Rigid Vangs

A rigid vang doing its job on a close-reaching Saga 43. Looks to me like the vang should be eased just a tad to increase twist.

In the last day or so I have finally got back to thinking about our ongoing Outbound 46 review, which has, over the months, morphed into my general thoughts on desirable offshore sailboat design features and gear. All that lead me to thinking about vangs, an important piece of gear I have never covered in our Sail Handling and Rigging Made Easy Online Book, so here's a chapter to fix that gap.

  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
  52. Going Up the Mast—Part 1
  53. Going Up The Mast—Part 2, Fundamentals
  54. Going Up The Mast—Part 3, Our System
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Philip Wilkie

Perfect timing as so often happens as this is one item I’m dealing with right now. At 40ft and barely 310 sqft of mainsail simply cannot justify a hydraulic vang, as much as they do look a very cool solution.

After sorting through quite a few of the mechanical vang options, I’m rather attracted to this elegantly simple device:

https://www.boomkicker.com/

Any thoughts or experiences here?

Hans Hinrich Böbs

Hi Philip,
one of the boats that I mention below was a First 34.7 and she was equipped with a kicker of the type you link to. I didn’t notice any difference in performance to the mechanical vangs on the other boats, meaning it didn’t really hold the boom up when the sail was down. Probably ok, when combined with a topping lift.

Philip Wilkie

Thanks. I’ve got the opportunity to add a boom gallows quite readily, and in light of what you say, it would seem a good idea.

Pierre Mitham

Have a look at Garhauer gear. Its very strong, simply designed and the costs won’t break the bank. I bough 2 last summer for my ketch and the 2 vangs and new main and mizzen sheet blocks only cost me $1300 delivered

Philip Wilkie

Garhauer are my first choice of mechanical vangs, and from the helpful feedback here I’d probably be better off going with them. At least I only need one. 🙂

Courtney Edwards

I have a boomkicker on my Ranger 29 with no topping lift. It’s nice as a piece of sail trim gear. Easy to install, reliable to use. But it’s a nightmare when you try to flake your sail and it keeps wiggling and sinking when you put your weight on it. And it’s almost impossible to secure your boom in a blow. I tend to tie the boom off to the side on the toe rail and then tighten the mainsheet, but it’s still a bit sloppy.

Hans Hinrich Böbs

Hi John,
I JUST LOVE MY TOPPING LIFT ! Wouldn’t want to sail without it. I often think of you when I douse the main, sheet to one side of the traveller car, vang tackle to the other, both tightened against the TL, which locks the boom rocksteady in position, enabling me to safely secure and fold the sail. Sometimes, smiling, I even mumble to myself about “John’s invention of the devil”.
Compare that to my experience on 4 race boats that I delivered over the last few years: Main is down, sheet “tightened” against the mechanical vang, even with a line to the toe rail to prevent the worst of boom movement it still is a real pain trying to fold and secure the sail on a boom that gives me a spongy feeling and still swings from side to side because the vang is everything but rigid. Was I out of luck and all these vangs were not strong enough ? Could be, as 3 of the 4 boats were of the same type (Archambault 35). You are of course right when it comes to twist control, nothing better than a rigid vang, but no topping lift ? Never had any problem with chafe or noise, just taking up the slack fixes that and it always provides a spare main halyard, so why is it an invention of the devil ?

Kim Hartley

Hi I have a Profurl in-boom furling system on my 50ft steel cutter. It comes with a ‘push-up’ vang that only supports the boom to the correct height for furling/reefing but allows no further adjustments whilst sailing!!!
I actually use the traveller in reverse to allow the main sheet a better angle to pull down the boom and reduce twist.
Any ideas on a better vang that would also ensure accurate furling?

Rob Gill

Hi Kim,
We run Leisurefurl in boom furling on our 47 foot Beneteau 473 sloop with an alloy mast. This is marketed and branded Forespar in the USA. You can see an interesting comparison by a US based rigging company here where the Profurl limitation you discuss is mentioned as a benefit, haha:
https://theriggingco.com/2016/12/26/which-boom-furler-is-the-best/
When sold in NZ the Leisurefurl boom comes with a recommended, solid, but very simple Forespar rigid vang. This vang has numerous adjusting pin positions to set the right boom angle you want. With such a vang, you could set the pin for a lifted boom (like we do) and mark the vang line at your clutch, and winch down to the mark for a horizontal boom, day or night.
On our boat we find the sail actually stows better with a slightly lifted boom (above horizontal) and so just let go the vang before reefing or furling. Works for us day or night, offshore, upwind and even downwind (with a centred boom and lots of halyard tension), in any wind. Since learning about the slightly elevated boom height (2016), we have never had the sail bunch up, and we never need anyone checking at the mast.
What you describe Kim seems to me a flaw in the Profurl design implementation, not a weakness of in-boom reefing per se. We have Profurl reefing for our jib which works fine, so it seems a strange sailing performance oversight for a French owned company to make?
If you reply with an email I can send you some photos of our set-up, if that would help.
Br. Rob

Kim Hartley

Hi that would be great – moc.duolci@mik.yeltraH
The furling and reefing works really well even in boisterous conditions, it’s just the leach twit issue I’d like to address. Profurl wrote back to me and said that was it so ‘tough’.

Rob Gill

Hi John,
Sorry for the confusion, let me clarify.
Up wind and reaching, recommended method is the jib is over-sheeted slightly, and the main sheet released until the main backwinds and the battens invert (so there is no flapping of sails) and the boat goes quiet and docile rather like being hove-to, but with more forward speed. This is the recommended way to reef under sail only (no engine).
Even with moderately aft raked spreaders like ours, there is a force pushing the sail forward going downwind, which wouldn’t be there if we had in-line spreaders and the boom was square. When we tried it, the sail would bunch up at the throat. So in 2018 we re-tied the clew further aft on the mandrill and lifted the rigid vang one hole higher, but can’t comment yet on whether it would work in anger, as we haven’t had offshore conditions. But I do know of cats using Leisurefurl booms with big aft spreaders that manage to reef downwind by keeping lots of halyard tension on as the sail is furled – but less than ideal mode and probably hard on the sail – so I wouldn’t fit in-boom furling on a cat.
We successfully experimented (offshore) with running square and bringing the main into the centre line (hence my comment above) using the mainsheet and topper, just as if you were about to gybe. And then keeping lots of halyard tension on, reefing. In big waves and wind we usually already have two reefs going to third reef, or third to forth. And once readied, actually taking each reef takes 5->10 seconds and the main can of course be released at any time, like during any normal gybe.
Having said that, if we were caught in a big squall with full sail up and needed two or three reefs quickly, we would come up to a reach or close-haul. Both methods have worked for us in over 30 knots just fine, though we always have someone on the helm reefing downwind. It is something to be aware of.
Br. Rob

Rob Gill

Hi Kim, John,
A further comment for those considering retro-fitting rigid vangs with in-boom furling – we completely love our setup and wouldn’t swap it for anything. But furling booms can be 30~50% heavier than similar sized conventional reefing booms, unless you pay big $ for a carbon shell and mandrill.
Our Leisurefurl boom uses a large, beautifully cast alloy gooseneck made to fit our mast section. But the Forespar rigid vang was attached using a much smaller casting than the one for the boom, and at the time we retro-fitted the boom I wondered, “why not use the same larger size attachment to spread the loads?” After all these loads would be in different directions, but surely equally big as at the gooseneck…?
Offshore in 2017 and in big waves, we could indeed see the vang attachment moving slightly against the holding screws and so we “nursed it” around the Pacific. I was kicking myself for stupidly not backing my instinct on this, and insisting on the larger one. After all compared with the cost of the boom and new full batten main, it was such a marginal cost item.
So when we re-rigged in 2018 and the mast was hauled, we changed to the same fitting we have at our gooseneck, and then put aluminium backing plates behind the new vang attachment (and gooseneck). From this whole experience, and not withstanding Jay’s comments, I respectfully suggest these extra steps should be standard (for all mast types) when retro-fitting a rigid vang on these heavier booms, and highly recommended for all other boom types, but perhaps when you next have the mast out (for going offshore). Don’t all booms load up the vang attachment equally, when splashed down to leeward, running in big waves?
Br. Rob

Rob Gill

Hi John,
Idea from this comment attributed to Jay “If you have a carbon fibre spar, be particularly careful that the loads are well distributed and the fittings properly attached—machine screws do not hold well in carbon fibre so an aluminum backer plate inside the mast and/or boom may be required.” The “may be” seemed to infer it wasn’t standard, and so by inference unnecessary in an alloy mast?
Anyway, for those boats that don’t get winter stored, taking the mast out to add backing plates is a major cost, my point being for the heavier booms it should be part of the standard install and budgeted for. Our attachment was just screwed on by the NZ rigger (no backing plates) until two years later. Much happier now I must say!
With the Forespar rigid vang, we have the same control as a conventional boom, but that doesn’t prevent a big roll to leeward under pressure, especially at night when you can’t see stuff coming. But really good point about the batten rocker – a downside of parallel battens. We fitted our boom gooseneck above where the old slab boom was that it replaced, for exactly this reason. But we don’t miss that sail area as we have a powerful roach (upside of lots of parallel battens).
Br. Rob

James Peto

Beware – Having used a Selden Vang on our 40 footer cruiser for about 10 years I decided to completely strip it down to check for any internal wear one winter, shock horror, the internal end of the male part had worn away which would have eventually led to the collapse of the whole unit and possibly injury also, given the loads that it could be under.
Other than that totally agree – lose the topping lift.

James Peto

No, though having told others of my findings it is probably quite a common problem.
The wear is caused as the Male /Female slide into one another, the plastic spacer /end of the male wears and then can rub aluminum to aluminum.

Matt

This is aptly timed; we are also thinking of fitting a proper vang as part of our winter update (it’s not extensive enough to be a “refit”) of Maverick V.

Re. Boomkicker rod-spring vangs. I have been finding good reports of their performance on 14’ to 37’ boats, but the largest model, K1500, is maxed out with about a 16 to 17 foot boom and a 260 to 280 sq.ft mainsail. Few boats over 37 or 38 feet LOA can use it.

We are also looking at Garhauer rigid vangs. Their reputation seems to be good, and the price is more manageable than a Selden or Forespar, but since nobody stocks them (they seem to be direct order only) it’s hard to assess the quality.

We have a massive boom gallows (nice) and a fixed topping lift with a 1:1 tackle at the boom end (awful for me, unusable for Katy). With smaller crew who can’t lift the boom themselves, I think relying on the vang instead of the topping lift will be much more manageable.

Pierre Mitham

I have 2 Garhauer vangs (ketch) and they are better finished then the Forespar vangs I’ve seen. They are definitely heavier being made of mostly stainless steel. but they aren’t “stocked” because they are all custom made to your measurements.

Marc Dacey

When I ordered my traveller from Garhauer (a triple-block “beam” type to replace an old “pin” version Harken), I got a call from “Guido” at Garhauer asking if I wanted 1/4″ or 5/16″ mounting holes? As the hole centers were identical, and it was simple to access the area on our steel boat, I saw no downside to going bigger. But the times I’ve had a gear manufacturer call me up to get a clarification before finishing the item in question remains at “one”.

Rick Hearn

Article refers to boom gallows. Followed the link, and searched AAC. I’m sorry I found mention of it but not a discussion of your set up. Did find a closeup picture but gallow to boom connection was hidden by canvass, is it just a ‘U’ shaped crutch? Is there a description of your gallows? Your fitting is detachable, so just stored somewhere when not in use? Picture? Thank you.

Rick Hearn

Thks. Yes I did scroll all the way down. On the arch there are 4 fittings, three of them are black on top. What is this for and why not all of them? On the two that are not in use it looks like something smaller diameter is on top. Are these plugs to stop water ingress? It looks like the fittings on the arch are open pipe, so the female end. If they are, was there a design reason not to put the male (closed) fitting on the arch and a female fitting on the removable crutch?

Courtney Edwards

I second the request for a run through on your boom gallows. I’ve used fold down crutches on big boats, and classic teak/bronze gallows with little dishes for the boom. But I’ve also been on boats that had the gallows too high so the boom was at risk of hitting it when you tacked. I’d love a mini post about your gallows design, the steps for using it, and pros/cons.

Denis Foster

Hello John,
Very useful and instructive topic, not frequently treated.

On our Hallberg Rassy 46 from 2003 we have a Navtec Vang, Works well.
By precaution I have on board a seal kit in case…
The Selden boom is strong for the 50 sqm sail I have noticed that the under boom bolts have a tendency to enlarge by corrosion the threads. We also managed to have a system to install a backing plate in the boom. Not so easy to install at 2m distance from the extremity.
Our topping lift is a 10mm dyneema so it can be used also as a spare mainsail halyard or also to hoist our Banner bay riding sail.

My question is about the automatic release valve I don’t see it, our panel both manages the vang and the Navtec backstay hydraulic piston. We have in mast hydraulic furling, are your 2000psi values transposable? We try to keep the boom around 87° for reefing the mainsail

Thank you.

Denis

Jeffrey Stander

Beatrix (KP44) has a Hall Quickvang which has worked well over the years. But, I had issues with the vang bracket attachment fasteners being simply threaded into the boom and mast. I did have a failure, about 10 years after installation, on the vang-to-boom bracket.

The metal is very thin, subject to galvanic corrosion if not properly maintained, or over-torqued (by a previous owner of course). Maybe this is just a generic problem that comes from hanging hardware on a mast or boom with a cross-section that allows for barely three threads.

So I developed a simple method to insert threaded 12mm aluminium backing plates inside a boom or mast. Step-by-step instructions are available in the March 7, 2011 issue of Cruising World or from my website:

On my website
Cruising World Article

Jeff
s/v Beatrix
Tasmania

Matt

Just curious, Jeff, did you go straight to aluminum backing plates or did you consider stainless steel pem nuts / swage nuts first? Pem nuts aren’t exactly easy to press in from the backside (although you can pull them into place by the threaded fastener). But they do give you a lot of thread engagement plus good load spreading on the thinner metal, and ensure that the thread contact is all stainless-to-stainless for easier removal/servicing later.

Jeffrey Stander

Hi Matt,
No. The aluminium backing plate is strong, easy to work, and is not a “dissimilar metal”. I got into this when a professionally installed Quickvang pulled out of the mast.

Rob Gill

Awesome Jeff,
True ANZAC #8 fencing wire solution – love it.

Iain Dell

Similar issue with my 9 year old but new-to-me boat’s Eurospars vang 3 years ago. Checking some bubbling on the lower slide showed it had completely corroded through about 15% of its circumference, though the massive spring was mainly surface rusting only. After sorting that I’ve now noticed that the boom attachment has a hairline crack which needs replacing before I dare put to sea again. My very experienced rigger (now a good personal friend!) tells me that failures at this point are often missed by cruisers as few tend to actually look there routinely. John’s article and warnings are indeed timely.

Denis Foster

Hello John,

Since my question was burried in my comment. I repost it separetly
:
My question is about the automatic release valve I don’t see it, our panel both like yours although SS manages the vang and the Navtec backstay hydraulic piston. We have in mast hydraulic furling, are your 2000psi values transposable? We try to keep the boom around 87° for reefing the mainsail

Thank you.

Denis

Matt

I would expect not. The correct pressure for your boat will depend on the piston diameter, the angle the vang makes with the boom, the gooseneck-to-vang distance, the length of the boom, the weight of the boom, and the area of the sail. It won’t scale in a clean/easy fashion from any other boat.
If you think you know your boat fairly well, you can try sailing her “conservatively” and then try sailing her “hot” and note the pressure you’re actually getting in both of those conditions. Then set the relief valve to somewhere between your “hot” reading and what the vang vendor provided as the default maximum. Then decide how much you trust other helmspeople and give them the “conservative” number plus or minus some margin that makes you happy.

Drew Frye

Interesting. I think I will offer a contrasting view from a multihull guy. In fact, I’ve never sailed a multihull with a vang at all, because a wide traveler can serve the same purpose.

a. Tangling on battens when hoisting. This is generally not a problem with sails that run a lot of roach, as do most multihull sails. Same with lazy jacks.
b. Breaking. I run the same strength topping lift as main halyard, so no, that does not happen. It gives me another spare halyard and a good safety line when climbing the mast.
c. Boom falling into cockpit. In fact, on many cats with hard tops, it’s not going to fall far at all, no more than a few inches or a foot.
d. Quick release. On a multihull, the ability to dump sail fast must not be compromised. Yes, you can still do this with a vang, but one less thing….
e. Space. often the mast vs hard top geometry would interfere with the vang. There is simply no clearance.
f. Chafe. I’ve worn out a good number of sails, but the topping lift was never the problem. I think perhaps the chafe guards for the cap shrouds protect against both.

I certainly see the value of rigid vangs, just not for every boat. A few multis have them, but it is a small minority, even among large cats.

Drew Frye

Yes… and no.

Regarding the need for a vang, yes, many multis probably could benefit. I have considered adding one more than once, but declined due to added complexity. When there is a need to stabilize the boom or pull it down, rigging a tackle for that purpose only when needed is trivially easy with a wide beam. I’m not above modifying boats–I do it all the time–but in this cases it is seems an arrogant view, considering that virtually all of the designers feel otherwise. The case is not strong enough IMO.

The weak hard top argument is… weak. Most are built for jumping on. I’m sure there are exceptions, but not the ones I’ve been around. In fact, I’ve made this mistake more than a few times, when I forgot the lift was off and dropped the mainsail. Bang. Not a mark, not a problem. I’m sure it depends on the boat and how far it drops. With Lagoons there is often a big gap. With others the clearance is limited. Personally, I can’t think of a good reason to leave a significant gap.

And of course there is always maintenance. Why on earth would you sail with a topping lift so skinny and so lame that it could break under the weight of the boom? Just poor maintenance. It should never happen.

On chafe, I have to disagree. Yes, I’ve sailed inshore, but I’m not suggesting there was limited chafe on my sails, I’m saying there was none. And you don’t hear about it from cat sailors that go far. They don’t add a rigid vang. Consider that if you have a lot of roach, the topping lift is many feet away from the leach, except for a few inches at the head and clew. Many feet. The motion is different than a mono. They are more likely to reach than run. Lacking widespread evidence, I’ve got to say “no.”

And then there is the matter of lazy jack and chafe. Many pull them, and the TL, forward to the mast while sailing for long periods. An obvious alternative.

I’m not suggesting anything you said is wrong, I’m suggesting it is a different animal.

Drew Frye

Sorry about the weak comment. That was only meant as a play on words, but it was poorly expressed. My apologies. As an engineer I guess I make it my business to understand what on my boat is prone to failure, and to either operate it differently, maintain it, or redesign it. For the typical boat buyer that is not a wise assumption.

Regarding chafe, my central argument is that cruiser experience does not support it being a serious problem on voyaging multis. That is all. I understand how it seems that it would be, but it does not seem to be. I’m sure there are multiple factors. I don’t know what they are.

In a blow, a prudent multihull sailor would not have a tackle to the rail. That is only a light wind and slop tactic. He also would not have the vang on, for the same reason; it slows dumping the main. He cannot get instant twist by easing the main sheet.

I am NOT a fan of performance multihulls for off-shore cruising. It is hard for people to comprehend just how fast things can go pear shaped, even experienced sailors, and how difficult it can be to make the required adjustments quickly enough on a large, powered up cat. It can be quite tricky on a beach cat, when you need to bear off in seconds or dump a sail in seconds, and big boats, no matter the crew, don’t respond so quickly. The other problem is that performance cats are only fast when they are powered up, often to a good percentage of the maximum heeling moment. They scare me, and I like performance multis! As you point out, the record of super-performance cruising cats is not enviable, and I believe it is going to getting worse.

The cats that could most benefit from a vang are conservative designs and are sailed much like monos. I don’t fully understand the bias against a vang in this case, unless it is simply that the geometry created by huge deck salons makes it unworkable… which is not a great reason from a sailors perspective. But it is from a marketing perspective.

I once saw 8 jammers in front of a single winch on a cruising cat, and some of these logically would be used at the same time or nearly so. I asked the designer, and he said “it was designed for a different kind of sailer.” I guess one that anchors a lot and motors a lot. Many cats are not designed for sailors.

Drew Frye

Yeah, a fast, fun boat is a hoot. I’ve enjoyed my down-sizing break. And I’ve been thinking about moving back up when I fully retire.

Another difference with cats is that they (should) reef earlier (reef for the gusts, not the lulls). The top does not twist off so much, because if it needs to, that means it is time to reef.

The head sail is barber hauled out much farther, because we can. instead of the head sail shape being a compromise based on the most outboard possible sheeting position, the clew can be hauled way out. On my tri I don’t haul it as far as I can unless wing and wing. This means the jib has less twist (still matching the wind) and is flatter, the main has less twist, and the sails are reefed more deeply. Or at least that is how I like to trim multis. Since I will bear off in the gusts, I don’t want a bunch of twisted off sail head up there, which will power up when I bear away. I would rather be more deeply reefed. The greatest risk on most multies off the wind burying a lee bow, and extra sail aloft is a big risk factor.

I agree re. not taking the main down for a whole bunch of reasons. I’d rather have more reefs. If nothing else, the boat just handles better, and you certainly have more options.

No, I would not heave to for bad weather (to pick up and MOB or other reasons, sure). The cat alternative is to close reach with a tiny jib in very tight and a small main way pretty far out (full battens = no flogging). With trimarans running with a drogue is a better bet, since a breaking wave can push the lee ama under.

Eric Klem

Hi John,

I have somewhat mixed feelings on what the correct answer is for boom vangs.  Part of this stems from the fact that while I can’t come up with a better solution, vangs are horribly inefficient in terms of loads, the bending loads on both the boom and mast are high from them.  Excepting apparent wind machines with long travelers and non-horizontal mainsail foots, I agree that a vang is the best solution when further off the wind.  Also, this vang needs to be adjustable both for sail shaping and reefing.  Supporting the boom when there is no clew tension definitely needs to be solved but topping lifts can do this although you need to watch chafe as you say (and I am curious to see what your solution is, I know mine and no, it isn’t baggywrinkle).

Where I get caught up is in the implementation.  In a perfect cost, reliability and skill world, we would all have hydraulic vangs.  But I would personally not recommend considering a hydraulic vang until I was committed to having other hydraulics onboard first.  Not many people know how to troubleshoot their hydraulics despite them being pretty simple, people just don’t have experience with it.  Also, a jury rig although rare is not easy, you usually need to do a proper repair which means carrying some different tools, fluid, etc.  Luckily hydraulic hoses can be made at most ports in the world but they are not something I would expect anyone to make at sea.  And I have had my fair share of hydraulic leaks, everything from a few drips from a fitting to fully blown hoses.  I can assure you that I was not a happy camper when we were sailing off the hook with the anchor just off the bottom and I looked up to see all of the crew that had been on the foredeck lying on the deck midships flailing as we had developed a hydraulic leak and the deck was now coated.  Needless to say, I sailed around in tight circles for probably half an hour before someone could get to the windlass and use the manual override, most boats would not have even had enough paper towels and cleaning product on board to even deal with it so would have had to create a giant environmental disaster too.  While an extreme example, hydraulics are generally good and reliable but don’t have great failure modes.  My hang-up here could probably be summarized as hydraulics not necessarily fitting with “attainable” as great as they otherwise are.

At the other end of the spectrum, you have a super simple block and tackle.  Other than not holding up the boom, it meets the other requirements as afterall, a mechanical vang just adds the spring cylinder.  Yes, they can be a bit sensitive on adjustment and they need a cascade on bigger boats but they do the job.  If I were cost conscious, not on a big boat (I would hope not if cost conscious) and not planning a lot of offshore work, this is definitely a reasonable way to go in my opinion, there are many other places to spend money that may be better for safety, speed, whatever.  Offshore, I still think it would be reasonable but you would need to deal with chafe, I have experience with it and frankly it was never enough of a problem that I ever noticed.

So is the mechanical vang a good middle ground for mid size boats going coastal or small ones going offshore?  Maybe?  Honestly I haven’t sailed with one setup in such a way that you can fully ditch the topping lift and without this, as long as you setup the topping lift to be easy to adjust, I really don’t find they offer much more than a block and tackle.  Given the pricing and reputation of Garhauer, it might just be worth it although I haven’t used one of their units.

Your point about needing to get the attachment points right is spot on, many are scary in their implementation.  The loads are high in all of this and there is a reason why failure of the attachment, failure of the boom at the vang and failure of the mast at the gooseneck are so common with the vang being a major contributor.  I won’t deny that a hydraulic vang can be quite nice and the mechanical ones are handy too but I don’t see them as being critical in the way that making sure your rudder hasn’t deteriorated or that you have good ground tackle are.

Eric

Eric Klem

Hi John,

I realize that I probably wasn’t clear enough that I do really like using hydraulic vangs for the reasons you list, I just would find them hard to justify for many boats in a resource constrained environment.  If I were outfitting a 50’er that I was putting a few hundred thousand into, it would have a hydraulic backstay and vang, that is an easy call.  However, if I were outfitting the mythical $100k 40′ offshore cruiser, there is no way at all that it would have these unless the boat already had them and they were in decent shape as starting from scratch would eat up a minimum of 10% of the budget when you can have a perfectly acceptable solution for 0.5% of the budget.

There appears to be a slow shift away from hydraulics in many applications that is starting.  This shift seems to be due to higher level systems thinking in the design and efficiency considerations.  Electric systems tend to be much more efficient than hydaulic ones which then means the powersource (often a diesel) can be much smaller as well (the term hybrid is thrown around a lot here and both systems are often configured as hybrids but the reason is the number of functions needed and their intermittant nature).  Given the cost of doing this, it tends to be in high power and duration applications (dozer drives, groomer drives, excavator swing, etc) or high performance (robotics) ones for the time being.  This doesn’t really apply to vangs or backstays as the power input is human, there is no need for more efficiency and simplicity and reliability are king.  Where I am interested in is autopilots as they are such a driver of energy consumption and they are not all that efficient either.  I know of several people who have bought an electric CPT as a backup and then ended up using it as their primary for this very reason.  There are good reasons why electrically driven hydraulics have traditionally been used but straight electric drives have some compelling reasons to consider them.  If autopilots drop hydraulics at any point, then in my mind it would be harder to justify them in other applications for a lot of people due to the need for carrying spares, learning about how to troubleshoot, etc.

Eric

Richard Phillips

Question: I am interested in fitting a ridget vang – but the foot of the mast is cluttered, with electrical cables exiting right where I have seen some boats mount the vang.

Does it work to mount the base of the vang a few inches *behind* the mast – onto the deck? I can handle the loads, this is a steel boat – but does the geometry and forces work, since it is no longer quite a triangle.

Thanks for any thoughts.