Self-Tackers: an Old Idea Revisited
The trend in boat design today is toward larger mainsails and easier-to-handle nonoverlapping headsails that, in many cases, take care of themselves.
Of course, the modern evolution of self-tacking jibs is another case of déjà vu all over again. Traditional wooden boats for work or pleasure have employed self-tacking headsails for centuries. Most were set on jib booms. In general, a block rides across the foredeck on a raised, bent bar of metal called a horse. The sheet runs between this block and another up on the jib clew. With this system, if you then lead the sheet from the clew to the sail tack on the centerline before turning it aft, the required sheet length remains the same on either board, so the crew needn’t adjust it when tacking. The jib boom also holds the sail out away from the rail when reaching or running, keeping the sail form more efficient than a loose-footed sail, with its aft area hooked back to the rail or so twisted that the top flogs about. The only real drawbacks include the added weight of the jib boom, which can flatten the sail’s leech in light airs and off the wind, just when you want a bit of twist. There also is some risk to anybody caught on the foredeck during an unintentional jibe or when the headsail begins flogging about. One might get clobbered by the thing and injured or flung overboard, but such things also are known to occur on boats without self-tacking setups. In fact, any self-tacking arrangement probably vastly increases a boat’s safety by reducing the required amount of foredeck work, especially during heavy conditions.
More recently, a new jib boom has become popular on such boats as Island Packets and the Alerions. Traditional jib booms typically pivot on universal joints near the tack end, but the Hoyt jib boom, named for its designer, Garry Hoyt, is a solid extrusion that’s bent down forward to sit in a socket in the deck. The rigid tack end prevents the Hoyt boom from flailing about, and designers can adjust the mounting angle of the boom to approximate the ideal leech tension as the sail is eased or sheeted home.
Because the angle to the deck of the Hoyt boom is fixed, this allows the use of a simple sheet arrangement much like that found on a mainsail boom, and without the need for a traveler. You can run the sheet from the jib boom down to either a block on the boat’s centerline or from a padeye on one side of the deck, then up to the jib boom and back to a block opposite the padeye, before leading it aft. You can also run a second sheet between a jib-boom outhaul and the sail’s clew so you have the ability to adjust foot tension, hone twist, and allow the sail to be set on a roller furler and used at various reefed positions.
Sailors looking at newer boats also can choose from several optional self-tacking arrangements without jib booms. These employ jib-sheet traveler tracks mounted forward of the mast. Tracks can be curved or straight, and their outer ends can arch upward and/or forward to others set flush with the deck. Frankly, all can work as long as the configuration doesn’t restrain the jib from coming across when the wind pressure comes off the sail, then backs it as the boat comes around. The traveler cars should then simply slide from side to side.