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.

Sail handling systems

Sail handling systems on the 5X include 8 winches – 1 at the mast base, 4 at the wheel helms, 2 in the cockpit and 1 on the transom

I had two main goals for sail handling systems on Wildling:

  1. It has to be possible for either Robin or I to sail the boat for extended periods single-handed, even in difficult conditions
  2. 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.

Headsail hoisting

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 🙂

5X Rotating mast

The foredeck winch at the mast base is used for raising and lowering the headsails and reefing the mainsail

Jib Handling

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.

Stbd Helm station winches

Starboard wheel helm winches. The 5X has two wheel helm stations and there are two winches at each station. These winches serve a variety of functions

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.

Gennaker Handling

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 5X looks pretty slick from the outside, but what about inside?

The cockpit winches are used to furl and unfurl the headsails and contol the gennaker sheets

Mainsail Handling

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.

Mainsail reefing

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:

  1. Rotate the mast into the wind and head upwind far enough to remove pressure on the mainsail
  2. Take up tension on the topping lift to keep the boom from dropping when we ease the main halyard
  3. Ease the main halyard and lower the mainsail to the reef point
  4. At the mast base, attach the luff reef hook and re-tension the halyard
  5. Tension the leech reef line using the winch at the mast base
  6. 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.

Mainsail Trim

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.

Transom winch for mainsail traveler and raising and lowering the dinghy

Transom winch for mainsail traveler and raising and lowering the dinghy

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.

5 thoughts on “Sail handling setup

  1. I have enjoyed following your initial sails on Wildling & have a question related to mainsail handling now that you have been aboard a while.
    With the halyard led aft to the steering position winch & the reefing lines at the mast, does this make reefing a two-person job?

    • Hi Lee,

      Reefing is easy with two people, but you can still reef single handed. You just have to go to the cockpit halyard winch to let the sail down a bit, then go back to the mast to attach the reef pennant and winch in the leech reef line. The perfect system would be to have a second winch at the mast for managing the main halyard during reefing, but you still want the ability to route the halyard back to the electric winch in the cockpit for raising. We decided on the compromise of having the halyard route to the cockpit winch only.

      • I’ve always found it a bit tricky to get the halyard released to the proper place to hook the cringle & then re-raise it so that it doesn’t fall off……how do you manage that with the halyard back at the helm?………..or is there a reefing line at the luff that you tighten at the mast, then go back & tighten the halyard.
        Also, do you think it would be any advantage to have a powered winch at the base of the mast to raise the main, Code 0, Code D & Genneker?…………this would be instead of leading the main halyard to the helm.
        We are considering the 45 & the basic set-up has two winches at the mast base (I think). I assume one could be powered.

      • The luff reef point attachments are no problem single handed. The system Outremer uses is a strap that goes through the reef eye in the luff of the sail, then attaches to a snap shackle on the other side of the mast, so it can’t fall off when you go back to the winch to tension the halyard.

        You would need to confirm with Outremer about the possibility of a powered winch at the mast base, I don’t know if this is an option or not, but would be a good addition if it is. I’ve sailed on an Outremer 49 with a manual mast winch for raising the main and gennakers and it was a workout each time. Having the halyard winch at the mast is fine as long as it can be electric, but if it can’t, then I would look into an electric winch at the helm to operate the halyards.

      • Doug,

        Thanks again for the thoughtful reply………..we’re enjoying following your initial adventures.
        If you find yourself in San Francisco, look us up.

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