The Proper Trade-Wind Rig
There’s more to quick and safe downwind passages than simply easing the sheets.
Whether or not a carbon mast is a worthwhile investment on a cruising boat won’t be discussed here, but if you can afford it, a carbon spinnaker pole is a very worthwhile investment. Depending on the material used, the weight of an 18-foot spinnaker pole can vary greatly: A wood pole weighs about 45 pounds; an aluminum one, about 35 pounds; a carbon-fiber pole weighs 18 pounds or less.
If the wind goes light, roll up the dual headsails and set the spinnaker, but make an absolute rule that the spinnaker must be doused before any squalls arrive. Also make a rule that the spinnaker must be doused and the rig switched back to the dual headsails as soon as the wind speed reaches the square root of your waterline length plus 15 percent. Another good rule is to always fly the spinnaker with light—say about 3/8-inch three-strand Dacron—sheets. When it starts to blow, the sheets will tend to stretch and become smaller, and even the dimmest on-deck crew will observe this and call the skipper, who’ll then insist on dousing the spinnaker before it really blows.
When it comes time to douse the spinnaker, a snuffer is essential, and when buying a snuffer, no matter what size of nose cone the sailmaker recommends, consider going one size larger. Doing this will make it much easier to pull the snuffer down. I’ve found that leading the snuffer downhaul through a snatchblock set near the bow and then back through a snatchblock to two or more crew is much easier than having a single crewmember hauling down on the line up at the bow.
Snuffers do work, as long as they’re handled correctly. Before trying to snuff the kite, the boat must be headed dead downwind so the spinnaker can collapse behind the main.
Asymmetric spinnakers are great. Installing a removable bowsprit is worthwhile as it will make jibing the asymmetric much easier. Plus it allows you to sail deeper than if it’s tacked down at the bow. However, for a heavy- or moderate-displacement cruising boat, it’s essential that a spinnaker pole be carried in case the wind goes dead aft. Tacking downwind with an asymmetric is fast on light-displacement boats; however, a heavy-displacement cruising boat doesn’t increase its speed sufficiently to justify sailing jibe angles of more than 20 degrees. I learned this firsthand aboard an 88-foot ketch that sailed transatlantic in 2005. It sailed well but only had a big asymmetric without a pole. To keep the sail full, we had to sail 90-degree jibe angles. We were doing 9 to 10 knots through the water, but our velocity made good was only 6 to 7 knots on course to Antigua.
If you’re planning a trade-wind voyage, here’s one final consideration. With the right sails and rigging, trade-wind passages should be the ultimate in green transportation. So, just to keep your beer cold and lights lit, why ruin your wonderful time at sea by listening to an engine or generator for four hours a day and smelling the exhaust fumes blowing the length of the boat? Instead, you can trail a 12-inch propeller on 50 feet of line attached to an Ampair taffrail generator slung from the stern pulpit. I did this on Iolaire and can attest that if you have a day’s run of 160 miles, it will generate 144 ampere-hours at 12 volts.
Iolaire also has had a wind generator on the top of the mizzen since 1975, and it’s seen at least three occasions when the wind was over 70 knots. It didn’t work so well when running with the trades because of the lack of apparent wind, but at anchor, it easily kept the beer cold.
Running generators on passage is totally or almost totally unnecessary and definitely unacceptable if we’re trying to sail green and minimize pollution from internal combustion engines. The engineless Iolaire has done five transatlantics with cold beer all the way, courtesy of Ampair wind and water generators. You can read more about this in a CW web extra (www.cruisingworld.com/1105street).
Don Street is the author of a series of popular cruising guides and charts and appears in a series of instructional DVDs. Log on to www.street-iolaire.com to learn more about his adventures.