12 Jan What We Thought About When Purchasing New Sails?
Sail Plan Considerations
The reason we went so long before replacing our existing #2 furling jib (130% Genoa) aboard s/v Sweet Ruca was that we wanted to take our time and think through different sail plan configurations before committing. The sloop rig and sail design onboard is 20-year-old thinking, plus we have added an inner forestay and staysail, which changes the dynamic of upwind and reaching sail selections a bit.
Our racing minds just couldn’t stop thinking about polars and sail chart crossovers, asking ourselves the question over and over: can we improve on the existing sails?
The answer is, yes, we could improve on our sail selection and sailing speeds in most conditions. So why then did we choose to essentially go with the same sail as what we already had?
The next question that went through our minds is: at what cost? This is where things become complicated, as cost, for us, is not only measured in dollars but also happiness and safety. Fully crewed racing sailboats are one thing, double-handed racing sailboats are another, and then performance cruising sailboats with a couple and a dog are another ballgame entirely.
As a doublehanded crew, Kate and I can handle just about any sail configuration you can think of. If we had an unlimited budget it would be quite conceivable to see us reaching along with 3 headsails. This would make us happy, but we can’t afford this (maybe YouTube will blow up and we can optimize our sail plan :-). So, let’s talk about what we would do with an unlimited budget, and work our way back from there:
Our sloop rig has 4 locations to set sails. The mainsail is almost always set and many times reefed. The next sail position forward is our inner forestay (IFS), which carries our staysail, and storm jib. Forward of that is our headstay, where a Harken roller furler is mounted and holds our primary jib or genoa. Next up, on the anchor roller is a tack point for our asymmetrical spinnakers. Onboard we have the following sails: mainsail, heavy staysail, 105% jib, 130% jib, G3 cruising/reaching spinnaker, R2 max size running spinnaker.
Adding a Code 0 to the Mix
Our first thought would be to add a Code 0 to the mix and reduce the size of our jib to about 105%. This would give us a lot more power in light air and maximum pointing angle upwind in medium air. Essentially removing the need to sail with a partially furled #2 as the wind builds past 16 knots and gives us much more sail area usable up to about 8 knots of wind. From about 4-20 knots, this would give us the most speed and flexibility.
This comes at a high cost though. A furler to control the hoist, set, douse of the C-0 would also be a must. The spinnaker tack location is not suitable for a Code 0 furler, it is not far enough forward to clear the bow pulpit properly, and too close to the headstay furler.
We would need to add a bowsprit. Adding something like a Selden sprit though would conflict with our Rocna anchor on the bow. We would also need to add a bobstay for this configuration as the tack loads would be much too high for just the bowsprit. We could add a custom/permanent bowsprit which also carries our anchor, this is the dream solution, but way out of our credit limit!
The smaller jib would also be optimized with the use of in-haulers for a better upwind sailing angle. This would also require more deck hardware. This means more expense, and time spent over drilling, sealing core, and bedding. On a racing boat this isn’t so bad, but doing this in the space you live in, removing headliners, etc. is a real pain in the neck. Having a rigger do all of this for you (if they do it properly) would double your expenses.
We estimate the cost of doing all of this to be about 8,000 dollars in parts alone. We would DIY it, but if you don’t have those skills or time, budget a few thousand more for rigging and yard fees. Plus we would be purchasing two sails, instead of one, almost doubling our sail cost. This would give us the capability to triple headsail reach though, and along with better light and heavy crossovers would net a huge performance improvement.
Self Tacking Jibs
We also considered a self-tacking jib modification along with a zero. This would make upwind sailing while shorthanded a breeze, and give lots of maneuverability on a shorthanded racing starting line.
We aren’t racing though, and we don’t think a 100% or less jib would give us the power we need to punch through waves offshore, putting more dependence on the Code-0. We wouldn’t want to push the C-0 though, as it is not built for that and they can become a handful if a mistake is made and they are carried in too high wind.
A self-tacking jib would also conflict with our inner forestay, foredeck dinghy storage, and would require the hassle and expense of yet more deck hardware. For these reasons, this solution was surely a no-go for us regardless of the cost.
Jib-Tops and Yankees
We get the question a lot, why didn’t you go with a Yankee? Isn’t the foot too low offshore? There is also the question of why go with an upwind sail if your goal is reaching? Wouldn’t a JT be better overall?
These questions can lead you into the technical weeds. On a racing boat, we would surely have a selection of multiple headsails for optimal performance in all conditions. For us though, we needed one sail that would be best in our average conditions and work well enough in all conditions.
The Yankee falls short in upwind shape and is a reduction in much-needed sail area. The end-plate effect is also lost at tight angles. It does have the benefit of staying out of the reach of waves when the conditions get rough. We find though that if we are sailing in conditions where waves are crashing up onto our genoa, a reef is in order, raising the foot.
A jib top is fast off the wind, where we like to sail, and gives us extra sail area up high where the wind is, but compromises too much if we must sail upwind to make VMG or claw off of a lee shore in current.
Max Size Genoas
Why didn’t we go with a 155% maximum size genoa? Weight is one consideration, built with the strength needed it becomes very heavy. This adds to weight aloft. We think a 150+ jib should be built for light air to be handleable by a shorthanded crew. Big jibs are also very hard to tack. There is a lot of grinding and winching to be done every time the boat turns, and many times requires a person to walk the clew around. With the IFS on, surely it would require furling.
A benefit is more speed in light air, but there are some drawbacks. First, it reduces the efficiency of the main by closing the slot aft of the mast. You see this with a large bubble in the mainsail. So, to use this optimally, once again additional outside sheeting points should be considered.
Second, in very light air, with such a heavy built sail, it would generate a lot of negative energy while slatting. If it dropped under 4 knots, we would likely have to switch to a smaller sail just to ensure the sail stayed full.
The third drawback is the average wind speed we normally sail in. Tradewind conditions are normally from 10-20 knots. The world average wind speed is 7.4 knots, and most areas frequently sailed are in the 10-12 knot range. These speeds are coming in at the very top end of a full 155% genoa, meaning most of the time you would be sailing with it partially furled.
The larger the sail, the larger the cost as well. So effectively with a larger jib, we would be paying for more sail area that we would seldom use.
How does this come into play with sail selection? Well, on a fully crewed racing boat it does not, AT ALL! However, on a performance doublehanded cruising boat, this is a big concern. We sail far offshore, outside the reach of authorities for assistance. We are on our own.
Although we love doing bow work as it gets the adrenaline going, the fact is, the less time we have to spend on the pointy end, the better off we are from a safety perspective. Moving sails fore and aft, leaning over lifelines to connect to bowsprits, etc. creates the potential for errors or missteps. Having fewer sail options means fewer gear changes, which means less opportunity for failure.
This is where keeping it simple and giving up a little bit of speed in some conditions is smart. Remember, even though we like to go fast, we are cruising.
The last thing to talk about, that we thought about, during our sail selection was storage space. One would think that with just two people on a 46-foot boat there would be plenty of room. In fact, there is not. We try to travel light and still have almost every nook and cranny filled with spares, food, and gear.
Sails are big, and storage becomes an issue. We don’t want to have to climb over sail bags day in and day out. We also don’t want them on deck where they can become an issue or trip hazard in heavy conditions. Those cool stacks of sails on Volvo Ocean Race boats are designed safely in place, not a secondary consideration. You also don’t see them on shorthanded boats.
For a shorthanded offshore cruiser, we find it is best to store the sails where they can be easily used, on furlers, ready to deploy or retrieve. If our budget was a bit greater, we would also put our staysail/IFS on a removable furler for better storage and quicker deployment.
Our Final Choice
After all of this thinking, we finally put our money where our brains were and decided that the existing fore-sail-plan of a 130% furling genoa was the way to go. We measured the existing sail and sent the numbers off to Andy Camarda at Evolutions sails for an exact replacement, but of upgraded material. If you decided to contact Evolution Sails for a quote, make sure to tell them Sailing Sweet Ruca sent you!
After a few weeks of waiting for it to be put into the queue, our sail was built quickly. Despite a few setbacks caused by pandemic lockdowns in New Zealand and a big scare from UPS (they came through in the end) our brand new jib arrived here in Tenerife on time and in perfect condition. We are excited to put it to the test with 5,000 miles of sailing to Cape Horn and Patagonia.