Progress on sails

Our progress towards maximising the sailing potential of Vida took a few steps forward this weekend.

A reminder that so far we have been doing the following:

When the weather improves (and other boats are moved so that the high lift machines can get to Vida) North Spar will be finishing their work to fit the new boom, new halyards and new running backstays for the mizzen. We have a few jobs ourselves (mostly wiring related for lights, radar and wind instruments – although some of these depend on decisions we haven’t made yet).

So we already know that we need a new mainsail (which will be larger and will reef using slab reefing – which is simpler, more reliable and allows a larger & more efficient sail). The old mainsail will be kept as an emergency spare – although it will need some work which hopefully we can do ourselves. a) to convert it to use plastic slides in the mast track rather than a rope in the furling gear groove) and b) add some reefing points to it (good test for the sewing machine).

So this weekend we took over our lounge to get a look at all the other sails that came with Vida. There are a lot! There is the theoretical possibility to have 5 sails up at the same time and we have 12 altogether. Several of these are probably original so their strength is questionable.

Starting from the front of the boat we have:

  • Spinnaker. Definitely original. Never seen one with heavy bronze rings at the corners (and don’t want those flying around my head). Seems serviceable and probably hasn’t been used much. Used in light winds when sailing downwind (probably between 110 and 170 degrees). They look pretty (ours is a light blue), but are work intensive to put up and down and also to trim.
  • Roller furling Genoa (the front sail used most of the time, typically rolled away when using the spinnaker). The front of the sail runs up a groove in a metal tube that has the forestay inside it (the forestay holds the mast up by stopping it falling backwards, it goes from the top of the mast to the front of the boat). A furling drum is spun by a reefing line and turn the extrusion to roll the sail around itself. This allows the amount of sail that is unrolled to be adjusted and therefore the size of the sail you use. That means you can roll the sail away a bit as the wind increases. However, when you partially roll the sail up the shape tends to not be very good as you can see in this picture where the middle of the sail is all baggy. We might try to improve this by sewing a tapered strip of foam to the front of the sail (that increases the width of the roll in the middle of the sail reducing the bagginess there).
  • Mainsail. To be purchased when we can finalise the measurements when the new boom is fitted and the masts are up. The challenge is to have it as big as possible without it rubbing on the backstay (wire from the top of the mast going backwards to stop the mast falling forwards). Plus the original as a spare.
  • Mizzen. Generally the expectation is that the mizzen is not used when beating upwind (remembering you can’t sail directing into the wind. So beatings means sailing at an angle of say 45 degrees to the wind and alternating between heading to the right of where the wind is coming from and then to the left so that you zig zag towards where the wind is coming from). The reason for this is to do with how the sails interact with each other as the wind blows along the boat. So normally you furl it when close hauled (sails pulled in tight because you are trying to sail as close as possible to the direction the wind is coming from). However, as soon as you are able to bear away (turn away from the wind direction) the mizzen starts to help. We have two mizzen sails, as they tend to stay on under a cover the older one will be more of an emergency spare (handy because it is smaller and has no reefing point so is less useful anyway).
  • Mizzen staysail. This is a really fun sail for when you are at say 90 degrees or more to the wind. It is a bit like a combination between a spinnaker and a genoa but for the mizzen mast. So it is a triangle from the top front of the mizzen mast, down towards the bottom of the mainmast and then the corner you sheet in goes almost to the back corner of the boat. Normally a ketch rig like ours is considered slower than a one mast sloop, however, in light winds from the right direction the mizzen staysail can really change that. We have 2. One is original and shall we say a bit tired. The other looks to be in pretty good condition.
  • Other headsails. We have 5. Only one of them that can be used at the moment which is a ghoster (a huge genoa that is used in very light winds and which doesn’t need to attach to the forestay, useful for maybe 60 degrees to 160). The others are alternatives to the genoa of varying sizes, conditions and ways of attaching to the forestay. One could be a backup to the genoa as it could use the same furling groove. One is a storm jib, very useful (obviously in strong winds) but it is incompatible with the roller furling system.

One job we therefore plan to add to our list is to fit a removable inner forestay. This will be a dyneema (very strong, low stretch rope) that will be setup about 10cm behind the forestay with the roller reefing genoa. That could be really inconvenient as you would not be able to tack or gybe the genoa from one side to the other without furling it away each time. However, the trick is that while it is attached permanently to the top of the mast, the bottom is normally kept in a stowed position at the bottom of the mast. Only when you want to roll away the genoa and use a different headsail do you attach the bottom of the inner forestay to the front of the boat (at a strong point we need to build) and tension it with a block and tackle. We can then essentially “tie” any of the other headsails to this inner forestay using soft shackles (essentially strong loops of dyneema that can be opened and securely closed). The most important benefits of adding this are that we then can use our storm jib in high winds and we also have a ready to use emergency forestay that can hold the mast up if there is ever a problem with the main forestay. Another benefit is that rather than have a poorly shaped partially roller furled genoa we have the option to use a smaller headsail on the inner forestay.

Some of our sails need some work, but we figure learning to do repairs/adjustments on 40 year old sails is the least expensive way to learn. They are not worth paying anyone else to work on and the skills will be invaluable when sails get damaged in the middle of passages. To only need to buy one sail (new mainsail) is absolutely fantastic.

I’m really pleased with what I have found out about the dyneema inner forestay and using it with soft shackles, that allows us to make use of all the old headsails (even if some of them are so tired they fail catastrophically on their first use) and do nearly all the work ourselves (we will get North Spar to sort out attaching the top of the inner forestay to the mast). This is a fairly new way of doing things which promises to be light, cost effective and simple. It significantly improves our options in strong winds without compromising convenience the rest of the time.

4 thoughts on “Progress on sails

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