March 21, 2010

Changing fashions

I NOTICE A LOT OF INTEREST lately in loose-footed mainsails for cruising boats. It’s funny how these fads come and go. I personally don’t think a loose footed mainsail is any better than one with its foot attached to the boom. I’ve raced and cruised with both types. In fact, a loose-footed main is much more difficult to control in some circumstances. When you douse it, for example, the slippery Dacron spills all over the cabin top and makes for very dangerous footing – unless, of course, you subscribe to another fad: lazy-jacks.

When your mainsail is attached to the boom it’s easier to fold the sail into a pocket and roll it onto the spar, where you can get the sail ties around it. This is especially helpful for a singlehander.

If you have a loose-footed mainsail with lazy-jacks, you have to face the boat almost dead into the wind before you can lower the mainsail, otherwise the battens will hang up on the lazy-jacks. This isn’t always convenient or even possible.

And talking of battens — there’s another fad cruising boats don’t need: full-length battens. Only sailmakers love full-length battens. There’s money in it for them. I personally recommend a totally battenless mainsail for a cruising boat, one cut with a slightly hollow leech, just like a foresail. With that kind of main, with no battens to get hung up on the rigging, you can even claw it down on a dead run.

But battenless mainsails with attached feet are not the fad right now, so I don’t expect any of you to go running right out to order one. My words of wisdom all too often fall on deaf ears, I’m afraid.

There are a lot of other fads around right now, too. Furler-reefing headsails, of course, which, I admit, do have many advantages as long as they’re working properly. Mainsheet tracks adjustable under load by means of a bevy of blocks and yards of fiddly line. Wing keels (very good for gripping the ground firmly when you hit the sandbank). And a host of sails with exotic exciting names, such as Code Zeros, Scorchers, Bloopers, Zoomers, Poppers, and asymmetrical spinnakers that won’t help you on a run, as a spinnaker should; they can only reach.

Of course, if a fad sticks around long enough, it becomes the norm. In the early 20th century, even the Bermudan rig was a fad. It was deemed OK for racers, but a big non-no for cruisers because the extra length of the mast made it more difficult to stay. The gaff rig, with a stumpy, well-stayed mast, was the one you needed if you were going to sea and likely to be turned upside down. That mast would survive a capsize, whereas a Bermudan mast would be torn off or smashed in half.

But nobody I know takes this into account any more. There are a few enthusiasts who still prefer bullet-proof short masts and gaff rigs, which makes a lot of sense for ocean passagemaking, but the emphasis today is on how to rig a jury mast when your Bermudan mast falls down. Or, of course, how to call for a tow. I guess that’s progress. Sort of sideways progress, but progress nonetheless.

Today’s Thought
Fashion is as profound and critical a part of the social life of man as sex, and is made up of the same ambivalent mixture of irresistible urges and inevitable taboos.
— René Konig, The Restless Image

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb #29
Sail-plan center of effort. An old rule of thumb is that the center of effort (CE) of a sail plan should be 2 to 8 percent of the load waterline length forward of the center of lateral resistance. This is the amount of lead. However, the CE is just a theoretical concept useful in planning, and fine tuning is usually needed to determine more exactly the position and cut of the sails for best hull balance.

“Can you describe your missing financial adviser, sir?”
“Yes, he was 5 feet 11 inches tall and $50,000 short.”


Unknown said...

Mr. Vigor,
It is with great anticipation I await your blog entries. And I highly value the advise you dispense.
Do not despair, and do not feel it falls on deaf ears!

As a matter of fact, and on topic I might add, I was part of a discussion on the Sailnet forum regarding 2 items you mentioned this morning: cruising mainsails and furling jibs.

A sailor asked, should I get full or partial battens when I order my new Cruising main. I was quick off the mark with a "headboardless, battenless main, with a slightly hollow leach will cost you less and last a lot longer for trouble free cruising", but I was soon outnumbered by a myriad of angry outcries claiming that they have long since used full and partial battens with great success on their racing boats after adding a host of additional gadgetry, and having paid for those upgrades with several (anatomically vital) body parts.

A similar discussion ensued my claim that hank on, non-overlapping headsails are more reliable then roller furling gear.

Despite my point proven, I was defeated.
But then again, I'm one of those people who own the Pardey's entire collection (and Seaworthy Offshore Sailboat) and trust them much more dearly then the sailmaker or gadgetmaker trying to make an extra buck whether through "an extra piece of gear I can't live without" or through having to maintain that same gear at a significantly detrimental effect to my sailing budget.

Aaron Headly said...

I am so unconvinced by the fad-followers that not only do I own a gaff-rigged ketch, that was exactly the rig I was shopping for when I bought Centennial. Battens? I have a peak halyard and a gaff vang, thanks.

I did rig some lazy-jacks, but they're one of those 19th Century work-boat fads and cost me all of $5 to string up (they're kind of wispy, actually, but I wasn't planning on hooking my safety harness to them).

I also read this blog three times a week, if that indicates anything.


Bob K7ZB said...

Dear John,

I was pleasantly surprised to see in the earlier commenter's note a reference to your book "The Seaworthy Offshore Sailboat". This very book also came to mind immediately to me today when I received in the mail my copy of this month's Cruising World magazine. I read the Sailing Life column (page 38f) entitled Murderous Intent... wherein that author made known his murderous intent based, in part, on the very subject you address on page 170 of your book in the box titled 'A Space Invasion". When I first read your book and your description of that phenomenon I will admit I was a bit skeptical - although my sailboat experiences have been fairly limited, my time at sea hasn't - I spent 6 years in the US submarine service and well over one year accumulated time at sea submerged with a small crew. But we never came close to killing each other over each other's food. This tells me that the stress in a small sailing vessel with an even smaller crew may put folks in a more tenuous state then serving for months at a time submerged on a nuclear submarine - who would have thought it?

Sabre 28
Lake Michigan