Five Sailing Tips for Safer Sail Handling

Captain John from shares a few little secrets he used on an offshore passage. Guaranteed to make your sail handling better all around.

If you are anything like me, sailing tips that cut the time you spend at the mast or on the foredeck are always welcome. Here are five secrets from one of my past offshore passages that you will find can cut time by 50% and add to safer sailing for your crew.

1. Keep Lines Neat and Coiled

  • Coil lines before and after you use them.
  • This applies to sheets, halyards, traveler control lines, reefing lines, outhaul lines, and spare line or small stuff.
  • Some boats have so many control lines, that these can overlap one another. The photo shows one side of the lines aboard sailing vessel “Rubicon”.
  • Even with overlaps, we could still find what we needed in an instant and it was ready to use without kinks or hockles.

2. Mark Your Mainsail Ties with Dots

  • We had a heck of a time near the end of our trip when we tried to find the longest ties for the forward part of the flaked mainsail. You know that you need longer ties forward to get around the bulk of the mainsail, moderate length ties for the middle of the boom, and shorter ties near the boom end.
  • Mark your ties with easy to see dots. One dot for the forward ties, two dots for the middle ties, and three dots for the aft ties. This keeps your job quick and easy and you know right away which tie goes where.

3. Reeve Clew Reefs Before You Leave!

  • Not many things are as dangerous as working the end of a boom with the boat heeled, pitching, and rolling.
  • No matter where you sail, thread your clew reef lines before you cast off. This applies to your 1st, 2nd, and 3rd clew reefs.
  • Use different colors or specked line for each clew reefing line. Your deepest clew reef (2nd or 3rd) should be red for instant identification.
  • Mark and reeve your clew reefing lines ahead of time to make sail reefing faster, easier, and safer for all hands.
  • Reef earlier than you think necessary. Keep your boat balanced with minimum heel, a light helm, and less stress on your rigging and sailing crew in all weathers.

4. Pencil in Your Tack Reefing Grommets

  • In a blow, as the mainsail gets lowered for reefing, the sail bunting will pile up at the mast gooseneck. You’ll locate a tack reefing grommet, but how can you know without a doubt that it’s the one you need (1st, 2nd, or 3rd tack reefing grommet?)
  • Pencil in a big, circled number 1, 2, and 3 onto the tack reefing grommet patch. That way, you will know in an instant which tack reefing grommet to loop over the ram’s horn.

5. Use a Ram’s Horn and Web-strop

  • Make mainsail reefing super fast when you install a ram’s horn–reefing hook–on each side of the gooseneck.
  • The hook slides through the tack reefing ring without having to use a reefing line. But…this can cause problems (see Sailing Tip below) that could lead to a torn or ripped mainsail.
    Have your sailmaker install a strong webbing strop with a ring at each of your tack reefing grommets.
  • Follow this sequence:
    * lower the mainsail to the desired tack.
    * loop the strop-ring over the horn.
    * hand-tighten the mainsail halyard.
    * check that the strop-ring has seated.
    * tension the mainsail luff with the winch.
Captain John’s Sailing Tip
Why add an extra step where you hand-tighten the halyard? One blustery day, we were reefing the main and the strop-ring slid off the horn. The sail caught beneath the horn and we punched a small hole in the luff. We caught it in time and stopped grinding–but it could have been worse. Lesson learned–make sure the ring gets seated
before you apply winch tension!
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