The DIY Solent Stay or Inner Forestay

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Both of the articles in our 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 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. Butch Ulmer’s 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.

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) editors 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 additional information 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.
Darrell Nicholson, editor of Practical Sailor, grew up boating on Miami’s Biscayne Bay on everything from prams to Morgan ketches. Two years out of Emory University, after a brief stint as a sportswriter, he set out from Miami aboard a 60-year-old wooden William Atkin ketch named Tosca. For 10 years, he and writer-photographer Theresa Gibbons explored the Caribbean, crossed the Pacific, and cruised Southeast Asia aboard Tosca, working along the way as journalists and documenting their adventures for various travel and sailing publications, including Cruising World, Sail, Sailing, Cruising Helmsman, and Sailing World. Upon his return to land life, Darrell became the associate editor, then senior editor at Cruising World magazine, where he worked for five years. Before taking on the editor’s position at Practical Sailor, Darrell was the editor of Offshore magazine, a boating-lifestyle magazine serving the New England area. Darrell has won multiple awards from Boating Writer’s International, including the Monk Farnham award for editorial excellence. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license and has worked as a harbor pilot and skippered a variety of commercial charter boats.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Dear Darrell,

    A smaller headsail, or storm jib is indeed preferable to rolling up a Genoa when heading windward in winds over even 20 knots But adding it on as a retrofit brings up the issue of the lines to control it. Ideally it could be fitted on to a self-tacking rail, but these are quite awful if not installed in the original design, just one more thing to trip over and mess up a clean foredeck. I had researched this and apparently there are a number of simple solutions using a rigging set up based on the foot of the mast and clew of the jib, providing just one line astern through a deck organiser to the cockpit ‘piano’. This line simply controls how tight the jib will be and can be left alone when tacking upwind to act as self tacking jib. We sail in the Aegean where wind can be anything from ‘nothing’ to 35 knots sometimes with quick changes, so it pays to be adaptable. If you have any comments or recommendations for such rigs, it may well interest other readers as well and indeed myself as well.

  2. I had a cutter, a Kelly Peterson 44. Great sailing cruiser. However, I would have rather have had a Solient over the traditional cutter. Not even including that yes, it required running back stays, the boat would balance better with a rolled jib over the staysail alone, even with double reefed main. Of course the set of the rollered 110 was not that great. A solient would have been my preference. Walter Cronkite had an interesting custom arrangement on his boat. He had his jib and solient on two stays separated an appropriate distance to properly function and both were on a yoke that would swivel. Just one attachment at masthead and one on stem. Of course hi-thrust bearings on both. The active sail would swivel aft when in use and the inactive would swivel forward complete out of the way! Clever arrangement. Yes, you would get a little “dirty” air from the inactive but everything is a trade off. Probably one that I would take if I could afford all that custom work.

  3. I also have a cutter; CSY 44. When tacking, the jib would not come thru the innerforestay cleanly and would hang up. I installed a quick disconnect and when I know I will be beating it is set up that way. Makes it a lot easier to tack. I see hanging up as a problem with a the double forestay unless you carry the smaller sail on the most forward. However, is this where you want a storm jib? Should I need the storm jib, the staysail stay is the perfect place.

  4. We had a custom rig built for our boat, a Valiant 40′ cutter with a bowsprit that sets the forestay two foot further forward. It was designed to allow both a Solent sail and/or a Staysail. We sail the boat as a Cutter and have no problem at all with the inner forestay interfering with the genoa and jib sheet, (just backwind the staysail until the clew of the genoa has moved to the leward side). The Staysail is roller-reefing too, and is small and very easy to handle, even in a blow. (don’t need the self-tending feature.) When in high winds, the furling staysail is perfect. As for the solent, I consider it more appropriate for a drifter, perhaps wing & wing with the genoa for downwind sailing.

  5. Great Article, Darrell. Your advice to consult a rigger is spot on to address mast support issues. I helped deliver a beautiful Outbound to the Caribbean several years ago from New England. Once we turned south, the skipper set the hank-on Solent staysail on the inner stay. Sweet indeed. Easy to hoist and dowse. Nothing complex about a hank-on headsail. They go up and come down every time.

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