PS Advisor October 1, 2003 Issue

PS Advisor: 10/01/03

Riding Sails
I’ve read several articles about the benefits of riding sails while atanchor, on a mooring, even during hurricanes. What size is right so it's big enough to be effective while not creating too much drag of its own? I also recall reading somewhere about a design that was three-dimensional and supposed to be more effective than a simple triangle. I can't seem to find anything specific. Can you help?

-Harlan Fredericksen
Higganum, CT


Three-dimensional like a tent or a box-kite? No, we haven't heard of that before. As for regular riding sails, denizens of the world's roiliest anchorages will either swear by them or swear at them. The principle is good, but it doesn't work the same on all boats, usually because of what's happening underwater.

The traditional rig is a reefed mizzen set aboard a full-keeled yawl and sheeted tight amidships. To a lesser extent, the same can be said of the ketch rig.

For most of us, whose drug of choice is the sloop or cutter, setting a riding sail is essentially jury-rigging. The classic set-up is the storm or working jib hanked to the backstay and hauled up via the main halyard. The tack is held down by a pendant to a fitting aft, like a stern cleat, and the clew is sheeted someplace convenient and (you hope) effective, maybe a cockpit cleat or stanchion bail.

One problem is, no matter how hard the sail is sheeted, its designed shape will allow it to slat with each shift of the breeze. Of course, if the jib/riding sail works for you, you can then have a dedicated riding sail cut so it will set flat, and the annoying rattling and slamming should be eased. Chafe from the topping lift can also chew up a sail. Some cruisers rigs a crutch for the boom which allows them to ease and tie off the topping lift.

Fin-keeled yachts and those with deep-cut forefeet don't seem to appreciate a riding sail. Possibly, the lack of resistance forward and the added resistance aft creates a fulcrum which can result in the boat "sailing the anchor." We were bouncing around in an exposed anchorage during a norther in the Bahamas a few years back and watched a deep (7') fin-keeled racer set a flat-cut riding sail high up the mast—15 feet above the boom—and he rode it out like a log. He said the high set does the trick for him.

It boils down to trial and error and the idiosyncrasies of your own boat. So, what else is new? Good luck.

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Sticks Up In Winter
I have noticed every year that there are fewer masts in the rack and more upright in boats in the yard. Obviously there are savings in not unstepping a mast, plus the potential for damage when it is unstepped and stepped in spring. But what about the forces placed on the boat during the winter when a boat is rigid in a cradle? If a boat is in the water you can see it heel at a mooring on a windy day. But when it is on the hard, what then? Am I just a dinosaur for having the yard take down the mast? And what about deck-stepped masts that are left up? Can you back off the shrouds enough to prevent problems  with heat differences and contraction in the winter? 

-Jeff Leonard
Clinton, CT 


We feel strangely guilty about leaving a mast up in winter, too, but it may be those old wooden spar days calling. Wooden spars need to come down and be sheltered and coddled. Aluminum masts really don't, and the sky is actually a decent place to store them: It's cleaner than lying them across barrels or in racks, where they tend to collect all sorts of dirt and dreck, even if they're under cover. And you're right about the potential for damage when they're being stepped or unstepped. It's common.

The trouble with leaving the mast up is that it's easy to get lazy about close inspection of all parts. Also, ice and salt residue can collect in the tops of the shroud terminals, accelerating corrosion. And chainplates can take an extra beating with the boat held steady and the spar shaking in a heavy wind. This can cause leaks.

While aluminum masts and stanless wire or rod rigging don't change much when the temperature goes way up or down, the structure under them can, so it's good to slack off a few turns on the standing rigging for the winter.

It would take a mighty big wind or a poor blocking job at the yard for a normal displacement boat to be blown off its poppets. The windage of a bare spar isn't that much greater than that of a hull rigid on blocks, although you're right that the wind blowing on that higher surface has a proportionately greater effect. However, if boats often blew off their stands because their masts were up, boatyards would be the first to insist on unstepping.

We suspect that the trend was started by two things: the ability of the TraveLift to move its forward crossbeam out of the way to accommodate a boat with spars up, and the enormous pain in the neck it is to detach the wiring for instruments and lights in today's boats.

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