July 10, 2011

Let it crease, for goodness’ sake

IT SEEMS TO BE very fashionable these days for cruising yachts to have loose-footed mainsails. That fashion arises from the fact that racing boats invariably have loose-footed mainsails.

Some people say a loose-footed main is easier to trim to the desired belly, and tightness of leech, but I am not one of them. I have sailed on racing boats with mainsails firmly attached to their booms in slotted tracks, and mainsails with zippered folds in the foot to give more belly downwind, and those boats gave nothing away to other boats with loose feet.

The mainsails of all my cruising boats have had their feet attached to the boom, usually with slides running in the internal boom track, for one very good reason: An attached mainsail is easier to control when you’re singlehanding and need to furl the sail in a hurry.

If you’re up on the cabintop dropping the main in any decent kind of breeze, a loose-footed sail falls all over the deck. The slippery folds of Dacron create a treacherous foothold. But if your main is attached to the boom, it’s the work of a moment to grab the leech a little way up from the boom and pull it tight, away from the mast, to form a temporary pocket. You then stuff the mainsail into the pocket, twisting as you go, until you end up with a slim sausage of sailcloth inside a nice tidy, waterproof sheath of Dacron. Slip two or three gaskets around the bundle on top of the boom and Bob’s your uncle. You can be finishing your first beer while the man with the loose-footed mainsail is still sliding around the deck trying to gather and contain his wayward folds.

My naysayers and detractors will point out that a mainsail thus used will be crushed and creased and therefore less efficient next time it’s raised. To which I say “Tough titties!” There is altogether too much racing boat influence in mollycoddling the main. It’s the racing influence that seduces people into buying loose-footed mains in the first place. Let the mainsail crease, for goodness’ sake. It’s a working sail not a work of art. What’s more, the wind and rain will smooth out those creases quite nicely next time you’re out. Your good old cruising boat will never notice the difference.

Today’s Thought
Fashion is gentility running away from vulgarity and afraid of being overtaken.
— William Hazlitt, Conversations of James Northcote

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #220
The speed of advance of a group of waves is half that of individual waves. When the wind dies, the height of the waves diminishes rapidly but the length and speed remain unchanged. The result is a swell that can run for hundreds of miles and far outrun the disturbance that caused it.

“O’Flaherty, what are you doing here? Your brother called and said you were sick and wouldn’t be coming to work today.”
“Ah begorrah, the joke’s on him. He’s not supposed to phone until tomorrow.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

1 comment:

Matt Marsh said...

The Sunfish sail never feels any less powerful when it's creased into an accordion. (The boat feels slower, of course, but I think that's because its foam-filled hull gains ten pounds of water each year.)

I'm hard-pressed to think of a good aerodynamic reason why a loose-footed sail would be substantially better than one secured to a boom. If there is a difference, it's small, and could be mostly counteracted by cutting the sail appropriately when it's built in the first place.