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.
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.”