John Goes Sailboat Racing and Learns Stuff

Yesterday [written in August] I crewed on a 55-foot Swan. Glen, the skipper, is a supremely experienced racer with two world championships in Solings on the resumé. His daughter and son, both with extensive racing experience, were along, too.

The race was about as casual as it gets, with a bunch of family and friends along for a day (plus one old fart), and was a lot more about companionship on the water than winning, but we did set the asymmetric spinnaker—a huge sail on this boat with an 80-foot mast— twice and gybe it once, and without help from a sock or top-down furler.

All went smoothly with absolutely zero drama, albeit in fairly light air, and I learned a bunch of stuff:

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Alastair Currie

I get the pointing inefficiency experience. After a break of a few years I found I was always pinching trying to be super efficient at sailing close hauled. It actually became a bit of a thing for me. At that time I also had old sails that did not really help the matter. I eventually relearned to relax and get let the boat speed pick up before fine tuning close hauled.

Blake Redding

Can you use the letter box technique if you have lazy jacks?

Stein Varjord

Hi Blake,
Probably yes. If the jacks are attached low on the boom, with nothing near the top to snag the sail cloth, you can do that just fine. Make the jacks slack, pull them forward to the mast and tighten up. Good to go.

This might even work with a lazy bag, as long as we can get it down and properly out of the way without blocking the view too much. The one thing needed is a smooth surface below and above the cloth. Meaning; also inspect the mainsail for sharp bits that could cause damage.

Dick Stevenson

Hi Blake, Stein and John,
There may be variables that make it possible to do a letter drop with lazy jacks.
My LJs are a 2-fall system which works well with a fully battened main. My LJs are designed so I do not have to fuss with them. I set them up at the beginning of the season and, although adjustable, I almost never need, or choose, to do so. So, bringing the LJs forward would not appeal to me.
That said, after watching the video, I would suspect that the middle portion between Alchemy’s LJ’s 2 falls would do for my asym take down. I think the greatest danger is the cloth getting pinched somewhere, which would be less likely as my LJs go below the boom.
The asym itself may be another variable: I call my asym an “offshore asym design” as the big boys often recommended on the sailmaker’s sales floor were just too scary for us (a couple) to manage in a rising wind and swell etc. So my asym is smaller and made with heavier cloth.
Random thoughts, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Jeff Sowell

Feeling a bit better about myself seeing the tack strop around the genoa in a racing setting. Our sailmaker is a former member of Aussie America’s Cup teams and seriously scoffs at our use of such a device (we use an ATN tacker), arguing that it limits the ability of the sail to rotate outwards at deeper angles. I get his point, but everything is a compromise and the tacker simply works best for our cruising boat.

Dick Stevenson

Hi Jeff,
I am with you on the ATN Tacker. In addition, I have also looked askance at cloth strops spending hours and longer sawing and moving away under load at a small section of the rolled up jib. The ATN Tacker is quite smooth plastic and transfers the forces over a much wider area.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Jeff Sowell

Hi Dick – Couldn’t agree more. I would worry long-term about the use of a strop sawing back and forth on the genoa. The tacker I believe is a much better solution!

Peter Rowland

Agreed, we made one out of an old fender. the inside was super smooth and perfect for helping spread the load of the 2″ webbing strap. Sailing Cactus saw the photos on YBW and also made one then did a YT video of it whilst sailing. I don’t know if it makes any performance increases but seems to hold the tack more stable if there is a swell or wash from other boats which makes us at 31ft and 5 tonnes roll. This then leads to the sail wandering about if the tack is on a line to the bow.

James Evans

All of the above seems like a resounding recommendation for a sprit.

Dick Stevenson

Hi James and all,
Yes, a sprit is very seductive and likely completely worth it, but either hard to make happen, or not the choice, on many cruising boats. I would suggest that a sprit makes more likely worry about the lazy sheet finding its way under the boat as the lazy sheet has nothing to “catch” it as it turns the corner at the bow: it can fall right off. The extension to hold the lazy sheet is something that, I would guess, is put on the asyms in the expectation that the asym will be on a sprit and there, it makes a lot of sense.
For many cruising boats that extension may not be needed. On Alchemy, my asym’s tack is at or near, the hull’s bow, but the pulpit extends out from there. This gives a nice platform for the lazy sheet to lay across and to stay out of trouble. In many outside gybes, the lazy sheet lays on the pulpit and is pulled in and kept in control as the loaded asym sheet is released. This is a 2 person job on Alchemy with the autopilot slowly bringing us around. I can’t remember if I have ever done it single-handed.
If you look at the picture in the article, it can be seen that the lazy sheet has room in front of the down-haul (if on a sprit, the down-haul would be right at the tip and the lazy sheet would have nothing to support it and would likely fall into the water and under the boat.
All the above is a long-winded way of saying: if you are a cruising boat without a sprit, it might not be necessary to retro-fit your asym with the extension to hold your lazy sheet, as sexy as it may be.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Hans Hinrich Böbs

Hi John, hi all,
you are absolutely right in saying that one should get as much racing experience as possible. I’m a cruiser and that’s where my heart is, but due to corona I was limited to comparatively harmless outings to Sweden , Norway and Denmark the last two seasons. But I discovered our weekly club races which gave me not only tremendous fun but also plenty to learn, even after all these years – as you say John. I must admit that the best thing I learned was that my good old steel boat is not – as I used to think – the slowest boat around, not at all so, what a delight !

As for asym spi gybes: In a fresh breeze I snuff it with my sock. But otherwise, say, up to 10-15 knts, and not too much of a seaway I do the outside gybe this way: I have no lazy sheet, only one working sheet is attached to the sail, a fairly long one. Let out the sheet in a controlled way until the sail is depowered and flies forward like a flag. Walk forward with the coiled sheet in hand, reach it around the forestay and walk back, take care to let out enough slack, so the sail’s inevitable flogging doesn’t pull it from your hands, thread the bitter end through the lead block and on the winch and haul away. I do this singlehanded and it works whenever I do it. I don’t have to worry about a lazy sheet getting under the boat, but I have to be very careful to keep the sheet under control when walking around the boat. On a bigger boat I probably wouldn’t try this technique, or maybe just once…. Mine is 33ft. only. Any thoughts, especially on having only one single sheet ? A letter box drop wouldn’t be possible without a lazy sheet, unfortunately, but apart from that ?

Peter Rowland

John, fair point, but we only fly the Asym in less than 15 knots of wind. We blow the tack, drop the snuffer then you just have a big vertical roll to deal with. Run the sheet and asym to the other side, jibe and lift the snuffer. Manageable with one if you have space and few other yachts to contend with. Quite quick with two.

Drew Frye

Multihull note:

Unless the boat is significantly faster than the wind when reaching, capable of keeping the apparent wind forward right through the turn, an outside jibe is smoother. Some planing dinghies, performance beach cats, my souped-up Stiletto and some trimarans are, but most cruising multies are not by a long shot. Yet most are still rigged for inside jibes. Go figure. I’m sure some of it has to do with fear of running over the sheets.

But I’ve run outside jibes on cruising multies (mine and others) for years and never run over a sheet. The difference is that multis, even with a sprit, have hulls sticking out there, serving the purpose of the rhino horn (never heard it called that…). So long as you maintain some control of the slack, not a likely problem.

The other concern is a forestay wrap. Leave the chute out front too long, unsupervised, and it can knot right up around the forestay. I know qhite a few sailors who pull the squeezer down before jibing for this reason. As you all know, the most common solution is to jibe back, which will normally clear the wrap.

One of the pleasures of a cat is having a wide foredeck to sort things out. Cats have down sides, but the wide bow is nice when handling a chute.

A fast inside “tack” is a wonderful thing when it comes off. You barely slow down, and the kick when the chutes come back in before the turn is even finished is a rush! On such boats, the boom barely moves, because it isn’t eased off much in the first place.

James Evans

I think you’re right on here, John. I recommend anyone to take a look at any of the videos of Australian 18-footers in action available on YouTube. Not practical for cruisers, but it does illustrate how the length of the sprit affects what you can do with the kite: plus it’s great entertainment!

Stein Varjord

Hi Drew,
As another of the declared multihull fanatics here, I can confirm all you say. Since I come from the fairly wild side of racing, I’m used to keeping the sheets inside of the headsails. and usually having completely flat sails with heavier non stretchy cloth, more like a code zero. We’d also keep the main sheet centred on the traveller and just release the sheet a bit, for more twist. A jybe was actually a tack, just with more cloth up.

On any cruising cat, all that is different. I’ve tested both, but sheets definitely go on the outside. I also haven’t been anywhere close to getting them under the boat, but it’s possible when its windy, if we really don’t pull in any slack.

In really windy conditions we don’t use our asym, since it’s massive and we have no snuffer. (I want one.) If those were both the opposite, I’d probably partially snuff it before the jybe. Not so if racing, of course, but cruising is shorthanded and avoiding possible problems is the undisputed top priority.