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Old 01-05-2016, 10:30   #1
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Lines Led Aft - Is It Really An Improvement?

Leading lines aft is a common practice these days, especially recommended for singlehanders. The rationale behind this seems sound: going up on deck involves more time and risk than handling the sails from the cockpit.

Then I found this article, which takes the opposite view. The argument is largely based on the additional friction involved when leading lines aft. As a future singlehanding sailor, this is of great interest to me, but I don't know enough to have a strong opinion at this point.

What do you think?

Elizabeth, our former 28ft cutter was rigged simply. There was no boom vang or cunningham, no battens or lazy jacks, not even roller furling on the jib and she didn’t have any lines led aft to the cockpit. Yes, every time we had to raise, reef, or lower the mains’l, we got out of the cockpit, and went to the mast to do so. We prefer it that way.

What we enjoyed most about sailing Elizabeth was the ease with which her sails went up, came down and reefed. The battenless main allowed her slugs to slide effortlessly up the track. Her single sheave halyard enabled us to raise the main in less than 10 seconds, without a winch. Likewise, the lack of lazy jacks induced no friction or chafe on her threads as the mains’l fell effortlessly when released, even off the wind.

Because it was so easy, we reefed often and we reefed early. There was no hemming and hawing over the question: to reef or not to reef. If the thought crossed our mind, we reefed, long before conditions got too hairy.

I’ve heard many accounts of owners performing the ‘all lines led aft’ upgrade. The belief is that lines led to the cockpit make sailing safer and easier. By not having to leave the cockpit to adjust your sails, you reduce the risk of injury or falling overboard. By having all lines led to your fingertips, you can remain safe under your dodger or bimini, while staying dry and in control.

That’s bilgewater! (sailor talk for ********)

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Old 01-05-2016, 10:49   #2
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Re: Lines Led Aft - Is It Really An Improvement?

I've had boats with most lines leading back to the cockpit and boats where one had to go forward to do anything. I find the former to be much better, especially in any weather.

I don't find blocks, or pad eyes properly placed add any signifiant friction or wear. The difference is often a single block at the base of the mast. A rope making a 90 degree turn through a single block shouldn't be adding any notable resistance.

I do find single line reefing adds much more resistance than double line regardless of whether or not the line is fed back to the cockpit.
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Old 01-05-2016, 10:53   #3
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Re: Lines Led Aft - Is It Really An Improvement?

Yuck! Battenless main, no vang, no lazy jacks and no roller furler. I love the "please tow me in to harbor" engineless crowd.

It's pretty comfortable being able to reduce sail from the dry cockpit. The tangle of lines suck, but well designed, are still manageable. Personally, I like having separate tack and claw lines for reefing.

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Old 01-05-2016, 11:00   #4
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Re: Lines Led Aft - Is It Really An Improvement?

Given that most cruising boats have roller furling for the headsail(s), the lines that may need to go the cockpit are those for the mainsail (halyard and reefing lines). If the reefing lines cannot be handled from the cockpit there is no advantage to having the halyard in the cockpit - and a great disadvantage for single-handing. Running reefing lines to the cockpit adds a lot (IMO) of complication to the running rigging. So I single hand with the mainsail halyard and reefing lines at the mast.

I think the running of all lines to the cockpit started with fully crewed racing yachts, where keeping crew weight off the deck (except as rail meat) was important. In that case there would still be a crew member at the mast to pump the halyard so that the raising and lowering of the sail went as fast as possible. Two crew members in the cockpit tailed the halyard then tightened it with a winch.

So when I need to raise or adjust the mainsail I go to the mast and work as the racing mast man until the mainsail is nearly in position (much faster pulling several feet of halyard at a time) and use the mast winch for the final tensioning. The reef lines all terminate at the gooseneck end of the boom so they are immediately available.

For me the main disadvantage of this arrangement is when having to reef the mainsail when on a port tack - my halyard and reef lines are on the starboard side. It can be awkward if the boat is heeled significantly as it always is when reefing. A mast pulpit would be nice to make this a lot easier.

So, for me, I prefer the mast work as it is normally faster and easier for singlehanding - as long as you have a good autopilot or windvane. Also you might as well get used to working on deck in a blow as if something goes south you will likely have to be there to fix it.

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Old 01-05-2016, 11:01   #5
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Re: Lines Led Aft - Is It Really An Improvement?

We had 2 line reefing of 3 reefs on a large and powerful fully battened main all reefing done from the cockpit and it was superb, friction is not a problem with quality blocks and lines sized correctly, ie not too fat. we sail two handed and one could easily reef/unreef as needed. We had this system installed when we bought that boat as otherwise we might have had to choose something with less performance. now after a stroke 3 years ago our current boat has 'pull a string' in-mast reefing but given the choice and a few years younger I would much prefer the 2 line all taken back approach and a conventional ( but still fully battened with lazyjacks) sail.
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Old 01-05-2016, 12:03   #6
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Re: Lines Led Aft - Is It Really An Improvement?

I do not give a letter about friction - why not use low friction blocks and fittings? Why not clean those sheaves and add some lubricant on their pins?

When the lines are in the cockpit I can control the lines and the tiller all at once. If I had the lines at the mast, who would man the tiller?

Sure you can have an AP and a remote, but it is just so much easier to do it without the AP and the remote ...

Another factor: safety. Which is safer: manage the lines from the cockpit, or unclip, clip into the deck webbing, run to the mast, do your job, run back, over the coaming, unclip, clip into the cockpit, then notice you have forgotten your torch at the mast, etc.? No brainer.

How about a jib furler operated from the foredeck? Huh???? Why add friction and lead the furling line all the way to that bloody cockpit?

I think friction is a great excuse for anybody who elects to sail a boat with old, worn, never cleaned fittings. Likely with 10 years old halyards too.

I got asked to sort out halyard friction on a Maxi sized Oyster a couple of weeks ago. I climbed the mast and found an Albatross nest in the sheaves box. I kicked out the bird and ate its eggs for supper. Believe me or not, this sorted out the friction riddle.


There are times and boats where lines are fine where they are as they are. At other times, you DO want nearly everything in the cockpit, close at hand.

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Old 01-05-2016, 12:23   #7
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Re: Lines Led Aft - Is It Really An Improvement?

Boats with all the lines led aft are designed for dirt-dwellers.

At the mast I have:

- halyards
- cunninghams
- outhauls
- leech tension control lines
- lazy jacks
- reefing lines
- spinnaker pole control lines (car position & uphaul)
- bowsprit tack line

In the cockpit I have:

- headsail furler control line
- sheets
- preventers
- traveler control lines
- running backstays and their control lines
- spinnaker pole downhaul

There's no way you can get everything aft. Boats that appear to do so just lack all those control lines or they do have them but forget to mention them when claiming all from cockpit
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Old 01-05-2016, 12:48   #8
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Re: Lines Led Aft - Is It Really An Improvement?

"...Elizabeth, our former 28ft cutter was rigged simply. There was no boom vang ..."

Well. Possibly no topping lift either. ;-)

Keep it simple. Why not.

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Old 01-05-2016, 13:12   #9
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pirate Re: Lines Led Aft - Is It Really An Improvement?

Roller furler line to the cockpit.. slab reefing main which I do at the mast..

It was a dark and stormy night and the captain of the ship said.. "Hey Jim, spin us a yarn." and the yarn began like this.. "It was a dark and stormy night.."
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Old 01-05-2016, 13:30   #10
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Re: Lines Led Aft - Is It Really An Improvement?

I hate having all lines led aft, and will never do it to any boat I own. Simple is better, and cockpits are usually far too cluttered without having halyards there as well.
Oh, and roller furling is another thing I'll never do.
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Old 01-05-2016, 13:43   #11
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Re: Lines Led Aft - Is It Really An Improvement?

Partly it will be a matter of personal preference.
Partly it will depend on the boat.

There will be no answer to this that pleases everyone.
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Old 01-05-2016, 13:55   #12
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Re: Lines Led Aft - Is It Really An Improvement?

I've had them both ways. I prefer to keep it simple with lines on the mast/boom. Too much friction, too many lines in the cockpit etc etc with them led aft. Maybe on a pocket cruiser having some led aft would be better. But large boat... not for me. KISS.
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Old 01-05-2016, 14:19   #13
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Re: Lines Led Aft - Is It Really An Improvement?

I agree that there will never be a common agreement on this, and I think it's because we view the issue through our individual and different prisms. In my case, I have lived aboard, while actively sailing, for 30 years. Although I am 67, I have spent a lifetime in competitive (sometimes professional) athletics, am still trim, quick, nimble and balanced, so moving out of the cockpit doesn't even seem the least bit of a challenge or oddity. But my mother, even more athletic than I, had two bad knees, and for her, going up to the mast in any kind of challenging conditions could have been lethal.

When I look at the average sailor around me, or the average first world citizen who can afford a cruising boat, for that matter, most are not that agile, probably having had the misfortune of spending a lifetime at a desk. They may not be nimble, and they may be way overweight and short winded.

Viewing things from through my prism, I don't want any more lines in one place than necessary. So, for me, the halyards, topping lifts outhauls and reefing lines are, and have always been, at the mast. And I don't consider it in the least bit of an inconvenience. Sheets and traveller lines are in the cockpit. True, nowadays most of my singlehanding is on a stable 45 foot cat, but most of it has been on heeling monohulls. of many types and sizes. Keeping lines out of the cockpit is all very simple, and there are a minimum of blocks or chaos.

Give me a bad back, or a bad knee, or an aversion to being out in the rain, or take away the years of experience, and my opinion might easily change, but the system would have to be well designed so that it was not necessary for someone to go forward and jump the halyards, anyway, like it often is! And I would always shy away from single line reefing, no matter where it was led.

The one thing I am certain of, again from many years and thousands of single-handed miles, is that ther are far more important issues when it comes to safe single-handing. For instance, can a boat be easily anchored or moored, singlehanded? Can the anchor be easily raised, singlehanded, or is it a three person job, one person at the windlass, one at the helm and one below knocking down the chain castle? These are the sort of things that really count, not whether the lines lead aft!

My personal gripe is with boats that cannot be docked singlehanded, without shoreside assistance. How can such a boat be advertised as "easily singlehanded"? And yet, I can think of high-sided fly-bridge cats, with all the lines led to the flybridge, that are straight-facedly advertised as exactly that!

In answer to the OP's question, take careful and realistic stock of your physical condition and capabilities, and then decide whether you can handle confident trips to the mast, or not. The answer to your question can be found in that analysis. And if you can easily handle work at the mast, so much the better, because when the going gets rough you may need to go there for all sorts of reasons. The bow, too.
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Old 01-05-2016, 14:35   #14
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Re: Lines Led Aft - Is It Really An Improvement?

Other than the obvious, stated above, the size of the boat matters a lot. For us, with 80 foot mast, it would be crazy-stupid to be pounding around on deck to manage sails. In fact, sails live on their furler and are never changed. The hazard is too great in any serious wind. We are in-mast roller furling for both main & mizzen; roller furl for genoa and staysail. Foresails are designed so that the sheeting angle does not change for pointing or reaching or for furling. I started sailing big boats with a crew on a racing boat. Total opposite but with a practiced crew of 6-10 all the skipper needs to do is drive. When we first started sailing our Camper 58, I tried to help the genoa around the staysail for tacking. After about the 3rd time I was flogged by the monster we started rolling in the genoa to tack and letting it back out - ALL from the safety of the cockpit and way less wear on the sail.
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Old 01-05-2016, 14:35   #15
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Re: Lines Led Aft - Is It Really An Improvement?

KISS, do you have a boat already? You say you want to be a future single-hander, but don't mention whether you're setting up an existing boat or thinking about that future boat that you plan to single-hand. As with so many things on boats, there's no one way to do anything and this is one of the biggies where there is absolutely no consensus. The best thing is to try to sail with other single-handers and see what they do. You'll find they are in all of the camps mentioned above, but then you'll see the trade-offs they're making as a result of their choices. This is what you really want to know. The key, to me, is a really good auto pilot. If you have that, you're not truly single-handing and you can take that out of the equation on how to rig your boat. Of course, you then need to consider how you're going to manage the sails if the AP fails in a big sea state.
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