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Old 11-08-2016, 14:27   #1
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Assist line for lowering the mainsail

I hope I don't get roasted for posting this seemingly basic and trivial question, but...

We charter about once a year on a 40-50' boat (usually a cat). In pretty much all of our charters when we drop the main it lowers about 1/2 way on its own - just about to the third reef point - and then stops. At that point I have to go forward and pull it down the rest of the way by hand while balancing and trying not to fall off the front of the coach roof or getting pitched off the side of the boat as we roll in the swells. On boats with higher booms I sometimes even have to climb a few mast steps or use the boat hook to snag one of the cars. So, I've got a couple of questions.

First, is this normal or is there a reason this happens? When dropping the main I pretty much just make sure there are no knots or tangles in the halyard and then let it drop freely. I make certain we are pointed as straight into the wind as possible and maintain that heading. I assume the sail not coming down all the way is a common occurrence which leads me to the following idea...

I am thinking that taking a run of light line and attaching it to the head of the sail and then the foot of the mast would make things much easier. With that line in place, whenever the sail gets stuck 1/2 way down I can just grab the line and easily pull it down the rest of the way. I can't really think of any reason not to do it, but if it's that simple why wouldn't it be part of the running rigging to begin with? Seems they could just take a longer line and even run it to the cockpit/steering station to keep us from having to go forward at all. Maybe I'm making too big a deal out of this, but it just seems easier and safer grabbing and pulling on a line that is at deck level than having to reach up (and sometimes even climb up) to grab handfuls of canvas to get the sail down.

Like I said, I feel kind of silly even posting this, but I've always thought about posting it in the past and I'm sitting at work with nothing to do right now so why not? Plus, it would be nice to be able to send someone else up to the mast and say, "just grab the line hanging next to the mast and pull on it".

Any constructive comments are welcome.
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Old 11-08-2016, 14:57   #2
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Re: Assist line for lowering the mainsail

It's not an uncommon occurrence by any means. And I'm guessing that the mains which you're referring to have full battens, right? If so then the problem is being caused by compression load from them pushing up against the mast, thus causing them to bind.

Rigging a downhaul, which is what you're asking about, is one component of remedying the problem. And the other is to ensure that both the track on the mast, as well as the cars on the sail are squeeky clean.

Some folks want to lube them with petrolium based lubes. A technique which many car manufacturers aren't fans of, as such lubes leave a residue, as well as attracting grit. Which then adds to the sticking/binding problem. And then they lube them more... creating a downward spiral.All of which wears out the bearings quicker, & makes them function less well.
At least with a decent number of the ball bearing type cars out there. You can read up on the care & feeding of such cars & bearings at Harken's website.
Okay, sermon done

For the downhaul, something like a piece of 5mm Spectra should work. You attach it to the upper most batten car, & if at all possible, down the front of the sail, through the gear which attaches the battens to the cars. From there it's led down to the deck, & back to the cockpit.

The other thing you can do is to add one drop of McLube (tm) to each car, as suggested by Harken. It's a dry lubricant, & shouldn't attract grit. And in a pinch, most likely some other dry lubes would work too. Though it does take a while to really maim a set of bearings if you need to try something else.

Also, there are a few threads on this topic in some of the Multihull sub-sections, such as the Lagoon one. As some of their owners have faced this issue as well.
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Old 11-08-2016, 15:05   #3
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Re: Assist line for lowering the mainsail

"I feel kind of silly even posting this"

Do not there are probably other people asking the same questions, but just not in public.

On my boat I have a 6 mm Dyneema line attached to the top car and led down the mast through the center of each car to a block at base of mast.
Then via deck organizers back to the helm and a cleat.

Our main is a big roachy thing with a square top and associated rigging to attach and disengage it from top car. It will drop fast 3/4 of the way under it's own weight, while you just have to keep hulling in the down haul line as fast as you can then the last 1/4 of the sail is easily pulled into the sail bag by hand without the aid of a winch.

In the event of a jammed main The down haul being strong dynemma will aid in hauling down via a winch if required.

Our boom is very high, fly bridge cat so going forward and grabbing a hand full of sail is not easily done. This extra line just works.

There is a down side that needs to noted, when dropping the main you need to retrieve the down haul line as it comes down, else there is potential for the line itself to foul on the mast or sails. To negate this I do not free fall the main but with one turn around a winch with the main halyard, it comes down as fast as you can retrieve the down haul line with no snagging.

The sail not falling all the way to the deck does not necessarily imply an issue with cars or sail track. The thing pulling the sail down is the weight of sail, acting against the friction of what on my boat amounts to 50 plus meters of halyard running through multiple blocks and many of them being 90 degree changes in direction. Plus the friction of the sail attachments to the mast. Once 2/3 to 3/4 is in the sail bag the weight of sail acting against these friction forces has reduced to probably less than 15% of its total weight.
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Old 11-08-2016, 15:17   #4
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Re: Assist line for lowering the mainsail

As Uncivilized says, it is likely to be caused by the battens binding. This is possibly the result of "and then let it drop freely".

Try a controlled release of the halyard rather than letting the sail freefall.
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Old 11-08-2016, 15:36   #5
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Re: Assist line for lowering the mainsail

I use silicon lube on the slugs. Mine usually drops into the lazy jacks fine.
Downwind just takes a little bit of persuasion to get past the spreaders.
However my main is relatively small. Only a 32 ft boat.

Using a downhaul on a larger main does not strike me as being silly at all.
The old gaffer i sailed on, years ago, as do the sailing ships, have one. You would think with all that weight of the gaff, the sail would always come down. But it was actually quite easy to slack the peak halyard too fast and jam the parrels.

On a cat, where you my not want to turn upwind when caught by a wind increase, a downhaul, to help the main down, makes sense

It also makes life easier, if the running ends of the lazyjacks can be slacked off, so they can be bungied against the gooseneck when hoisting. Stops them catching in the batten ends.
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Old 11-08-2016, 15:48   #6
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Re: Assist line for lowering the mainsail

Do whatever makes your boat easier to operate. If tieing a paracord (or similar)to the top of the main and cleating it at the base of the mast helps you be able to manage your sail... do it.

Origin of a "preventer" was probably someone tired of getting slapped in the head by the boom.
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Old 11-08-2016, 15:53   #7
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Re: Assist line for lowering the mainsail

It's not uncommon at all. My Cat had Harken ball bearing cars and still did that. One reason I just like the simplicity of reefing at the mast. You know you are going up there to reef anyway.
Of course now they build cats for "Maximum Condo" styling, I suppose that makes the mast hard to get to?
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Old 11-08-2016, 15:58   #8
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Re: Assist line for lowering the mainsail

Downhauls can be useful, but there is always the remote possibility of it tangling aloft somewhere and stopping the main from dropping.

The best way to run them is to use a series of bullseyes or loops along the luff to keep it close to the sail. Also if time allows its worth lowering the sail under control and keeping tension on the downhaul.

A bit of bungy at the bottom end to keep it lightly tensioned keeps it out of mischief when the sail is set.


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Old 11-08-2016, 17:48   #9
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Re: Assist line for lowering the mainsail

A thought! Has anyone tried a continuous loop downhaul?
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Old 11-08-2016, 18:00   #10
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Re: Assist line for lowering the mainsail

Put some dishwashing detergent in a spray bottle with water. Spray the cars, making sure you get it into the ball bearings. Makes an amazing difference and is recommended by Harken according to my manual.
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Old 11-08-2016, 18:19   #11
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Re: Assist line for lowering the mainsail

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Originally Posted by Viking Sailor View Post
A thought! Has anyone tried a continuous loop downhaul?
Great idea! Ive used the tail of a halyard as a downhaul, but that has its own issues. A small line in a loop could work well.
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Old 11-08-2016, 23:06   #12
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Re: Assist line for lowering the mainsail

On Insatiable II we use a bit of 1/4 inch double braid from the headboard down to the third reef cringle on the luff. There is a foot or so of bungy to keep it taught when the sail is raised. The sail comes down ok to around that point, just from it's weight. Then it is easy to grab the downhaul and encourage it to fall the rest of the way. Once the sail is down, I cleat off that line, and then can tighten the halyard to avoid the dread clang (Sailorboy might be in the same hemisphere and object! (just kidding SB)).

Of course, this only works if your setup has the halyard winch at the mast...

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Old 12-08-2016, 08:29   #13
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Re: Assist line for lowering the mainsail

We have the same problem on Seabbatical. Each of these measures helped incrementally such that now the main comes down pretty easily. We installed ball bearing cars. We have a downhaul that is led back to the cockpit. We keep the cars and the downhaul sheaves clean and lubricated. We always flake out the halyard in preparation for dropping the main. And finally, we got a huge improvement by switching to a lock-open rope clutch.
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Old 12-08-2016, 08:59   #14
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Re: Assist line for lowering the mainsail

I'm thinking of a Downhaul for Main too.

Last 1/3 always is reluctant to come down...

My concern was about any interference.....sure the rubber goose-loop is a smart addition.

I will check Carefully on which car to apply the pull...
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Old 12-08-2016, 09:53   #15
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Re: Assist line for lowering the mainsail

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Originally Posted by UNCIVILIZED View Post
It's not an uncommon occurrence by any means. And I'm guessing that the mains which you're referring to have full battens, right? If so then the problem is being caused by compression load from them pushing up against the mast, thus causing them to bind.

Rigging a downhaul, which is what you're asking about, is one component of remedying the problem. And the other is to ensure that both the track on the mast, as well as the cars on the sail are squeeky clean.

Some folks want to lube them with petrolium based lubes. A technique which many car manufacturers aren't fans of, as such lubes leave a residue, as well as attracting grit. Which then adds to the sticking/binding problem. And then they lube them more... creating a downward spiral.All of which wears out the bearings quicker, & makes them function less well.
At least with a decent number of the ball bearing type cars out there. You can read up on the care & feeding of such cars & bearings at Harken's website.
Okay, sermon done

For the downhaul, something like a piece of 5mm Spectra should work. You attach it to the upper most batten car, & if at all possible, down the front of the sail, through the gear which attaches the battens to the cars. From there it's led down to the deck, & back to the cockpit.

The other thing you can do is to add one drop of McLube (tm) to each car, as suggested by Harken. It's a dry lubricant, & shouldn't attract grit. And in a pinch, most likely some other dry lubes would work too. Though it does take a while to really maim a set of bearings if you need to try something else.

Also, there are a few threads on this topic in some of the Multihull sub-sections, such as the Lagoon one. As some of their owners have faced this issue as well.

^^^This is the first and the best answer. Spectra is particularly suitable for this, especially with a Dacron cover at the bottom so you have a diameter suitable for the hand.
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