June 7, 2009

The perfect down-wind rig

A PERSISTENT DREAM of would-be world cruisers involves sliding down those lazy trade-wind swells. The breeze is a gentle Force 4, the water warm and blue beneath a tropical sun, and playful waves scrub themselves with white-caps of foam.

But what rig?

Few can agree on the best rig for dead downwind sailing in the trades. Squaresails, twin jibs or spinnakers, main and gennaker, main-and-boomed-out-jib are among the favorites. None of this bothered the first man to sail around the world alone, Joshua Slocum. His Spray sailed herself downwind under main and ordinary foresails. Some so-called experts say she couldn’t have done that. Seattle-based Jonathan Raban, editor of The Oxford Book of the Sea describes the feat as “a necessary conceit in the writing of Sailing Alone Around the World … an ingenious literary device.”

I know Raban and admire his literary knowledge, but he’s wrong on seamanship. Slocum fitted Spray with a very long bamboo bowsprit, from which he flew a jib sheeted in dead flat. It contributed almost nothing to the boat’s forward speed but its center of effort lay so far ahead of the boat’s center of lateral resistance that the great leverage kept her heading downwind while the mainsail did the work of pushing her forward.

Slocum also tacked downwind, 20 or 30 degrees off the true wind, to bring his foresail into play, to stop the mainsail chafing against the shrouds, and to tame excessive rolling.
So Slocum didn’t need conceit. He was a sailor through and through, and this was just good sailor-sense.

Incidentally, my favorite rig for trade-wind sailing is the twistle (twin staysail) rig, an interesting variation of the twin-jib rig. Its great advantage is that the twin foresails can lie forward in a deep, flat V, thus greatly reducing the excessive rolling associated with downwind rigs. You probably haven’t heard much about the twistle rig, but I describe it in my books, Small Boat to Freedom, and The Seaworthy Offshore Sailboat, if you’re interested in finding out more.

Today’s Thought
The world tolerates conceit from those who are successful, but not from anybody else.
—John Blake, Uncommon Sense

“And what kind of doctor are you?”
“I’m a naval surgeon.”
“Holy cow! I never realized you guys specialized so much.”


Bob K7ZB said...

Truly weird... I was just in the throne room reading Rousmaniere's Seamanship and it got me to contemplating your thistle rig (I read your book this winter and was wing-on-wing Friday night on Lake Michigan).

I came back and decided to check your blog for the latest scoop and here it was again...

Jackson Hole Skier said...

On my boat (Meta Dalu 47) I have twin furlers (fore and aft) and a staystay. We have twin poles on two tracks that can be used to pole the solent and genoa for downwind sailing.

Since the foils of both foresails are twin groved I could theoretically create a type of thistle rig (if I understand it correctly.)

I also have the luxury of Kiwi slides so loading a second sail on the foil is quite easy.