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By Dave and Jaja Martin



I am an old-schooler when it comes to jib selection. So I guess it's a good thing I learned to sail in the seventies when hank-on Dacron sails were the norm. If I was born in forties I'd probably still be using cotton sails.

This same old-school attitude of mine applies to roller furling jib systems as well. I'm sure there are many arguments to support roller furlers on a cruising boat, but the one argument I have against them is they are a mechanical object with many moving parts. At some point the thing is going to break, or malfunction. I guess one of the reasons I like hank-on jibs is they're practically foolproof. (Even if they are more clumsy, and more work when shortening sail.) Also, with hank-ons you have an inventory of different sized sails aboard. Should one sail blow out, there will be others that can be used. I've been aboard boats with roller furlers where the only head sail is the one on the furler. For coastal sailing this is OK. For extended cruises this is foolish. Redundancy is the operative word.

Another reason I distrust jib furlers is they tend to disassociate the sailor with the boat. Instead of crew going forward of the mast in all conditions, thus using balance and agility to change a jib on a pitching foredeck, sails can be furled from the comfort of the cockpit. My point is, going offshore is not a leisure cruise. Things are going to happen out there. If agility is not tested frequently (such as going on deck to fight down the jib) then I question the ultimate safety of the crew. If I go forward of the mast to change jibs, then going on deck becomes second nature. Handholds are automatic. If there is an unexpected crisis on the bow in the dark, or during a storm, I will get there instinctively because I have "practiced" it many times before. Being fully in tune with the boat is a state of mind that can tip the scales in a survival situation.

Cruising boats have gotten bigger over the last decade. Part of this expansion is due in part to the stock market, but I also believe boats have gotten bigger because of roller furling sails. Let's face it, taking down a jib on the deck of a 50- or 60-foot cruising boat is not going to be easy with a crew of two. With enough wind it might even be impossible. Rollers make it possible to sail very big boats short handed, but this kind of mechanical dependency makes me uncomfortable.

On our 33 foot sloop DRIVER we carry 7 headsails:
60 sq ft/ 8 oz storm jib
90 sq ft/10 oz storm jib
80% 8 oz jib
110% 7 oz working jib
130% Genoa
165% drifter
Asymmetrical spinnaker

The sail we use the most is the 110% working jib. It moves us along in most conditions and it is easy to manhandle. The sail we use the least is the spinnaker. In the higher latitudes, which have been our main venue of exploration, the wind is either building up to a gale or dying out from one. Either that, or the wind is fluky. Combine fluky winds with a ground swell that keeps the boat rolling and the spinnaker is a headache to fly. All it does is collapse and wrap itself around the headstay and mast. If the boat is being steered by a non-electronic windvane, forget it. You will have to hand steer; every time the boat speeds up and slows down the apparent wind is going to shift, screw up the windvane adjustment, and send the boat off course.

Instead of using a spinnaker I have always found success using a Genoa on a long whisker pole. If the boat is rolling you can crank the sail tight against the pole and stretch the sail flat. Although the advantage of the spinnaker is its mass of sail area up high, (catching wind that may not exist at deck level) the low center of effort of the Genoa or jib on a whisker pole will help keep the boat more stable and thus less prone to knockdowns if the wind suddenly increases. I have also found a wind vane will steer a better course with a Genoa on a whisker pole. The other alternative in light winds is to turn on the engine.

I am an advocate for simplicity. The less complicated your boat is, the more connected you are going to feel to the adventure at hand. Getting up on deck in a blow and dousing a jib is the stuff of excitement: the pitching bow, the shrieking wind, and the flying spray.

Most people just think I'm nuts.

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