Learn to Sail Better – How to Retrieve a Lost Mainsail Or Genoa Halyard Fast!

You’ve just motored out to a clear spot in the river and get ready to raise the mainsail. You hoist the head of the mainsail up the mast–and the halyard breaks free!

Now you are in a mess, as the halyard flails back and forth, five feet out of reach. Learn to sail like a pro when you use a simple, little-known technique that will keep this from ruining your sailing day!

Before you get underway, rig a simple halyard retrieval line for your mainsail and headsail halyards. That will allow you to haul the halyard down if it parts, or breaks loose when hoisting any sailboat sail. Follow these three easy steps:

Measure Your Mast and Headstay

Use small diameter, three-strand nylon or Dacron line. For the mainsail halyard, make the line length equal to the sailboat mast, plus enough to reach the base of the mast to tie it off to a cleat. For the headsail, make the line length equal to the headstay, plus enough to reach back to the cockpit and tie off to a cockpit boat cleat.

Splice an Eye Above the Halyard Shackle

Form a tight, small eye in each halyard just above the halyard shackle. Avoid the temptation to splice to the shackle, because the eye could slip off of the shackle when retrieving. Cover the bitter ends of your splice with three or four tight wraps of riggers tape. This will prevent the ends from fraying in the high winds at the head of the mast.

Hook a Block to the Stem-head at the Bow

Shackle a fairlead block to the stemhead (the fitting that the bottom of the headstay attaches to). Use one of the holes aft of the hole used by the headstay.

Test Your Mainsail and Headsail Retrieval Lines

Raise your mainsail on a a calm day in the slip or at the pier. Slack the retrieval line as you hoist the head of the mainsail. Some sailing skippers like to attach a small block to the base of the mast to run the mainsail retrieval line aft to the cockpit. You can also use the line to help haul the mainsail down after sailing.

Raise your Genoa or jib to the top of the sailboat mast. Feed the line through the block and aft back to the cockpit. Your headstay retrieval line can pull double-duty as “haul-down” line to help you lower the Genoa or jib.

Mark Your Cleat Spots on Each Retrieval Line

Make sure to keep each line slack so that it does not interfere with sail shape. Use a marker to show the “cleat off” spot on each retrieval line. That way, you know that your lines are set to the correct spot and ready to use in an instant.

Use these five easy tips to learn to sail better and with less effort. Boost your sailing skipper skills to the next level with these time and effort saving sailing tips–wherever in the world you choose to go sailing.

Learn to Sail Like a Pro – How to Use a Sailboat Winch

Learn to sail with confidence when you know the safe, easy way to put sailboat winches to work. These mechanical devices save you time and effort and help you trim sails for power and speed. Read on to learn how to put these “sailing workhorses” to work aboard your sailboat.

Imagine that you need to trim your sail in a heavy breeze. You grab the line, pull hard, and find it almost impossible to hold because of the tension created by the wind. Enter the sailboat winch!

These mechanical helpers are shaped something like an hourglass. The middle part–called a drum–has gears inside. These gears, along with a winch handle (more on this later), multiply the mechanical advantage of the winch to save you a lot of back-breaking work!

The wide bottom mounts onto the deck of your sailboat. The wide top–or plate–has a hole in the middle. You insert the winch handle into this hole and turn the handle, which turns the gears and drum of the winch. Follow these five easy steps for safe sailing and sail trimming.

1. Lead the Line in Up to the Winch

Check to make sure that the line you want to take to the winch leads (points) up to the winch. You may find on some boats that the line leads down to a winch–and that can be dangerous.

You can change the lead of a line with a block. Sail sheets (control lines) pass through blocks first before they get to the winch. Blocks that help point the line in the correct direction to the winch are often called “lead blocks”, because the “lead” or “redirect” the line in the correct direction to the winch.

Position lead blocks between the sail clew and winch in such a way that the sail sheet will lead up to the winch at a slight angle. Keep the block just a bit lower than the drum of the winch. This will insure that the sail sheet always leads at an upward angle to the winch drum for safe sailing when you use your sailboat winch.

2. Wrap the Sheet Clockwise

Pull the sheet to the winch and make a full turn (circle) around the drum in a clockwise direction. Full turns on a winch are called “wraps”. Build wraps onto a winch drum by keeping each successive wrap parallel to the previous wrap, flat against the drum. Avoid stacking wraps on top of one another. This can lead to an “override” or jammed turns that will cause the wraps to freeze onto the drum. Keep the wraps next to one another for safe, smooth, easy sail trim.

3. Count the Wraps

On small boats make a single wrap around the winch drum to remove the slack from a loose sail sheet. Then wrap it one or two more times to hold the sheet in place. On larger boats, wrap the line three to four turns to hold it in place. More wraps creates more friction on the drum to keep the line from slipping. Increase the number of wraps for thinner line.

After you wrap the line two to four times, pull on the line with slight tension to hold the wraps in place. This action–called “tailing” places light tension on the wraps to keep them aligned on the drum. Some winches are self-tailing, which means they have two “clam-shell” plates on top to hold the line for you. After you complete the wraps around the drum, jam the line into the clam plates and make a full wrap.

4. Grind on the Winch

Trim your sail by turning the winch drum. This pulls in the sheet or halyard so that you can shape your sails for speed or power. Insert a winch handle into the center hole in the top plate of the winch drum. Stand up, hover over the winch and keep your back straight. Hold the sheet or line with your non-dominant hand and grind (turn the winch handle) with your dominant hand. When finished grinding (unless you use self-tailing winches), remove the winch handle. Cleat off the line. Make the cleat hitch without the final locking hitch. That way, you will be able to release the sheet fast and easy for trimming, tacking, or jibing.

5. Ease or Cast Off

Use your dominant hand to ease a sail sheet (let it out). First, remove the sheet from the cleat or remove the single wrap from inside the clam plates on a self-tailing winch. Hold the line with moderate tension to keep the wraps in place. Place the palm of your non-dominant hand against the wraps on the drum with moderate pressure. This will keep the wraps stacked without overrides as you ease the sheet. Use a smooth motion to ease the sheet an inch or two, then hold (brake”) the sheet with your palm. Ease and brake, ease and brake, in a smooth, easy motion.

You will cast off the line or sheet when you change tacks, jibe, or need to lower a sail. Wait until you have eased the line as described above. Pull straight up and out off the drum of the winch and let the turns spin off the winch. Allow the sheet or line to run through your hand. If tacking or jibing, drop the sheet and move to the sheet on the opposite side of the cockpit. Repeat the steps above to trim the opposite sheet. When finished, stow the winch handle, coil sheets or lines and get ready for the next tack or jibe.

Follow these easy sailing tips to use any sailboat winch fast and easy. Sail with confidence when you know how to sail in safety–wherever in the world your choose to cruise!

Learn to Sail With Magic Shroud Telltales

If you are anything like me, you are always on the lookout for sailing tips that make sailing easier with less effort. When you first learn to sail, it can be tough to “see the wind”. You can feel the wind on your cheek or the back of your neck. But how can you see it? Check out these three simple, non-electronic type wind indicators that are available for sailors:

Types of Apparent Wind Indicators

Sail Luff Telltales

Your Genoa or mainsail may carry telltales–small strips of yarn or ribbon–attached the luff (in the case of a headsail) or the leech (on a mainsail). These telltales show the flow of apparent wind across the sail. But sail telltales can be tough to see. You have to bend down, crane your neck to see the luff of your Genoa. And when you sail short-handed or by yourself, that can be a lot of work. Plus the fact that luff telltales just show the apparent wind flow across one sail.

Masthead Fly

If you have a wind “fly” at the masthead, this miniature wind-vane shows how the wind flows across the boat. It’s just about the perfect apparent wind indicator because it’s not obstructed or blocked by another sail, mast, rigging, or blocked by land nearby. But masthead flys can be tough to see way up at the top of your mast.

Shroud Telltales

Shroud telltales are an easier alternative to the masthead fly and still give you a great picture of how the apparent wind flows across your boat. They’re easier to use than luff telltales for shorthanded sailors because you don’t need to bend down and strain to see the luff of your Genoa or headsail. Best of all, they are cheap, easy to make, and super simple to use. Follow these three easy steps to make and mount your shroud telltales in just a few minutes:

1. Find the Right Material for Shroud Telltales

Go down to your local fabric and sewing store. Find the aisle that sells yarn. Buy a roll of Angora wool yarn. Dark colors are good for daytime sailing, while brighter colors stand out better at night. Angora wool makes the best telltale because it’s light and shows direction even in those super light morning zephyrs.

2. Make and Attach Your Shroud Telltales

Cut off two 6″ to 9″ strips of wool. Attach the yarn to the upper shroud on each side, as high off the deck as possible. You want the yarn in clear air so that it’s not blocked by your cabin roof, Bimini top, or spray dodger.

3. Match Your Telltale to the Point of Sail

Use a “sail and study” method to learn to read the shroud telltale. Sail onto each point of sail, get the boat steady, and watch the telltale. Observe how it points. After a few times of doing this, you will be able to recognize just how the telltale should look when beating, reaching, or running.

How to Use Your Shroud Telltales

Concentrate on three specific points of sail: beating (close hauled), beam reaching, and running. On each point of sail, observe the angle that your shroud telltales make. This takes a bit of practice and patience.

For beating, find that “razor’s edge” between luffing and sailing. Glance at the windward side shroud telltale. Note how it makes a slight angle off the bow. Hold your course and concentrate on that angle. Fall off a bit and note how your windward shroud telltale changes its angle. Head up back to a beat (close hauled course). Again, note the shroud telltale angle. Repeat this several times until this shroud telltale angle becomes second nature to you.

Follow this same sequence with a beam reach and running course. As you can see, shroud telltales will force you to first find the point of sail and then assist you to hold that point of sail. This will make you less reliant on luff telltales and take less effort because they will always be visible while you steer from your tiller or wheel.

Use these three fast, easy steps on your journey to learn to sail better than ever before. You will increase your speed, power, and performance on any point of sail–wherever in the world you choose to sail!

How to Reef a Main Sail in Five Easy Steps!

Did you know that you can get your boat to sail better and faster when you reef a main sail? You might think that reefing sails was just for sailing in heavy winds. But often, your boat will sail smoother, faster, and easier with this simple, easy-to-use technique. Here are five fast steps to put this super sailing technique into play on your sailboat today!

Reefing means to reduce the amount of sail exposed to the wind. Have you ever climbed up onto the roof of your home or gone outside to get some fresh air on the upper floors of a tall building. If it’s a breezy day, that wind will blow with more strength higher off the ground than it does near the ground.

Sailing winds are similar. Near the top of your sailboat mast, the wind blows with a lot more speed (velocity) than the wind near the water surface. That’s because wind at the surface slows down because of friction–or contact–with the water surface or nearby land. Higher up off the water, the wind encounters less friction, so it blows at a higher velocity.

When Do You Need to Reef Your Sailboat?

In a sailboat that has the mainsail hoisted on a tall mast, the upper part of the sail has a lot more wind blowing onto it than the lower part. Sometimes, this can cause the boat to heel a lot. When you boat heels too much, the rail, or outer edge of the boat might dip into the water. This causes the boat to slow down.

This can also cause weather helm–or the tendency of the boat to want to round up (point toward) the wind. You will know that your boat has too much weather helm when it becomes difficult to hold the wheel or tiller and keep your boat on her sailing course.

Put balance back into your sailboat with reefing. Reefing reduces the amount of sail area (surface area) up high. When you reef, you lower the mainsail down closer to the water surface. This gets the mainsail out of those higher velocity sailing winds that cause you to heel so much. Here are the five steps to take to reef your sailboat. They are written for short-handed sailing crews. So with just yourself and one other person, you will be able to reef your boat.

1. Prepare Your Main sail for Reefing

Before you go out for a day of sailing, prepare your boat for reefing. This will save you lots of time and effort once you are out sailing and find you need to reef the mainsail.

Reeve (thread) a long piece of line from a cleat on one side of the mast, up through the tack reefing grommet (ring) and back down to a cleat on the other side of your mast.

Reeve a long piece of line from an eye mounted on one side of the end of the boom, up through the clew reefing grommet, back down to a cheek block (a flat block) on the other side of the end of the boom, and up to a cleat near the forward end of the boom.

2. Head Up Into the Wind

Point the bow as close into the wind as possible. Get the mainsail to flutter. This takes tension off of the mainsail control lines and halyards to make reefing easy. Ease the boom topping lift (the line that runs from the end of the boom to the top of the mast to hold the end of the boom up) until it has lots of slack. Ease the boom vang all the way so that it has lots of slack. Ease the mainsheet so that it has lots of slack.

3. Lower, Reef, and Tension the Luff

Un-cleat the mainsail halyard. Lower the main sail about half way down the sailboat mast. Cleat the halyard to hold it in place. Pull on the tack reefing grommet line to remove all slack and cleat it off. Hoist the main as high as possible by hand; then wrap three turns around the halyard winch.

Grind on the winch until you just see a light vertical crease build along the luff of the mainsail. Stop grinding. Ease the main just a bit until the crease disappears. Cleat off the mainsail halyard.

4. Reef and Tension the Clew

Un-cleat the clew reefing line from the boom. Haul (pull hard) on the line until the clew reefing grommet and end of the boom come together. Often, you will not be able to pull the clew down all the way to the top of the boom. Cleat off the clew reefing line.

Make a simple downhaul line to pull the clew reefing grommet closer to the top of the boom. Thread an 18″ piece of line through the clew reefing grommet, haul down on the reefing clew grommet, and tie off the downhaul line beneath the boom with a square knot.

5. Test the Helm for “Feather-weight” Balance

Check the results of your efforts. Take two or three fingers and see if you can steer your boat with the tiller or wheel and hold it on course. If you can do this, you have achieved perfect sailing balance. Still fighting the helm to hold a sailing course? Continue reefing, but move to the bow. If you have a furling headsail, roll up the headsail just enough in order to achieve “finger-tip” steering control. If necessary, change to a smaller headsail, like a working jib.

Use these five easy steps and sailing tips to learn to reef a main sail and achieve the ultimate goal of perfect balance. You will be rewarded with blazing speed, power, and performance–wherever in the world you choose to sail!