Notes on Downwind Sailing

We didn't have much experience with down-wind sailing during our cruising career. For some reason the much vaunted "fair winds and following seas" proved to be pretty elusive. In hopeful anticipation, however, we did do some research. Here's our thinking.

          We mostly sailed to weather, until we finally arrived in the the Windward Islands. Then, we were thrilled to find winds where we could get some great reaches. We hoped to eventually circumnavigate the Atlantic, and anticipated a significant amount of down-wind and/or light-wind sailing during the course of that. We did some research by re-reading Beth Leonard's The Voyager's Handbook, Jim Howard's Handbook of Offshore Cruising, and various magazine articles in our files. We also read the Tayana listserv archives on Sailnet, and did an Internet search on "cruising spinnaker" and "down-wind sailing." Finally, we asked other cruisers what they did. Opinions were as varied as the sources we used. We thought that sometimes it would be best to tack downwind, although on other occasions going straight downwind might work. We thought that, when the time came and if the main was not in use, it would work well to hoist the trysail and sheet it down flat to counter rolling. We heard many a nauseating tale from boats who'd rolled all the way from Europe to the Caribbean. Didn't seem like a very pleasant time.

          Callipygia was a cutter, and our sail inventory was:

    1. Tor the roller furling jibstay: yankee (high-cut, small (70%) jib), and 135% genoa. We have had the yankee up for the last two years, and like it a lot as a partner to the staysail. We have not used the genoa, and don't like the idea of making sail changes on the roller furling except at the start of the sailing season.
    2. For the hank-on inner forestay: regulation staysail, and storm jib.
    3. For the mast: battenless mainsail (slides on a track, boltrope in the boom) and storm trysail, (slides on separate track).

          As we saw it, our options were:

    1. Keep our current inventory of sails, go down-wind by poling out the yankee on the opposite side of the staysail. Pros: (a) Don't need any new sails or rigging. Cons: (a) Slower than other options because less sail area.
    2. Switch to the Genoa on the forestay and pole it out on the opposite side of the mainsail. Pros: (a) Don't need any new sails or rigging. (b) More sail area than option 1, therefore faster. (c) No sail changes for windy weather. Cons: (a) Chafe on the mainsail. (b) Reefing genoa for increased wind wouldn't work very well, has no luff pad--we'd need to add one.
    3. Trade yankee for a 100% jib with luff pad for reefing and pole out as in option 1. Pros: (a) Foresail works in all kind of weather since it can be reefed easily. (b) a bit faster than option (1) due to more sail area. Cons: (a) Some additional expense.
    4. Trade genoa for a cruising spinnaker. Pros: (a) Significantly increased speed. (b)Increased enjoyment. (c) Could pole out tack for straight downwind. Cons: (a) Significant additional expense. (b) Needs some rig changes. (c) Learning curve.

          While one of us was hot to trot for option (4), due to financial constraints we finally settled for option (2) for our initially planned crossing to Europe, and had a luff pad sewn on the genoa while in Trinidad. We deferred a final decision until we were faced with a lengthy down-wind passage and had a better idea of the type of conditions we'd find. Sadly, we gave up our cruising career before that happened.


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Bill Dillon (KG4QFM)
Pat Watt (KG4QFQ)
This page was last modified on August 9, 2009

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