Simplicity v. Technology on the Ocean Sailing Boat


I just had an interesting email exchange with a friend whose in the (years-long) process of outfitting his boat for extended ocean cruising. The boat is similar to Arcturus, and we have similar ideas about things, and somehow got in touch a few years back. Anyway, we've had several of these types of exchanges. I won't say who it is out of respect for his privacy, but I want to publish my response to his latest email about rigging, sails and engines. I'll preface each section with what I'm about to discuss, but won't include anything specific that he's emailed me. Click here to see the slideshow about refitting Arcturus. What's your take?

On Rigging (The boat in question will be fitted with a mast 3 ½' taller than standard...)

First off, I love that you decided to make the mast taller. As Moitessier once said, you can always shorten sail, but you can’t raise your mast! So good on you for that. I think your nuts going with 7x7 wire (only because of the work), but it will definitely work, and is certainly traditional!

I’d advise you to install a solent stay rather than an inner forestay, unless you plan on sailing the boat as a true cutter, with both a genoa and a staysail flying together. The solent will eliminate the need for running backstays, and is just as versatile as an inner staysail (if not moreso, as you can fly a larger jib from it, as it’s fitted higher on the mast – but you cannot fly it with the genoa, it’s one or the other). 

If you make it from Dux, you can make it removeable, making it much easier to tack the genoa when sailing inshore, and you can rig it permanently when you’re offshore, as you won’t be tacking more than once a day, if that. After sailing several boats with both setups, I’d go with the solent every time. It’s my favorite rig for offshore work, as it’s the most versatile, and in your case, you’ll do less hanking on and hanking off of headsails if you can have both a genoa and a 100% jib hanked on the two stays and use whichever one is more suited to the conditions.

On Tides Marine Strong Track & Lazy Jacks

Go for the Tides Marine track. We just installed one on my dad’s boat, and I regret not doing it on Arcturus. It’s simple, robust and makes hoisting and lowering the main a treat. That said, I have not once had a problem with raising or lowering the main on Arcturus, which has traditional stainless sailtrack. The only downside with the strongtrack is that it will look a little less traditional.

If you do go with strongtrack, you’re foolish not to go fully battened on the mainsail. The sail sets so much better it’s hardly even debateable anymore, and I’d argue that full battens actually increases the life of the sail, as it will never flog (if you reef early enough) like a soft sail does. Forget the problems with lazy jacks – unless you have a stack pack (which I think is a crime to install on any boat that you want to look nice – they are hideous!), the lazy jacks would not be deployed until after you’ve raised the mainsail (and really, not until you’re ready to reef or douse the sail entirely). That’s a huge misconception with the proper use of lazy jacks. When you lower the sail and tie it up to put the cover on at night, you’re lowering the lazy jacks anyway (to fit the cover – much simpler than sewing complicated holes in the cover). When you uncover it next day, you’ll drop the sail ties, and yes, the sail will fall off the boom, but only until you hoist it, which will be right away. No need for lazy jacks to get in the way of anything. Then, before you reef or douse, deploy the lazy jacks and let the sail fall into it. Works great. And build the lazy jacks from 3/16” dyneema, with a ¼” Sta Set as the control line. Simple to splice, no need for thimbles and won’t chafe the sail.

While you’re at it, install ¼” dyneema messenger lines on the boom for your preventers. Fix them at the very end of the boom on padeyes using a cow hitch, then run them the length of the boom to the gooseneck. They can be attached here with tiny cam cleats, with an eyesplice in the end of the dyneema. No need to reach the end of the boom now to attach preventers – you can pre-lead 10mm VPC line with a snap shackle in the end from a winch in the cockpit, forward to a block on the bow, and after to a lifeline pulpit near the gooseneck. When you need the preventer, just attached the VPC end to the dyneema part on the boom and away you go. When gybing, you do it all from the gooseneck and never have to reach out to the end of the boom.

On Fitting an Outboard (ala Yves Gelinas)

I don’t know if I told you this story, but I tried building my own side mount bracket for a 15HP Yamaha Enduro that I bought in Ireland. It was a disaster (mainly because of my poor design that didn’t work). The engine would have easily driven the boat, but the whole thing was more trouble than it was worth (which is why we eventually caved and installed an undersized Beta 16 diesel, which I am now in love with for maneuvering and motoring in flat calm). The reality of it – getting it on and off that bracket, messing around with gasoline as fuel, etc etc – is not worth the effort. If I were you, I’d forego that idea altogether and just sail the boat as a true sailboat with no engine whatsoever. Or get an outboard for the dinghy that you can use to tow alongside or something. Or an oar, like Lin & Larry Pardey. I don’t think the outboard idea that Yves has is practical for ocean sailing, and it’ll be more hassle than it’s worth. 

More on Battens & Final Thoughts

See my note above about battens, but to further this discussion I have a few more points to add. You’re wrong in that it won’t make a difference in your heavy boat – you need all the help you can get precisely because it’s a heavy displacement boat. Use that to your advantage. 

Offshore, in any sort of seaway with very lightwind, a battenless mainsail will slat so horribly you’ll want to rip your hair out. Full battens, however, stabilizes the sail and will actually dampen that slatting motion. Matt Rutherford used a full-batten mainsail on his around the America’s trip, 27,000 miles nonstop, and his sails looked brand new when he returned to Annapolis (I was there and heard the comments from amazed onlookers at how that was possible. “I don’t let them luff,” Matt said. “Ever.”). 

One thing I would advise is to have the sailmaker make the mainsail without a headboard. My guy in Annapolis made kind of a ‘soft headboard’ out of heavy dyneema webbing and a jib-head ring, and it works great, and doesn’t cause the hardspots that an aluminum headboard will cause. You should be able to do this even with full battens. 

You could also save money by forgetting about the bonnet on the jib, going with a proper genoa and doing the solent rig as I described above for a medium air staysail (you can also attach the stormjib to the solent stay of course). 
So bottom line with all of this is that you need to aim to keep everything simple and robust above all. That outboard idea is not as simple as it seems – think of the logistics of getting it into and out of a cockpit locker, sailing with a hard heel with that thing still on the bracket, and dealing with stowing gasoline, etc etc. You’ll have an easier time and have more fun just sailing the damn boat! Plus, you can always ask around for a tow – we had no problems getting towed in Ireland by the friendly locals when our old diesel took a dump.

So beyond that simple/robust notion, you’ve got to also take advantage of the technology that’s out there, so long as it’s proven and reliable. The Dux is a perfect example – it’s new, but it’s simple and it works. Full batten mainsails definitely add a layer of complexity, and you’ll have to control the chafe a bit more, and maybe sew a few patches on during the life of the sail, but the benefits they’ll give you in terms of performance and ease of handling will greatly outweigh any of the downsides. Plus, keep an extra set of battens on the bookshelf down below if they ever break (control your main properly with preventers, reef early and often, and that should never happen), and you won’t even know they are there. They’re easy to stow. 

That’s my two cents!