Friday, December 09, 2011

The ATN Gale Sail

Getting caught in gale-force conditions is not fun.

Getting caught in gale-force conditions with too much sail up?  That's a lot less fun.

You might say, "Well, we plan on watching the weather closely, we'll never be in gale force conditions!" and for that I applaud you.  If you plan on doing serious cruising, however, you will eventually get caught in bad weather.  Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it will happen.  Storms have been known to show up out of nowhere, sudden squalls are very common and can really pack a punch, and do I need to mention how imperfect the art of weather prediction is?!  I think not.

Anyway...when Scott and I were caught in our last big squall with our full jib out, we wished we had less headsail area up.  To much sail is not only very dangerous for your rig (the amount of pressure in a gust of wind is impressive); but it can adversely affect your ability to steer properly, can lay you on your ear, and - at best - is very uncomfortable.  Typically referred to as "being overpowered", the only solution is to shorten sail.  In most cases, you are better off to have less sail up to begin with and add, than to have too much sail up and remove.  The former is much more prudent, pleasant, and easier (trust me).

Scott and I subscribe to the conservative notion of "reefing early" meaning, we take into account the forecasted weather and current wind conditions, and if we feel there is a chance they will build (like, between islands for example, where wind is always stronger than in the lee) we will reef - typically before we have to, sometimes before we even leave the dock or anchorage.  Too much sail means your boat will heel excessively, and believe it or not, a heeling boat - while it might feel 'faster' - is not efficient (which is why racers always have 5-10 crew members hanging off the rail or "hiking out" as "rail meat" - to flatten out the boat and counter the wind).  Typically - if the wind is consistently 15 knots we will throw in the first reef in our main sail.  If the wind is building and climbs up to 18 knots, we'll pull in the second reef.  This is not a rule of course, it's always dependent on the conditions at hand - but it's a gauge.  This differs from boat to boat, as some boats can sail better than others fully canvassed - so your reefing stages might be different from ours.

I am now 100% certain that the ideal headsail rig for a boat is a cutter rig (this is something we plan on adding next season) which, simplified, is an additional stay (sometimes removable) behind the forestay where a smaller jib is furled.  This makes doing a headsail change either a) possible (we really only have one headsail we use) or b) much easier.  We don't, however, have a cutter rig at the moment - and because our headsail is on a roller furling, we don't change it out.  While we technically do have a "roller reefing" system, it is not recommended for a number of reasons; first, to reef by just rolling in a section of the sail effects the center of effort for the sail and second, if your roller furling system fails and you find yourself in a 40 knot gust with your 135% jib all the way out, you are in trouble.  No bueno.  We knew we needed something different.

Enter the ATN Gale Sail!  After our last (very unpleasant) squall experience, we decided to try this sail in good conditions knowing that it is always better to try out new systems and maneuvers before you have to.  Historically, we've not been so good at this but on this particular day we were feeling proactive.  This sail, appropriately named, is a small jib that can be used over a roller-furling jib when your jib is too much to handle.  You simply hank it on over the existing jib, attach a spare halyard to it (we used our spinnaker halyard), run a couple of sheets from it and - voila - you have a very sturdy and rugged headsail fit for the gnarliest of conditions. 

We have the 100 square foot sail which is what was recommended for our size boat.  In short - we are very, very pleased with it.  It performed very well and our boat was flat, easy to manage, and stable in the 18-20 knot breeze we sailed in.  I felt confident and secure in the fact that we were not overpowered and it actually drew quite nicely and powered Rasmus along at a nice clip despite it's very small size.

The downside?  This is not a "Oh crap, we're stuck in a gale! Let's put up the gale sail" solution.  It requires some fore-thought (aka conservative sailing) because furling the old jib, securing the new halyard, running new sheets, and hanking on the sail all require a decent amount of time and dexterity on the bow.  Have you ever been forward of the mast in gale force conditions?  We have.  It's not easy to keep your footing, let alone actually having to do stuff.  Better to think ahead and do this early, if conditions are better than expected you can always switch it out.  

So, in general - while it is not the "perfect" solution (in our mind, the "perfect" solution requires adding the inner stay I mentioned earlier with a smaller jib), it is "perfect" for now and from now on if we find ourselves in conditions that seem to be building past 20 knots, we will most certainly rig this great little sail.


Carolyn Shearlock said...

I've never used one (we had that cutter rig) or seen one in action, so I'm curious -- how is it better than rolling up the genoa so that just a scrap is out? Does it sit lower than where the "bit" of genoa would be? It seems to me that it has the same problem of putting the center of effort too far forward, and if you've had your genoa out and the roller furler fails, you have the same problem of how do you get it rolled so that you can put the Gale Sail on.

BTW, there can be problems with a cutter rig, too -- as we discovered. We made the mistake of NOT putting a roller furler on ours (we were thinking about the possibility of it breaking . . .) and it was a PITA to go forward, run the sheets and then hoist the halyard, etc. Unless it has a removable forestay, you won't be able to tack or gibe the genoa except by furling it. And having a removable forestay (and sailing with it removed so you have clearance for the genoa) takes away the ability to switch sails instantly. We made our forestay removable, but after testing it a few times at the dock, we realized that we'd never be able to reconnect it while sailing if there was any sea running.

We did like the cutter rig for beating -- we'd use the inner jib and the main and then we could easily tack when we wanted.

Unfortunately, we never really came up with a great answer, but thought I'd at least toss out some things to think about as you're planning the conversion to a cutter rig.

Windtraveler said...

Hi Carolyn! Great point...our roller furling system is actually NOT that easy to use and we don't "trust" it holding in conditions where we'd need to have just a scrap of the jib out. And it is totally adjustable as to where it sits. The tack line is adjustable as is the halyard, so it can sit much higher, or lower than the jib depending on where you want it. Plus, there's no risk of this thing unfurling...

As for your notes on the cutter rig - thank you. We will take all this into consideration. We are not sure if we'd have a furler or not, or if ours will be removable. We're still in the planning stages but we do know we'd like a smaller jib - especially since we'll be cruising with a little baby next season.

Sigh... as in everything sailing, there is no "perfect" solution, is there? haha...thanks again for your great comments. I might email you on this subject as we get closer to planning...for now, we'll just stick with the ATN.

Ken said...

As a novice sailor it's refreshing to her you talk shop Brittany. So many sailors use sailing nomenclature & vernacular interchangeably. You take the confusion out of it by relating it in plain English that anyone can understand.

Reading your blog on a regular basis, you seem to have taken on the role of first mate. (Congrats to Scott for achieving his goal of Captain) While your blogs are always informative, entertaining and beautifully displayed, sometimes I forget that you're an accomplished sailor as well.

You make sailing, and all it's technical aspects, approachable for common folks like me.


Windtraveler said...

Thank you for your comment Ken, I'm happy you can follow and enjoy! It's always a fine balance - the whole "talking shop" and just painting a picture of a lifestyle...I try very hard not to be TOO technical, because god knows it can get confusing (and boring)! So I am happy to hear I am making things clear. It can be tricky! Thanks again and Happy Holidays! :)

Tytti said...

Problem with boom and sail :
The problem with this experienced crew on a Colin Archer in dark heavy weather-accident was that their boom had stucked out and after the man had got it in, he couldn't get the main down.
After all the struggle with the boom he was so tired he went for a rest.
His wife tried to steer the boat away from the open sea and they first hit ground which broke their rudder after which they hit another rock, which sank them

Windtraveler said...

Tytti -

What are you talking about "boom and sail"? I am talking about a headsail here. How does one avoid sailing w/o a boom?!? I 'm confused.

Tytti said...

Hi Brittany - You wrote:

"Getting caught in gale-force conditions with too much sail up? That's a lot less fun."

The news in English told about such a situation, just tought You might be interested.

Windtraveler said...

@Tytti - Ah-ha! Got it now...I was confused. Thank you for sharing.

cwyckham said...

Hi guys,
We too are planning an inner forestay (actually a solent stay so we don’t need runners). We have a 135% lightweight Genoa which we can furl up and use to about 20-25 knots. After that, we plan to use a staysail and then a storm jib. Both will be hank-on on the removable solent stay.

We’re going hank-on because it’s cheaper, bomb-proof, and it means we can remove the stay for regular coastal sailing. If it’s going to get heavy or we’re on a long passage where you don’t have to short-tack up a channel, then we’ll fit the inner stay pre-emptively and set up the sails in a deck bag, already hanked on.

We will have to go forward to change sails, but only to the mid-foredeck, and we’re young and strong, so I don’t see any issue with that. I worked fore-deck on a race boat and I kind of like the drama. If you change early, then you’re safe and you have a cheaper, more flexible, more robust system.

I don’t understand your objections to roller-reefing your genoa? This is common practice and works well, though it’s not perfect upwind if you reef in more than about a quarter of the luff length. CE moves forward, but it does that when you change to a smaller jib, so that’s normal. CE moves up slightly, but a classic offshore sale is the yankee which keeps the CE above the swell and the sail pulling (and out of the green water coming over the bow). You can throw the reefing line on a winch if you’re careful with it.


Jan and David said...

We have a Gale Sail and luckily or unluckily have never used it.

When we were buying a boat we wanted a cutter rig rather than a sloop. Robert Perry, our Passport 37's designer, told us to get a 95% jib (heavier cloth), use it for a year. At the end of a year if we still wanted the cutter rig, he'd give us the plans. The 95% jib has seen times furled to about the size of the gale sail and we don't have to go forward to rig it under nasty conditions.

The downside of using the 95% working jib as your normal sail is that you're usually the slowest boat. Most boats have at least our 130% genoa, some larger. Sailing is always trade-offs.

Cheers! Jan

Dave Benjamin said...

As a sailmaker, I'm always interested in hearing people's experience with the Gale Sail and other products we work with. I'm glad to hear your experience with the Gale Sail was positive.

I would love to chat with you before you modify your rig with an inner forestay. We work with cruisers around the world and feel there are some alternatives that you may want to have a look at.

For instance, as Jan did with her Passport 37, you can go with a smaller headsail. For light air a cruising code zero flown from a foil-less furler powers the boat nicely. The code zero won't go hard on the wind but usually the smaller genoa manages that acceptably and as cruisers, we usually don't sail close-hauled all that often. In light air footing off and using the code zero will probably see us arrive at the destination quicker than we would with a heavy and inefficient 135%.

Fair Winds,
Dave Benjamin

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