Reefing Part 1 of 4

Reefing: Issues, Techniques, Systems and Solutions

A White Paper, the first of four, discussing why reefing is necessary, the three most common techniques and their benefits and disadvantages.                                     

Reefing is one of those activities on a boat that most of us like to avoid. Regrettably, not all sailing is conducted on balmy days with warm sun smiling down on us and flat water. Once in a while, we do need to get from A to B, upwind in 25 knots. Like everything else on boats, nay, in life, in fact, an understanding of ALL the aspects of the task and the odd bit of practice goes a long way to making The Task less onerous. Let me set up the discussion with some background on The Philosophy and Principles of Reefing.


A sailing boat is impacted by the force vectors created by wind, sea state and boat speed. There are eight inputs that determine how a boat ‘feels’ that is, if it is easy to steer, is not knocked down in gusts, and ‘feels’ good on the helm. These inputs are: true wind speed and direction, apparent wind speed and angle, boat speed and pitch, roll and yaw. These forces are resolved by sail trim, correct sail size and shape and steering to arrive at the proper balance of the boat. The ‘answers’ to these force vectors are ‘sent’ to the helmsman via the rudder to the tiller or wheel. WHEN the boat is overpowered, well we all know what that feels like and can determine it pretty easily.

Reefing is one aspect of the ‘correct sail size and trim’-Remember when a mainsail is reefed, it certainly gets smaller in area but what is often not addressed is the make it flatter part of the equation-We will get to this in a minute.

As for taking a reef, or shaking it out for that matter, this task is at that point where ‘sailing’ intersects with ‘seamanship’. The former is sail trim & steering, the ‘normal’ activities of steering the boat. Seamanship is all the activities one must be proficient in that are not actually steering or trimming. Anchoring, navigation, sailing, or motoring up to the dock or mooring, changing sails and so on are, of course, an intimate part of sailing but are not, of themselves, sailing.

We have all been aboard a boat, maybe our own boat, when she is heeling too much, where the leeward rail is in the water and may be getting into the cockpit, waves are breaking across the bow sending water over everyone, she is hard to steer, the sails are flapping, there is a lot of noise, and the whole situation is stressful. Ring a bell?

Any one or multiples of these events are among the key indicators that something needs to change.

WHY WE NEED TO REEF, the numbers

The reason for the need to reef is driven by the physics, the technical aspects of the sails: their size and shape and wind speed. The starting is this:

The wind FORCE increases with the square of the wind SPEED. At 12 knots of wind, there is 144 psi on the sails; BUT at 15 knots of wind, there is 225 psi on the sails. So for a 25% increase wind SPEED, there is a 56% increase in FORCE.

At the wind speeds where we are thinking about reefing, around 20 knots apparent, there is 400 PSI versus the 225 at 15 knots which is a 77% increase in FORCE, on an increase in wind speed of only 33%.

Secondly, as the wind SPEED increases, the DRAG increases, at the same rate. Unless the sails are made flatter, as the wind speed increases, there will be more drag. This is why the progressively smaller jibs are progressively flatter. Another comparison I draw here is the difference in wing shapes between a 747 airliner and an F-14 fighter jet.

The 747 Jumbo Jet is heavy and does not fly fast relative to the F-14, so the air (the apparent wind speed in a sailing boat, too) flowing over the wings is less than an F-14. The Jumbo needs lots of lift, so the wings are big in area, and thick, like full sails. The F-14, on the other hand, has loads of power, flies really fast, and so, has lots of ‘apparent wind’ and is looking to reduce drag so the wings (sails) are small and ‘flat’ like a number three or four jib.

Back to sails: In light to medium air, a sailboat is looking for power, (Think: a Jumbo on take off from FLA in winter, full of people, baggage and fuel) so the sails (wings) are full. When the wind speed increases, as when the plane speeds up and the forces increase, on a sail that is now too full, the DRAG on the sail (wing) increases. This increase in drag, on the sails, is felt through the wheel or tiller and manifests itself as being ‘heavy’, or weather helm resulting in the increasing difficulty in steering, described above.

This is one of the reasons why, if you are sailing in August in San Francisco Bay, your sails will likely be smaller and flatter than if you sail in Long Island Sound in August.

The foregoing list is not at all conducive to happy sailing but can be greatly improved upon by reefing, and so making the boat more manageable and docile and more comfortable and less stressful for all concerned.


Let’s take a look at this discussion for an actual boat, in this case a 1980’s Pearson 40. I produced a version of the following table for a fellow we are working with in preparation for his sailing in the 2019 Bermuda 1-2. The question to answer was ‘what was the optimal size of the mainsail at each reef?’ His main will have three reefs. A secondary reason for this exercise was to get data related to changing his mainsail sheeting system. The chart was prepared using calculations of mainsail force from the Harken website. This calculator is designed to estimate the loads for sizing a block, but it works well for this exercise too.

The salient point to follow on this chart is the amount of force, the load, on the sail at full hoist and at the first, second and third reefs. The goal of reefing is to maintain a force, or load, on the sail that is similar to that load in the sail at full hoist at between 18 and 22 knots apparent. This wind speed is, generally speaking, the amount of apparent wind in which this kind of boat will be at full speed, with the full size genoa set, sailing fully trimmed, upwind, as though (not necessarily) racing-I.E. tying to maximize upwind VMG.

There are some variables not addressed:

  1. Whether or not the boat has a smaller headsail that a 150.
  2. If the mainsail AND the mast and rigging are constructed, installed and operated in a way to make large adjustments in the mainsail shape.
  3. Strategic and tactical issues (when racing) to do with the weather on the sailing area: Some areas have conditions of wide variations in wind speed and direction. Long Island Sound in a north westerly is like this so, when ‘racing’ the sail combination is calibrated for the average, or lower winds and the upper wind speeds, in the gusts the sail trim is adjusted where possible since the puffs are often short lived.
  4. If the boat is being sailed with lots of crew on the rail or, as in the case of the fellow for whom this information was prepared, sailing alone without the stability and power provided by crew sitting on the rail.
  5. The sea state.


The column headings (Line 0) in BLUE are for full hoist and 1,2 and 3 reefs. As we progress with this exercise, we will follow the columns down to the load on the sail at each apparent wind speed, represented under the column heading of the same name, at line 7.

A second aspect to this exercise was to determine the loading on the mainsheet at various wind speed and reefed combinations. The reason for this being we are looking at ways to modify the mainsheet system so he can adjust it from the helm area rather than it’s present location on the cabin top-A not uncommon location for boats of this vintage. We were looking for the sheet loads in worst-case situations. The sheet is presently 5:1 onto a winch. The original calculations I did for the client had a calculation for 6:1 and 24:1-This latter ratio was to be gained by having a 4:1 fine tune on the 6:1 coarse adjustment for a total of 24:1 Basically, like most of the 30-36 foot J boats.

The point here is to determine the loads at each reef at wind speeds up to 50 knots apparent-line 27, which is roughly about 43, 45 knots true wind speed for most boats in this size range. I arrived at the areas by marking the luff height on the sail plan and then extending this across the sail to the clew reef position, noting the distance and using the new shorter luff and foot to arrive at the sail areas entered across line one.

Read Line 1, across. This presents the area in sq. ft. of each reef, subtracted from the full hoist area (352 sq. ft.) For example with first reef in the sail area is down to 280 sq. ft. from 352 sq. ft.

Read Line 2, across. This is the amount of area by which each reef reduces sail area from the FULL HOIST sail, i.e. 72, 119 and 192 sq. ft.

Read Line 3, across. This is the amount of area by which each reef reduces sail area from the PREVIOUS REEF, 47 and 73 sq. ft.

Read Line 4, across. This is the amount of area expressed as a percent by which EACH REEF REDUCES SAIL AREA from the full hoist sail, 26, 34 and 45 percent. In other words with the third reef in the sail area is reduced by 45 percent.

Read Line 5, across. This is the amount of area, expressed as a percentage by which each reef reduces sail area from the PREVIOUS REEF, so 20, 35 and 38 percent.

You may read for yourselves the loads at each two-knot increase of apparent wind speed. The salient ones I highlighted are for the loads for full hoist at line 11-18Kts. and at line 14-24Kts.  At 18 kts apparent, the load is 1,279 lbs. and divided by 5 (The mainsheet system is presently 5:1 led to a winch) the load at the winch is 256 lbs. In the event we did go to the 24:1 system, the load on the fine tune would be only 53 pounds, (1,279lbs. /24 [to 1]) a load readily adjustable by hand-which was the point.

At line 14, the apparent is 24 knots the load is up to 2,274 pounds. This represents a 33% increase in wind SPEED, but a 77% increase in the FORCE. Get the picture now? And the 24:1 mainsheet system is up to about 95 lbs. more load but well within the scope of someone sailing a 40 footer by themselves.

If you study this table, you will see that in the reefed columns I have highlighted forces that are similar to the force at between 18 and 24 knots apparent with a full hoist. I used these wind speeds as a baseline because it is in this range that the boat, most boats of this general style and size will be at the upper limit of their ability to carry sail. This is the wind speed and conditions where the boat is heeling too much, the helm is heavy, spray is flying, the sails are flapping and so on.

With the first reef at between 22 and 28 knots apparent with loads of 1,424 to 2,307 lbs. are in the same area as 18 apparent at full hoist. And remember this discussion does not take into account changes in the headsail area or any of the other variables noted above.

With the second reef, the wind range to shadow this force is between 26 apparent up to 30 apparent. And for the third reef, you are at between 36 and 40 apparent.

And so it goes, you can study this table and consider what the loads are on your boat.


Fig 1: An open 60 heavily reefed off New Zealand

Fig 2: This Quest 30, a sporty boat with a bigger than average sail plan for a 30-foot boat is very often reefed in comparatively low wind speeds.










A review of the foregoing

Flat is fast

1) When you reef the sails need to get flatter, as well as smaller. This is one of the most commonly neglected aspects of the whole reefing process. So, how do we get the sails flat as well as small?  The most important part of this is the make sure the clew of the sail can be tensioned, easily and effectively and that the new foot’ of the al can be made tight, so the sail becomes flat. Equally important is getting the correct firm tension on the luff.

Fig. 3 The ability to pull the leech reef aft is critical to effective-FLAT- sail shape

Now let’s have a look at the various ‘systems’ used for reefing, excusing from the discussion, in-boom furling and in, or behind, mast furling.

How DOES one reef, (properly)?

1) The blocks, sheaves, leads, string and clutches.

There are three principal ways to rig the reefing system. These three ways, or ‘systems’ vary by the age, style, most common use of and size of the boat. Generally speaking, most production boats employ (sailing) systems and techniques taken from the race boats designed a few years prior to the introduction of the production boat. There are three basic versions of the ‘systems’ that boats have. By ‘system’ I am thinking of the path the reefing lines (and halyard) take including blocks, fair leads, snap shackles, hooks, clutches etc. that are necessary to effectively tuck in a reef. There are a few small variations I will get to.

2) How do you like to sail?

As odd as it seems, how you prefer to, or like to, or will, sail the boat has a big impact on all things reefing. Things like your age, or more accurately your level of physical fitness, agility and strength, your willingness to move around the boat in conditions under which reefing is necessary-In particular when setting the second or third reef. Experience in general terms and with this particular boat. Familiarity with the boat and its systems, and if you are racing, how much practice the crew has had reefing are all elements that will impact the reefing process and so largely dictate the way your boat is rigged, or can be re-rigged, to make reefing most seamanlike.

4) How long does it take to reef? As quickly as can be done…

There are a multitude of variables here and in no particular order some are:

  1. How many times have you reefed this boat prior? The more you do it, regularly, the easier and faster it will become-It is perfectly acceptable to practice reefing every other time you go out…
  2. The efficiency, read minimal friction, of the system-more friction means more energy to trim lines in, wind winches and this means the humans are getting worn-out faster.
  3. The distance one needs to travel on the boat to affect a reef…do you need to go to the mast or is it all done from the cockpit? This is connected to sea state too.
  4. On what point of sail are we trying to reef? Reefing is easier upwind than across the wind or down wind, largely because when across or down wind there is much more friction from the sail laying across the lee rigging. This is aggravated sometimes quite dramatically, if the mainsail has full-length battens without any low friction sliders or cars at the luff so the slipperiness (friction, or lack of) factor of the slides on the main plays a role too.
  5. Related to this detail is the mast and standing rigging configuration. On more modern boats, say from 2000, and any boat where the spreaders are swept aft, from a J-30 all the way to the latest European boats, this configuration contributes to the increased drag on the sail as it goes up or down, when sailing across or downwind because the sail is now dragging across the standing rigging and spreaders.
  6. The amount of friction, or lack of it, across the entire system is also a big factor. Sheaves in the boom corroded and not turning freely or reefing line that are too thick for the blocks are two very common problems that, if fixed, will make reefing, if not perfect, less cumbersome and slow.
  7. And how well prepared the reefing system is particularly with respect to marks on the various lines making it easier to place a line where you know it needs to go and moving onto the next step.
  8. It is, in my opinion, perfectly possible to reef a regular 40 foot boat in less than a minute with the right system, set up the right way, well prepared and carried out in the right sequence. A bit longer across or downwind.

The steps required to reef are:

  1. Decide you need to reef
  2. Announce this to the crew and make sure they are awake and stationed where then need to be. Have them wait for the command, not simply just start in on their own task as soon as they arrive at that position.
  3. Make sure the various lines are clear to run, especially the halyard, that the crew knows which line is to be handled in what order, that there are winch handles located close to hand as needed and so on. Magic marker marks on the halyard or a few turns of seizing line with the tail sticking out makes it easier to feel as well as see.
  4. Ease the sheet, enough. This is the amount necessary to take the load off the sail such that it is luffing to, at a minimum, ¾ of the way aft from the luff of the sail. From here, it is a fine-tuning exercise each time you reef.
  5. The person steering plays a role too, maintaining a steady course based on the apparent wind angle, with the mainsail now (quite) eased. The balance, and so the feel on the boat, will be different than when the mainsail was trimmed in and the boat was more or less balanced. A common steering problem is when the mainsheet is eased the wheel, the helm goes light so the person steering bears down to get feel back into the helm and the boat tends up reaching instead of being close hauled. For instance
  6. Ease the vang, enough, and if you have a topping lift and not a rigid vang, trim the topping lift to a pre-determined point. This point is that which lifts the boom, ‘just a bit’, i.e. sufficient to take the weight off the boom and the leech of the sail. The reason for this is that almost universally sail makers will place the reef rings progressively higher up the leech, say 2,3 inches on an average 35-50 foot boat. This is so the successive reefs do not need to be jammed into the boom, on top of the already fabric-filled area. So the leech reef ring can be a few inches away from the boom, and still the boom is more or less horizontal.
  7. Lower the main halyard-and this is where the variations start to kick in-Lower the halyard to, ideally a previously determined point. As part of the discussion on Seamanship, preparation, that is testing this stuff at the dock, is a key ingredient here.
  8. Secure the tack of the reef point —THEN
  9. Tension halyard (this is ALWAYS to be completed before tensioning the leech reef line.)
  10. Tension the leech reef line. (It is critical in the arrangement of the leech reef line that the ‘new’ foot of the sail can be pulled aft and tensioned in order to make the sail flat.)
  11. Release the topping lift, letting the load come back into the sail-Otherwise you will end up trimming the mainsheet against the topping lift and not the sail. This helps to not break the topping lift too.
  12. Trim the sheet and vang as appropriate
  13. Secure the bunt (the bit of sail fabric now flapping between the boom and the reef point), as you feel necessary
  14. Check for chafe, and regularly there after.
  15. Put on the kettle for tea.

If you are at sea AND the conditions seem to be settling in for the duration, rig up some back up lines. I will get to these later on.

The foregoing is roughly the sequential narrative of reefing. The nuances depend on which of the three systems you have.

I will discuss these three systems individually in subsequent posts.


HOOD Loft Spotlight: Argentina

We continue our HOOD Around the World series by learning more about our HOOD Argentina loft.

Pedro Ferrero has run the HOOD Argentina loft since its inception in 1973. Pedro is a talented sailor and sailmaker (his sailing career includes five Olympic campaigns, two Pan American games and numerous world and national championships). Today, he continues to run the HOOD Argentina loft with the same integrity and innovation he has for the past 40+ years. We caught up with his son, Jorge Ferrero, who runs the HOOD German loft and Argentina loft with his father.


How & when did your father become associated with HOOD?

My father, Pedro “Toto” Ferrero, grew up sailing and began to build his own sails for his dinghies when he found that the available sails were not good enough for racing. He gained attention after having success in many regattas with his own sails, and his sails came to be the first choice for racing sailors in Argentina. Pedro worked as a sailmaker in the US for a few years and worked with Ted Hood in Marblehead. But he missed his country, so in 1973, he decided to return to Argentina where he founded HOOD Argentina with the help of naval architect German Frers.

How did you get involved in sailmaking?

I also grew up sailing and spent a lot of time during my childhood in the sail loft. On school holidays I earned some money helping out at the loft.

During my Engineering Studies at the Buenos Aires University I started working for Ford Motor Company. After 4 years and a degree, I realized that the automotive world was far away from my passions and expectations for the future. At that time Argentina was in an economic crisis so it worked out to be a good time to go help Pedro and the staff at HOOD Sailmakers Argentina to organize the loft and its operations.

After 17 years and now working from Germany, I’m still proud to be part of HOOD Sailmakers Argentina!


Tell us about your clients and your area, what happens at your loft?

The majority of our clients are cruising boats in the 30’ range. We mainly produce Dacron and Nylon sails for these clients. We also produce one design sails for the popular classes here (Optimist, Laser, Europa, Pampero, Grumete, etc), and racing sails for the PHRF, IRC and ORC Rating formulas as well as Classic Sails. We are able to make or repair bigger sails in our loft for 60’+ Boats, Tall Ships, Maxis or Super yachts. Most of these clients are local but some are foreign customers that make a stop in Buenos Aires during their trips around the world.

Why do you think clients choose HOOD sails?

After more than 40 years in the local sailmaking scene, the HOOD brand is recognized for long lasting quality sails made from sailors, who understand the customers’ needs. Many of our clients have been with us since the beginning.


How have you seen sailmaking change through the years?

A lot has changed over the years, making sailmaking more sophisticated and, as a result, the sails produced are more efficient, with better finishing and details. The sailcloth industry also changed a lot with addition of new fibers and better laminating and weaving methods. The custom membranes for performance racing and cruising sails are a great alternative with a competitive price and many different producers.

What was one of your favorite projects to work on?

The most interesting projects for me were the unusual ones.

During two editions of the Global Challenge, the 70′ boats made a stop in Buenos Aires and we were asked to manage the repair services with HOOD’s President Tim Woodhouse and Service Manager Tom Braisted. There were about 12 boats with many heavy sails that needed to be repaired during the short stop. It was nice to work together with Tom, Tim and the crews to have everything ready on time for the next leg.

Another nice project was servicing sails in Ushuaia from super yachts rounding Cape Horn. For these projects, we needed to take some machines and equipment down to Ushuaia by plane and organize a make-shift loft to complete the work. I can remember two of those projects off the top of my head: the service of 140′ Hetairos’ Vektron Mainsail (350Kg) and also 110′ Charlatan’s heavy Vektron furling sails.



What do you love about the HOOD brand?

The HOOD brand is regarded worldwide for making quality, durable sails, and we are happy to have the same reputation locally in Argentina and Germany. We make our best efforts to produce the best possible sails for our customers so that they are happy with them and keep coming to us for their future needs.

We appreciate the interest and support from HOOD’s US headquarters on what’s happening locally at our loft, and their support in technical and administrative issues as well as the communication between the different international lofts. Since I can remember we run all our main communication with HOOD Headquarters through Dawn Mello, who is always ready to listen our requests, projects and problems and always supports and gives us the best solutions.




HOOD Sails in the Pacific Cup


In ocean racing, it is invariably the big, impressive and fast boats that get the limelight. One thinks of Comanche in the Sydney to Hobart and the Newport to Bermuda race this past year.

However, this year in the Pacific Cup, there were 65 boats  and most were low-key family and friends programs. From 65 entries, only a handful might be classed as full on, win at all costs, no expense spared programs.  For the other 55 or so regular sailors, preparing their family boat for a 5,000 mile round trip, durability and utility, and so value, play a significant role. One such owner is skipper and father Mike Johnson of San Francisco.

Mike has had a long career in the boat game including 11 Trans Pac races and a total of 18 Pacific passages, so he has some ideas on what is needed ‘out there’. After all these trips, this year’s Pacific Cup was to be Mike’s first on his own boat, a Beneteau 40.7, which he purchased with the express intention of sailing with his family.

For the Pacific Cup, the crew was Mike, his wife and two daughters, recently graduated from high school and college (plus their boyfriends) and an seventh crewmember, a long-time shipmate of Mike’s rounded out the crew. One of the key goals for Mike was to share with his daughters what dad has been up to all these years

Mike’s friends and family goal settled on only point-to-point style racing, and not windward-leeward courses where the emphasis is on skilled crew for turning the corners and high cost, low durability laminated sails. In order to maximize the value, the utility of the sails, Mike contacted the Hood Sailmakers Sausalito loft, run, it seems forever, by Robin Sodaro to talk about sails, budget, goals, utility, durability and performance. In short, Mike needed what the rest of us all seek: value.

Mike liked the idea of the Vektron material and it’s benefits, and so selected this unique fabric for the mainsail and the headsail. He also ordered a Code Zero in a specialized Code Zero fabric.

Both the working sails were fairly normal with respect to what Robin might have recommended to any sailor with the same demand for durability, performance and value, racing or not. The mainsail had two reefs, four battens including two full-length battens at the top, running on a Tides Marine Track, an overhead leech line so as not to have to hang off the side of the boat to adjust the leech cord, a cunningham, loose foot, sail numbers and draft stripes.

The jib was similar in its normalcy: UV cover, (in UV Dacron-It is much lighter than the Sunbrella) 4 leech battens installed parallel to the luff, foam pad and draft stripes. Both sails are very typical for the boat, the sailor, and the program.

As is increasingly common these days, Mike retrofitted a bowsprit so as he could set asymmetrical spinnakers, making life less demanding for the Corinthian crew. Unfortunately regardless of the sails, sailboat racing is always, well sailboat racing.

After leading his 11 boat cruising class for the first four days, within 15 minutes of first setting the Code Zero as the wind freed enough to do so, the bobstay on the sprit parted and the sprit broke.

Undaunted, he continued under main and jib. Interestingly enough, he discovered that it was faster to rollup the jib and so was able to sail dead downwind with just the mainsail. This was no doubt helped by the fresh winds, hovering in the high 20’s for the bulk of the race. After a couple of days of sliding back through the fleet, they recovered to finish a respectable third in class.

The ladies flew back, and Mike sailed back to the mainland after the race. After close to 5,000 miles in short order, perhaps less than 6 weeks, Mike is still very happy with the sails and is lining up for the next offshore race with the family. This may, in fact, be just about the best value anyone with a sailboat can have, sailing with your friends and family-especially with your kids.

Classic Yacht Refit

Last year, we were approached by the management of a 1930’s classic wooden yacht about building sail plansails  for the boat. This lovely old classic was about to undergo a massive restoration for the new owner.

The boat was to be rebuilt to a very high level and so all the supplementary equipment including, of course, the sails had to match the required high level of finish and detailing. HOOD won the order, and so, we started a file on the project.

There were to be two sets of sails; one for cruising and one for racing. For the cruising sails, we used the unique Vektron material pioneered by HOOD over 20 years ago. Since the boat is also to compete in the classic wooden boat regattas, the ‘race’ sails needed to be all polyester (Dacron).

In keeping with the classic style of the boat, we were able put to good use many of the classic details we save for such projects. One particularly attractive detail is the leather covers over the rings in the corners of the headsails.

Leather cover for t-ring

Hand-stitched leather cover over the clew ring

The boat, of course, has wooden spars, varnished to within an inch of their lives, and the metal rings used in the corners, commonly bang on the spar and mar the varnish as well as ding the wood. To get around this, we installed a lovely reddish/brown colored vegetable tanned leather over the clew rings. The hand stitching is a truly remarkable bit of artwork done by our service manager, Tom Braisted.

The leather covers what are called T rings, seen below. These accept soft eyes spliced into the end of the sheets, again making it easier and faster to change headsails. This technique also eliminates the bulk of the knot created when tying bowlines in the sheets. A common method, but one prone to cause the sheets to hang up on the shrouds when tacking. In the case of a cutter, the bulk of the bowlines also get hung up on the forestay, making tacks slow and requiring lots of grinding.


T-ring clew under the hand-stitched leather cover

The leather covered T rings are much smoother than the bowlines typically used to secure headsail sheets.


Example of bowlines typically used to secure headsail sheets.

Example of bowlines typically used to secure headsail sheets.

The white material obscuring the T is one side of the Velcro that holds the leather cover down.

The white material obscuring the T is one side of the Velcro that holds the leather cover down.











Today, most headsails have stainless steel ‘O’ rings secured to the head and tack or more likely spectra webbing. The latter is easy on the metal parts of the furling equipment. In order to match the traditional look of the boat, we drew upon years of the sailmaking art to finish the head and tack in a manner befitting the yacht. We used bronze thimbles and spliced the luff rope around the thimble. This was then secured with heavy-duty waxed polyester hand-stitching thread, again hand-stitched.

Example of bronze thimbles

Example of bronze thimbles

The cruising sails, needing to be handled by fewer crewmembers had hanks on the jib luffs. This makes it much easier, faster to change sails. The race sails gave a nod to technology and had soft hanks made from spectra webbing and Velcro. This style of securing the sail to the stay is much lighter (the 26 Bronze ones used on the cruising yankee weighed close to 4 pounds…). Soft hanks provide less obstacles for the racing genoa and sheets to foul and less windage, but they take longer to put on and take off.

The bronze hanks shown below, were seized onto the sail with waxed polyester hand-stitching thread. Underneath the hanks on the sail, there is nylon reinforcing/chafe protection sewn down to the sail, too. This extra thickness where the grommet is pressed in gives it more ‘bite’.

The ‘hanks’ for the racing sails are made from spectra webbing, secured on one side of the sail.

Example of the bronze hanks used

Example of the bronze hanks used


In the pictures below, the white rod on the left is set up so the ‘offset’ for each hank is the same. The webbing has Velcro sewn to it, and after being passed through the ring, passes around the stay again and secures to Velcro on the other side of the sail.

Offset for hank

Offset for hank

Offset for hank

Offset for hank










Yankees are typically used in conjunction with a staysail, defining the classic cutter rig. As such, yankees are defined partially by having a high clew, as on the sail plan for the boat shown below. This is so the staysail that is set underneath it will work properly.

Example of how a high clew is drawn into the sail plan for a yankee

Example of how a high clew is drawn into the sail plan for a yankee

The height of the clew means that adjusting the jib’s leech line at the clew is not an option. To address this, we built in an overhead leech line. As the name implies, this style of leech line installation is secured at the clew, travels up the leech inside the leech tape and passes through blocks at the head of the sail. There is sometimes a purchase on the head of the sail to make it easier to adjust the line, and then the tail travels down a dedicated tunnel made from fabric ‘tape’ at the luff and exits at the tack where it is possible to adjust the line.

In the picture below, of the overhead leech line in the mainsail, you can see the leech line come up the leech, attach to a small tackle and then descend down the luff. The piece of fabric on the right is the cover flap that is secured over the tackle.

Overhead leech line on the mainsail

Overhead leech line on the mainsail

The leech line exits at each reef position on the luff. In the picture below, you can see the reef patch including the floppy rings, the exposed leech line and the cleats. We also installed leather chafe protection where the reef ring will bear near the mast and reefing gear. Visible also in the image are the custom cast bronze luff slides the boat sourced from a foundry in the Pacific Northwest.

Reef patch

Reef patch

Seen below in close up, these polished slides are secured to the sail with nylon webbing, again hand-stitched with the polyester, waxed twine used elsewhere for hand-stitching. The small patch and grommet also seen in this picture to the upper left is one of the reef points in the body of the sail. A short length of light line is passed through the grommet and around the foot of the sail to secure the bunt of the sail when reefed.

Close up of a grommet

The custom luff slides are secured with hand sewn nylon webbing

I often think the range of mental pictures sailors have when the word ‘sailmaker’ is uttered covers the gamut between a Norman Rockwell picture of an old bloke with a flannel shirt and Pinze-Nez glasses, sitting on a wooden bench and hand-sewing a sail all the way to gantries with guys in harnesses doing heroic things with exotic fibers.

The truth today is that sailmaking covers both ends of this spectrum and everything in between. One thing is for sure though and that is it takes truly dedicated, really skilled, career sailmakers to finish sails to the degree equal to the high levels required by this boat. This artesian end of the spectrum was one of the principle reasons why HOOD was selected to build sails for this classic yacht. Sixty years on, HOOD Sailmakers is still the most trusted name in sailmaking.

Offshore Sails

Sailing offshore in your own boat is often a theme running in the background of the minds of many sailors. The detailing and construction of sails for boats destined for offshore is a critical component for your safety and it is a discussion that your HOOD Sail Experts are extremely qualified to have.

The following is a review of the kinds of questions that come up in discussions with customers and addresses the detailing we can do for offshore sails. The pricing for each option is a function of the square foot size of a particular sail. On the other hand, at 0230, on a dark and stormy night, with big wind and seas, when you are cold, wet, tired, hungry and perhaps more anxious than you would like, the money you will spend on this type of detailing, drawn from years of practice across a vast swath of boats in all oceans and conditions is a low cost insurance policy and will look like a great idea.

Reefs: a third reef, or NOT:

The presence or absence of a third reef is a topic of discussion all across the cruising spectrum: Whether or not to have a third reef OR a trysail. There are arguments for and against, but, with all HOOD custom sails the answer depends on variables both mechanical and philosophical.

The questions below are the principal ones that need to be addressed. One of the most important elements of providing VALUE in a sail is knowing what questions to ask, not necessarily simply rattling off a string of “you need X” in a one sided monologue.

It’s going to be YOUR sail, so how are YOU going to want to use it?

  • Dutchman or lazy jacks-both make setting a trysail a little more challenging that you would like. Not impossible, just another few steps in the sequence of getting the trysail set.
  • Will the trysail set on a dedicated track or in the “normal” mainsail track?
  • How will it get into this track, especially if there is a third party dedicated track?
  • If there is a low friction car system for a full batten system does it have a tunnel into which a trysail can be introduced?
  • Do you want to carry the weight of the third reef around for 95+ percent of the time with the expectation of using it only 5 percent of the time?

This picture below of a three reef main ion a Saga 40 shows the typical placement of the reefs including the third one. The bottom two reefs are above and below the bottom batten. The third reef is level with the top spreaders. Generally speaking for cruising the fully reefed (mainsail)area needs to be less than 50% of the full hoist sail. Trysails are measured at about 35% of full sized mainsail based in racing rules which obviously do not apply if you are cruising but are a good guideline.

Much of the discussion on three reefs or a Trysail revolves around the style of boat too. With modern fast cruising boats, getting them to go fast is not the issue, rather slowing them down in hard weather to the point where the auto pilots can steer and the crew rest is a consideration too.

Trysails are today almost universally orange. For Trysails made after 2014 to be used in any of the major ocean races the complete sail is required to be orange, ThTrysail on the Little Harbor 41 pictured below was being prepared for the Newport to Bermuda Race, some years ago when that rule was not in force.

Vektron cloth mainsail for a saga 40.

The owner of Saga 40 preparing to go offshore elected to go with the three reef version on his Vektron mainsail.

Using a trysail involves not just the sail but the rigging and handling techniques for dealing with sometimes a big sail in a lot of wind. This trysail is installed on a dedicated track, eliminating the requirement to remove the mainsail from the primary luff track on the mast. 

















Overhead leech line:

As the name suggests, the leech line is led up the leech, across at the head of the sail and down the luff. It is exposed at each luff reef and the tack. The idea is you can adjust the leech line without hanging off the side of the boat. This can be done with the mainsail and headsails. Particularly higher clewed reaching headsails where one cannot physically reach the clew, we lead it around the clew to the tack area where it can be adjusted as circumstances dictate, even with the genoa partially rolled up.

A mainsail overhead leech line is seen in this first picture, below. The leech line is secured at the clew and travels up the leech,(as seen in this picture below),  passes through a tackle protected by the cover (seen here) and descends down the luff in the covered ‘tunnel’ (seen in the next picture), then disappearing out to the bottom right of the picture.

In this image with the head to the left, the tackle is protected by a cover sewn down on one side and Velcro on the leech side. This protects the tackle and also allows access to it for inspection and adjustment of the line's length as necessary-Refer to next image for details of the tackle.

In the above image with the head to the left, the tackle is protected by a cover sewn down on one side and Velcro on the leech side. This protects the tackle and also allows access to it for inspection and adjustment of the line’s length as necessary-Refer to image below for details of the tackle.

This image shows the leech line exiting the leech tape and securing to a thimble, bottom right. A purchase is dead-ended on the webbing loop to the top right. This line passes thru a thimble on the actual leech line, goes up thru the block (secured at the top and bottom) and then down the luff. Both the thimble art the top of the leech line and the dead end of the tackle are adjustable to accommodate stretch over time.















Chafe protection:

Chafe has been called the scourge of the offshore sailor. In light of this, we offer a number of detailing options to defend against chafe. There are two principal “standard” options we offer: Traditional triple stitching and a coating we call Duroseam. We can also custom design and install on the sail sacrificial chafe protection for areas that will be subject to additional chafe: Spreaders and spreaders ends, across the (full-length) battens where they lay on the leeward rigging, and so on…

Triple stitching:

For offshore sails, the seams are 1.5” to accommodate the extra row of stitching. Rather than actually defending against chafe, the triple stitching is an insurance policy. With the third row, there is now 50% more stitching to resist failure. On boats where the spreaders are swept aft, in particular designed after the 2000s, the lee side of the sail bears on the rigging and spreaders quite aggressively when running down wind and can saw thru stitching at a terrible clip.

 The difference between three rows of zig-zag stitching and five-step stitching is about 20% more rivets per inch.

The difference between three rows of zig-zag stitching and five-step stitching is about 20% more rivets per inch.

Three rows of 5 step stitching on one and half inch wide seams. It is difficult to see the left end of the seam because the edge of the next panel is under neath the one you see.

Three rows of 5 step stitching on one and half inch wide seams. It is difficult to see the left end of the seam because the edge of the next panel is under neath the one you see.













Duroseam is prevention rather than insurance. It is a liquid coating applied to all stitching when the sail is complete. When it cures, it is an abrasion proof coating with a very slight rubbery feel to it. It actively resists chafe in a remarkable fashion. It is clear on the sail, although it does develop a slight grayness after perhaps 10 years where it has been applied.


Luff slide reinforcement:

The luff slides on a mainsail (or hanks on a Jib) are not intended to take sever point loading rather they are intended to hold the luff of the sail to the mast (or forestay). But accidents happen, and occasionally there will be point loading at the slider’s attachment to the sail. In expectation of this, we add an additional layer of material, a hemisphere, of suitably weight fabric to the sail where the slides or hanks will be attached. In the normal course of construction, the luff slide grommets penetrate the “bumper rope”* and thru the sail’s skin for a total of three layers of material. The half moons add a fourth layer and their shape helps distribute the loads into the body of the sail, in a fashion similar to the corner reinforcing patches.


Full length Battens:

There are several components to the question of having full-length battens, or not, and it is a hot topic today. It is an option that needs a detailed and thoughtful discussion in order for the customer to appreciate the implications, cost and how closely they will match the customer’s expectations, especially when going offshore. You can read more about full-length battens in one of my prior columns HERE.

In this version, the batten is inserted under the piece of webbing installed at right angles to the batten at the aft end of the pocket. This is sewn so as to be just wide enough to allow the batten to enter and to accommodate the batten end, seen here in black. The longer piece of webbing also passes thru the security webbing and is used to tension the batten. When done the flap is velcro’d down to the sail making the aft end smooth and freer of obstructions for the topping lift or wayward halyards to foul.

Express 57 tryradial carbon fiber day race mainsail.

Express 37 tri-radial carbon fiber day race mainsail. This sail has four full-length battens set on a Tides track and is used exclusively for day racing as evidenced by the lack of reefs.

HEADSAIL Rugg Storm Try















Batten hardware:

The hardware that full-length battens require both are on the sail so they can connect the sail to the luff fitting as a subset of full-length battens. For the customer to get value from FLB, and in particular with the “sail handling” part of the expectation curve; the luff slides need to be pretty slippery. If they are not, then full-length battens with “normal” nylon slides are worse than short battens.

In order for your Sail Expert to give you the best counsel on new sails, it is preferable to have a comprehensive discussion with you on how you sail, with whom, where, what your five year plan is, and what your expectations are.

We at HOOD Sailmakers are perfectly aware of the prices of the “things” we need for sailing and just how expensive our hobby is. The above is intended to give our potential customers a better idea of where your money is going to when you buy a HOOD Sail. We know the value of high-quality sails and we understand the difficulty that many consumers have getting to the bottom of “salesmen speak”. Our goal here is to pass this information to you so you can understand how we view our responsibility to you.

Finally, because we manufacture exclusively in the United States, we are always happy to give you a coffee & the dollar tour of the loft. We are in Middletown Rhode Island, at 23 Johnny Cake Hill and would be happy to show you around.

Full-Length Battens

One of the most common discussions with potential sail customers regards full-length battens. The conversations fall into two broad categories: speed and sail handling.
The entire subject and all the related considerations are about a four-beer discussion, so for now I will focus on the “full-length battens are faster” theory and introduce the “handling” aspect in overview. There are typically two main factors contributing to the faster myth: shape retention, both in the immediate and over time, and increased sail area.

First, consider the retrofitting of full-length battens to an old sail. We all have a mate with an old sail that is degraded in shape. This means the point of maximum camber has moved aft of where it needs to be, usually well aft of 50%. The addition of full battens and the compression employed in tensioning them artificially pushes the sail’s shape back into place. So the customer comes in with a tired blown out sail and leaves with a sail that now has some semblance of a more usable and effective sail shape. Thus, is born the idea that “full-length battens are faster.”

The second way this usually plays out is when a customer buys a brand new sail with full-length battens. The fact that it is a new sail will by definition make it faster than an old sail…just ask any one-design racer. Secondly, the fabrics the sail is made of, even the lowly Dacron, are far superior to the materials available say 15 years ago.

battonsThen there is the current design trend towards larger roach mainsails. There are constraints on roach, however. With respect to the idea of additional roach, almost universally on “normal” production cruiser/racers or cruising boats, the roach (or more accurately the “girth”) of the sail is constrained by the proximity of the backstay to the leech. Girth is the sail’s width, luff to leech, at fixed points up the sail. So if one replaces the 15 year old blown out sail with a new one having these 2015 characteristics, it will certainly be faster, but not necessarily due to batten length.

Another constraint applies to those sailors who do any kind of racing requiring a rating assessment. In this case, the girth (and thus the roach) can be no longer than the length of the girth derived by applying a formula based on the boat’s E dimension. The E dimension is roughly the maximum length of the foot of the sail. There are standard formulas for the maximum amount of girth a sail may have and they are based on percentages of the E applied at 25%, 50% and 75% up the luff from the tack. Girths over the calculated lengths for the sail will incur a handicap penalty. The maximum girth permitted in this calculation is often such that the sail may just reach the backstay or a few inches past it. Such a modest roach can be supported with “regular” battens.

Finally, if full-length battens are faster, why do one-design classes such as the J-105, where competition is hot and the length of the battens is not restricted, not have full-length battens? If full-length battens were faster, then all boats would have them. Their absence indicates to me that the value of full-length battens to the J-105 fleet is insufficient to warrant the money spent. The only true way to determine if full-length battens are faster is to do a two-boat comparison test where everything else on the boats is identical.

The other aspect of full-length battens is in the area of “better” or “easier” sail handling. This suggests that when hoisting, lowering or reefing, a full-length batten sail is somehow easier to deal with. Well, maybe. The big issue with the ease of handling aspect of a full-length batten sail is the friction between the slide on the sail and the mast track. A full-length batten exerts a compression force which pushes the slide forward into the mast track. The longer the batten, the more compression there is, and so the greater the friction on the track.

Friction is an aspect of full-length battens that is little considered, but is a big factor on the ease of handling the sail. For instance, when sailing off the wind with the mainsail eased out and you wish to reef the main, it is very difficult (verging on impossible) to get the sail down. This is because the sail is laying across leeward rigging AND the compression force is acting on the track, jamming the slides into one side of the track. This situation is aggravated with modern rigs with swept-back spreaders, causing the sail to contact the rigging even sooner when the sail is eased.

Another consideration is the prevalence of using a simple batten box and webbing to attach the slide to the batten box. In this case, in addition to the “normal” friction, the batten end at the luff wants to over rotate, causing even more friction at the slide-track interface. Sailmakers use this method because it is cheaper and doesn’t need to be broken out as a line item in a quote. There is hardware that will alleviate this issue, but it is expensive (perhaps $50-$75 per batten, which I feel warrants its own separate line item), and it is only of partial help since the friction is largely a function of the slides on the mast track anyway.

It is possible to install a dedicated slippery luff track and car system, but this equipment is very expensive. It is also best done with a considerable amount of coordination between the sailmaker, the hardware supplier and the installer. For a 45 foot boat, it is not impossible that full-length battens will run 20-25% of the cost of the sail, or more if a dedicated track is used.

In summary, yes there are potential advantages to installing full-length battens and a low friction luff track system, but in general this is a better value in larger boats bound offshore with short-handed crews. It adds another level of complexity, expense, and it requires additional design and coordination among your suppliers. I will address this and other details in a future “Under the Hood.”


What is Hood Vektron?

This is a question I am always asked when talking sails with customers, so I thought I’d make it easy and prepare a brief bio on Hood Woven Vektron.

Is woven sailcloth comprised of high tenacity polyester fiber co-mingled with Vectran® fiber in the fill direction (i.e. up the leech)

Sails made from Hood Vektron are:

  • White in color, in their natural finish
  • The panel layout is cross cut
  • They “look” like Dacron sails
  • The fabric is extremely stable* see below.
  • A single layer material, woven, with no Mylar films (which is where mildew breeds)
  • There is a light gold pinstripe on roughly 8 mm centers on the fabrics, functionally invisible unless you pick the sail up and look at it up close.
  • Resistant to all the various chemicals, abuses (chafe), UV, flex (flogging) and the rest of the tests we all put our sails through.

Fiber is one of the 8 fibers the sail making industry uses to make fabric/sails. It is the only one, apart from polyester (and nylon which is not relative to this discussion) that can:

  • Be woven
  • AND: Withstand weaving & the stresses weaving imparts on the fibers.
  • AND: Has sufficient strength, stretch resistance, recovery, flexibility, abrasion resistance, UV exposure and the other characteristics that fibers intended for use on boats (as sails) to make its employment in sailcloth worth the effort.
  • AND: Has a “reasonable” cost in the spectrum of sail fibers. It is more expensive than polyester but less than the others: Kevlar, Technora, Spectra/Dyneema etc.
  • AND: Very importantly, it has a high resistance to heat. This aspect is very important in the manufacture of Hood woven Vektron.

The process of weaving polyester fibers into Dacron sailcloth is fairly straightforward. Yarns of fibers are introduced to each other at right angles. There are a number of stages and actions going on at the same time that are not germane to this essay. At the conclusion of the weaving, the raw woven fabric, (called greige –Grey – goods) are treated in various ways depending on the end use of the fabric. This is commonly called “finishing”.

One stage that all woven fabrics pass through is exposure to high heat and pressure. One of the key characteristics of polyester that make it so versatile in the manufacture of Dacron sailcloth is its propensity to shrink when heated. The practical aspect of this is that, after the fabric is woven as tightly as possible on the loom, it is then heated and it shrinks and becomes even more tightly knit together, “finished” as the cloth guys call it. This tightness varies greatly based on all manner of issues and so the cost per meter of Dacron varies as much as 100%.

The basic stages in weaving what becomes Hood VEKTRON fabric are broadly similar as for “regular” Dacron, but there are a few extra stages that take extra time & so make Vektron more expensive per produced yard. The greatest benefit to boat owners of this Vektron fabric is that the fabric is even tighter in the finish than the most expensive Dacron.

Try this test: Grasp a table napkin, or similar woven fabric. Along the direction of the fibers, pull it apart. Now, pull it apart on an axis that is at 45 degrees to the first. It is stretches more for the same load. It is this so-called bias stretch that is important in the manufacture of sails and sail fabric. The less bias stretch there is in a fabric, the longer the sail’s shape will remain as the designer intended it.


  1. Sails made from Hood woven Vektron can commonly be made from a cloth weight 1-3 ounces lighter than the “same service” Dacron. For example, a mainsail for a 35 footer in 7.5oz. Dacron can use 6.0oz. Vektron. A sail that needed 9.0oz. in Dacron can use 7.0oz. Vektron.
  2. They are more stretch resistant, not only on the bias, but also in the fill and warp.
  3. They are way less susceptible to mildew.
  4. There is no Mylar film to de-laminate.
  5. They are thinner in the cross section, so less problematic when being used within-mast furling, especially with todays masts where the cavities are small(er)relative to the original Hood spars.
  6. They have a softer “hand.” They are easier to handle, flake, fold and so on, thanlaminates.
  7. In applications like classic yachts, they can have traditional cross cut sails, evenwith narrow panels, if desired, and so keep the original visual appearance of theboat. They can be dyed to enhance this look too.
  8. Vektron sails make a very viable alternative to the low-key Wednesday racerthan more expensive and less durable laminated sails.
  9. Vektron sails, being cross-cut design, can be re-cut over time, just like in the olddays.
  10. And crosscut is a preferable way to design RF headsails or in-mast sails that are to be reefed.

Vektron is a better value product. It offers more performance, durability, ease of handling, less potential for damage and overall better value for most sailors.

The Value of Your Sailmaker

Sailmaking is not, and never has been, immune from the downward price pressure that the expansion of online shopping has generated. We all know the drill. Search sailmakers, click half a dozen different ones, fill out the request a quote form, and depending on the company, you might get a computer generated quote back before the next sip of the beer or an email the next day, or week. Well, that is great if you want something that is white with three corners and might fit your boat more or less. That is a way to buy a sail (or anything) based on price. It is not a way to ensure value, especially over time.

A couple of sails for a 35 to 40 footer might be as much as a new engine or generator. Good sails will often outlast the engine. Great sails will definitely outlast the engine. If you want value in your sails, I recommend you take advantage of the biggest resource any sailmaker has: the person at the end of the phone.

Depending on which sailmaker you are calling, the voice at the other end of the phone has a plethora of experience on boats of all shapes and sizes. AND this is one area where being older pays off. A young man recently graduated from college may be an All-American dinghy racer, but unless he has had to get up out of a warm bunk at 0230, pull on wet slickers, harness up, go on deck to 35-45 knots of wind and large, confused breaking sea to deal with some failure of equipment or sail, he (and we are universally male. I know of no female sail saleswomen although there are certainly many offshore experienced women sailors) just has not had the experiences to discuss finer details of sails intended to go on a boat especially one that might go only as far as Bermuda and sometimes a lot farther.

A couple of weeks ago, I received a call from a fellow who wanted advice, specs and pricing on sails so he and his teenage daughter might sail from New York to New Zealand. Well, those sails are not something you just whip up and ship off to New York, at least if you want to sleep at night. I am the kind of guy that when I put sails on a boat and push him off for the edge of the horizon, I want to have him come back in a year, two or three and have absolutely nothing to say about the sails. Until I ask him and he says “oh yeah they have been really great…”

When the father-daughter duo sets off on this New York to New Zealand trip, they’ll head south and through the Panama Canal. When they exit the Canal, their next leg is Balboa (at the Pacific End of the Panama Canal) to the Marquesas’, which is about 4,200 miles, so roughly as long as a transatlantic from New York to Marseilles and the track is a LOT less populated. A week out of Balboa, the boat is truly in its own little world and the equipment had damn well better work, especially the sails. A 38-foot sail boat cannot possible carry the fuel to motor anywhere a thousand miles out into this part of the world, regardless of how many yellow jugs are lashed on the life lines. Much better to put the money up front into understanding what is required to have sails that will get you where you want to go with many miles left over.

Close to 10 years ago, we completed the third fleet inventory for the Chay Blythe Global Challenge, the race around the world, upwind, in stages. We took a phone call one morning from Dee Caffari, the winning skipper in that race, as she was gearing up for a new project. Dee’s sponsor had funded her for an assault on the east to west, circumnavigation, solo, non-stop record. OUT came the files for the past three events with 12 boats each, 36 boats all with multi stop circumnavigations. We had a pretty good idea of what was needed. But, this was a 72 or so foot, maybe 80,000 lb steel boat designed, built and outfit for a crew of 12. We were charged with designing, ENGINEERING and building sails for a 150 lb. woman, sailing alone. We put a lot of thinking into every detail on these sails. Redundancy for certain things, like leech lines, movable chafe resistance on the battens and so on. This set of sails alone ran to 2 one-inch binders. Upshot? Dee completed the passage, broke the record, only 6 months at sea, alone…and she reported no problems with the sails.

Going back to the father-daughter duo going to New Zealand. We spoke for perhaps 50 minutes, and did not get anywhere near the price.

How long have you been sailing?
Many years, but only dinghies.

How long on this boat?
Dad and I sailed it up from Florida and hauled it out to do work.

What sails does it have now?
An old main and a big genoa and a small sail with an orange corner….

Trysail? Heavy weather jib? Inside staysail set up? What kind of reefing system on the main, what kind of furler? What is your plan for sails for use in 30 knots? Are you willing to go to the bow to change sails, or the mast to reef? How athletic do you consider yourself? I kid you not, being on even a 38-foot boat at sea trying to do things even in 20-25 knots of wind is a work out. Just hanging on can be the equivalent of your 20-minute daily allowance of cardio. It is just not possible for the college sailor, or frankly someone who spends their time on “racing” boats to really come to grips with this without having experienced it.

The take away?

If you want your sails to work for you, in all wind AND sea conditions, upwind and down, when your unskilled mate who is steering for a minute while you check the course gybes all standing and breaks a couple of battens, when the furling line chafes through in 30 knots and the headsail unwinds but the line gets caught with turns still on the furler so you can neither roll the sail nor furl it…

Make sure you have been talking to a guy who has been there and done that. It will be worth every penny of the 10-15% premium you paid for the sails because you are not paying for X square feet of sailcloth but for long hard years of experience.

And you will pay for it one way or another.

The Multi Purpose-Spinnaker

Of all the sails developed for the cruising sailor over the past 35-40 years, the multi-purpose spinnaker (or MP-S) is a sail that sits atop the “must have” list for anyone sailing outside the confines of their multi sharbor. 

The MP-S is an asymmetrical spinnaker with the luff longer than the leech. The way these sails are set means the tack of the sail is attached to the boat at all times, unlike conventional spinnakers. MP-S sails are light, large, powerful, and inexpensive. They take up little room for their size and are easy to set and douse. They are a boon to sailing in light to medium airs across the spectrum from 70 degrees to about 130-150 apparent wind angle, depending on a few variables.

The MP-S is often the difference between motoring home in light to moderate air or being able to sail sometimes at the same speed, or more, as motoring, without the engine noise and fumes and so can make for a fine end to a great day sailing.

In very light air, under about 5-7 knots true, the MPS can be carried surprisingly close to the wind, occasionally upwards of 50 degrees apparent wind angle with a bit of attention to steering. They will sail at 60 degrees readily and 70 degrees regularly.

In 10-15 knots of wind they make a fine addition to the inventory when sailing off the wind, deeper than a beam reach. I’ve sailed to Newport from Block Island many times broad reaching in a medium south westerly, with the MP-S set, the boat powered up and stable, (not rolling as with a genoa flapping uselessly behind the mainsail) and sailing fast.

The MP-S is made from lightweight nylon fabric and so can fill in very light wind. It is ideally suited for sailing in winds up to about 15 knots up to perhaps 20 knots true wind speed, depending on the boat hull shape and the degree to which the person steering wants to concentrate. When cruising, there comes a time when boat speed can be maintained and it is a lot more comfortable too, to douse the kite and unroll the headsail. This action also makes it a lot easier on the autopilot.

For boats up to around 33-34 feet and depending on the boat’s displacement, the MP-S is made from ¾ oz. nylon. For heavier/ longer boats (up to 50 feet), we use 1.5 oz. nylon. For even longer and/or heavier boats, we consider a combination of either strategic 2 plying (using two layers of material in high load areas) or 2.2 oz. nylon.

If you’re thinking about an MP-S, there are a few considerations in order to take the best advantage of this useful sail.

I am often asked if you need to have a spinnaker halyard to use the MP-S. Ideally yes, but it can be set on a second genoa halyard as long as some guidelines are followed. Because the genoa halyard is aft of the head stay, or ‘inside’ the fore triangle, the tack is ideally set inside the fore triangle too. In practice, this means the tack is set to a fitting that can often be the on the aft end of the head stay chain plate on the bow. This setup keeps the entire sail “inside” the fore triangle. Having the sail set thus means that it needs to be gybed inside the fore triangle too. As a practical matter for almost all family/weekend sailors, there is a dearth of spare hands so I simply pull the sock down over the sail, gybe the boat and hoist the sock on the new gybe.

If, on the other hand the mast has a true spinnaker halyard that is on top or “outside” the fore triangle, then the sail can be “tacked down” “outside” the head stay. But, this invites a couple of items to pay attention to…

Unless your boat has been designed within the past 10 years, there is a lot of “stuff” forward of the head stay at the deck level. This is most apparent in boats from between the 1960’s up to the late 1990’s. Take a look at the bow of your boat where the pulpit extends out over the end of the bow, there is an anchor and anchor roller, navigation lights, the base of the furler, and all sorts of stuff there, many with sharp edges. Setting an MP-S on the bow with all this hardware is nearly impossible without either breaking something or tearing the sail. It can be done, but needs attention to detail. An alternative that has become popular over the past several years is the retrofit bowsprit.

These are basically tubes of usually aluminum, but sometimes carbon, offered by most of the spar manufacturers in either kits or as semi-custom products. With a bowsprit, the tack of the sail can be located away from the bow and from the minefield of “stuff”. So how much bowsprit does one need? Not much.

To test how much bowsprit you need, you can take a boat hook, whisker pole, fishing rod, your son’s Laser mast top section or a similar 6-8 foot length of something straight and lay it on the deck and push it forward a couple of feet. Where the line, (the halyard, in fact, will serve nicely), from the masthead hits this and clears the bow rail, is all the length of bowsprit you need.

In terms of rigging, the sail needs a halyard, of course, and a tack line. Many folks use only one spinnaker sheet, but this means you need to re-lead the sheet each time you gybe. I think this becomes tiresome as you learn to benefit from the advantages of using the MP-S. It is common today for all the lines to lead aft to the cockpit, but the halyard for the MP-S need not do this. In fact, it is better if it is at the mast, since that is where you will be to connect the lines to the sail.

The sheets don’t need to be super thick or strong, in fact lighter is better, as the sail will not really get the same loads as the headsail or the mainsail sheets and the thicker they are then the heavier they will be when they get wet

Without doubt the sail ought to set in an ATN sock. This is the long grey sleeve like device into which the sail is “loaded” and which allows you to hoist the “sail” while still having it under control. One gets the sail on deck-in the sock, connects the tack halyard and sheets and when ready, you then hoist the sock. The reverse is true when lowering the sail. Ease the sheet, pull the sock down over the sail and if necessary you can tie the sock off at this point to attend to something more pressing. Or you can lower the sock down immediately.

Today there are a variety of free luff “Code Zero” furlers intended to be used in this application. The advantage is, of course, you can furl the sail without leaving the cockpit. This equipment is generally much more expensive relative to the ATN Sock.

If we measure our sailing value by the time spent actually sailing, the MP-S is a very high value sail. They are inexpensive per square foot, don’t take up much space, easily set and doused and cover a wide range of wind angles and speed. Once you have become comfortable shipmates with it, you will wonder how you got along without it.

Durability & The Bermuda Race

For many sailors, especially in the northeast of the U.S., a passage to Bermuda is a bit of a rite of passage. Successfully completing such an open water trip is often sought after as a way to confirm to yourself (and to your mates) your abilities as a successful sailor and seaman. The biannual Newport to Bermuda Race is a way of achieving this mark with the added advantage of competition and camaraderie, not to mention the lush beauty of an island in the middle of the ocean & the Dark and Stormy’s waiting for you on arrival.

And while Newport-Bermuda is referred to as a race, the truth is, only a very small number of entrants are really in it for the glory or have an honest chance of collecting silverware. For the bulk of the fleet, simply doing a Bermuda Race is the reward. Thus, the bulk of the competitors are Corinthian, on “normal” boats sailing with family and friends on boats they don’t use for racing sailing, but do go cruising on.

For these sailors, the idea of an unlimited budget, especially for things that can wear out fast, like sails, is just not an option. Like Hood customers in general, the ones who sail (race) to Bermuda are much more interested in value over price. The unique woven Vektron material we pioneered over 20 years ago is an ideal product for the customer who wants durability at a fair price.

One of Hood’s clients, who is getting his money worth out his Vektron sails, is Chris Andrews from Portsmouth, NH. Chris has a 1980’s vintage Cal 39 and the 2014 Bermuda Race will mark his third round trip to Bermuda with Vektron sails. In 2009, Chris contacted us looking for a 150-sized headsail suitable for taking to Bermuda. Any time I read anything that says “…going into the ocean” I call up the client to get the low down. Thus, my first conversation with Chris was pretty entertaining.

I discovered Chris wanted to: Cruise locally in Maine, do local Portsmouth racing, do the Bermuda 1-2 (race from Newport to Bermuda single-handed and return Double-handed) and “oh by the way, I want to do Newport to Bermuda in 2010 and I don’t want to spend lots on sails and I want them to last.” Well, I am not sure he actually spoke those last words, but it is pretty clear to me that like almost all sailors value was an under current in the program.

Anyway, to make a short story long, we went with a main, a 135 (roller) headsail (and a rating to match it) and a Solent Staysail set up. The solent staysail and the rigging on it is really a boon for anyone sailing without a bunch of seriously fit college sailors, especially if the primary headsail is to be set on a furler. Most furlers do have two grooves, but in order to use them as such (hoist the next sail and then lower the first one) they need to give up their furling feature, and the attendant rating benefit.  If the furling stay is retained as a furler, then changing headsails becomes a real performance.

The crew needs to lower the headsail on the furler, unshackle the head and the tack, get that sail out of the way, get the new sail up to the foil, shackle the head and tack onto the halyard swivel and drum, hoist. Hope the breeze does not change again for 24 hours…

The Solent stay set up I put together for Chris eliminates all that commotion. The Solent stay sets parallel to the head stay and perhaps 6-10 inches aft. It allows all manner of sails to be set on it from light air reaching sails all the way to a small, even reefed Jib. It does not require a Corinthian crew of 5 to spend hours on the bow battling with shackles and sails blowing all over the place. The entire sail change can be managed by two people and mostly by one person on the bow with another in the cockpit handling lines.

With the constraints we all have on our time these days, getting the most bang for the buck out of our “fun” time is important to us. Making and keeping sailing fun  and simple for those who dedicate a chunk of that valuable time is one of the first things I think about when speaking with customers about sails.

Just ask anyone who has been sick or gone through some hard weather in the Gulf Stream and sworn off ocean racing. Usually they are raring to go again with in a couple of weeks after returning, because the Bermuda race is simply a fun event. And those Dark and Stormy’s after a few days at sea don’t hurt either…After all if it isn’t fun why do it?