What we learned in 2017

Since arriving in Tunisia, we have been busy with work and travel, but now that winter has come I am getting some boat projects done (and enjoying the Volvo Ocean Race on YouTube!).

2017 was a good sailing season for us, and Wildling is much improved this year following the sailplan changes we made. I’m becoming more in tune with her, and am starting to feel more worthy to be her skipper, as I learn how to make her go, while keeping us all safe and comfortable aboard. I’m also pleased to report that I am abusing her less with my stupid mistakes!

On this blog I try and balance the good stuff with what went wrong and what I learned from it, as it’s the unpredictable and challenging aspects of sailing that I find most interesting, and hopefully I can help other sailors avoid some of my mistakes.

Since our sailplan refit this year, we have traveled more miles and learned something about high performance sails. We cruised a lot with family and friends on board. We crossed the Med from North to South and back again. We visited mainland Italy for the first time. We returned to the island of Corsica, and we finished up by making our second trip to North Africa. In this post, I will go over what I learned along the way and some of the projects I am working on this winter.

Our new sails are great, but we have to be careful of chafe!

Our North 3Di sails are incredible! I have gone on and on about how much difference it has made to have these sails on our boat, and I really mean it. If I had known this when I purchased Wildling, I would have never wasted my money on the Incidences Hydranet sails that we ordered from the factory. BUT! Although Hydranet is heavy and inefficient, it is virtually indestructible, and since moving to 3Di I have had to learn to pay way more attention to chafe. While North 3Di fabric is a tough material, it is not as abrasion resistant as conventional fabrics, so it has to be handled properly to avoid damage. I have experienced  three situations that required me to change how I handle our 3Di sails.

  1. Topping lift contact – The high roach mainsail shape means the topping lift (TL) has a lot of contact with the top section of the sail. It’s fine when the TL is on the leeward side, but after a tack or jibe the TL is pushed against the windward surface of the sail. It’s not possible to loosen it enough to flip it around the sail leech to the leeward side. Our topping lift has not caused any damage at all to the sail, but I’m concerned that over long distances it might. I was interested to see that the Volvo Ocean Race boats* solve this problem by disconnecting their topping lift after they hoist (see below) which I will start doing also. This will need a slight modification to how the topping lift is attached to the boom, which is on my project list.
  2. Lazyjacks tension – I made a mistake of having the lazy jack lines too tight once when I jibed the mainsail, and the sail was pressed hard against the leeward jacklines for a few minutes until I released the tension on them. The result was some damage to the outer cover of the sail about 1cm in diameter at one of the points of contact with the lazy jacks.  Nothing serious, and easily repaired with the kit that North gave me, but evidence that my bad Hydranet habits had to change. After this, I started running the lazyjacks forward to the mast when I’m not using them to support the sail bunt, and making sure they are quite loose before a jibe when they are in place .
  3. Keeping headsail sheets off the staysail – When the staysail is unfurled, there is the possibility of the furled genoa or gennaker sheets rubbing against the back surface of the staysail. Philippe at North sails was very clear about the need to constantly check for this when he was teaching me how to use our new sails before we left France. The solution is to keep the non working forward headsail sheets tied down at deck level or pulled far to the side to make sure they can’t touch  the back surface of the staysail. I’ve done this consistently and there is no damage at all on our headsails.

*All of the Volvo Ocean 65 boats have North 3Di sails, and they only get one set to last the entire 39,000 mile round the world race, so they have to treat them well. I’ve been watching the Volvo Ocean Race (VOR) video coverage, and paying attention to how the crews manage chafe on their sails. (BTW, I’m really happy that Volvo has hired Conrad Colman to provide commentary this year. Conrad is an excellent sailor and a hugely inspirational guy!)

There is no boom vang on a Volvo Ocean 65, so they use a topping lift, (same as on (most) catamarans). You can see in the photo below, the MAPFRE crew has disconnected the topping lift and pulled it forward to the mast base. Without the topping lift, more attention has to be paid when reefing, since the boom will drop as the halyard is eased, but they deal with this by winching in the clew reef lines as the sail is lowered to keep the boom supported. The downside for a cruising boat, is that an emergency mainsail drop will put the boom on the bimini roof, so the topping lift would need to be reconnected first!

MAPFRE under single reefed mainsail. No topping lift or lazy jacks touching the sails = No chafe!

Replacing the zippered mainsail bag with a removable cover was a good move – I wasn’t sure I would like the changes to our sail cover, but it’s worked out really well. I now remove the cover completely and stow it before I raise the mainsail. Once the sail is raised, I tie the lazyjacks out of the way so there is no flapping sailbag or lines to chafe when underway. BTW, It’s not necessary to have a removable cover like mine to do this, you just need to be able to roll the cover and tie it against the boom. Most of the new Outremers have this ability now, but my sailbag did not. I went with removable because I like that under passage there is no wear or damage to the cover.

More reefing plan changes – With more miles under the boat, and more experience with Wildling in different wind strengths and sea states (and also since we changed the sailplan), I have revised our reefing plan a bit this season. There are so many tradeoffs involved in reefing decisions (wind speed, sea state, boat comfort, risk of damage, stress, fatigue, time of day, safety…) that it really comes down to each skipper’s personal philosophy on how they like to sail their boat and take care of their crew.

I would summarize my reefing approach in the different types of sailing conditions we encounter during a passage, as follows:

  1. Light winds, flat sea: In winds from 4 to 8 knots, we’re trying to keep moving as fast as possible. All sails are up and we’re trimmed for max power.
  2. Moderate winds, fair sea: From 8 to about 13 or 14 knots, the waves are usually pretty small, so we can fully power up and sail fast. This is like driving a Ferrari on a smooth, open road. Plenty of room for speed, so we can push the gas peddle down, and there are no bumps or sharp turns to slow us down. Sailing in these conditions is pure pleasure!
  3. Strong winds, developed sea – Once the true wind builds to over 15 knots, the waves get bigger and going fast  becomes uncomfortable and tiring. This is when we reef not only to de-power the rig, but just as importantly, to keep boat speed under control. This is like driving a Ferrari on a winding, dirt road. We could definitely go faster, but it’s no fun! In these conditions I like to stay under 9 knots boat speed when close hauled and under 13 knots on a reach. Downwind is usually OK to surf faster without too much stress, unless the sea state is really developed.

Here are the numbers for the latest version of my reefing plan. The inshore numbers allow us to carry more sail and go faster when the seas are flat.

Upwind Reefing Plan

Mainsail Headsail Inshore AWS (knots) Offshore AWS (knots)(1)
Full main Genoa(2) <18 <15
Full main Staysail 18-20
1 reef Staysail 20-25 15-20
2 reefs Staysail 25-30 20-25
2 reefs ORC 30-35 25-30
3 reefs ORC 35-45 30-40
Downwind 0 >45 >40

Downwind Reefing Plan

Mainsail(3) Headsail True Wind Speed
Full Main Gennaker or Spi <15
1 reef Genoa 15-20
2 reef Staysail 20-30
3 reef ORC 30-50
  1. When upwind offshore, if AWS is >20 knots, reef the mainsail according to this table and use the traveler to keep boat speed under 9 knots.
  2. Genoa is setup for best performance when reaching. Use the staysail when close hauled for better upwind performance
  3. Reef Mainsail based on TWS to no more than can be safely rounded up if required

Volvo is having engine electrical problems and many of us are suffering – While I am loving the Volvo Ocean Race, I’m pretty annoyed with Volvo right now, due to the unresolved electrical fault on their D2 series engines. There is an electronic interface module called an MDI. This module is failing repeatedly with a variety of symptoms, the worst of which is the inability to start the engine. Do a Google search on “volvo mdi problems” and you will see what I mean. I know owners that have replaced their MDI 3 times last season (at $800 a pop). Volvo are supposedly working on a fix for this, but so far no word as to when it will be ready. It’s a good thing the Volvo Ocean Race boats don’t need to use their engines I guess!

Turning the tide on plastic and stopping the water lugging madness!

All of us sailors are painfully aware of how much plastic junk is floating in our seas and oceans, and I hate to be contributing to the problem when we are out cruising. The fact is, every time we reach a port we have a bunch of plastic water bottles to recycle, and we spend a a lot of time and energy lugging full bottles back to the boat. I decided that enough is enough, there has to be a better way!

We have a watermaker, that produces plenty of pure drinkable water, but the problem is that once it has been sitting in the tanks for a while, bacteria starts to grow, and it might no longer be safe; also, there are times when we have had to top up our tanks at a marina, so we can’t guarantee the safety of the water that goes into the tanks; and water that’s been sitting in plastic tanks doesn’t taste too good.

The solution is to purify the water coming out of the tanks before drinking it, and I have been searching for the best way to do this for a while. After a bunch of research into various filtering and UV light sterilization systems, I purchased a filtration system that I am going to install this winter. I’ll post more on this soon.

We’re not safe when working at the boom in rough conditions

At times, we need to go up on the roof to work on the mainsail or reefing lines, which is unsafe in large seas, as there is a lot of motion and not much to hold onto. I am installing jacklines along each side of the boom frame so we can clip in while we are on the roof.

I’ll post again soon with photos and details of the projects I am working on this winter.

13 Comments on “What we learned in 2017

    • Thanks Ivan, the thread you sent also gives instructions on how to install an emergency start switch to bypass the MDI panel. A good precaution to take!


  1. Cool!

    On Fri, Dec 15, 2017 at 10:24 AM, Sail Wildling wrote:

    > Doug posted: “Since arriving in Tunisia, we have been busy with work and > travel, but now that winter has come I am getting some boat projects done > (and enjoying the Volvo Ocean Race on YouTube!). 2017 was a good sailing > season for us, and Wildling is much improved t” >


  2. Aloha Doug, it’s always fun to read your blog. I hope we can some how sail together again since we are both still in the Mediterranean.
    We have a reverse osmosis, charcoal filter drinking water system on Sea Child with a separate water faucet at the galley sink. This has worked great for us. We never buy bottle drinking water and the water tastes better than any bottle water we have tried.

    On your topping lift if you make the line long enough to keep it attached to the end of boom, you can then run it forward while still attached to the end of the boom and secure it at the goose neck with a snap shackle or hook. That way it runs down the mast and along the boom still attached. If you need it in a hurry say for reefing or dropping the main because of a squall, it’s quick and easy to tighten it up without reaching out to a moving boom in rough seas. It’s ready to go.

    Smooth sailing,


    • Hi Eric,

      Thanks for the advice on pulling the topping lift forward to the mast. I’m pretty sure I have enough line to do this, and will definitely give it a try. A much better solution than disconnecting it completely!

      We’re going to be in the central Med for a while. Next stop after Tunisia will be Malta next summer, and then Sicily. We have to be in the Canary islands in November for ARC 2018 so hopefully we will be able to catch up with you somewhere along the way! It’s been too long since we sailed together in Indonesia!



  3. Hi Doug,
    Love your site ! Very thoughtful and informative.
    Check the Seagull IV X1 for purified water. I have one on my Catana 471 and love it. Works even with the worst waters you can find in the Med. I have it on a separate faucet at the sink. If I had to do it again, I would just put it on the cold water hose leading to the main sink faucet. I see little use for the additional faucet.
    All the best,


    • Hi Alex,
      I agree, the Seagull purifier seems to be the best out there. I’m glad to hear you like yours. There’s a new model, the QC2 from the same company that is a bit less expensive, but uses the same filtering technology as the Seagull IV X1. I purchased a system at the Paris boat show and am installing it on Wildling this week.


  4. Thanks Doug, awesome ‘report’ and very much apreciated for the effort collating all the data.
    We to are refusing to take any plastics anywhere, home or aboard where we can. Paper bags for shopping proving to be testing!
    Look forward to many more performance data posts…
    Vid or two sailing at your loved speed would be cool….


  5. Hi Ed, thanks for the feedback! We will be moving aboard full time next summer and starting our trip to Tahiti, so I will have lots of posts and videos as we go along.


  6. Regarding the lazyjack tension I have seen some (have not tested myself) that have added a block and line to them for to make it easy to pull them toward the mast (they then form a L). That makes them completely out of the way. Is that what you also envision as a solution?
    Looking forward to more of your very good blogs!!


    • Hi Magnus, yes it will be something like that. Most likely just a soft shackle that I can tie them back with. I installed a clutch on each side of the mast for adjusting the tension of the lazyjacks, so it’s easy to just pull them forward and tension them up so they don’t flap around.


  7. Hi Doug

    Cheers for posting on my upwind blog at sailsurfroam.com I really appreciate it. I added a reply not sure if you got a chance to see it?

    This post was spot on mate. Our Sail Area/Displacements and our tolerance for doing jumps in the house must be very similar as our numbers are almost identical.

    A little input from me on some points in this write up as we are always dealing with the same issues for a couple of years now loving and caring for our sails trying to get the maximum life out of them:

    – Topping Lift. Eric is spot on to leave it secured at the end of the boom and bring it fwd. We also got a tip and have done it to take the cover off the line so its just the core form where the topping lift exits the mast at the top to the tip. (our topping lift is 12mm Poly but would work fine/better with a higher spec line). The core is soft and flattens when touching the sail so wont chafe. We still bring the topping lift fwd for long passages but for day sailing just manage the tension in it after the sail is raised. The topping line wont last as long but 12months on from taking the cover off it its looking fine. #Note: We have a cradle on the cabin top for the boom so its only in use when raising and lowering the sail.

    -Lazy Jacks. We have no hard ware in our lazy jacks. The eyes are just spliced together soft eye/soft eye style. Again we used a single 12 strand rather than a double braid material. You could use uncovered un heat treated dyneema as its easy to splice or we used a 12 strand hollow core poly to save a few $. Again we bring the lazy jacks fwd most of the time as well. Makes raising the main alot easier as out only have the topping lift to dodge with the leech then.

    – Reefing plan. As I mentioned above this is almost exactly how we work ROAM. My only difference is that once the breeze goes past the low 20’s and the apparent is aft of the beam we take the main down. Its easier on the pilot and we are plenty fast enough just on the Genoa. On our last passage from Tonga to NZ we had a couple of days with 25 touching 30 knots T. We set the AWA on 90 and knocked out a 224Nm day just on the genoa. I figure these main sails are that expensive that if I can get along without it up then save the ware and tear and it will last me longer. In really strong breeze I expect your boat would go real well down wind on the staysail alone. On ROAM the pilot/steering works alot less when deep down wind with a over reefed main or no main at all.

    -We also have jack lines on the boom. We use a soft shackle and dyneema strop as a cheap lock and take the load of each reef once its in offshore so we are up at the boom ever time we adjust the mainsail. Its a little bit of a dance around the solar panels at times and we take our time and be careful up there. We also use a line set up like a dual main sheet system to stabilise the boom so its pinned in and can not move too much with the vessel motions. Something like your preventer but a little beefier and lead to a winch.

    Look forward to your next blog. Very envious of your selftacking staysail and love all the improvements you are making to the boat!

    Keep in touch


    • Hi Mick,

      Thanks very much for your detailed feedback! And also your reply to my comment on your blog (which I just read). It’s great to be able to share our experiences.

      Great tips on the topping lift and lazy jacks! I also like your approach of dropping the mainsail in strong downwind conditions. I agree, in these conditions we have plenty of speed without the mainsail, and it’s not required to balance the boat, so we might as well drop it completely and protect the sail. I guess the only real benefit of keeping it up is to have the option of heading upwind if needed, or blanketing the spi/gennaker for a drop. On the former, we’re cruising not racing, so who cares if it takes a bit longer, or if we have to use the engines to return to an upwind config., and on the latter, we do not use our spi or gennaker in 20+ true!

      Regarding your dyneema strop on the clew reef points to take the load off the reef lines. I’m going to add this to our boat too!

      All the best for 2018!


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