Monday, September 23, 2013

Are Two Sails Enough?

When we sailed Ladybug in the relatively protected waters of the Sea of Cortez in Mexico, we kept a largish genoa hoisted most of the time. This sail - about a 145 (145% of the area between the mast, fore-stay, and fore-deck) overlaps the mast by quite a lot when pulled in. It is quite a heavy sail - I can barely lift it on deck in its bag. The big genoa is wonderful in light airs giving up to an extra mile per hour. However it is harder to furl in and when furled a lot, its shape is a bit too full to allow Ladybug to go well to windward. It is also difficult to tack because of our inner (cutter rig) stay. It usually requires a helping hand on the fore-deck to work the sail past the inner stay or that you roll the genoa in a bit to get it around. Also, because the sail extends so far aft when sheeted in, it induces additional weather helm.

When we left Mexico, we took the big genoa down because it needed some restitching and a repair to the UV protection where it had chafed on the spreaders while tacking. We repaired it and then folded it and put it away in its bag until two days ago, using the smaller jib that is around 110 to 120% of the fore-triangle. In the last 18 months or so we have sailed over 10,000 nautical miles (20,000 kms) with this smaller jib. It is easy to reef by hand without overloading the roller furler, tacks better, and even in light airs has proven to be adequate (or maybe I am just getting more patient!) It has also required virtually no maintenance until now. We took the sail down because I noticed some stitching on the UV protection strip was coming undone.

The small jib is, I believe, the jib that came with the boat back in the late 1980's. When a new taller mast was put in Ladybug about 10 years ago, this jib was modified slightly and restitched. The sail cloth must be a good one because it is still in very good condition and it holds its shape quite well even when beating in heavier winds or furled in a few rolls. I will repair the worn stitching by hand, using the machine stitched holes and a heavy darning needle and palm to replace the worn stitching with fresh polyester sunbrella thread. This will likely take me a day of labour. I will then re-hoist this as our working jib.

We used the big jib for the passage yesterday and were reminded of its strengths and weaknesses. The passage started in light winds and the speed we were able to make in these put a smile on my face. But that smile disappeared as the wind increased to 10 and then 15 knots on the nose and I had to reef the main. In these winds we would normally use our full small jib, but the boat was just overpowered with the full larger jib. We had more trouble tacking and we had to reef the beast in order to keep the boat at a decent angle of heel. The loads on the roller furler while reefing were substantially more and even though we ran off downwind to do the furling, it was all I could do to haul in the line by hand.

The reason I am writing this is to suggest that from our admittedly limited experience in cruising in the South Pacific, if you are setting off on a similar cruise, I think you could get away with one modest furling jib in your sail wardrobe - something not too big and cut so it can be roller reefed in heavier winds and still work adequately to windward. The advantages are many - less expense, less storage required below, ease of handling, etc. The only major downside I can see is a small loss of speed in lighter airs.

For very light airs we have a cruising spinnaker and while we rarely use this, I suppose some sort of light air sail makes sense unless you have large fuel tanks and like the sound of your engine. That said, we have used our smaller jib/mainsail combo in very light airs - keeping the sails filled if necessary by pointing more to windward, off our desired course. I think we have used our cruising spinnaker only 5 or 6 times in the last 18 months and most of these uses were on the passage from Mexico to the Marquesas. We might have spent an extra day or two at sea had we not had this sail on board.

Re: storm sails - I have met people who have never used their storm tri-sail or storm jib at all during a circumnavigation and we have never had the storm jib out of its bag except to do a trial hoist. In heavy weather we can put three reefs in the main and heave to or fore-reach. If we need to beat to windward we use a scrap of unfurled jib, which seems to work for us up to about 35 knots. A storm jib would obviously be useful beyond that, but so far, we have found that in the heavy weather we have encountered, we have been offshore with plenty of room to either run off under a scrap of jib or to fore-reach under reduced mainsail alone. So maybe you can save some more money and storage space here.

Many books on cruising advocate an extensive sail wardrobe - at least three jibs, a light air nylon sail or two, and the mainsail. I think if you are on a smaller boat or a more limited budget, you can save the $5000 to $10,000 and spend it on the cruise itself, by going with one good quality roller furling jib and a sturdy three reefed mainsail of similar quality. BTW - if you intend to use an older jib, having it restitched before you leave with good quality UV resistant black thread probably makes sense. The dark colour resists UV better than light and it is easier to see if a stitch has failed on black against white.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Chris and Rani
Thanks for your thoughts on sails - interesting and entirely consistent with our experience on Ka'sala.
We sailed almost always with a 118% roller jib and two reef main and I believe our rig is the same height as yours. The 118% jib is our "Swiss Army Knife" and I keep it full until 17 to 20 apparent (to windward) and reef the main for weather helm until we start to heel and fall off. The staysail is useful above 20 ish and a reefed main, staysail and well reefed jib works well to weather in stronger winds (25-30???) at which point it all gets too hard.
Unlike you guys (apparently) We use our drifter a lot and it pulls well right up to a reach. DDW in light winds I will sail with a poled out jib (by the lea) and the drifter on the other side. With this rig the main is down. A LOT of sail but it is manageable if I rig the chute last and first to avoid fouling the jib furler.
I miss not having a third reef in the main as my first is probably equal to your second which means we don't have a quick small reef for dealing with small amounts of weather helm but not de-powering too much.
For in-shore sailing I move my inner forestay back to the forward chainplate (it is just the right length) and sail as a sloop.
Take care you guys. I enjoy your blog and look forward to being where you are in a couple of years.