The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Tips, Tricks & Thoughts:


  • Q&A—Sizing a Staysail Roller Furler


    Having a good look at some of the pictures where I can see the furling gear you used on MC it appears to me that it is about 1 size smaller then your head furler. Is this correct? And if so, were you ever concerned about its size in heavy weather?

    Member, Pepijn


    Interesting question. Definitely got me thinking. Let’s start by looking at the forces involved:

    Login to continue reading (scroll down)

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  • Reduce Spinnaker Snag Risk

    One of the nastiest spinnaker SNAFUs is when the sail jams in the V between the intermediate shrouds (D2s) and the uppers (V2s) at the lower spreaders (S1), usually on take down.


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  • Don’t Trust Used Rope

    Modern ropes are fantastically strong, to the point that, in most cases, at least on cruising boats, there is a massive margin of safety simply because the rope is generally chosen with enough diameter to be easily handled and is therefore many times stronger than the peak load.

    In fact, I can’t remember when a piece of running rigging last broke on me…until last month when I was reefing in moderate winds and the clew pennant parted off with a hell of bang—luckily no other damage was done.

    The interesting thing was that at the moment it broke it was under way less load than it had repeatedly withstood when fully reefed and sailing with the mainsheet fire-taut.

    And I had carefully inspected the old spinnaker halyard for any signs of chafe before repurposing part of it for the reefing line.

    My first guess was that the core was Aramid (Kevlar), which is notorious for failing without warning where it bends over a sheave, but the broken ends don’t look like it, and the place where it broke was not so-stressed.


    Heck, maybe at some time in its life the halyard had been exposed to some chemical that attacked it. Maybe the line was bought on the cheap from some no-name or even counterfeit company—apparently it happens in the climbing world.

    Anyway, regardless of what caused it, I learned a valuable lesson:

    After many decades of no failures I had become complacent about rope strength.

    Going forward I won’t repurpose, but will replace old mission-critical lines that I don’t know the history of, precisely what they are made of, by what company, and where sourced, regardless of how good they look.

    Worth thinking about when buying a used boat.

    More on running rigging here.

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  • Good Fractional Rig-Tuning Article

    We have five detailed step-by-step chapters on how to tune a masthead rig, starting here, but we don’t cover fractional rigs because they are unusual in the offshore cruising world.

    But if you do have a fractional rig, like we do on our new-to-us J/109, there’s a good tuning article over at Practical Boat Owner.

    I agree with most of it, although they do skip over the vital step of getting mast heel position and mast blocking right, but you can fill that in from our masthead tuning chapters.

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  • V Booms a Great Idea

    Pocket Boom, V Boom, Park Avenue Boom, it doesn’t much matter what we call them, these booms are a great idea that should be adopted by a lot more sailors than do.

    A great way to simplify sail handling, and make it easy to put on the sail cover, but without the complexity, weight, performance loss, and, yes, dangers of in-mast or in-boom furling systems, and way cheaper, too.

    If you are considering an automated mainsail system, do yourself a favour and think long and hard before you pull the trigger and blow a wad of cash.

    Instead, fix the slab-reefing system on your boat properly—a good 80% of the slab systems I see are poorly designed and set up—and, then, if you want to take it to the next level, buy a V Boom.

    This one from Offshore Spars looks like a nice implementation. I’m guessing it’s a derivative of the brilliantly designed V Booms that Hall Spars used to make.

    I wanted one of these in the worst way, but after we got done replacing our cracked aluminum mast, there was no money left.

    More on how to decide between in-mast, in-boom, and slab reefing. Yes, there are situations when one of the first two options makes sense…but not that many.

    And if you think in-boom systems are easier to use, watch this:

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  • Pull Tackles Tight When Laying Up

    I have been doing this sailboat ownership thing for over 60 years and still I learn stuff, usually when something bites me on the ass.

    We were all set to bend on the main last week when the outhaul jammed solid. No way to pull it out to shackle it to the clew.

    When we took the main off last fall, I guess we left the outhaul tackle slack inside the boom, and at some point when the boom was being moved, a loop of the tackle hooked over the floating block as shown in the photo.

    I could see it with my borescope but there was no way to flip it off without drilling out five 1/4″ pop rivets and removing the forward boom-end fitting—you can’t make this up stuff up.

    Note to self: when removing mainsail, pull outhaul tackle tight and tie off.

    Actually, there’s an even better answer to this. Any floating block, particularly in an inaccessible place, should have a piece of shock cord that keeps the tackle under slight tension at all times.

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  • Buntline Hitch With Bury Splice Hack

    I was cleaning up the dog’s breakfast of frayed and knotted lines making up our jib in-haulers when I came up against the problem of how to attach the Amsteel™ line to the low-friction ring the sheet passes though.

    A Brummel splice was one possibility, but it’s difficult to get a splice snugged up really hard so the ring won’t slip out; also, if I need to adjust the length, which I may, it’s pretty hard to undo and then redo a properly tapered splice.

    Then it struck me, just use a buntline hitch, which pulls ever tighter under load, and then bury the end using my D-splicer.

    Takes longer to write about it than it took to do.

    And the beauty of this is that if I need to undo it to change the length, it’s simply a matter of pulling out the buried end, undoing the knot, adjusting, and putting it back together the same way.

    You will note that I did not taper the buried end. That’s intentional, even though it reduces the strength a bit, since once the end is tapered, it would be hard to get it buried again.

    One caution, I would not use this hack for anything heavily loaded like a halyard, since the knot will reduce the strength quite a bit—halyards, particularly using high-modulus lines, should always be spliced. But in this case I’m only using Amsteel for its low stretch, not strength—probably have a 50:1 safety margin.

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  • Pete Goss on Mainsail Automation

    Sometimes I feel like a voice in the wilderness constantly campaigning for simple rigging systems, so it’s nice to read a well-reasoned article from a deeply experienced sailor on the subject.

    I spent a bit of time with Pete a few years ago, and he’s worth listening to, even if we disagree on a couple of boats.

    Further Reading

    And if you are trying to decide whether or not to automate your mainsail, we have a complete buyer’s guide to that decision…and, yes, it includes the advantages of automated systems.

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  • Protect Hydraulic Rams

    I have long been a fan of hydraulic backstay adjusters, and, on bigger boats, hydraulic vangs, but they do have one vulnerability: a ding in the exposed rod will eventually damage the top seal and start a leak.

    Sometimes a small ding can be polished out with very fine emory paper, but bigger ones can, as I understand it, make replacing the whole plunger assembly the only option.

    The interesting thing is I have never had any of the three rams on our last boat dinged while sailing. Just seems like we don’t do stuff around that area that will cause this problem.

    But I once had one dinged while the mast was being un-stepped, so for the last 20 years I have always covered the rod prior to unstepping and storage and before re-stepping. Our favourite chafe gear works a treat for this. No more dings.

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  • Q&A Winch Service Intervals & grease.


    Member Courtney asked:

    In this whole set of articles on rigs/spars/lines and the bits and bobs that make the sailing happen I see no mention of the service schedule or recommended sundries for winches. I found your suggestions for a water-based degreaser, but no suggestions for the grease (And there’s sooo many, and they all claim to be the best. Ugh). With 10 winches on the to-do list for spring, does anyone have a tried and true winch grease?


    You hear all kinds of recommendations for winch service intervals, with the most common being every year, or every season.

    But like you, we had a bunch of winches on our McCurdy and Rhodes 56 so servicing them every year would have been a crazy use of time that could be used more profitably in other areas—there’s never enough time to do everything that ideally should be done on a cruising boat.

    So we found that servicing all our Lewmar winches every three years was just fine.

    And I have to confess that several times over the years the interval was longer than that.

    Anyway, we never had any trouble with our winches as a result of this service interval. I think the key is doing a really good service, when we do it, with close attention to checking for any wear and immediately replacing any parts that show even a little.

    That said, in nearly 30 years, we have only replaced a couple of spindles —worn teeth.

    As to which grease, people get terribly worked up about this on the forums, but we found that our favourite Lubriplate 130-AA works fine and lasts well over the above interval.

    In theory we are supposed to use a light oil on the pawls, but we have always just used the same grease and had no problems with sticking.

    That said, when I serviced the Harken winches on our J/109 last year I used Harken grease and Lewmar winch pawl oil as an experiment. So far, there has been no discernible difference.

    One thing I would caution against is using a lower quality or thicker grease than the 130AA on the pawls, since if they stick in the retracted position the winch can spin and really hurt someone.

    Particularly beware of forum posts touting cheaper lubricants from doubtful sources, which, these days, includes Amazon and eBay—both are riddled with counterfeits of other stuff, so I’m guessing the same applies to lubricants.

    Further Reading

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  • Loos Rigging Tension Gauge

    A cool tool for tuning a one-design boat where the settings are known, as they are on our J/109. Probably not worth the money otherwise.

    Here’s how to tune a rig without.

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  • Stopping Rigging Hum Q & A


    Member Arne asked:

    When I tuned the rig on my OVNI, it started vibrating/resonating in the wind when on anchor. It starts at fairly low wind speeds, and I can’t tell exactly where in the rig it is. I can sometimes feel some vibrations in the shrouds. It sounds like a motorboat approaching a couple hundred meters away, so not super loud, but pretty annoying still. Is this a problem you have experienced or have any tips on a remedy?


    Rigging vibration is both common and hard to diagnose, and even harder to stop completely. A few things based on my own experience over the years that may help:

    • Although it does happen, vibration and hum are rarely caused by wire standing rigging. The wire may vibrate, but that’s unlikely to be the source.
    • Rope rigging is likely to be the original source. Places to look include:
      • Topping lift, probably the most common source.
      • Rope running backstays. We loved the change to HM rope on our McCurdy and Rhodes 56, but there are always tradeoffs. The wire never hummed and the rope often did.
      • Rope halyards that are not in use and set up hard can often be the source.

    There are probably more proposed solutions to the rigging vibration problem than there are sailors, and few, if any, work every time. Here are a few that have helped us, but none are a panacea:

    • Change the tension on the offending halyard or stay.
    • If it’s the topping lift, get rid of the damned thing.
    • If you must keep the topping lift, attach a piece of shock cord. Might not fix it, but it’s a good hack.
    • If it is the wire rigging, install a backstay adjuster so you can slack the rig off at anchor. It’s a great upgrade for a whole bunch of reasons.
    • Stringing a piece of shock cord from a tight and humming runner to a shroud and then varying the tension and position until it stops.


    That’s all I got. Anyone else have any bright ideas on how to stop rigging hum?

    Note, we have already covered rig pumping, which is a different problem.

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  • Turnbuckle Securing Hack

    Here’s a quick way to secure turnbuckles with no need for taping and that is quick to take off when we need to adjust the rig.

    The secret is selecting a ring-ding (a technical term that shows the user is a real professional rigger) that is just too big in diameter to allow the barrel to turn.

    Here’s a bunch more rigging tips, including another way to secure turnbuckles that’s more suitable for offshore boats.

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  • Good Rivet Gun

    If you need to pull 1/4” stainless steel rivets you need a good gun. This one has worked well for me.

    Available from the good people at McMaster-Carr.

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  • Self-Tailing Winch Stripper Positioning

    Last summer I tweaked the position of the strippers on our sheet winches. Makes all the difference to usability and sheet holding if we get a full wrap from the stripper to the direction the crew will pull really right.

    Before the change we were having trouble with the sheet slipping out of the stripper after a tack. After the change, problem gone. Small adjustment, big gains.

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  • Disturbing Failure Modality In Some Fall Arrest Devices

    While researching fall arrest devices I came across the video below from a seemingly credible source that explains how several popular devices can fail to arrest if the attaching carabiner gets oriented in ways that I can easily see happening when climbing masts.

    Worth 15 minutes of your time, particularly if you use climbing backup devices.

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  • Important Update To Recent Mast Climbing Article

    I have just updated my latest mast climbing article in light of some very important and counterintuitive new information that climber, sailor, and AAC friend-in-the-comments Drew found.

    Don’t miss this (scroll down to second alert box).

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  • Easy To Grab Rope Tail

    If we have a short rope tail, here’s a knot that gives us more to grab than the classic figure-eight stopper knot. The above is the sprit extension line on our J/109.

    I have no idea what it’s called or where I learned it. Might be Boy Scouts 60 years ago. Anyway, it’s quick and easy to tie and stays put. Looks kind of salty, too.

    Here’s the three step process:

    And, yeah, I know our J/109 has terrible gel coat crazing. (Looks worse when I have not cleaned lately.) All the Tillotson Pearson boats do from that time. Bad batch of gel coat.

    At least it doesn’t let water into the laminate because the first layers are vinylester.

    Maybe one day we will fix it…probably not, doesn’t slow her down any.

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  • Going Aloft Articles

    I went up the mast today to remove the fragile stuff from the top prior to unstepping. A highly recommended precaution if you don’t like paying for new wind instrument wands.

    Phyllis and I had this down cold on our McCurdy and Rhodes 56, but it’s always a bit nerve wracking on a new-to-us boat with different gear and set up.

    We took a bunch of photos of the new gear we are using for a two part article Matt and I are doing together on going aloft. Look for it over the winter.

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  • Marking Port and Starboard Shrouds For Tune

    Adding to my last tip.

    It’s pretty unlikely that the port and starboard shrouds are exactly the same length, so if we want to be able to duplicate mast tune in the spring we better not mix them up.

    I used to put cardboard labels on, but they get soggy and fall off, so now I just tie a piece of light line with two knots for starboard and one for port. Works great.

    I mark both, so if one gets removed, I still have the other.


    What mental trick do I use to remember which has one knot and which two, without having to write it down or find the photos above? Leave a comment.

    Hint, it’s not the colour of the line, I just happened to have some red.

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  • Preserving Mast Tune Hack

    I spent a lot of the summer getting the mast tune exactly the way I wanted it on our J/109. Now it’s time to decommission and I don’t want to lose that.

    So I carefully measured the distance between the threaded studs in the turnbuckles for the shrouds and backstay.

    To make this work you need accurate calipers, and digital ones make it way easier and faster.

    Thanks to member Dick for this tip.

    As to getting the tune right in the first place, we have four step-by-step instruction chapters on that.

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  • Q&A Hydraulic In-Boom Roller Furling in Antartica


    Very experienced member Matthieu Chauvel asked:

    Does anyone have experience with hydraulic in-boom furling systems in below-freezing conditions (and/or proper heavy seas, 50 kts+)? Asking for owners of a yacht heading down to Antarctica that has what they (and the builder of course) say is quite a beefy, reliable custom system, but it hasn’t been tested in polar conditions yet.

    Even night temperatures should remain well above the hydraulic fluid freezing point (call it -20 C with a little error margin) during the summer season, but maybe viscosity becomes a problem above that level? General ice build-up solutions and difficulty of sending crew forward while getting hosed down, at night, in towering waves already mentioned to them, but it would be nice to hear from people who have managed in that environment without problems, if any. 


    Sorry, I don’t have much useful experience with hydraulic in-boom in extreme conditions. I was in the Arctic with one of those systems, but it did not get that cold.

    The one thought I do have is that fisherfolk out of Atlantic Canada regularly work the waters of Hudson Strait in early winter, and so do Norwegian fisherfolk up as far as Svalbard, with hydraulics so it must be a solvable problem.

    But, more importantly, if I were taking a boat into the high latitudes I would not have a complex system like that, particularly since the builder admits it has not been tested in those conditions.

    I’m assuming this is a big boat, but even so I would go with slab reefing and then if worried about sending someone forward to the mast, bring the lines aft, although that would not be my choice. Instead, I would do good mast pulpits and a proper centreline jackline system.

    I might also consider a Park Avenue boom, but that could also catch snow and ice, so maybe not.

    If worried about loads on the reefing lines because of the boat size, I would install cross connected winches with coffee grinder pedestals. Two people can easily move a lot of line with a setup like that.

    One could also add a hydraulic drive to the winches, but that adds risk and I would want to know the boat could be operated safely if the hydraulics failed.

    Skip Novak has managed big boats fine in extreme conditions this way for decades and Phyllis and I had no trouble with slab on a 56-foot boat, including reefing and striking in 50-knot winds on one memorable occasion.

    I would also say to your friend, if the boat is too big to handle with these simple systems, then add crew, probably professional.

    We only have to look at what happened on Escape to see the dangers of a boat that is too big for the crew, and has complex systems, and that was not in the Drake Passage where conditions are likely to be far worse.

    And I can’t tell you how scared I was of the automated rig on a big boat I went to Greenland on. If we had encountered 50 knots and big seas things would have almost certainly ended badly.

    I do differ from Skip in one regard. I would add a storm trysail on its own track with its own halyard, so when expecting extreme conditions the main would come down and the trysail set. This, together with a storm jib set on an inner stay, is a rig that can take us to hell and back in safety.

    If your friend decides to stick with in-boom, then I would strongly recommend this change. In fact, they could just motorsail to and from Antartica with this rig up, and be safe.

    Matt, given your experience, I’m guessing I’m preaching to the choir, and I get that your friend won’t want to make all, or maybe any, of my recommended changes for one voyage, but maybe that just means he or she has the wrong boat for going to Antartica.

    Anyway, thinking and writing about this was interesting.

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  • Reefing Horn Hack

    Reefing horns are a nice simple way to secure the tack when reefed, but they can also foul the sail when hoisting. A PITA, particularly on boats with the halyard led aft to the cockpit.

    This simple hack using a piece of fuel hose with the same ID as the horn OD, that I had in stock, solved the problem.

    Transparent reinforced water hose would look nicer, but hey, the black matches the carbon sails that came with the boat!

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  • John Kretschmer Reefs Downwind

    A few days after we published my article about the causes of the tragedy on Escape, I received this unsolicited email from John Kretschmer:

    I am writing to commend you for your recent piece,”Lessons from a Tragedy at Sea.” It’s sober but hopefully enlightening to many. You are spot on.

    The notion of coming up to reef the main, in a big boat especially, is madness and, simpy, bad seamanship.

    We reef Quetzal exactly how you describe reefing Morgan’s Cloud, using the preventer to maintain boom control, easing off to about 100° apparent, and having a slippery track and cars, and stout gear for hoisting again.

    I have completed 161 training passages aboard Quetzal in the last 19 years, which is kind of crazy, and logged more than 150,000 miles on this old girl in the process, and we have reefed off the wind every time. And I almost always have inexperienced crew, or at least crew new to Quetzal, so it’s not that this is a strategy reserved for master mariners.

    John Kretschmer is one of the most experienced mariners of our time and always worth listening to. I think the most important part of the quote for most of us is “it’s not that this is a strategy reserved for master mariners”.

    John went on to provide some tips on reefing off the wind with in-boom roller furling systems, which I will share in a future article.

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  • Dead Ending Reefing Pennants

    Most people dead end reefing pennants round the boom with a bowline, but that’s hard to tie tight and even harder to untie after it’s been under load. And don’t even think about using a buntline hitch unless you want to use explosives to untie it.

    There’s a better way: the humble timber hitch, finished off with a figure eight, as shown.

    Quick to tie, and easy to untie no matter how hard it’s been loaded.

    Not sure where I learned this—the sort of thing the great Rod Stephens would have come up with—but I have been terminating reefing pennants this way on all kinds of boats for some 50 years and have never had one fail on me.

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