Thursday, September 10, 2009

Reefing and Sailing in a Breeze

Last Sunday it was blowing about 25 and I went sailing. I couldn't find anyone to go with so I went alone. When I sail alone I like to experiment with sail combinations and practice things.It was breezy enough to warrant a single reef in the main, so I put the reef in on the mooring, which is a lot easier than reefing under way.

I have slab reefing with grommets (instead of reef points). I let the main out of the sail ties. Journeyman was built for rolling reefing and there was not a tack hook as original equipment, so I used to just lash the tack cringle (grommet) down at the gooseneck. But a few years ago I bought a tack hook and attached it to the boom near the gooseneck. I put the tack hook in the cringle in and then set up the reef line ("reef earing" or "earing") pretty taut. You really want that line tight, to keep the sail flat. I didn't bother with the lacing line to take up the loose sail. With one reef there isn't much sail hanging down anyway, and the tack hook and the reef line are pretty tough and can take the strain. Then I hoisted the main right up, secured the halyard and took in on the downhaul, again to keep the main flat.

I set the boom vang nice and tight. Dinghy racing teaches how important it is, in a strong wind, to have the main shaped like a nice foil, with the leach pretty straight. Among other things, it makes jibing much easier, for if the boom is lifting and the main is all curved, the lower part of the sail can jibe unexpectedly. Try keeping the vang really taut in a breeze, you'll see how much easier the main is to handle.

I have a tiller auto pilot (Raymarine) and it is great when single handing. I let go the mooring and hauled the mooring pennant over to the starboard to get the boat off on the starboard tack. Then I went back to the cockpit, put her on a close reach, set the pilot and went forward to hoist the jib, which I'd already hanked on. It is a working jib, pretty much fills the fore triangle. I made sure the halyard was nice and tight, important in a breeze if the sail is to have a nice shape. You really don’t want a scalloped luff in a breeze. It is hard on the sail – the hanks can tear out – and the jib won’t drive the boat.

The reefed main and jib was about right. I beat up the sound in good order, the boat marching along as boats do when sailing well close hauled in a breeze. I used the traveler a little to keep the boat on her feet - Vegas don't like to heel much beyond around 20 degrees. The tight vang helped too.

I'd decided to round Cow Island to starboard and run back. Bearing off around the island to a broad reach I set the autopilot again and went forward and shook the reef. My routine is this: 1. Ease the main sheet about all the way, or in any case enough to allow the boom to lift. Slack the boom vang. 2. Ease the halyard enough to get the tack hook out, then hoist the main all the way. 3. Ease the reef line. Before you ease the reef line, the main boom will take quite angle upwards. It looks a little funny, but as soon as you ease the reef line the boom comes back down. Flatten the main with the downhaul, set the vang, and you are off.

It is important when reefing or shaking a reef to look at the sail and see if anything is keeping the sail from doing what you want. For example, when I reefed the main back on the mooring I took the slack out of the second reefing earing, so the line wouldn't hang right down on the cabin top. When I shook the reef I needed to make sure that line could run, or I wouldn't have been able to ease the first reef line. You have to look at the sail and if it is not doing what you wanted, see what is keeping it.

The boat really took off with the added sail, a little surprising considering it didn't seem like so much sail was added. I jibed a couple of times, easy enough. Again, the taut vang kept the main stable. I took the main most of the way in with the main sheet, and I made sure the traveler was centered, to limit the motion that much more. Then over the boom goes, and maybe I try to snap it over by grabbing the parts of the sheet, so I and not the sail decides when the boom goes. But if it really breezy I don’t try to do that. Jibing is a steering maneuver, and it really is important to allow the boat to jibe over firmly but not to come up beyond a broad reach, and let the sheet run. If you don’t come up much after the jibe, the boat will stay in perfect control and the maneuver is easier and quieter than coming about.

As for the jib, the trick is to ignore it until you are on the new jibe - no need with a small crew, or any size crew, to do the main and jib at the same time. I take the slack out of the new sheet, and ease the old sheet - that way the jib doesn't get blown forward to the forestay, where it might get wrapped or something. Easy.

The run was short so I didn’t set a preventer. I do have a 40 foot piece of 5/8 nylon that I secure to the end of the boom and take forward and then aft to the cockpit, usually through a snatch block at the chainplates. That preventer, which is nylon because you want some elasticity here, keeps the boom in place no matter how wildly the boat may yaw. It is very important to use such a preventer running or broad reaching in a seaway, to avoid a possibly disastrous sudden jibe.

Before I got near the mooring I went forward again, autopilot on, to hand and bag the jib. Then I started the engine for safety, but actually moored under sail. A little messy, and the boat reached off after the pennant was on, but I got the main down right quick and all was well.

It was a good sail and gave me practice reefing. I don't reef much around here because Maine summer winds are generally light. But soon "the gales of October" will be here and I wanted to check the gear and my technique. I love sailing in heavy winds - not too heavy.

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