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Old 23-01-2010, 12:32   #1
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Sailing by Headsail Alone

Hi folks, I'm in the mississippi sound just north of dauphin island and I have noticed a lot of people running by headsail alone, "most reefed". Now I have always been told not to sail by headsail alone because of the stress that it puts on your boat. But I have noticed everyone here with roller furling always have their mains wrapped and headsails out. Now does the rule change if ur on a run or does it apply to all points of sail. I have always thought this was bad practice but have I been wrong?
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Old 23-01-2010, 13:00   #2
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If you're only running then there's no major stress with only your headsail out. The boat is basically being pulled along by the headsail through the fore- and back stays and the sheet winch/cleat, which are all reasonably central.

When you're reaching, however, the twisting force on the boat will be much stronger as the sideways force will mainly be acting forward through the forestay and spreaders and not much through the sheet. With the main up, the sideways force through the mainsheet will balance this twisting moment.

Do these people you're watching quickly hoist the main when they change point?
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Old 23-01-2010, 13:31   #3
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Today I have just met those on a run as I'm reaching, but I do see them regularly here tacking by their headails with the stern lifting out the water etc. With these changing winds like they are I'm kinda scared to not sail primarily by my main, it just seems like so much can go wrong.
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Old 23-01-2010, 14:32   #4
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I've got a feeling that they are just being lazy. Having said that, I had a Columbia 26, years ago, that was dangerous sailing with the main up. Winds off of Honolulu can be quite gusty. When hit by one of these gusts, the boat would heel and the rudder would stall out resulting in an uncontrolled round up. Nearly t-boned a 50'+ gold plater that I sailed by to have a look. After that, I was afraid to sail the boat with the main if there was any chance of encountering another boat.

I might have gotten by if I'd always sailed with a reefed main even though it wasn't needed except in gusts. Unfortunately, the boat had roller reefing, may the old main boom roller reefing rest in hell, that was a pain to do, resulted in a terrible setting sail and permanently ruined the sail in the process.

The slot between the main and jib definitely result in better performance. I wouldn't sail that way because I'm kind of anal about getting the best performance I can. With all the reefing lines run to the cockpit, I can tie in a reef in a minute. Also, with lazyjacks, can drop the main at will if I need to. The main also gives additional triangulation to the mast. There have been a number of boats that have lost their backstay but kept the mast up because of the main tension on the stick.

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Old 23-01-2010, 15:30   #5
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Boats without backstays... e.g. most cruising catamarans... may put their rig at risk sailing with headsail alone. They certainly won't be able to sail upwind very well without the mainsail.
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Old 23-01-2010, 15:46   #6
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It is about leisure!

There is something to be enjoyed about sailing with a big Genoa and no main.

1. You don't have to take the mainsail cover off.
2. You don't have to remove the sail ties.
3. You don't have to hoist the main.
4. You don't have to put it all back when you are done.

It is sooo easy to pull out the Genoa and furl it when you are done. It is about not going anywhere fast but enjoying the trip.

The preceeding from a guy that used to be a racer!
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Old 23-01-2010, 16:12   #7
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One of the few things I don't like about our cat is that she doesn't want to go to weather with just the jib.
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Old 23-01-2010, 16:21   #8
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A boat should be viewed as a system so there are several reasons to fly just a headsail beyond laziness. When going downwind, many boats develop too much weather helm with the main up so using just the jib works well. In addition, without the main up, a jibe is not nearly as dangerous.

Regarding the stress on your rig, it does add some stress to put all of the sail area in one sail. From a running rigging standpoint, the forestay will have higher tension which could potentially stress the stay or fittings. In addition, there is some additional tension in one shroud and the backstay (I am assuming a fixed backstay). The mast is only under compression (it is under bending with the main up) and it should not buckle given the diameter. While the tension in the rigging can be a bit higher, I have never seen a failure caused from sailing like this. In addition, you can put much less strain on your steering system if done correctly.

You do run a risk of blowing out your jib or a sheet if it is windy so this shouldn't be done in really high winds. Personally, I have used this sail configuration off the wind often but as soon as I head up, I use the main as well.
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Old 23-01-2010, 16:51   #9
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the twisting force paradix talks about really shouldn't be a problem as long as you have confidence that the cap shroud won't jump out of the spreaders. If you've inspected the seizing in the past year reaching with a genoa only shouldn't be something to worry about. If you haven't, then you really ought to get up the stick and do so.
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Old 23-01-2010, 17:15   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bash View Post
the twisting force paradix talks about really shouldn't be a problem as long as you have confidence that the cap shroud won't jump out of the spreaders. If you've inspected the seizing in the past year reaching with a genoa only shouldn't be something to worry about. If you haven't, then you really ought to get up the stick and do so.
I have never had the "cap shround jump out the spreaders", but how common is this? I never actually took that in consideration but it does have me thinking for future reference.
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Old 23-01-2010, 17:35   #11
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I wouldn't call it a common problem, but it can be a serious enough situation to cause a dismasting. The lazy shroud (for example, the starboard shroud on port tack) will be significantly more loose than the working shroud. At times, especially when compression occurs, such as when hitting a wake, the seizing is all that keeps the shroud connected to the spreader. If there's a twisting force on the mast and the seizing doesn't do its job, the most common result would be the mast breaking right at that spreader.

Are masts lost because a couple bucks worth of seizing wire finally corrodes through? All the time. Is this more likely to happen when there's an uneven/twisting pressure on the rig? Yes. However, don't lose sight of my original point. If the rig has been recently inspected--and I suggest doing this at least once a year--then there's not much to worry about. The point here is to recognized where the failure would likely be.
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Old 23-01-2010, 17:40   #12
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one quick addendum

many newer rigs no longer require seizing wire. The spreader/shroud connections should still be inspected yearly, regardless. If you see cracks in the retainers or if the shroud seems chaffed, call your rigger.
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Old 23-01-2010, 21:38   #13
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Sailing by headsail only is a regular sight up and down the ICW... Probably mostly snowbirds I fully agree with those suggesting the laziness (to deal with the main) as the reason

(Wish I could become a snowbird soon )

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Old 23-01-2010, 22:11   #14
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I might have to rename my boat Lazybutt..
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Old 23-01-2010, 22:13   #15
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I have a friend that I sail with on occasion that turned 73 this year. When he is out alone he generally only unrolls as the main is a bit of work. He will hoist the main for a longer day or trip but not for just a 4 hour or so day sail. It keeps him sailing.
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