Running Rigging

Reefing When Ocean Crossing

The biggest distinction between ocean crossing and coastal sailing is the lack of help. If something breaks close to shore, there are plenty of people around who can help you. They will tow you back to a marina where an army of skilled labor exists to get you back out there sailing! In the ocean, if something breaks, you better know how to fix it yourself with the supplies you are carrying on board your yacht because no one is coming to help you!

This lack of aid is precisely why you should reef early. If you see a storm coming, don't wait for it to hit you to then start adjusting the sail plan! Reef now and wait for it to pass over. Once it has passed and completely cleared you, then shake out the reefs! This will ensure that you and your gear are exposed to minimal risk during the ocean crossing.

Maddie and I sleep in the V-Berth up in the bow and our third crew member sleeps in the quarter berth. At night, we rotate watches accordingly. Maddie has first watch from 9 to midnight. I have second watch from midnight to 4:30AM and the third crew member has the morning watch from 4:30AM until we all get up. Since we are up in the bow, we hear the sound of the stem cutting through the water, and we can also feel how much we are heeling over. I have frequently poked my head out of the forward hatch to see dark and stormy looking clouds all around us and notice that we are full sail! I assume that the crew member on watch is keeping an eye on them and tracking their movements with the compass. A storm that is not coming at you is not a storm you need to worry about. Then we pick up speed and begin to heel over to an extreme angle and I hear a desperate cry from the helm.

"It's time to reef!"

Yes, it is time to reef, and it was time to reef a long time ago! The two of us run up to the mast and begin taking in the sails while Maddie works the sheets and helm to keep us safe. I quickly tuck in a few reefs in the main while he lowers the jib entirely. After all of this, he will usually say something like, "We reefed at the perfect time" and I don't understand what he is talking about.

Now, he knows how I reef. I track the storms on the horizon and if I find one that is coming at us, get ready to reef. I will also reef if everything looks fine but the temperature just dropped significantly. I will reef at the first hint of anything getting stronger, and the reefing is so easy to do!

The boat is stable, the winds are light and manageable, and I easily tuck in a reef or two in the main without really needing the winch handle. The jib is easy to pull over the deck by tugging on the lazy sheet and releasing the halyard. There is no fuss about it, this is the perfect time to reef!

Once we are reefed, we wait for the storm to strike and when it does, nothing happens! We do not heel, we do not panic, and most of all, we do not risk ourselves or our boat in the process.

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Downwind Sail Plans

While most sail plans include the obvious sails such as a mainsail and a jib or genoa, there are other sails to consider! Some of these sails will end up being useless and others more useful than expected.

By far, the most useless sail to invest in is the spinnaker while the most useful sail is the trysail. The spinnaker is a large unruly downwind sail that no one ever flies. It takes a competent crew to set and douse it, and if anything goes awry, it happens quickly and severely. Out of fear or laziness, there is always an excuse not to fly the spinnaker.

Now for the most useful sail: the trysail! This little sail is sold as a storm sail, but it has so much more potential than that. We use our trysail whenever we are sailing downwind, light or heavy airs. The trysail doesn't use the boom, so accidental jibes go from a fear to a nuisance. Being such a small sail, it won't produce sufficient weather helm to bring the boat up into the wind when paired with a well sized headsail, such as a 100% Jib, Genoa, or Drifter. Best of all, the trysail keeps its forces on the boat within the deck.

What I mean here is the trysail is set on the mast and sheeted to the aft toe rail. As you ease the sheets while going downwind, the sail will fill up its belly next to the mast within the spreaders. The clew will simply move forward and not outboard. This means that the Center of Effort (CE) is kept midship and merely moves forward, not out.

A third reefed main is about the same size as a trysail, but set on the boom. As you ease the reefed main, the boom will move the clew very far outboard of the rigging and deck. The result is a long lever arm aft of the mast that is pushing the yacht to weather. This will create a lot of weather helm and may begin to struggle against the headsails lee helm.

When sailing downwind, the last thing you want is weather helm. You want to go downwind, and so should your sails. Instead of spending money on a downwind spinnaker you will never use, consider buying a trysail and adding it to your downwind sail plan.

One last point, you might be wondering why even fly the trysail since it is such a small scrap of cloth. The answer is simple, it adds sail area. Albeit not very much, but more than you had before you hoisted it up!

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Headsail Trimming in the Dark

On night watch, you will inevitably have to trim a headsail in total darkness. The moon has either not risen or is new, offering no illumination on the matter at hand. Stars, while bright and beautiful, will not grant you vision of your headsails either.

You could shine a flashlight at the sail, but this will only destroy your night vision making the remainder of the process even harder.

So how do you trim a headsail in the dark? By feel.

If the headsail is too eased, it will flutter and that fluttering can be felt in the sheet as it approaches the winch. Simply ease the sail until you feel it start to flutter, then winch it in until this damaging vibration ceases. At this point, the sail is trimmed in as little as possible so you don't risk being over-trimmed either.

Next time you can't see your sail, simply touch the sheet and let your fingers see for you.

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Ocean Crossing and Chafe

Ocean sailing differs greatly from coastal cruising. In a coastal situation, you can afford to be risky. You can fly too much sail, heel over too far, maybe even push the envelope of what the yacht is capable of. If something breaks, the penalty is rather costly and small, as a repair facility is always at hand. Should your mast break, a sail tear, or a sheet part, the result is the same: the boat broke and will be fixed promptly at a nearby facility.

In the ocean, there is no nearby facility. If something on the boat breaks, you are left to your own devices to repair it. Carrying too much sail can risk tearing the sails with no sail loft for a thousand miles and no way of getting your yacht to shore! Setting the sails against the rigging will also cause them to chafe, and that will lead to a gash forming in the sail cloth.

On a deep broad reach or run, you may be tempted to ease the main all the way out and let it drape against the rigging, but each wave and puff of wind will cause the sail to shimmy up and down on the stay, sawing through the cloth.

Instead of trimming the sails to perfection, it is more important to trim the sails to longevity. Keep them set in a way that they do not contact any part of the boat or rigging. This will keep them from chafing and will almost guarantee that your sails will make it across the ocean and be ready to carry you back home when the time comes.

This might not be the fastest way, nor the most efficient, but it certainly is the safest and most frugal way to trim your sails.

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Worm, Parcel, and Serve

Over the past seven months of cruising, our anchor snubber was starting to show some significant wear. The options were simple, either replace the snubber, or fix and protect it from further damage.

Being how we are cruising on a limited budget and marine supplies are not as easy to find in remote locations, such as uninhabited islands in the Bahamas, we decided to repair and protect our snubber with materials that we had on hand. 

Since the chafing that had occurred was still very superficial, there was no structural damage to the line and no need to perform a mending splice before the protective layers were added. The first step in the process is to worm the rope. This is where you lay a smaller line into the valleys of the lay of the rope. Three-lay requires three strands be wormed into the lay. The strands run in the direction of the lay and will nestle in nicely. The idea of worming is to make the outer edge of the rope more uniform and round. 


The next step is to parcel the rope. In historical times, this was done using tarred cloth. The tar helped seal water out from the line and protected the hemp from moisture and rot. In modern times, when the rope is made out of nylon, the purpose of parceling is to hold the worming in place. Hockey stick tape or friction tape works great for this application. The tape is to be wrapped in the direction of the lay. If on running rigging, the direction of wrap doesn't matter as the rope will move around. If on standing rigging, the wrapping is to go from bottom to top. This will create a shingle effect to help keep water out of the core. 


With the section wormed and parceled, the last step is to service the line. Service is the process by which a sacrificial line is wrapped around the line very tightly. Any chafe will occur on the sacrificial part that can be easily replaced at less expense than replacing the actual line itself.  

Service is always wrapped opposite the direction of the lay, so that as the rope is tensioned and pulled, the service will wrap tighter.  


In the end, the snubber is protected against future chafe and will continue to hold our ground tackle as we cruise new and distant waters.

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