line in the cam cleat. At night we shine a flashlight on the tack to make sure it is neatly pulled into the gooseneck and then tension the halyard on the winch. Once again take the time to take all the slack out of the other reef lines by hand. Put the clew reefing line on a winch and crank until you are happy with the foot and leach tension – you need to check this with a flashlight at night.

Our reefs can be put in in way less time than it takes to write about it quickly and safely from the cockpit without even having to put your jacket on. Because we can put in or shake out reefs in the main easily we do not procrastinate for a moment about reducing or increasing mainsail. Our record is 11 changes in a single 3 hour shift as a series or 20 minute squalls rolled through at night close to the equator on a passage from San Francisco to the Marquesas and the lone watchkeeper was busier than a one armed paper hanger reacting as the wind went up and down from 8 to 30 knots!

John Zeratsky

Really glad to see you giving the Outbound a thorough look, John!

Having cruised full-time aboard an Outbound 46 from 2017–2019 (we no longer own the boat), I can report that the main halyard and reefing setup works exceptionally well. The only annoyance was, as you pointed out, somewhat poor ergonomics crouching under the dodger (I’m 6’3″). The dodger hatches are perfectly positioned (like everything else on the Outbound) so you can actually see the main while hoisting, reefing, and trimming.

I saw your response to Rob about working at the mast. I agree that the side decks and mast are “part of the working area of the boat”. On balance, considering all the factors, reefing from the cockpit gave us (my wife and me) more flexibility and more peace-of-mind than reefing at the mast, which we did on our previous boat (a Sabre 38).

Aside: I also appreciated how cockpit reefing lowered the behavioral “friction” of making the decision to reef. Leaving the cockpit (with all associated precautions) just feels… harder than staying in the cockpit. Reducing sail at the right time is one of the most critical components of safe and comfortable cruising, and I was glad I never had to “think twice” because I didn’t want to deal with leaving the cockpit. Perhaps that’s irrational, but so are we all 🙂 I think of it as behavioral systems engineering.

Philip Wilkie

Perfect timing John.

After six weeks of hard work my right now my deck is a perfectly clear expanse of white. Almost literally a clean sheet of paper. (So far 60 litres of Jotun epoxies with another 16L of Hardtop AX to go.)

Up until this point I my general for the deck layout was heavily influenced by the majority opinion I kept encountering locally which was to run all the mainsail controls back to the cockpit. But because there is a major step in our coachroof which forces two 30 deg turns in all the lines, I was always a little apprehensive on friction. So after reading this article (and a similar one from Peter Smith) I’m inclined to follow your advice.

All my halyards can readily stay at the mast, but moving all the other mainsail lines, the reefs, topping lift, outhaul, cunningham and vang back to the mast creates quite a traffic jam around the base of the mast. Any hints on how best to organise particular brew of spaghetti?

Dick Stevenson

Hi John and all,
I was not going to wade in on this, but wish to underline a couple of points and make a suggestion.
In my estimation, getting rid of friction is a safety issue and not merely convenience, in part because friction (among other things) causes skippers to hesitate doing the right thing. This is the case for a racing boat with strong crew, but far more the case for a cruising couple. Also, friction might mean that a job does not get done well: say a sloppy reef that hurts the sail and degrades sail shape and sailing efficiency. Finally, to often I suspect the push for electric winches etc. is a result of poor design and unnecessary friction in the system. An example is the retrofit of an electric main halyard winch before one installs slippery mainsail track (as well as adding low friction blocks that may be in the system).
Getting rid of friction has a good start with slippery mainsail track and low friction blocks and wise design. Few boats are offshore ready as built/designed which is a shame as it is a subsequent expense in $$ and time that is not necessary. And we all like to think our boat is good-to-go from the get-go so it is hard to immediately replace new items. It would not be hard for manufacturers to get it right from the get-go at little additional expense.
Slippery track allows one to raise the main almost the whole way from the mast if design allows for full body stretch to get your whole weight into play. This changes a few minutes winching “ordeal” into a few seconds exertion followed by a few turns by winch handle to tension: easily done whether at the mast or under the dodger. This is convenient and fast, but not necessarily a safety issue. The safety aspect comes when reefing is done easily and without hang-up, when reefing/dousing is accomplished going downwind in a breeze, and when dropping the main and it comes down like an express train.
My boat came with in-cockpit reefing (1st 2 reefs with the third reef downhaul done at the mast) and we have made it work and like it: in part because either of us can quickly and efficiently do the first 2 reefs alone from the cockpit whereas going on deck at night in boisterous conditions, we wake the off-watch. (We do “deck tour” inspections at change of watch when both of us are awake and kitted up.) Reefing from the cockpit, for us, takes a good deal of prior preparation at the onset of the season: mainly ensuring that line markers are in the correct place on all reef lines and halyard for each reef. This gets us very close to a good reef, but sometimes takes a bit of fine-tuning as things settle down and stretch out as the sail fills. This is easily seen from the cockpit and is accomplished by tweaking the reef/halyard lines from the cockpit.
As to the spaghetti that is so often mentioned as the major downside of in-cockpit reefing, our solution is to snake all “tails” down the companionway. This is only done when reefed down and accumulating lines. On Alchemy, this could be (when deeply reefed and using all lines for adjustment) up to nine lines: 2 reef downhauls, 3 reef outhauls, 1 halyard, 1 main sheet, and 2 traveler lines. (Sounds terrible, doesn’t it!) These tails then reside comfortably on our engine box ½ way down to the floor or, at times, on the floor next to the bottom step. Lines, stored in this manner, are always good to go without tangles or the need to uncoil and ensure they run free. The lines, being lead next to and held to the sides of the ladder, never interfere with safe access to the steps.
There are times, of course, where we wish to close up and when that occurs, we can do so with the washboards in and the hatch mostly closed. Those fortunately rare times where we wish to be fully closed up, securing the tails in the cockpit so they are not in the way, but ready to be worked takes a bit of work, but is no big deal.
I suspect not all companionway designs lend themselves to this solution, but it has worked a peach for us for decades, and may help with the “spaghetti” mess for some boats where cockpit reefing is chosen.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
Ps. It has not been mentioned, I believe, but I would guess that the size of one’s boat may play a part in the choice/comfort level of going on deck in boisterous conditions. Bigger boats are just a lot more stable and predictable in their motion, smaller boats livelier and quicker to react to a wave slap or wind burp.

Philip Wilkie


Great. I’ll implement that. I hadn’t thought of double ending the reefing lines so that you can work from both sides.

I’ve also had a good yarn with a local with a very similar boat and 30 years of continuous live on the boat experience. He made an interesting observation on the lines led aft vs at the mast debate; his decision point is ‘if you an offshore sailor then reef at the mast’. His reasoning is that the longer passage the more likely something will go wrong, the more important it is you are well accustomed to leaving the cockpit in adverse conditions. And that applies to the whole crew. At the same time he acknowledges there is no absolute answer, that like everything else the decision is a compromise, and others will lead the lines aft for reasons that work for them.

He backs this up with good lifelines and a solid mast pulpit. Both of which I’m going to implement as well as per your articles in the past.


Dick Stevenson

Hi John,
You write:
“Point being that I’m pretty sure that not going out on deck regularly is actually more dangerous…”
Good point. Take, for example, the learning curve for working the boat with harnesses attached so as to not get tangled or so frustrated as to unclip. If this is not done with regularity, such as during regular deck tours, then it will be more difficult when it comes to needing to work the boat in boisterous conditions. Or using the deck tour time to find handholds when heeled over 15-20 degrees so that your hand knows instinctively where they are at night with spray in your face.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Matt Marsh

The cockpit enclosures bother me. Particularly in our tight, high-traffic waters, I think they take away too much visibility and too much situational awareness. Three times out of four, if I have to take evasive action despite being the stand-on vessel, I’ll notice a full cockpit enclosure on the boat (power or sail) that didn’t see me.

We actually took our soft dodger down entirely last week and are finding that, in our local conditions (where waves do *not* break over the deck), the extra visibility is way more valuable than the shelter.

All lines led aft often makes for a real mess of spaghetti (read: tripping hazard) around the companionway. Trip-and-fall is, IMHO, likely a bigger risk than slipping overboard from the deck. I’m surprised by how many designers & builders think that a line just ends at the winch, and forget about the 50 feet hanging off beyond that. (It’s an issue at the mast, too; a lot of boats seem to have no good place to put coils of excess halyard, reefing line, etc. once the lines are tensioned.) I also see a lot of boats with no good places to clip a harness tether or rig a jackline, and am starting to think that this particular issue needs to be addressed at the “textbooks and engineering design standards” level.

P D Squire

I wonder if it’s partly related to the boat’s seakindliness. A large, long-for-its-displacement yacht like MC has a much gentler action at sea than a lightweight, beamy, modern, race-inspired, accomodation-maximised-for-LOA “cruiser.” Leaving the cockpit in a small light boat is a lot scarier than doing it on a large heavy one.

Ernest E Vogelsinger

Regarding backstay tensioners – I am pondering my head how to handle twin (not split) backstays. For split backstays you might use a tensioner car as you had linked to, but this will not be possible for twins. I notice that MC has twin backstays, how did you set it up to allow symmetric tensioning/slacking them?

David Eberhard

John, thank you for teaching us North Americans a new phrase today “poor diddums”,I like that.

As a retired rigger, if is even possible to be one, I could not agree with you more on not leading everything back to the cockpit. Very expensive and all that hardware sends friction through the roof. Just leave it on the mast where it belongs. My customers would say, but it’s not safe to go out of the cockpit at night or when the wind starts kicking up. If it’s not safe to leave the cockpit, you need to make it safe to leave the cockpit. You need a good Jack line system such as the one you described. You need a good hand holds so no matter where you are on deck there is something to hold onto. Solid hand rails rather than stanchions and wire. Best if you don’t have to bend over to find them. Handrails that when you stick your hand out that’s where they are. At the very minimum some kind of a deck edge so you don’t go sliding off the deck, bulwarks are even better. Mast bars that allow you to wrap a leg around to free up both hands are a great addition.

When it comes to hoisting the mainsail, or reefing it. A low friction system is the only way to go.. Finally broke down put a Harken bat car system on including bearings on the intermediate slides. Easy to raise the main, very easy to reef. Does not matter what the wind direction it is when reefing. Mark the reef points on the halyard with whippings so that you can feel them in the dark. It’s always a chore when you drop the sail a lot farther than you needed to. Only to have to winch it back up when it’s full of wind.

The photo of the mast base turning blocks illustrates one of my little pet peeves. The shackles are not safety wired. After having the main sheet blocks, come adrift from the traveler one day, thankfully in light air. I safety wire every shackle not taken on and off on a regular basis. Including roller furling headsail shackles.

Dick Stevenson

Hi David and John,
And I have had good luck with a little dab of silicone on the threads. I don’t like sharp wire ends about near sails or where line can be dragged over them like at the base of the mast. It is arguable that my skill at tucking them out of trouble could use improvement. Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Stanley White

Hello John! I have enjoyed reading your many articles over the past few years. This deck layout one is an excellent discussion and observations. I went through the same process several years ago before purchasing a new boat. I settled on an X-Yacht Xc38 with a John Mast. It has an outstanding deck layout whereby we sail short handed all the time and I have sailed in several long distance single handed races with some horrible weather. I have added inboard jacklines which increases safety when going to the mast (very infrequently) or the foredeck when hoisting the asymmetrical spinnaker or Code 0. I installed a rope clutch on the mast for single handed hoisting of the spinnaker and Code 0 sails. We did put an electric winch for the mainsail halyard! It is a well made offshore cruiser/racer.

Michael Albert

I do like lines and halyards at the mast for many reasons explained here. My vintage Tartan 40 has everything except jib halyard led to cockpit. A tides marine track allows me to hoist main to nearly masthead from cockpit. And better yet, a clam cleat installed on mast a few feet below the main halyard exit allows me to even more easily hoist main from the mast, place halyard in clam cleat, and then pull in slack and tension from cockpit. Clam cleat releases and stays well clear once line is led through sheaves.
For my use this is enough of a “best of both worlds“ compromise that I won’t go through trouble of moving winches and lines. And I do like being able to drop main from behind dodger in a squall into the cradle cover.
I recommend everyone with aft led main halyard at minimum install the clam cleat as it greatly improves ease of raising main particularly with lazy jacks.

Eric Klem

Hi John,

The debate of cockpit versus mast based reefing is an interesting one.  In the compromises of boats, our boat came with everything done from the cockpit and it would be very difficult to retrofit to mast based reefing so I have never really considered it.  This works okay for us as the loads are relatively light due to being a smaller boat and we do not have a big enclosure so vision is not overly impaired (the boat came with a full cockpit enclosure that didn’t even feel safe for motoring so it has never been used).  Like Dick mentions above, we send reef line tails down the companionway in most conditions and it works well.  To me, the best part about this setup is that it is safe and easy to reef with a single person on deck when there are lobster pots around preventing long absences from the autopilot controls.  I suppose that you could get an autopilot remote and bring it to the mast but in the cockpit, it is easy to hit a course change on the autopilot in the middle of reefing.  One other thing that I like is that I can get the jib down (hank-on) into a position where it is secure enough for a little bit while steering simply using a downhaul that is led aft, this is super helpful coming into harbors.

If we had our boat setup as a primarily offshore boat, I suspect that I would prefer to do everything at the mast and of boats that I have sailed on, generally the ones done at the mast are better.  The issue with pot buoys would go away and the clutter in the cockpit would be a bigger deal.  Similarly, the position of the primaries may well be dictated by what the boat is being used for.  Offshore, most people don’t hand steer and there tend to be very few people on the boat making forward in the cockpit a good option.  Coastal, many more people will be hand steering and there are often people sitting in the way of winches that are further forward.  Our boat actually has the winches further forward and when sailing solo, I would strongly prefer having them aft.  It is especially the case when short tacking somewhere when I end up steering with 1 foot so that I can reach both the wheel and the winch, otherwise I would need to use the autopilot which is not my preference (I know that I am weird on this one, even offshore I hand-steer whenever we are sailing and there aren’t other things requiring attention, I suspect this comes from growing up on boats without windvanes or autopilots).

One thing I didn’t see discussed with lines led aft is what it does to winch ergonomics.  I find that I have no problem hand hauling up the main most of the way on up to mid 40’ers with lines led aft assuming that you can stand back behind the dodger and not be hunched over.  The problem comes once the winch gets involved.  The ergonomics under a dodger tend to be terrible and in many cases where the dodger was not part of the original design, you can’t even get a full rotation on the winch handle.  If you were able to raise the sail most of the way by hand, then this isn’t a huge deal.  After one of the discussions on this site in the last year, we procured a ratcheting winch handle and it makes this much better, thanks for pointing those out.  Where it gets really bad is sending someone up the mast.  I have sailed on boats where cranking a 125lb person to the top of the mast completely wears out a big grinder type due to the poor ergonomics.  On our own boat, if my wife is going up, I use the halyard winch as a turn of direction and crank her up with a primary.  If I am going up, jumaring is the name of the game provided that we are in a calm enough spot.  With halyards at the mast, I find all of this a ton easier.

And I agree with all of the other parts of the article too.


Eric Klem

Hi John,
Sorry, I had missed that your statement included winch ergonomics the first time around.

If you are short tacking up a channel, then having the main winch less accessible is fine but for other changes, you are right that having the mainsheet nearby is helpful.  What we do which isn’t perfect is to play the traveler which I can control from behind the helm thanks to long tails but this requires a long traveler with low loads and even then, once you get to broad reaching, you need to use the sheet and you need to use the sheet if you want to change twist.  The other thing to keep in mind that I can think of is what you are doing during a chicken gybe where having a single person handling all sheets can sometimes be problematic.  On smaller boats, I often find myself standing at the wheel, mainsheet in hand with 1-2 turns on the winch.  Once you practice a bit, you can get really reliable at flicking a turn off from 10′ away provided there isn’t too much load on the line, putting another on is also doable but I find it sometimes takes multiple tries.


David Eberhard

I could not agree more about having two sets of tracks for headsails. We have inboard and reaching tracks for our working jib, staysail and storm jib. The one thing that has always had me see the dollar’s flying off the sails was when changing from one track to the other or when adjusting our pin cars.

While building our steel boat, I really wanted to use the adjustable cars, but they were too expensive at the time. All of this while working full time and raising a family. Then there was the epiphany one day a month ago. I took a piece of 6mm spectra cored double braid 2 m long. Stripped off 60 cm of cover off. Spliced in a 6 cm eye in. Whip the other end and that’s all you need. To use, pass the eye around something good and strong that is within a short distance from the loaded car. Examples, stantions welded to the deck, perforated toe rails, other sheeting cars even if the are in use. Pass the end through the eye. Take the other end to the loaded sheet forward of the car and tie it to the sheet using a rolling hitch. Snug it up, ease the sheet to get the load off the car. Adjust the car, move from one track to another, whatever you need to do. Sheet her home. You might have a bit of leech flutter, but absolutely no flogging! It’s only been a few weeks since I put this together. And have found many uses well beyond my original application. To store it while keeping it handy. I fold it in half twice then luggage tag it to a cabin top handrail. Just makes you wonder sometimes why did it take me 18 years to figure something so simple and cost effective to make and use.

George L

It seems to me that it is much more important how the lines are lead and how friction is minimized than whether the lines are lead aft. That means good hardware – blocks and sailtracks, and having only one 90 degree-bend at the mast-foot. A 30 or 45 degree redirection well executed doesn’t add that much friction. That also means avoiding single-line reefing and having a winch setup that is ergonomically sound.

TP 60ies that go around the world non-stop have everything led aft and it clearly works single-handed in very rough conditions. So do Class 40ies, though these “only” do 20 to 30 days non-stop. So do the (Volvo) Ocean race boats and the line-handling works like a charm (taking advantage of multi-person grinders, though).

Even so, I would go forward twice a day and check everything thoroughly, but I would do so during the day when I chose the time, not when I have to – possibly in the worst of times.

Benoit Phelan

Hi John,
Great article as always.

Curious about your take on the mainsheet routing on certain Amel Ketches where the traveler is forward of the dodger and the sheet is run aft over the dodger and enclosure to the mizen mast. (links/image below)

Also, are the effects of a traveler greatly affected when raised? Say, if the Boreal in your example had a flat dodger with traveler or like the arch mounted traveler seen on certain Hunters.


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Tyler Walkey

Hey John, New to AAC, loving it so far, trying to soak up as much as I can. I am looking to re-rig my 1980 Ingrid 38 ketch, following the simple is best approach you teach here. We are preparing to sail her from San Diego to Japan (where we live) across the south pacific. Do you know any good riggers in the Southern California area? Boat is in San Diego.


Early this year I did a major refit of my Islander 36 with the excellent support of the Ventura Harbor Boatyard. Work completed included a rebuilt mast step, new cap/intermediate shroud chain plates, and new standing rigging. The boatyard recommended a local rigger, Kim Weir, and I was extremely pleased with his work. Without hesitation, I recommend the services of VHBY and Kim Weir.

James Evans

No one has mentioned self-tacking jibs. Having owned two boats with them the thought of going back to winching every time you tack -particularly when singlehanded- fills me with horror. Huge genoas are, in any case, only a relic from ancient rating rules.
Whether a jib boom ( particularly the internal boom as used on Freedom sloops) or jib traveller is used, short tacking becomes an effortless exercise. A small jib on a traveller can be trimmed more easily and efficiently than a Genoa. The mainsail is always the prime driver; the performance gain from oversized headsails is less than you think, and in these days of easily deployed offwind headsails is not a consideration off the wind.

P D Squire

On an otherwise good boat would you recommend moving the lines from the cockpit to the mast if you were going to have an e-wincher anyway, which would presumably overcome the extra friction while still giving the operator enough feel to know if something was going wrong?