Sail handling setup
Last week we finalized the sail handling configuration for Wildling! The main reason for the delay in getting this done was that there were a lot of other details and decisions that had to be made before the end of November, so we worked on those first. The sail handling options were fairly straight forward, but as usual there were some tradeoffs to work through.
So what’s involved in sail handling? Basically, each sail on the boat has to be hoisted, lowered, trimmed and reefed (reduced in size to decrease power). The equipment used to accomplish these tasks are the sail handling systems. They comprise of lines, blocks, pulleys, winches and furlers that work together to allow the crew to manage the sailplan.
I had two main goals for sail handling systems on Wildling:
- It has to be possible for either Robin or I to sail the boat for extended periods single-handed, even in difficult conditions
- The systems need to be simple and efficient. We want to be able to achieve optimum sail trim for performance, and we don’t want to have complicated and inefficient line routing
I’ll separate sail handling into mainsail and headsail systems, starting with the headsails.
A different approach to headsails
The 5X will introduce Robin and I to some differences in how we handle our headsails. In addition to the self tacking jib, which we don’t have much experience with, the gennakers will need to be hoisted and lowered manually as conditions dictate. This is a change from our Catana 471, where we had a roller furling genoa, and a roller furling gennaker on the bowsprit. Both these sails were permanently hoisted and remained furled when not in use, regardless of the conditions. We also had a spinnaker that we would hoist and douse manually as needed.
On Wildling, we have the Code-0 and Code-D gennakers that have to be manually hoisted and unfurled depending on conditions. These are lightweight sails that can’t remain hoisted in their furled configuration in high winds, so we will have to lower them once the wind builds to 20-25 knots. This is more work for the crew than on our last boat and will require a bit more planning.
White sails at night
After a few spinnaker mishaps in the middle of the night, Robin and I now follow a more conservative sailplan setup during the night, and this will be the case on Wildling as well. When sailing shorthanded at night, things can get unmanageable quickly if the weather changes, so we like to power down at night so the person on watch has less to deal with, and the person off-watch can relax a bit more and sleep better. During the daytime when we are better able to keep an eye on things, we power back up. This means we limit the nighttime sails to the mainsail and jib (white sails) and often put a reef or two in the main if conditions are likely to change.
The headsail halyards are led to the mast base, where a winch is used to raise and lower them. This winch is manual, so it provides a good opportunity for a workout when changing the gennaker sails 🙂
I described our self-tacking jib and gennaker headsail selections in a previous post. We still have to confirm with Outremer that the jib traveler car will run freely on the self tacking track and not jam under load, and this is on my list of topics to discuss when we visit the Outremer factory in January.
On Wildling, the jib sheets are led to the cockpit winches next to each wheel helm position.
The working jib sheet (line that controls the jib trim) is controlled by one of the wheel helm winches. These winches are electric, which makes it easy for even our smallest crew member (Lindsay) to trim the sails.
The gennaker sheets and furling lines and the jib furling line are led back to the cockpit winches. These winches are also electric, and the winch used to drive the gennaker furling lines is 3 speed, to make the operation of furling and unfurling the big gennakers a bit quicker.
The mainsail is the most complex sail on the boat and requires a large number of handling systems. The mainsail halyard is led back to a 2 speed electric winch at the starboard wheel helm position. This allows the helms person to steer the boat into the wind and raise and lower the mainsail without assistance. It requires a single 90 degree turning block at the mast base, which adds load on the halyard, but because the mast is stepped so high, there’s no practical way to put winches on the side of the mast, so halyards and reefing lines all need a 90 degree turn. It’s a tradeoff, but in this case, a necessary one.
A word on leading reefing lines back to the cockpit
There has been a trend in catamaran design over the years where all reefing lines are led back to the cockpit. Supposedly this makes it easier and safer to reef the mainsail, but I disagree. Because lines have to be led aft via various turning blocks and pulleys, the amount of force on the winches and lines is doubled or tripled over what it would be if the lines were handled at the mast base. Add to this, that in many cases you can’t really see what’s going on, and have to go to the mast base anyway to attach reef points, or verify the halyard position and tension.
Leading the reefing lines back also creates a huge spaghetti mess of lines in the cockpit that have to be constantly unraveled when underway. The argument that going forward in heavy weather is not safe, doesn’t make sense to me either. The mast base is a safe and stable location on a catamaran, even in heavy weather, and since in many cases you have to go to the mast anyway, there isn’t any real benefit.
For the reasons above, we are not leading the mainsail reefing lines back to the cockpit.
Here’s the procedure we will follow to reef the mainsail on Wildling:
- Rotate the mast into the wind and head upwind far enough to remove pressure on the mainsail
- Take up tension on the topping lift to keep the boom from dropping when we ease the main halyard
- Ease the main halyard and lower the mainsail to the reef point
- At the mast base, attach the luff reef hook and re-tension the halyard
- Tension the leech reef line using the winch at the mast base
- Steer the boat back on course
This operation can be performed single handed because all the controls needed to position the boat into the wind and deal with the halyards can be done at the starboard helm station. It’s then a simple matter of putting the boat on auto-pilot and going to the mast to finish the reefing procedure.
The mainsheet runs from the traveler track at the aft end of the cockpit, along the boom to the helm station winches. These winches are electric, so trimming the mainsail is easy. The mainsail traveler position is adjusted using the transom winch, which also doubles as the winch used to raise and lower the dinghy on the davits.
The 5X is definitely a bit more of an ocean racing style boat than our previous Catana, so it has some added complexity in the way the sails and mast angles are controlled. We tried to keep things as simple as possible on Wildling, and elected to go with all electric winches, which does add some weight, but makes it much easier to handle the big sails and high loads of the 5X sailplan with a crew of 2 people.