What Sails Will You Take?
Sailmakers off thoughts on the inventory you'll need if you're headed off to go cruising. "Hands-On" Sailor from our June 2010 issue
Anyone who's knelt on a pitching foredeck to wrestle down and tame a hanked-on genoa will thank Neptune that some salty tinkerer invented roller-furling headsails. On almost any sailboat nowadays, sail area can be reduced or genoas doused from the cockpit with just a pull of a line. But that little drum on the bow that's made sailing safer and easier has also lured many a sailor into thinking that one sail-the ubiquitous 135-percent genoa, perhaps-can do it all.
In fact, it can't, and to a person, sailmakers I spoke with agreed that though roller-furlers make any one sail more versatile, you still need more than one arrow in your quiver if you're setting off for any extended length of time and if your cruising will take you across a range of wind and sea conditions.
"The furling sail is the ultimate compromise sail," says Adam Loory of UK-Halsey International. And he's right. On the one hand, a furling headsail can be set and left on the forestay all season, but on the other, in changing conditions, it may not be the best one for a particular job. And, notes Loory, the sun cover that protects the sail and the foam luff that makes it furl properly compromise its overall performance.
In general, Loory says, a sail can be reefed down to one size smaller, say from a 135-percent genoa to a 110-percent genoa, but beyond that, it loses its intended shape.
Will Welles at North Sails wants to know about his customers before he'll even begin to recommend what's needed. "The first question I always ask them is what are you doing with the boat? Where are you going and how are you using it?" In other words, if you're sailing inshore or coastal cruising or headed for bluewater, your needs will be different.
Even if the owners aren't heading off for far horizons, Welles will often recommend that they have multiple headsails. In the spring and fall, when winds tend to be stronger, a smaller working jib, say a 100-percent genoa, can be used. Then during the summer, you can go to a larger sail for the lighter air that many areas experience.
"Ultimately, you end up getting more life out of your bigger genoa if you purchase a smaller jib, too," Welles says. That's the optimum cruising inventory for your standard sailboat.
Indeed, along either U.S. coast, sailors face the same dilemma when it comes to knowing what sails to bring. In San Francisco, where the sea breeze often honks into the high 20s and above, you tend to see sailboats carrying relatively small headsails and reefed mains to match the conditions. But if that sailor heads south to, say, San Diego, where the breeze is typically in the low teens, he or she will be doing a lot of motoring if there isn't a change of canvas on board. Similarly, an East Coast sailor headed south from Boston, where a 140-percent genoa might serve well for most of the summer, will find the boat on its ear when it leaves the Cape Cod Canal and enters Buzzards Bay, where every afternoon a 30-knot blow can be expected to kick up a nasty chop. A large headsail, reefed by more than 20 percent of its sail area, quickly loses the power needed to plow through such sea conditions; a boat now needs to fly a smaller, more efficient jib. And by the time that same cruiser reaches the Chesapeake, the call will be for a large, lightweight sail for the notoriously light conditions often found there.
The trick, then, is for sailors to anticipate conditions and pack their sail bags accordingly.
One option that's employed by several sailboat designers these days, notes UK's Loory, is the so-called solent rig, which uses two headstays that are set fairly close together, both with roller furlers. On the forward stay, a big genoa or light-air reaching sail can be set for going to windward in light air or for sailing deeper angles when the breeze is up. On the inner stay, a working jib-often a self-tacking sail-is used when sailing hard on the wind or in higher breezes when cracked off.