The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

The Zen of Sail Covers

We have been deep into the technical weeds lately: lithium batteries, hull forms and electronic charts.

But you know what? None of that, even all put together, will contribute as much to happy and successful cruising than the story I’m about to share.

Login to continue reading (scroll down)

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Christopher Barnes

Keep it Simple + a mindset of appreciating the task no matter how menial it may be… buys a LOT of future optionality via cost and time savings. Reminds me of an older article from a former contributor about boat system choices 😉

John Zeratsky

John, you’ve captured an important philosophy about sailing — and life — that’s not so easily explained. Bravo.

Stein Varjord

Hi John,
«And, better yet, as I trained myself to enjoy these tasks I got better at them.»
Perhaps the reason why this site exists?

I’ve been using a similar mindset as the one you describe, but been less aware of its workings. Thanks for improving that too.

Colin Speedie

This is our mindset, too. Our boat is going to be so simple that we’ll have no reason not to go for a sail! St Exupery is right on the money Avoid stuff you don’t need and spend more time on the water.

Jesse Falsone

As a racing sailor who has moved to cruising, I’ve found that all the same principles apply. You can’t improve unless you tackle even the most mundane or tedious tasks with an open mind. I’ll add here that this includes taking the opportunity to learn from others, even those of less experience. We often become stovepiped in our thinking and less able to approach a problem or task with fresh eyes.

Matt Marsh

This piece is a refreshing counterpoint to the Toronto Boat Show, where I recently saw, among other examples of over-engineered absurdity, a pontoon boat whose option list included $27,000 for an electrically-retractable wakeboarding arch, thus saving 90 seconds of manual arch-folding labour per trailer loading operation.

My sailboat is about as simple as cruising sailboats come. I deal with enough wonky new electronics and busted mechanical parts during the workday; I don’t need more of that when I’m on vacation.

And you’d be surprised how enthusiastic little kids can be about being allowed to help with a sail cover!

Tim Zimmermann

I fully subscribe to the idea of trying to achieve a zen approach to the many tasks and chores on a sailboat. But I would urge you to include the elimination of putting on/taking off (wax on/wax off?) the sail cover to the evaluation of boom furling mainsails. Every time I roll my mainsail into the boom at the end of a passage, I think how happy I am that I don’t have to flake the sail, and then dig out and apply a sail cover (especially on a 50-foot boat). I do have a “sail cover”, but it is cover that runs in tracks on the boom (like a pool cover) and takes less than 2 minutes to deploy or roll up. Boom furling mainsails have many pros and cons, and those related to reefing off the wind, for example, are way more important than the convenience of not needing a traditional sail cover. But boy is that a nice convenience.

Carolyn Rosner

I love everything about this. And anyone who loves the Zen of sanding and varnishing is welcome to come work on our boat!

Wilson Fitt

I take a lot of pleasure in the Zen-like, somewhat mindless rituals of sanding, varnishing, painting and sitting back to admire the results aboard my boat, not enough to come and do yours as well!


Marcelo Pires

I Agree wholeheartedly with the pleasure of covering sails at the end of a journey. Part of tuckin’ your boat to bed. I would never ever have a stack pack on my boat…

David Lochner

I thought the same until I approached a certain age and purchased a heavier mainsail to go cruising. Wrestling stiff heavy sail, just stopped being fun and my wife was unable to tame it at all. Even with the stack pack, it takes some effort to capture the sail, but is not flopping on the deck which makes going forward safer. Perhaps when I have beaten the mainsail into submission, I might change my tune.

Dick Stevenson

Hi David,
I agree with John about the advantages of full battens and lazy jacks.
A concern with stack packs I have noticed is that their design has a zipper on the top which allows rain to spritz through and sometimes is placed where it provides a “drain” straight onto the sail in a “rain catch” puddle. I have been in wet areas and really like my sails stored dry and kept clean.
The other concern is material choice: Sunbrella looks good far beyond the time when its ability to stop UV damage has deteriorated significantly and is no longer providing the most important protection to the sails.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

John Armitage


Lee Spiller

We have a very simple boat, praise the builder and original owner, and I try to keep it that way. The thing that has most improved our lives afloat is a Sailrite stack pack. One zipper at the end of the day and done.

Carolyn Rosner

Same! I made ours, for our Passport 37 with 13-ft boom. A big sewing project but we just love it. It zips closed and there is a zip-on mast cover as well.

Stein Varjord

Hi John,
I also dislike the normal “StackPack” or “LazyBag”, the ones with a batten at the top edge and the lazyjacks attached to it. I haven’t actually sailed much with it, but some and there is just too much stuff up there.

I’m thinking of a much leaner solution that seems to offer roughly the same convenience. I’d put 4 short “spreaders” on either side of the boom. I’ll attach the lazyjacks at the ends. That will give the main more space to fold nicely, not be squeezed. Perhaps I’ll put a net between the “spreaders” to hold the main up.

Then I’m thinking it should work fine to have a two piece sail cover with a zipper, exactly as a lazybag, but no batten and not connected to the lazyjacks. Just a tiedown at the fwd and aft lower corners. When the sail is down, just pull it up between the main and the lazyjacks and draw the zipper. For more serious sailing, untie the two corners on each side and remove it all.

Since I haven’t tried this, I don’t know how well it works, but it seems easy. I’ll make it myself. The main challenge is to make the “spreaders” look nice while being sufficiently robust.

Matt Marsh

Triangular or V-section booms are such an inherently good idea, for aerodynamic and structural reasons in addition to the sail handling advantage, that these days I’d specify them by default on new designs and major refits unless there’s a *very* good reason to do otherwise. They aren’t even all that hard to make, compared to the common alternatives.

Stein Varjord

Hi John and Matt,
I absolutely agree on V-section or triangular booms. In our case, since cats don’t have a vang, it’s an almost pure compression structure. That makes it fairly simple to make one myself.

Thanks for the reminder. I’ll keep it in mind while developing the plans. Since our boom is above the salon top and bimini, the impalement risk on boom spreaders would be very low, but a V or triangle is still much sleeker. Our cat is absolutely no racer, but still light for its type, so maybe I could convince myself a vacuum moulded carbon V boom would be right. I have the skills and gear for it and we’re doing some bigger modifications this season anyway.

Richard Dykiel

That’s wisdom that’s most often coming with age, unfortunately. I’m of that age but need frequent reminders like yours so thanks! 🙂

Dick Stevenson

And one of my more used “reminders” to myself is: If it is not written down: it doesn’t exist.” Dick

Jim Schulz

Thanks for the great article John. I especially enjoyed your explanation of the possible “why” behind disliking repetitive mundane tasks.

It made me think of another line that I try to keep in mind when performing life’s mundane tasks (which I still have a knee jerk reaction to dislike):

“Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.”

Ralph Rogers


Gust Stringos

Chop wood, cary water. Wash dishes. Put on the sail cover.

Raj Laud

‘For example, for a busy working couple, not having a dishwasher makes no sense at all. And contrary to what a lot of the “save every penny” evangelists will tell you, eating out, or ordering in, can make a lot of sense if we can use the time saved to earn more than the expense.’

I chuckled at this, because a couple months before moving aboard our cruising boat, I insisted that we stop using the dishwasher at home. My theory was there would be enough change, we should adapt where we could ahead of time.

I think it worked. You use fewer dishes and come to enjoy the routine.

You touch on this, but something the “save every penny” evangelists have right is that you develop the habits that will serve you well when you don’t have that income anymore. In theory you can radically downshift, but that’s not how most humans work, and the risk is you view the boat as a source of hardship.

On the other hands, if you washed dishes by hand in your apartment in frozen Chicago, and remember it, washing dishes by hand in a pristine Bahamas anchorage will put a smile on your face…

Dick Stevenson

Hi Raj,
Nice anticipation to smooth out the transition to living aboard.
Most of our friends are quite uninterested in my and my wife’s lifestyle on the boat aside from hearing about storms and asking: “What do you do all day?”.
But it really catches their absolutely appalled attention when I say that for most of the last 20+ years, we have washed every dish and scrubbed every pot and pan by hand without the support of a mechanical dishwasher and done so with a minimum of water usage (I do a lot of dishes because I know where my skill-set exists).
And, as John reports, one can get into the fruitful head-set of improving efficiency.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Pete Running Bear

Another vote for simplicity from this corner.
One of the first things I did when we got our current boat was ditch the stack pack. I hated it flapping about in the wind and obscuring the foot, I like to see the foot.
The joy of sailing without all that rubbish flapping about makes the extra effort of putting a cover on at the end of the day well worth it.
Although I do need to remind myself of that sometimes, especially with cold beer competing for attention at the end of a long day.


I am inclined to laziness. My take-away from this excellent article challenges me to change from “can’t be bothered to do it” to “get it done most efficiently”.
How does my laziness fit with a manual winch and hank on headsails? Well, I get a crew of 20 year olds to sail with me!

Dick Stevenson

Hi John and all,
We also sail primarily as a couple, and yes, an extra hand makes passages far less tiresome, even in favorable weather, especially in the higher latitudes. But it was, when anticipating anchorages where one might have to set a spidey-web of shore lines, where ice may catch on one’s lines, and where one has to do a lot of scrambling from dinghy onto slippery shore and back over really cold water, that having an extra crew was considered an extra layer of safety that we appreciated.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy


The youngsters are useful but in reality I love the buzz, the enthusiasm, the zest for life. 40 years ago I sailed with a group of fantastic old (ish) men – I learnt so much… but could not quite work out why they loved sailing with me. Now I get it!

Dick Stevenson

Hi Clive,
Being able to switch head sets is a skill that can grow with practice. My favorite useful response to a groan emerging from my mouth in the face of a task is to say, “It is only work.”
Works for me.
My best, Dick Stevenson

Morten Klever

Thank you for sharing your zen philosophy John. My wife and I now have 20 years in our 42 foot sailing yacht with the philosophy that the boat always comes first. If we take good care of the boat she will take good care of us. And it’s working perfectly. When anchored or berthed (or underway) we always take care of her, even fixing things that is broken, before we sit down and honor her with a toast of something nice and strong. If she is broken we make sure we add it to our list and if at all possible, fix her before taking off again. We never thought of it as hard work or even boring as we know the payoff will be good. She is giving us the good life! Your zen philosophy is a very good description of how we have been doing it over those 20 years of fun, and will keep doing it. Thank you again for putting the words to it and sharing your Zen philosophy!


I am pleased that you asked Phyllis to pose on a sunny afternoon for the set up photograph.

I am not sure that “keep it simple” and “the art of Zen is all about your positive focus” is understood when you are young. I am pleased that you shared your perspective. While I agree and endorse it, my sense is one needs to struggle through the failures of complex designs to appreciate the elegance of simplicity.

What I find extremely disturbing is the present exploration of everything AI.

“It will solve the menial tasks giving us all the freedom to explore our potential”.

May we all say STOP. STEP BACK for a second. This path is only as good as the person who does the coding and sets the limits.

Instead let us explore the ZEN of Sailing and sail covers.

Matt Marsh

When we said “AI will free us from monotonous drudge work”, that was supposed to mean customs forms, inventory reconciliation, and tax accounting. It wasn’t supposed to take over music, or the graphic arts, or mass surveillance. Somewhere in there, we got our priorities crossed.

Stein Varjord

Hi John and Matt,
I read a short interview with Elon Musk a while ago. He’s been deep in AI longer than most and has been the strongest voice warning about it. That’s why he started Open AI, to be an antidote to the commercial and state versions. However, it was hijacked, so it became exactly what he was warning about.

In the interview, he was asked when he thought AI would be a problem. He said it already is, and that in around 3 years, humans are not the smartest thing on the planet. Shortly after that “God is online.”

Can AI give important benefits? Yes, absolutely. Massive ones. However, are they worth the dangers? There I have to say a 100% certain NO! How can we ever trust whatever entity created any AI to want “all the right things” and also be competent enough to create just that, and the worst side:

The point of AI is to make something that learns by itself, reasons by itself and can act autonomously on its own decisions. How can we be stupid enough to think that’s a good idea? It blows my mind.

As soon as in 3 years, we might know some answers, and it will be too late to change our minds.

Brian Russell

Your best article ever. The biggest gift cruising gives us is the Time to enjoy the tasks we must perform, both for safety and for the longevity of our hard-won (expensive ) gear.