The Proper Trade-Wind Rig
There’s more to quick and safe downwind passages than simply easing the sheets.
Everyone dreams of the perfect trade-wind passage in 15 to 18 knots of wind with long swells rolling up from astern and little necessity to do anything more than tweak the sheets and halyards to minimize chafe. But some years the trades blow 25 to 30 knots and churn up massive waves, while at other times, they die out for weeks at a time. For running before the trades, therefore, you must be rigged for all eventualities, and to do that, you’ll need a strong, easily rigged boom preventer, a reaching sheet that allows for a headsail to be sheeted through a fitting on the end of the boom, a dual-headsail rig, and spinnaker gear.
Boom Preventer, Reaching Sheet
To set up the preventer, attach a becket block to a bail on or near the end of the main boom. Then attach a wire or modern high-strength line to the becket’s eye. This wire/line preventer should be about 1 inch shorter than the distance from the becket block to the gooseneck. Splice an eye around a thimble into the forward end of the preventer line and attach a light lashing line to the thimble so it can be secured under the main boom when not in use.
Then rig both spinnaker-pole guys through blocks at the stem head or end of the bowsprit. The ends with snap shackles run back from the block on the bow to the lifeline stanchions on both sides of the mast. The other ends run back aft from the blocks on the bow to winches in the cockpit and get secured to a lifeline stanchion or cleat abreast of the cockpit when not in use.
When the time comes to set the preventer, disconnect the line on the boom and attach it to the lee spinnaker guy that’s stowed alongside the mast, then winch the tail of the spinnaker guy up tight as the main is eased.
The best downwind rig for trade-wind sailing is dual headsails. The windward headsail should be sheeted through the spinnaker or whisker pole. The leeward headsail should be sheeted using a line that’s led through the shiv in the becket block at the end of the boom. From the becket block, the sheet runs through a snatchblock amidships, then back to a cockpit winch. Sheeting the leeward headsail through the end of the boom minimizes backwinding of the mainsail by opening the slot between the main and the leech of the headsail.
To minimize rolling, the center of effort of both headsails should be low. I suggest flying two low-cut genoas rather than high-cut jibs. The flatter the headsails are sheeted, the less the boat will roll. Thus, the windward sail should be the No. 2 genoa; the leeward sail should be the No. 1 genoa. Both sails can be hoisted on a roller-furling headsail foil. If the two headsails are of different luff lengths, add a pennant to the shorter headsail to make the luff lengths the same.
If it blows up in squalls, or if the trades are really honking and the two full genoas are too much, just slowly ease sheets and furl the sails until the desired amount is still showing.
If the wind comes far enough aft so that the lee headsail is blanketed by the main, drop the main and sail under the two headsails alone. If the wind goes so far forward that the windward headsail won’t draw, just drop it out of the pole—the pole can stay there, as it has its own foreguy and afterguy plus the topping lift—and trim it in on the other side on top of the leeward headsail.
One headsail on top of another works fine, as Ted Turner established in the early days of the International Offshore Rule when he used two headsails set one on top of the other to maximize sail area in light airs. It was effective enough that the I.O.R. outlawed the practice.
For boats that have only one headsail, a second headsail will have to be bought. Remember: You’re cruising, not racing. Go to a company that specializes in second-hand sails and buy one of the approximate size that you want. Then take it to a sailmaker and have it restitched at the leech, the foot, and 3 inches in from the leech on all seams. This makes the sail strong enough for most conditions.
When it comes to spinnaker poles, a pole that’s 20 percent longer than the base of the foretriangle will allow a 135-percent headsail to set really flat, which minimizes rolling. Here is where a telescoping whisker pole earns its keep. Whatever diameter of pole the manufacturer recommends for your size of foretriangle, go one size larger. It’s worth the expense: An oversized pole minimizes the worry of it bending or jamming.