As the temperatures plummet, we have found ourselves trapped in cooler weather while we dream of warmer sailing. We have a few options ahead of us, one is to re-tension the rigging for the cold weather and sail along as normal; the other is to work with the slack rigging and make our way towards warmth as quickly as we can!
If we were going to be doing high latitude cruising in the winter, then yes, re-tuning the rigging would be a wise choice to make as it will facilitate safe sailing with sound standing rigging. The thing is, we are heading towards warmer latitudes and if we tighten the rigging, we would immediately need to loosen it again as it would contract in the warmth.
This leads us to our decision to follow the second option: deal with it.
While the rigging is slack, the biggest concern comes in the form of shock loads. When you jibe accidentally, the loads are greatly increased because the sails slam from one side to the other and yank the rigging along the way. When the rigging is tight, the transfer of force is rather mundane, but when it is slack, the loads go from non-existent to out-of-this-world in a fraction of a second. This shock load can lead to a lot of gear failure and ruin a cruise!
Dealing with it is rather simple. First, no accidental jibes. Second, don't fly much sail. The loads come from the sails being flown. If you fly small sails, then you won't be stressing the rigging very much. This means that we reef very early and usually sail under canvassed. Third, pick downwind courses.
Sailing downwind is a great way to reduce the stress on the rigging. Everything moves along nicely as the backstays take up the majority of the loads. The apparent wind is also greatly reduced and you can sail towards your desitnation even faster than if you were beating with slack rigging.
Running towards warmer weather will get you there in a short period of time, this means that soon, your rigging will warm up and you can stop worrying about it being slack as it will tighten back up on its own as it warms again.
Our rigging is tuned for 80F, and works well all the way down to 60F. We have found ourselves lately in temperatures ranging from 40F to 50F, so we can't wait to be in warmer weather once more!