The DIY Solent Stay or Inner Forestay

Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 11:51AM - Comments: (2)

If the inner stay is not removeable on Solent stay rig, the foresail will need to be furled to tack.

Both of the articles in our recent two-part series on headsails discussed the advantages of retrofitting a sloop with an inner forestay so that a smaller headsail could be set in higher winds. In the first part, technical Editor Ralph Naranjo discussed the Solent stay. In the upcoming part two of the series, appearing in the November 2015 issue, sailmaker Butch Ulmer writes about the advantages of an inner forestay or staysail stay.

A Solent stay is a stay that sets between the mast and the forestay. It connects to the mast at a point that is only slightly below the existing backstay, and meets on the deck only slightly abaft of the existing forestay. Under such an arrangement, the mast requires no additional support. The existing backstay provides adequate tension to counteract the loads of any sail that is set from the new stay. Because it requires no additional backstay support, a Solent stay is a slightly less expensive option than the more common staysail stay, and it offers many of the same advantages.

An staysail stay also sets between the mast and the forestay. As the name implies, a staysail stay is where you would set a staysail, although it is also commonly used for setting a storm jib. In this modification, the forestay joins to the mast much closer to the deck than the Solent stay, so that some support aft is needed, usually in the form of running backstays—backstays that can be tensioned when needed, and slacked out of the way when they are not required. The staysail stay meets at the deck further aft than the Solent stay, thus bringing the center of effort further aft, which is usually desirable in heavy weather.

Why add an additional stay? As we saw in part one of our report, a Solent sail or staysail stay resolves the difficulty in managing a boat in winds at the upper range of a roller furling jib’s designed parameters (usually above around 30 knots). The failings of a roller-reefed headsail become especially apparent when trying to work to windward. Even the best-cut furling jib will not furl down to the same efficient shape of a sail designed to perform in higher winds. There is also the risk of the furling gear itself failing, or the jib unfurling to its full dimensions.

It is important to keep in mind that most coastal sailors don’t need to bother with either of these stays. If you a prudent near-shore sailor, a well-designed and constructed furling jib will usually serve just fine. Part two of our report discussed several methods sailmakers use to improve the performance of the roller-furling headsail when reefed down. A padded foam luff, conservative sizing (so reducing the size of the furled sail), stiffer sail material, and more sophisticated construction can all help make the furled sail more efficient. However, several of the sailmakers we spoke with suggested that a second forestay would be a welcome addition aboard a boat that has aspirations for a long offshore cruise.

A running backstay stands at the ready aboard Jimmy Cornell's semi-custom cutter Aventura, which navigated the Northwest Passage this summer.

The most common question we were asked in the wake of our recent two-part series on headsails was, “How do I install an inner forestay or Solent stay?” Because either of these stays might one day be depended upon in the direst of circumstances, and because every boat presents different challenges for this project, it's important to do your research and investigate other boats that have carried out this retrofit. Once you have a general idea of what features you like, consult a rigger for the initial design.

The rigger can also help you source the parts you need, and hopefully point out other details you might overlook, such as where to install the sheet leads, how to prevent corrosion of the new hardware, and what deck reinforcements might be required. If you are having a sail made for the new stay, then getting the sailmaker involved in the design will also help.

Once you have your measurements and hardware, you can carry out the installation, depending upon your ability. In some cases, you may need some fiberglassing skills, since the padeye/chainplate for the new stay must be adequately reinforced. Usually, fiberglass work can be avoided by transferring the load to the hull or a stout bulkhead, but as Brion Toss demonstrated in his recent article on the hidden causes of rig failure, this requires a general understanding of common installation errors and potential trouble spots.

For those who are considering an upgrade here are some other resources to consult as you begin your search.

  • Don Casey’s “This Old Boat” Casey’s comprehensive book on upgrading an old sailboat dedicates several pages to adding an inner forestay. This comprehensive book is a must-have for anyone planning to turn a run-down sailboat into the pride of the marina. You can probably find a used copy on Amazon, but if you buy new from our bookstore, it helps support more Practical Sailor tests and special reports.
  • PS Advisor “Adding a Staysail Back in 1999, when former editor Dan Spurr was refitting his sloop Viva, he pitched this same question to naval architect Eric Sponberg, who offered some sage advice. This article also references three books that will be of help to anyone considering a retrofit, among the Understanding Rigs and Rigging by Richard Henderson.
  • Whence Thou Comest, Highfield? We don’t know what was in the (former) editor’s water bottle when he came up with the headline for this test of quick releases for stays and shrouds back in 1999. After evaluating several devices, the test team concluded that ABI’s Highfield lever to be the best of the bunch. The company has since gone out of business, but the as the Rigging Company describes, three other worthy substitutes are now available. We routinely turn to the Rigging Company for advice on hardware and installations and its website has a section dedicated to installing an inner forestay that covers many of the hardware details, including devices for storing the inner forestay when not in use.
  • Spar specialists Selden has a number of informative articles on rigging installation and maintenance. It offers step-by-step advice on installing an inner forestay fitting (nose tang) on the mast. For those who are dealing with a classic boat, fabricating their own chainplates or tangs, or simply enjoy digging into archaic, yet still valuable advice. Skene’s Elements of Yacht Design offers tips on calculating loads and fabricating hardware. It is still relevant enough to pick up from a used book store. Rig-Rite also offers a selection of staysail tangs.
  • Rigger and sailmaker websites In addition to its discussion of stay releases the Rigging Company has an informative blog post on adding a Solent stay. Brion Toss’s “Spartalk” discussion board (log-in required) has several threads dealing with inner forestays, Solent stays, and related hardware. Among them is Toss’s rant against the ABI forestay release. He prefers the “babystay” releases from Wichard (see page 9 of the catalog), available in wheel, ratchet, or lever designs, depending on the size of the boat. And sailmaker Joe Cooper describes a lightweight Solent stay retrofit using fiber instead of wire for the stay. (Because of unknowns regarding fiber stays, PS still prefers wire for this use.)
  • Owner retrofits A number of blogs and archive articles from old magazines offer insight into what a retrofit entails. Some are very well supported with photos. Avid small-boat cruiser Terry Sargent has a helpful article describing the addition of an inner forestay to his Fuji 32, Valhalla. Terry is a hard-core do-it-yourselfer/parts recycler and went so far as to fabricate his own quick release. Terry and I crossed paths in the South Pacific and he was very helpful with my own re-rig in Palau. The Windrope family has done an excellent job documenting the addition of a Solent stay to Aeolus, their Gulf 32 Pilothouse sloop.

Comments (2)

Adding an inner forestay offers great comfort and security in heavy wind no doubt. Must one also install the running backstays else risk losing the mast under extreme conditions? The convenience of rigging the forestaysail (as described in PS 41(11) 2015) would be offset by the process of continuously carrying and setting the running backstays.
I removed a forestay - running backstay system from a beneteau first 375 because of mast and deck clutter since I was neither racing nor going outside the Chesapeake Bay. Now I own a Catalina 42 and intend some offshore sailing and am considering installing an inner forestay but am reluctant to add the running backstays. Is there a simpler alternative?

Posted by: Equus | December 30, 2015 9:41 AM    Report this comment

Adding an inner forestay offers great comfort and security in heavy wind no doubt. Must one also install the running backstays else risk losing the mast under extreme conditions? The convenience of rigging the forestaysail (as described in PS 41(11) 2015) would be offset by the process of continuously carrying and setting the running backstays.
I removed a forestay - running backstay system from a beneteau first 375 because of mast and deck clutter since I was neither racing nor going outside the Chesapeake Bay. Now I own a Catalina 42 and intend some offshore sailing and am considering installing an inner forestay but am reluctant to add the running backstays. Is there a simpler alternative?

Posted by: Equus | December 30, 2015 9:41 AM    Report this comment

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