Adding a Solent Stay


Whether you view it from the top down or the bottom up, a Solent rig needs to be carefully thought out, well-engineered, and strategically located. In addition to this overview of the project, our previous report the DIY Solent Stay or Inner Forestay offers more details and resources.  Some sailors add a short bow sprit or U-shaped, tubular extension that includes a bobstay and supports the attachment of a new headstay. The old headstay chainplate becomes the new tack point for the Solent stay. Another approach is to retain the existing headstay and simply attach a new tang just a bit below the headstay sheave box. Then add a deck fitting to attach the Solent stay and tack the sail(s). The deck must be reinforced with a transverse member, or a tie rod must be mechanically fastened to the stem so that the tension loads don’t damage the deck.

Either approach can be a win-win solution, but as with all sailboat modifications, the devil is in the details. On the up side, both options offer a double-headsail rig that doesn’t require the addition of running backstays. But when the sprit option is chosen, rig support can be jeopardized due to the placement of the headstay outboard of the stem of the vessel. On a traditional cutter, the same thing occurs, but the original stem-mounted headstay simply becomes the forestay, and the loads are shared. With a removable Solent stay disconnected, this belt-and-suspenders security is lost.

Make sure that the load-bearing capacity of the sprit and its attachment points have been carefully calculated. This structure must account for more than tension in the headstay(s). It includes designing the structure to counteract forces such as those exerted by one or two anchors pounding into short, steep seas on a squally afternoon sail home. Little things can play a major role down the road, like properly sizing bobstay terminals and fittings to account for degradation caused by intermittent or continuous immersion in seawater. Many modern designers prefer to add a little more ballast and a little more height to the mast rather than put the headstay outboard on a 21st-century bowsprit. However, plumb-bowed boats have complicated anchor handling, making short sprits almost a necessity.

In the case of boats with high sail area-displacement ratios, you may want to put a light-air genoa or a drifter/reacher on the headstay and set up another roller-furler with a non-overlapping sail on the Solent stay. The trick is knowing when to switch gears from the lightweight sail on the headstay and unwind or hank on the small jib that sets on the Solent stay. In either case, when the stay becomes a permanent fixture, the rig is better supported, but each tack or jibe of the larger headsail requires rolling it and unrolling it.

Ralph Naranjo is a Practical Sailor contributing editor whose specialty is safety and seamanship. During his 10-year stint as the Vanderstar Chair at the U.S. Naval Academy, he augmented safety and seamanship training and played a key role in the development of the Navy’s 40-foot new sail training sloops. His sailing background includes a five-year family voyage around the world and the management of a full service boatyard. He and his wife Lenore have made two other lengthy cruises aboard Wind Shadow, a 41-foot sloop the Naranjos have owned for over three decades. During the past 15 years, he has moderated US Sailing Safety at Sea seminars across the country, and now is an adjunct lecturer at the Annapolis School of Seamanship. His newly developed courses on weather routing, seamanship, and celestial navigation are among the most popular in the school’s lineup. He is the author of Wind Shadow West, an inspiring account of the family’s five-year voyage, and The Art of Seamanship: Evolving Skills, Exploring Oceans, and Handling Wind, Waves, and Weather, a comprehensive textbook aimed at the advanced cruising sailor. For information about his virtual or in person seminars on a range of topics contact the editor at


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