Choosing the Sailplan

[Update August 2017] After sailing the boat we found that the sailplan originally described below did not work well at sea in strong winds. Read this post to find out what happened. We have since replaced the self tacking jib with a genoa and added a self tacking staysail and a storm jib.[/update]

This was probably the most difficult of our design decisions. There are numerous ways to configure the sailplan and sail handling systems on the 5X, so we had to carefully think through all the pros and cons of the various options and how they would work for our needs. Outremer offers a lot of flexibility, which allows different owners to set up their boats for their specific objectives. I’ll separate the sailplan design into two blog posts. This post will deal with the sail selections we made, and I will go over sail handling details in another post.

Let’s begin by taking a look at the basic sailplan options that VPLP designed for the 5X:

The "standard" configuration consists of the mainsail (grande voile)

The “standard” configuration consists of the mainsail (grande voile) and self tacking jib (solent) on the main forestay. The Code-0 (upwind in light conditions) and Gennaker (downwind in light conditions) are available as light wind headsail options mounted on the outer bowsprit forestay

This is a good basic sailplan, but VPLP also designed some additional sail options for higher performance and offshore sailing conditions.

The "optional" sailplan

The “optional” sailplan with a genoa on the main forestay in place of the jib and a staysail (trinquette) on an inner stay when sailing in high winds

Jib vs Genoa vs Staysail – Definitions

A jib is a headsail (a sail forward of the mast) whose clew (attachment point at the back of the sail) does not come further aft than the front of the mast. A genoa looks like a jib, but is bigger, so that it’s clew extends aft of the mast. Genoa sails are designated by how much of their area overlaps the mast. A 110% genoa has 10% of it’s sail area aft of the mast. A staysail is a smaller sail that is positioned closer to the mast and is used in strong winds.

5X with 3 headsail stays

5X with 3 headsail stays – The inner stay has a furled staysail, the main forestay has the furled genoa, and the forward stay on the bowsprit is used for the gennaker (not rigged in this photo). There is actually a 4th stay on this 5X which is used to fit a storm jib.


When sailing, the wind speed and direction is constantly changing, so what we want to do is carry as much sail as possible at all times without overpowering the boat. In light winds we need bigger sails and in strong winds we need smaller sails. The trick is to have just the right sized sail to provide the maximum amount of power in every wind speed. Obviously this isn’t possible, so we have to choose sails that will handle most of the conditions we will experience. The problem is at the boundaries, where the wind is too light to get the most out of one sail, but too strong to change up to the next. And because we’re only two people on a cruising boat, we don’t want to have to be constantly changing sails, so having some overlap of performance is important.

This graphic shows the different wind angles that each type of sail can be used in

This graphic shows the different apparent wind angles where each type of sail can be used. Note that the Code-D can go further upwind than the spinnaker, but not as far downwind. This works out OK on a catamaran because we try and avoid sailing too deep downwind as it’s a relatively slow point of sail.

Let’s take the example of sailing upwind at 60 degrees apparent with a sailplan that consists of a Code-0 and a jib. The Code-0 is a massive sail, and from very light wind up to about 15 knots we can use it to get maximum power. Once the wind goes above 15 knots the Code-0 is too powerful, so we have to change down to the jib. This will slow us down a lot because the jib is much smaller, so it would be better to switch to a genoa, which is somewhere in size between the Code-0 and the jib. But when the speed gets up to say 20-25 knots we would have to furl the genoa a bit, which makes the sail inefficient, and at that point, we would be better off with the jib. So in this example, there’s a bit of a gap in our sailplan between 16 and 20 knots, where we would go faster if we had a genoa.

With all of these details in mind, we had to answer some questions in order to decide on our sailplan:

  1. How much do we care about the performance “hole” between the genoa and jib? and does the ease of handling of the self tacking jib outweigh the performance penalty?
  2. What do we do when the wind gets too strong for the jib? Are we satisfied with just furling the jib a bit, or should we fit a smaller staysail on a separate stay closer to the mast?
  3. Should we use a gennaker for downwind sailing or a spinnaker (or both)?

Here’s what we decided:

Self tacking jib in Hydranet fabric – We chose the self tacking jib instead of the genoa because it allows either Robin or I to tack and gybe the boat single-handed when on watch alone, or if one of us is sick, injured, or unable to help. While we were both able to tack the genoa on our last boat single-handed in light to moderate conditions, it was a struggle in strong winds and large waves. Wildling is bigger, and I don’t want to put the added stress of dealing with a genoa on us when short handed sailing.

Code-0 on bowsprit furler – Pronounced code zero, this is a type of gennaker that is cut quite flat so it can be used upwind. It is an excellent sail to increase performance when sailing in light winds, typically under 15 knots.

5X with furled gennaker fitted at the end of the bowsprit

5X with furled Code-0 fitted at the end of the bowsprit

Staysail on Inner Forestay – We are going to rig for a staysail, but I haven’t ordered the sail yet. I want to sail Wildling in some strong conditions first to determine the best size for our needs. It may be that a smaller staysail than in the sailplan, maybe closer to a storm jib in size would work best. The benefit of a staysail over a partially furled jib, is that because it’s center of effort is further aft, it can provide a better balance to a deeply reefed mainsail (whose center of effort is further forward), which makes the boat more controllable in heavy weather.

Code-D gennaker on bowsprit furler – We are fitting a Code-D instead of a spinnaker (but of course we could always add a spinnaker later). A Code-D is a new type of gennaker that is closer in size and shape to an asymmetric spinnaker, but can be furled like a gennaker, so it will be easier for Robin and I to handle on our own. Developed by Delta Voiles in France, Code-D sails are becoming popular on ocean cruising sailboats. There have been some good comparison tests done comparing the Code-D with symmetric and asymmetric spinnakers, as well as traditional downwind gennakers. The code D was found to perform as well or better than an asymmetric spi, with the benefit of being able to handle a larger range of wind angles.

Code-D headsail

Mainsail in Hydanet fabric – There is only one mainsail design for the 5X, and although it’s possible to customize it, there’s no need. We chose the optional Hydranet fabric for the mainsail and the jib. Hydranet is more expensive than the standard dacron fabric, but is lighter, stronger and holds its shape better, so provides better performance.


When we went sailing on an Outremer 49 in Sydney recently, the owner explained to me the problems he has been having with the self tacking jib. Apparently the geometry of the traveller track does not allow the clew of the jib to slide across smoothly when tacking if there is a load on the sail. He has to go forward and pull it across manually.

When I discussed this with Outremer, they were aware of the issue and are working on a solution that will address this on their existing boats. They have also taken this into account when designing the track on the 5X and are testing to ensure it will not bind or jam under load. I will confirm this with them in January when I visit the factory to review construction progress.

7 thoughts on “Choosing the Sailplan

  1. Thanks for the update Doug, I saw Wilding at her “birth” almost when I was at the factory recently.

    Andrew – Multihull Central.

  2. I don’t think i have ever read such an informative, practical and theoretical summary of Cat sail plans. This is Great!! Thanks so much for sharing this!

  3. Hi, thanks a lot for the really important information. It is absolutely helpful during my own decision process. A note and question regarding the self taking jib: I noticed with self tacking jibs on different boats (mono and multi) that they work great with the right wind load. But: very often the travellers are relatively short and don´t go out far enough to trim the jib in specific winds and when the gennaker or code 0 is not already a good choice. And a really anoying point is the above mentioned point by dilligara with the manual handling of the jib in other specific situations. We had that very often. How did Outremer solve this issue finally? Thanks a lot and keep on posting the valuable information 🙂

    Best, RG

    • Hi RG,

      We found the self tacking traveler is wide enough on the 5X to trim the solent jib effectively from close hauled all the way to a broad reach, so it was not an issue for us keeping the jib trimmed properly. If you read my recent posts you know that we have changed our sailplan over to the genoa/staysail combination, and in this combination the traveler works just as well. With the new sailplan, the genoa is used in most reaching conditions unless it’s very windy, and the staysail is more of an upwind sail. We have found the traveler has plenty of range to give correct trim angles on all points of sail.

  4. You are most welcome. I didn’t clarify that the issues on older models with the self tacking jib car getting stuck has been fixed. This does not happen on our boat, nor any of the newer series of Outremers.
    Best of luck with your new boat!

    • Thanks again. I really enjoy reading your blog posts which helps me a lot with my own decision finding 🙂 I got the information from Outremer that even they enhanced their production capacity the delivery times increased. So lots of patience is part of the game :).

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