How our unbalanced sailplan messed up our rudder

In a previous post I described what happened to us when we were sailing in northern Sardinia, and how the extreme helm pressure required to head up into the wind caused the rudder linkages to slip on the rudder shaft. The rudder slipping was a symptom of a sailplan balance issue. In this post I will explain what happened and what we can do to fix it.

Our current sailplan is unbalanced in strong conditions

A balanced sailplan is important. In basic terms, we need to have the force that’s trying to turn the boat into the wind, balanced by the force that’s trying to turn the boat away from the wind. The mainsail is behind the center of the boat, so when the wind blows from the side, it will push on the mainsail and rotate the bow upwind (this effect is called weather helm). The headsail (jib) is forward of the center, so the wind blowing on the headsail will push the bow downwind (lee helm). If these forces are not balanced, the rudder must be used to counter the unbalanced force and keep the boat moving in a straight line. Rudder pressure acts as a brake and slows the boat down, so unbalanced sailplans are not efficient, and create more work for the helm and autopilot.

A sailplan is balanced when the center of effort (CE) is in line with the center of lateral resistance (CLR)

A sailplan is balanced when the center of effort (CE) is in line with the center of lateral resistance (CLR). If the CE main is too great the boat rounds up to weather. If the CE jib is too great the boat bears off to leeward.

Here’s a good article that explains weather helm and lee helm and the importance of a balanced sailplan.

Most boats are well designed, and their sails are balanced in most conditions. Wildling is like this, she is a very balanced boat, requiring virtually no rudder pressure to keep her sailing straight. Our last boat was not well balanced and had too much pressure from the mainsail, so she kept trying to steer up into the wind.

The problem becomes how to keep these forces balanced as the sailplan changes. On Wildling this is a problem when we reef the mainsail without changing the headsail. As the mainsail is reefed, it gets smaller, so the force pushing the bow to the wind gets less. Since the headsail hasn’t changed, it’s force starts to overcome the mainsail and we have the bow constantly turning away from the wind. If the wind gets strong enough, the amount of rudder pressure required to point up into the wind becomes considerable. If we reef the jib, the problem gets even worse, because we move the force on the bow forward, so it has a greater lever effect. This is what happened to us in Sardinia.

The solution is simple, and is what Outremer recommends: When the mainsail is reefed, you switch to a smaller headsail positioned further back towards the mast. In this configuration it’s possible to keep a balanced sailplan upwind in winds up to 45 knots.

Double reefed main with staysail for conditions up to 35 knots

Double reefed mainsail with staysail for conditions up to 35 knots. Because we have the self tacking jib, which is a bit smaller than the genoa, we are very balanced with full main and with the first reef, so we don’t need to change to the staysail until we get to the 2nd reef on the main.

Tripple reefed mainsail with storm jib for conditions up to 45 knots

Triple reefed mainsail with storm jib for conditions up to 45 knots

Wildling was built to have the staysail and storm jib added, but I haven’t ordered them yet, because I wasn’t sure how I wanted to incorporate them into the sailplan along with our self tacking jib (which I LOVE by the way).

Attachment points on the longitudinal beam for the staysail and storm jib

Attachment points on the longitudinal beam for the staysail and storm jib

Attachment points for the extra headsails on the mast

Attachment points for the extra headsails on the mast

On the other 5X boats I have seen that have staysails, they have the inner sail setup on the auto-tacker, and a genoa that tacks manually around the staysail. Like this:

yssabeau staysails

But on Wildling, we don’t want the staysails to interfere with the self-tacking jib, so we need a way to rig them when necessary that isn’t too onerous in strong conditions, and I would really like to be able to disconnect the sheets from the jib and connect them to the staysails, so we can autotack on all of the headsails. I’m not exactly sure how we will do all of this, so I’m going to work with the Outremer factory to see if we can find a good solution.

So although the rudder slipping problem was a hassle at the time, it was very easy to fix, and it helped me see clearly how important it is that we add a staysail and storm jib to our sailplan!

Fun with Spinnakers

When we purchased Wildling, I didn’t order a spinnaker because I wasn’t sure if we would need one, and if we did, what type and size we should get. I’m glad I waited, because now that we have sailed our boat for a year, I have a better idea of what I want a spinnaker to do for us. So this month I went through the process of selecting our spinnaker.


Although Robin and I have sailed many miles with a spinnaker on our Catana 471, I really enjoyed learning more about spinnaker design during this process, and I thought I would share some of that information in this post. I would like to thank Jean-Pierre at Outremer (designer, test pilot, and catamaran guru), Nick at Doyle Sails UK, and Volker (who’s 5X is now under construction and will be launched later this year) for sharing their experience and advice.

First a bit of theory: When sailing to a downwind destination in a catamaran, particularly a fast one, we really want to sail on a reach (90-130 degrees AWA), because it’s much faster than sailing deep downwind. Once the angle starts to get more than 130, things begin to slow down to a point where at 150-160, a reaching sail isn’t much use. On a performance boat, as we sail higher (further towards the wind), the boat accelerates and the apparent wind angle moves further forward, which makes sailing a reach very effective, and even though it might be at an angle to the destination, requiring us to travel further by gybing back and forth to stay on course, the extra speed means it’s still the fastest way to get there.


Reaching under Code-D. Notice the luff of the code-D is quite straight, which makes it good for reaching but limits it’s abilities deep downwind. The straight luff also makes it easy to furl.

On a technical note: this technique of creating apparent wind is what allows true performance catamarans to move the apparent wind forward of the beam and create speeds well in excess of the true wind speed. take a look at the Americas Cup multihulls that sail at boat speeds close to 40 knots for a demonstration of this.

So every boat should have a downwind reaching sail, which for us, is our Delta Voiles, Code-D gennaker, and you would think that since reaching is the fastest way to get downwind, then that’s the only downwind power sail you need! Well, perhaps… if you’re a racing sailor, then yes, reaching is the way to go. But it takes a lot more work and attention from the crew. You have to trim the angles just right, compensate for wind shifts and watch things carefully. But when cruising, our objectives are different to a racing sailor. What we want is low-stress, comfortable, and fast enough.

So what’s fast enough? I’m sure this is different for everybody, but on Wildling, our target speed range is 9-12 knots. If we’re under 9, I’m working to get us more speed, either by sailing different angles, changing sails, or dialing in the trim. If we’re over 12, then I’m going to start reducing sail to slow us down. There’s no extra benefit to us from sailing a reach and doing a bunch of gybing if we could go fast enough, and more comfortably, on a direct course.

We’re going to be sailing Wildling back home to Australia, a voyage that involves may thousands of miles downwind in the tradewinds, that are often blowing at 15 to 25 knots. It would be ideal if we could turn the boat downwind, set our sails for our “fast enough” speed and not have to constantly mess with the sail trim. That’s where the spinnaker comes in. With a spinnaker, we can sail deeper downwind angles than the limit of our Code-D. But which type of spinnaker should we buy?


There are two types of spinnaker: asymmetric and symmetric, with the asymmetric being the most common spinnaker on a cruising catamaran. Asymmetrics are more like a gennaker, in that they have a different length luff, and leech, but they have a lot more curve in the luff than a gennaker, which allows the luff to twist around to windward and generate power at a deeper angle. They are good for deep reaching, usually up to about 150 degrees, and they can get deeper still if the tack is moved to the windward hull. They’re good because they are versatile, and if you don’t have a gennaker, and want only one downwind power sail, then the asymmetric is the way to go. There are a couple of problems with running deep angles on an asymmetric though. Running deep is not their optimum power zone, and in order to gybe, you have to first douse the sail, move the tack to the other bow, gybe the boat and then rehoist the sail. Some folks rig a system of lines to move the position of the tack between the bows, which saves some of the work when gybing, but depending on the amount of wind, it’s usually safest to douse the sail and rehoist.

Screen Shot 2016-06-10 at 1.50.03 PM

Doyle asymmetric spinnaker

Screen Shot 2016-06-10 at 1.50.23 PM

Doyle symmetric spinnaker










Assymetric spinnaker reaching downwind. Notice the much more curved luff than the code-D allowing it to twis more to windward and generate more power at deeper angles.

Asymmetric spinnaker reaching downwind. Notice the much more curved luff than a reaching gennaker (e.g. code-D) allowing it to twist to windward and generate more power at deeper angles.

Since we have a Code-D, we’re looking for our spinnaker to fill in the 140 to 180 degree angle range, and that is the domain of the symmetric spinnaker. Symmetrics are made to run deep, and gybing is essentially automatic, because they just float around the front of the boat onto the new point of sail, with a few tweaks on the control lines. No need to douse and rehoist.

We decided to get a symmetric spinnaker for Wildling, so the next step was to figure out the size, cut and type of sailcloth for the sail. For our tradewind ocean sailing we want to be able to handle situations where the wind builds more quickly than we expected, and we don’t want the spinnaker to tear if it gets hit by a 25 knot gust. We also don’t want it so big that we can’t get it down in a breeze.

There are many excellent sailmakers that can make a great spinnaker. We chose Doyle sails, mainly because I’ve used their sails before and know they are well made, and Doyle was willing to listen and understand our needs and design a specific sail that will work for our boat and our cruising plans. They are making us a symmetric spinnaker with a fairly wide and deep cut in the top section of the sail which will allow it to lift and fly out in front of our mainsail. We sized the spinnaker to be 30% smaller than our sail plan specifies with a heavier 1.5oz fabric that will handle 25+ knots of breeze. This should give us a strong sail that will hold it’s shape well and be fairly easy to control and douse with a spinnaker sock.


Deep running with a symmetric spinnaker

It’s also worth mentioning that there is another symmetric sail that is becoming more common, and that’s the Parasailor. It’s essentially a symmetric spinnaker with a parafoil wing in the center. The wing provides some lift and also can spill the power from gusts. It’s a great idea, but we decided against this sail for two reasons: It’s more difficult to get the sock down over the parafoil wing in stronger winds; and we know of another 5X that tried the sail and found it didn’t work very well. The 5X has a lot of acceleration and it tended to collapse the sail too much when they sped up on waves (although it seems that could be solved by experimenting with the size of the sail).

Parasailor spinnaker

Parasailor spinnaker

We don’t have the all the deck fittings and control lines needed to fly a symmetric spinnaker on Wildling, so now that the sail is ordered, the next project is to prepare the boat to be able to use it.

Another “It’s great when it works” system

When I first started live-aboard cruising, I was enamored with all the great technology available and how it would make life onboard so easy and stress free. I quickly learned however, that things on boats break, and they break frustratingly often. And the more cool and complex something is, the more likely it seems that it will break, and usually at the worst possible time.

I remember on our last boat, a Catana 471, crossing the Gulf of Carpentaria, which is a notoriously uncomfortable stretch of water on the north coast of Australia. After 3 days of being in washing machine like conditions, we rounded the western cape and sought shelter in a small, rocky anchorage at 3am, in the wind, rain and pitch black night. It was precisely as I was turning into the bay to anchor that our GPS position disappeared from the chart plotter. I could see a chart, but had no idea where we were on the chart! I quickly got my backup system (iPad with iNavX App) and found my way to a safe location to anchor. The problem? The NMEA data interface between our Raymarine plotter and our B&G GPS had failed.

We repeated this same type of issue over the years in many and varied ways. A washing machine that tripped out our inverter when it went on the dry cycle. Our very cool and handy electronic anchor chain counter failed (twice). Turns out when the counter signal is lost, the buttons that raise and lower the anchor are disabled (I’m not kidding) which of course happened as we were trying to anchor in 30 knot winds on the outer fringes of the Great Barrier Reef. Picture Gavin trying to hold our position with the engines while I was hotwiring the windlass relay so we could drop the anchor. Our watermaker, that for reasons that remain a mystery would only run reliably under generator power, and not from the inverter, so a generator failure left us without fresh water for a week! A failed Raymarine fishfinding sonar sensor (why did I think I needed one of those anyway?) that interrupted our chartplotter operation with an alarm screen every 10 seconds until I could disconnect it from the network (of course while trying to anchor at night in a crowded windy anchorage after our starboard throttle cable had suddenly broken). You get the picture.

The point is, that traveling long distances on cruising sailboats tends to be a somewhat complex process, and unpredictable equipment malfunctions are a part of the adventure. Our lessons learned through hard won experience led to our decision to keep things relentlessly simple on Wildling. That’s not to say we won’t have failures, but hopefully we have reduced their occurrence somewhat by eliminating many of the root causes. We also save some cost, weight, have more room onboard, and we have reduced the amount of time we need to spend on maintenance. We may not have an electric dishwasher and washing machine, but we do have the things we really need and a lot less stress over all the potential failures that ensue.

Here are some of the sacrifices we made based on our aforementioned hard won experience:

  1. We have no chain counter on the windlass. Sure, it’s nice to have a digital readout to tell you how much chain is down, but when it quits working it’s a big problem. Instead, we put color coded markers on our chain every 5 meters so we can tell how much is down. Low tech, but works every time.
  2. We have no dishwasher and no clothes washer. They’re heavy, they use a lot of water, they need a generator to run them and they aren’t that useful for a family of 4 people. Instead we hand wash essentials on passage and use the coin laundry services in port. And no large appliances means no need for a generator and no generator repairs and maintenance.
  3. All our electronics are B&G. Having multiple systems from different vendors connected by data interfaces is great in theory but unreliable in practice (see above).
  4. Our watermaker runs directly on DC power. No need for an inverter, and no need for a generator. We can make water using energy directly from either the sun, the water turbine or either of the two engine alternators.

Because our experience was limited to our own cruising adventures, it was important to leverage the knowledge of the Outremer team who have stayed in close contact with all their owners over the years and learned what worked and what didn’t. We spent a lot of time discussing complexity, convenience and reliability tradeoffs, and they saved me from making some mistakes that I didn’t know to avoid.

Here are just a few of the many examples of great advice the Outremer folks gave us that we followed:

  1. Some of the flexible solar panels used in the past were unreliable. Best to stick with the rigid panels on the davits
  2. Synthetic teak is low maintenance, but it gets hotter than natural teak, best avoid it if you are going into the tropics
  3. The hydro-generator is excellent, but the 5X is too fast for the cruising model and can wear out the impeller. Best get the racing version.
  4. If you position your headsail furling electric winch controls so you can activate them with your heel, you can furl and unfurl your headsails single handed (this works great by the way)
  5. You don’t need a generator if you use lithium batteries and keep your internal loads to a minimum
  6. Carbon fiber is good, carbon up high is better, carbon everywhere is not good for ocean cruising because it can’t handle impact as well.
  7. Stick with mechanical switching instead of digital, less can go wrong and it’s easier to trace problems
  8. Use opaque plastic tanks for water and diesel so it’s easy to see the fluid levels in case the contents gauge stops working
  9. Add safety straps on the davits to go under the dinghy and hold it in case one of the lifting lines break in heavy seas

That’s not to say I don’t covet some of the cool gadgets that are becoming available. Like forward scanning sonar for example:

Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 9.33.23 PM

But it would have to fit in the category of “a nice luxury when it works”, and I would want to have a disconnect switch to shut it off in case it ever failed and interfered with the operation of our critical systems.

First time aboard and sailing at 20 knots!

I arrived at the factory at 9:30am this morning and Francois and I went straight over to Wildling. She is awesome! The Outremer team have built us an amazing boat! Thanks guys!!!

Welcome Aboard!

Welcome Aboard!

After the handover forms were all signed, I was given the keys, and Francois left me to explore on my own for a while. The craftsmanship and attention to detail is really excellent, and all the systems and equipment on board are easy to access, and clearly labeled. Our goal of keeping things simple and efficient has definitely been achieved.

Port Helm

Port helm station. It’s the first time I have seen the dodgers on a 5X. Francois described them when we ordered them, and sent us pictures of the frames, but seeing them fully assembled was really great! They offer lots of protection, but are not obtrusive and still give excellent visibility. I came to love them even more when we went sailing later in the day.

It was also nice to get the schematic drawings so I could see how everything was installed. The documentation package from Outremer is very thorough. Detailed drawings of every system on the boat, along with an owner’s operating guide, and binders with manufacturer’s user guides for everything installed.

Going through the delivery checklist.

Going through the delivery checklist.

After lunch we went sailing. Conditions were excellent with wind from the WNW between 15 to 20 knots gusting to 32 knots. Wildling was perfectly comfortable in all conditions with full main and full self tacking jib. We hardly ever went below 10 knots of boat speed and hit 19.8 knots on a close reach. I’ve never gone this fast on a sailboat before and it’s truly a thrill. The sensation of speed is incredible, and even though we were rocketing along, Wildling felt perfectly safe and stable the whole time.

The sail handling was no trouble at all. The new 2:1 halyard system makes raising the mainsail fast and easy. Lowering the main was also easy. The self tacking jib pretty much takes care of itself, and was no trouble to manage. I took a lot of video while we were out on the water, and will post that as soon as I get a faster internet connection.

In the meantime, here are some photos I took this morning during my first time onboard.


2015-06-19 11.55.45

2015-06-19 11.52.52

2015-06-19 11.53.25

2015-06-19 11.54.30

2015-06-19 11.58.26

2015-06-19 11.58.37

2015-06-19 12.05.20

2015-06-19 12.05.17

2015-06-19 12.00.39

This is the view from the hatch in the ceiling of the master bunk.

2015-06-19 12.00.20

Master suite looking forward. I have closed the sliding door on the right side of the companionway which seals off the master suite for privacy. It also allows access to the freezer.

2015-06-19 11.47.58 HDR

Port transom with the carbon pole we use to mount the radar dome. Because we have a rotating mast, we needed to keep the radar in a fixed orientation so it rneders targets correctly.

Port transom with the carbon pole we use to mount the radar dome. Because we have a rotating mast, we needed to keep the radar in a fixed orientation so it displays the position of targets correctly.

Sanctuary Cove

Tag 60 at Sanctuary Cove, Queensland

Tag 60 at Sanctuary Cove, Queensland

Since Wildling isn’t quite ready for us yet, we decided to get our catamaran fix at the Sanctuary Cove boat show on the Queensland Gold Coast last weekend. It was great to see the new Tag 60 and Catana 59 in Australia, and we were able to spend some time on board and chat with the founder and designer of Tag Yachts.

It’s also interesting to see the different directions the catamaran builders are taking with their latest designs. Here’s a summary of impressions we had when we toured the new boats:

Tag 60

It’s hard to compare the Tag 60 to any other catamaran we’ve seen. It’s also hard to figure out what the design objectives were for this boat. It is certainly beautifully made, and very high tech, with all carbon fiber construction and sail controls operated by electronic joysticks driving hydraulic actuators. The living spaces were designed to separate the sailing operations from the living areas as much as possible, with the two outboard helm stations and the interior nav station / bridge deck being separated from the living areas by walls and bulkheads. I got the feel that this boat was designed so that professional crew could operate it, and not get in the way of the guests onboard, which is certainly an advantage for owners that don’t want to be involved in sailing. The Tag founder, told us that he designed the boat to be the ultimate round the world cruiser for a shorthanded couple. The technology on the boat would certainly allow for this objective, but there’s also a lot of complicated systems that could go wrong and require considerable expertise to fix. That said, it is great to see so much out of the box, creative design thinking in a modern catamaran.

Catana 59

Catana is continuing down their path of building luxury catamarans that are fun to sail, but not as high performance as their earlier designs. They seem to be targeting buyers looking at Lagoon and Leopard catamarans, that have lots of interior space, with big decks for carrying passengers and charter guests. Catana differentiates from Lagoon by offering a more luxurious interior, and better sailing abilities, but still nowhere near the sailing performance of Outremer, Tag and Gunboat.

Catana 59

The Catana 59 is a BIG boat! Much larger and heavier than the Tag and 5X, but also with a lot more interior room.


The new Lagoon boats are much the same as in previous years, with their huge living areas, and high flybridges, that elevate the boom to a point where the mainsail seems a bit of an afterthought. They give the impression of a motor sailor, rather than a true sailboat, and given the number of Lagoons sold into the charter fleets, where they spend a lot of their lives motoring from place to place, this makes a lot of sense.

Lagoon 56

Lagoon 56

It is interesting to note that Lagoon will start offering a SportTop option without the flybridge, presumably in an attempt to attract buyer’s considering the higher performance Catanas.


Unfortunately there are no current model Outremer catamarans in Australia right now, so no Outremer boats at the show this year. Even so, I thought it worth noting the differences between the 5X and the other 59+ foot boats we saw. The 5X is smaller inside, in fact it feels more like our previous Catana 471 with a larger salon and more headroom, and a lot more waterline length. The 5X is ideal for a family of 4, whereas the Catana and Lagoon can carry more people and gear, although they do give up a lot of speed and ease of sail handling versus the 5X.


Our biggest accomplishment at the show was meeting Angela from ANALU Italian Linens. We were hoping to find a company that could make all of our bed and bathroom linens for Wildling in the colors and sizes that we needed, and ANALU was a great find. We spent over an hour with Angela from their Sydney showroom selecting all the fabric styles, colors and logo placements. Because all of the linens are made in Italy, they will deliver them directly to the Outremer factory in France for us, which saves a lot of time and hassle.

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.

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.

Ground Tackle

[UPDATE Dec-7th, 2014 — I made a mistake in my original post about the 5X anchor options. Outremer does offer the Delta anchor as standard, but the anchor fitted on the 5X that I test sailed (Addiction) was a Spade anchor, not a Delta. When I talked with Outremer and the owner of Addiction, they were both very positive about the performance of Addiction’s anchor, particularly in the Mediterranean Sea. In addition to their recommendations, I did some research into the comparisons between Spade, Rocna and Delta anchors. The data is pretty consistent and clear. Delta anchors do not set easily in most conditions. Rocna and Spade anchors both set and hold very well, with a pretty even split between reviewers on which is better. I’ve updated the following post to correct my previous errors. I’ve also added some performance comparison charts at the end of the post, that show the differences between the 3 anchors that we considered.]

I’ve talked a lot about how we are designing Wildling to be fast and comfortable, but I haven’t yet discussed the equally important topic of keeping her stopped.

Dragging anchor is never good!

Dragging anchor is never good!

The equipment onboard a boat that keeps it attached to the bottom of the sea is called ground tackle, and deploying this ground tackle is a major source of stress! Not only do you have to find a good place to anchor, with the right amount of depth at high and low tide, and with good bottom conditions that allows the anchor to set and hold, but you also have to worry about swinging into other boats with changes in wind and current, or dragging out to sea, or dragging onto the shore.

For Robin and I, the process usually goes something like this:

  1. Approach the anchorage and figure out where we want to drop
  2. “Discuss” the pros and cons of different options
  3. Drop the anchor, let out the scope and then “discuss” whether we like where we ended up
  4. Attach the bridle, set the anchor and wait to make sure we aren’t dragging
  5. Repeat steps 2, 3 & 4 if we’re not happy
  6. Get in the dinghy to go ashore, then hope and pray that our most prized possession in the world is going to be safe dangling at the end of a piece of chain attached to a small steel hook

After a while, we got more confident in our anchoring ability, and were able to relax a bit when leaving the boat unattended, but the moral of the story is: Don’t skimp when it comes to ground tackle!

We had a Rocna anchor on our last boat, and it worked great!

We had a Rocna anchor on our last boat, and it worked great!

Here are a few things we have learned over the years about anchoring that we are applying to the ground tackle on Wildling:

  • Install a high quality, modern anchor – We had a plough anchor on our last boat when we purchased it, and it dragged routinely. We replaced it with a Rocna anchor which made a huge difference. We only dragged a couple of times with the Rocna, once in poor holding, and the second in 50knot winds, where we had to let out more scope to stay put
  • Use all chain rode of the correct size – For some reason our last boat had 5/16″ chain, which was too light for a boat that size, we should have been using 1/2″ chain. Heavier chain keeps the anchor at the correct angle to maintain the set
  • Use a manual system for marking the amount of chain down – We use colored markers on the chain every 5 meters. I have tried an electronic chain counter and had two failures. When the counter failed, the controller would no longer raise or lower the anchor. This is not OK!
  • Use a simple windlass control switch – The fancy electronic chain counter systems are fine in theory, but not in practice. The ability to raise and lower the anchor when required is critical to the safety of the vessel. Any controller that locks up when there is a sensor or communications fault is unacceptable
  • Install an anchor watch system – Once the anchor is down, use a GPS based system to track the movement of the boat and alarm if it moves out of the swing radius. This is especially important at night so you can be woken up right away! We have found that unfortunately, anchors only drag when the boat is unattended or at night!


On our last boat, we used the Anchor Watch feature built into our Vesper Watchmate 850 AIS system. I had it rigged to sound a loud buzzer if the boat dragged, and it worked great. Because it was a stand alone system it used very little power, so we could leave it turned on without draining the batteries.

I liked the anchor watch feature of the Vesper Watchmate, but the AIS took way too long to lock onto the GPS satellites. We had to wait over 15 minutes from the time we turned it on, until it started reporting AIS data. Vesper Marine may have addressed this in the more recent models, but we are going to use the B&G AIS system on Wildling to get maximum integration with the rest of our B&G instrumentation. B&G doesn’t have an anchor watch feature, so we need to find an alternative solution.

There are a number of applications available for smart phones and tablets that take advantage of their internal GPS to provide anchor watch capabilities. I like this approach as it provides more functionality than the system we used in the past, and it can also be configured to send SMS messages to you if the boat moves when you are ashore.

The My Anchor Watch smartphone application has a number of easy to use features to provide peace of mind at anchor

The My Anchor Watch smartphone application has a number of easy to use features to provide peace of mind at anchor.



So with all the above in mind, here’s what we are installing aboard Wildling:

5X Delta anchor

This is the Spade anchor installed on 5X Hull#1, Addiction

  • 35 kg Spade anchor – The three anchors that I would consider are Spade, Rocna and Manson Supreme. I have heard that there were some failures of Rocna anchors in recent years after they moved manufacturing to China, but this seems to be sorted out now. Outremer offers the Delta anchor as standard, but based on my research this is a poor performer compared with the others – (see the test data below). Outremer owners have had a lot of success with the Spade, particularly in the Med.
  • 50 meters of 12mm (1/2″) stainless steel chain – This is the correct gauge chain for our sized boat. 50 meters is the minimum length needed, and may even be a bit short for deep anchorages, but adding more chain that is seldom used adds more weight, so we will use nylon anchor braid to extend the rode if needed.
  • 1,700 Watt windlass – For ground tackle of this size, 1,500 Watts is the minimum size windlass that I would install in order to have enough power to break out of thick mud bottoms and to be able to lift the weight of the chain and anchor in deep water. 1,700 Watt is even better, and that is what we are installing.
  • No fancy electronic windlass controllers with chain counters!
  • Simple up/down switches to control the windlass. Switches are located at the port helm (where we have a good view of the windlass) and next to the windlass on the foredeck. This allows either the helms person or the foredeck crew to operate the windlass, and gives a backup if one of the switches were to fail.
5X anchor chain and windlass

5X anchor chain and windlass


Here are some results from comparison tests between the Spade, Delta and Manson Supreme (same as Rocna) anchors:

Spade anchor performance test results

Spade anchor performance test results – better holding then Rocna, but not as good in very hard and weedy bottoms

Manson Supreme anchor performance test results

Manson Supreme anchor performance test results – excellent holding in all bottom types

Delta anchor performance test results

Delta anchor performance test results – it’s hard to get this anchor to set, according to other sailors I have talked to, delta can take 3 or 4 tries to set, but it does hold well once it’s in.


From what I can determine from other sailors’ reports and the independent test results, the Rocna and Manson Supreme anchors are the best all around anchors. They perform better than the Spade in very hard and grassy conditions, but in any other conditions the Spade sets and holds the best.

I don’t think you can go wrong with any of the top three, but if you are mostly anchoring in hard seabeds and deep weed, then a Rocna or Manson is the better choice.

Since we are going to be cruising in the Mediterranean the next few years, I am going to install a Spade anchor as our primary and get a Rocna for our backup anchor.

Choosing Engines

The choice of engines was a bit confusing at first, as the 55hp standard engines offered by Outremer seemed a bit small. They also offer a 75hp engine as an option, so I had to do some research to determine which was best for us. We decided to go with Volvo D2-75hp engines for Wildling. Here’s why:

First of all, it’s great that Outremer is comfortable recommending 55hp engines for a 59 foot boat. This further confirms the performance of the 5X design, in that it can be effectively propelled by a 55hp power plant. Contrast this with our previous 47 foot Catana, which had 50hp Volvo engines, and that Catana is installing 110hp engines in their new 59 foot catamaran.

In order to make the decision, we had to determine the selection criteria that were important to us:

  1. Weight and hydrodynamic performance of the hulls – heavy and less efficient designs need larger engines
  2. Windage – larger hulls have more wind force against them and require more powerful engines
  3. Manufacturer and reliability of the engine model – For our purposes we considered Yanmar and Volvo and both normally aspirated and turbo-charged engine models
  4. Ease of maintenance
  5. Access to trained service technicians in our intended cruising grounds
  6. Weight of the engines
  7. Fuel efficiency
  8. Engine load / RPM at cruising speed
  9. Ability to handle extreme situations – overcoming high wind and current, handling difficult bar crossings, docking in windy conditions
Volvo D2-75

Volvo D2-75hp with Saildrive – We are installing two of these on Wildling


There are many opinions on which of the two major marine engine manufacturers is best. Some folks hate Volvo and swear by Yanmar and vice versa. We had Volvos on our last boat, and they were fine for us. They were pretty easy to work on and very reliable, although the cost of parts was high. When I talked with Outremer about the reasons they had chosen Volvo, it had to do with the level of after sales service and warranty repairs in the Mediterranean cruising area. They had some bad experiences with Yanmar, and have had much better service from Volvo, so that drove their choice. Since I didn’t have too much of a bias either way, I decided to stick with Outremer’s recommendation of Volvo.


When I did the test sail on the 5X Addiction, I was able to experience the performance of the Volvo D2-55hp engines that Outremer provides as standard. They did a fine job, and pushed the boat along at 8-9 knots at around 2200 rpm, with hardly any vibration from the 3 blade folding propellers. I’m sure that the 55hp option would be good enough in most cases, but I was a bit worried about how well they would do in more extreme conditions.

The 5X is a big boat, and when pushing into large seas, against high winds and strong currents, it felt to me that the extra power of the 75hp option would be a better choice. We also have some difficult bar crossings on the east coast of Australia, so having some extra power to keep in front of the breaking waves, when coming across the bars could give some safety margin. That was my assumption, but I had to study the performance data for each engine to validate it.


The big advantage of the 75hp Volvo engine is that it is actually the exact same engine as the 55hp, except it is fitted with a turbocharger, a more robust saildrive leg and a 4 blade (higher torque) propeller. This adds 20kg per engine, which isn’t much given the large increase in power and torque. From an operation and maintenance point of view there’s not really any difference between the two engines, so it comes down to the reliability of the turbocharger.


Based on the research I did, it seems that modern turbocharged diesel engines are very reliable. It’s also reassuring to know that each of the boats competing in the Volvo Ocean Race is equipped with a D2-75 Volvo engine as the sole source of power generation and emergency propulsion. Given the power benefits of the turbo it seems the extra complexity is worth the risk.


Because the D2-75 produces more power and torque at lower revs, it will be under a lot less stress than the D2-55, which will lead to less noise and vibration when running, and the ability to power larger alternators for rapidly recharging the lithium battery bank.

It’s a well known fact that running marine diesel engines at low load is not good for them, but in talking to the engine experts, I found that by keeping the engine high on the torque curve and at 1,800 rpm and above when running for extended periods, they will do fine.

Here are the performance curves for the two engines, which show a big difference in engine load under cruising conditions:

The Volvo D2-55 engine produces maximum torque at

The Volvo D2-55 engine produces 28hp and 135Nm of toque at 2,400 RPM, which is also the maximum RPM recommended by Volvo for continuous operation

 VOLVO D2-75 Performance curves

The addition of a turbocharger on the D2-75 provides a significant torque boost

The addition of a turbocharger on the D2-75 provides 35% more torque at much lower RPM, and a 25% power increase at maximum cruising revs

The D2-75 engine develops peak torque at 1,800 rpm. When fitted with a high torque, 4 blade folding propeller, this engine will provide the same level of performance as the D2-55 at much lower revs. This equates to less stress on the engine, less noise, less vibration, less heat and essentially the same fuel consumption as the D2-55. In addition to these benefits, the D2-75 has extra power available when needed in difficult conditions. All of these factors added up to the D2-75 being our preferred engine choice for the 5X.


The ideal location for engines on a catamaran from a performance and motion perspective is at the center of the vessel in each hull. This makes a big difference in the motion of the boat at sea. Less motion = higher efficiency = more speed (and comfort). The other great thing about placing the engines in the center, is that you can install a shaft drive instead of a saildrive.

The shaft drive system is more reliable and much easier to maintain than a saildrive

The shaft drive system is more reliable and much easier to maintain than a saildrive, but it requires that the engines are placed forward in the vessel to make room for the shaft.

Saildrives are complicated to maintain, as they require the boat to be pulled out of the water every one to two years to service the seals that prevent seawater entering the gear case. They will also corrode if careful attention isn’t paid to preventing electrolysis.

Saildrive on Outremer 49

Saildrive on an Outremer 51. The vertical drive leg allows the engines to be placed further towards the back of the vessel. Note the sacrificial skegs that protect the drive legs from impact. A nice safety feature!

When going over the 5X design with Outremer, we had a good deal of discussion about the engine placement and drives. They were quite willing to move the engines forward and install shaft drives for us, but in the end it came down to Robin’s decision!

The big compromise with shaft drives in Catamarans is the engines have to be mounted further forward, which places them either under the aft bunks or under the companionway floor. Compare this to the saildrive option which places the engines in nice, big engine rooms at the aft ends of the boat, that are completely isolated from the living areas.

Center mounted engines are great for perrformance, but are disruptive to life aboard the boat when the are being serviced.

Center mounted engines are great for performance, but are difficult to work on and disruptive to life aboard when they are being serviced.

Pulling our beds apart every time I need to work on the engines is a pain for me, and a non-starter for Robin! We were also concerned about the extra heat and diesel smells that are hard to avoid when the engines are located inside the living areas of the boat.

The 5X with saildrives locates the engines at the aft ends of the boat with lots of access. It's a compromise, but I think it's a good choice.

The 5X with saildrives locates the engines at the aft ends of the boat in dedicated engine rooms with plenty of access. It’s a compromise, but I think it’s a good choice.