Features July 1, 2000 Issue

A Foolproof (and Simple) Way to Set Jib Leads

An excellent, surprisingly simple way to set jib leads is to use jib luff telltales as a guide. This technique applies to all types of headsails—genoas as well as working jibs—and produces good sail shape, good speed, good pointing ability, and good sailor satisfaction. Here’s a description based on my text in the new third edition of The Annapolis Book of Seamanship.

First, every jib should have three yarn telltales at equal intervals up and down the luff, on both sides of the sail. Put them one-quarter, one-half, and three-quarters of the way between the tack and the head. They should be 4"-12" long, depending on the size of the jib and boat and the eyesight of the sail trimmers and steerers, and placed so they won’t easily tangle around the headstay. They can be taped to the sail or sewn into the luff with a knot in the yarn on either side so it won’t blow away. Some sails have little windows in the luff for viewing the windward and leeward telltales at the same time; here the telltales should be different colors—traditionally green for starboard and red for port.

Most sailors know that jib telltales are extremely helpful when trimming sails and sailing close-hauled by the luff of the jib. Telltales, as their name suggests, tell the tale of the wind stream. They show how the wind is flowing across the sail, and slightly anticipate the bubbling in the jib’s luff (which may not happen on modern stiff sailcloth until the sail has lost a lot of wind). Most of the time, when the telltales on both sides of the sail stream aft, with the windward ones lifting occasionally, the sail’s trimmed just right. The worst thing is to permit the telltales on the leeward side of the sail to droop. This means the sail is stalled, with no airflow from luff to leech. The cause usually is over-trimming, so ease the sheet. If the windward telltales lift all the time, the sail is eased too far so trim it a little.

Telltales also are a key indicator for setting jib leads. Sail on a close-hauled or close-reaching course with the sails trimmed correctly. When the boat’s up to speed, slowly head up. If all three telltales on the windward side of the luff simultaneously lift up (“break”) at the same angle, the lead is set correctly fore and aft.

But if the top telltale lifts first, wind is being spilled aloft and the leech is twisted off too far. That means the lead is too far aft and should be moved forward a little. If the bottom telltale lifts first, the leech is too tight because the lead is too far forward. Keep experimenting. Try one lead position at a time until all three windward telltales mimic each other, breaking at the same time. The correct lead position on one side should be the right one on the other side, too, unless (as sometimes happens) the holes in the track are not arranged similarly. (A safety caution: loads on jib sheets can build dramatically, even on smaller boats, so don’t adjust leads until after you tack.)

On a reach, as the sheet is eased the upper leech will twist off and spill wind, so for best performance move the lead forward a little until the telltales break at the same time (this may not be successful with a tall, narrow high-aspect ratio jib, whose upper leech may never look right on a reach).

This system is valuable in heavy weather. Then, instead of harnessing the wind as effectively as possible by making sails more powerful, you’ll want to spill wind by depowering the sails. If the boat is overpowered and heeling uncomfortably, decrease the heeling force by spilling wind aloft. To do this, move the lead back one or two holes from optimum, leaving the top telltale, or even the top two telltales, lifting early. In a gusty wind you can get through a puff by “sailing on the leech”—easing sheets until all three windward telltales are lifting, the sail’s luff is luffing, and the only full part of the jib is aft.

In very light wind, you may find you get better speed by moving the lead a hole forward of optimum, making the sail more full.

By concentrating on the jib telltales along with the speedometer (or GPS VMG readout), while paying attention to your performance relative to nearby boats, you’ll find that you’ll sail a little faster.

More important, I think, you’ll gain a more intimate and satisfying connection with the boat and the environment. Such harmony between sailor and boat cannot be duplicated in any other relationship between a human and an object (which is why we give names to our boats, but not our automobiles or computers). A great boating writer of an earlier generation, Alfred F. Loomis, once described a skilled skipper this way: “I noticed how much at union with his boat this sailor was—stretched at ease, one arm thrown carelessly along the tiller, head just showing above the gunwale, and face uplifted so that his eyes commanded the luff of the sail.”

May we all be so in tune with our vessels.

—John Rousmaniere

Flare Practice
As we reported in the March 1999 issue, pen-type flare launchers are not particularly difficult to use. On the other hand, we don’t think that the operation any of them is so intuitive that instructions aren’t required. In an emergency situation, particularly if it’s dark, one shouldn’t have to stop, read and comprehend instructions.

Worse would be trying to launch a flare without the proper procedure.

Aerial flares can be frightening things to use for the first time. They can be quite loud and very smoky. At the least you should familiarize yourself with the flares you choose. If possible, and this is apt to take some negotiation with your local US Coast Guard station, arrange to practice-fire an out-dated flare or two.

While it’s illegal to fire a red aerial flare over the water in a non-emergency situation without express permission from the USCG, it’s not against the law to shoot off a white one, and Orion meteors, Skyblazers, and parachute flares from Ikaros and Pains Wessex are available in white. Unfortunately, the parachute flares are too expensive for most of us to consider purchasing for practice. And, while the USCG permits the firing of white flares, it’s not a practice that they encourage.

We spoke to a Coast Guard representative who told us that observers tend to take the attitude that a flare is a flare, regardless of color, and white flares generate just about as much search-and-rescue activity as do red ones. He suggested that sailors practice-fire on land. When we mentioned the possibility of setting fire to a house, the answer was, “Well, there is that.”

Some Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotillas, we’re told, arrange for group practice firings of out-dated flares. If your local group can’t help you, the Fourth of July is a useful, and traditional (if not quite legal), time for such training exercises.

Heaven help the poor soul whose boat actually is sinking during the rockets’ red glare of the Fourth!

—Richard Greenhaus

Most Popular Boat Names
We get a kick out of this, honestly. Each year, BOAT/U.S. surveys its owners and arrives at a list of the most popular boat names. It strikes us as a sort of reflection of society as a whole. Are we metaphysical this year? Competitive? Environmentally aware?

In 1999, the surprise winner was Misty, which BOAT/U.S. said came “out of nowhere.” Second place was Flying Cloud, followed by Serenity, Irish Wake, Wind Dancer, Seas the Day, Odyssey, Gypsea, Luna Sea and Osprey. Gone are perennial favorites Escape, Obsession and Fantasea.

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