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HomeCruiseHow Many Sails Does a Cruising Yacht Need?

How Many Sails Does a Cruising Yacht Need?

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Of course it is possible to somehow make it from A to B with just any kind of mainsail and headsail, or just one of those in an emergency—or holding up a towel if it’s downwind and the breeze is strong enough. You’ll get there eventually. But in order to be able to go where we actually want to go instead of where the wind takes us and to do this fairly efficiently, we need quite an array of sails. Many of the places we want to go happen to be rather remote, so we also carry some spares to be on the safe side and have a back-up in case of damages. As a result of this philosophy the forecabin of our (anyway overloaded) S&S 41 is filled up with bags containing light and heavy canvas in all sizes. So here’s what we carry and why—maybe our experiences help you decide which sails to buy and/or bring along on the next trip:

Yankee and cutter are ideal close hauled. Photo by Birgit Hackl and Christian Feldbauer
Yankee and cutter are ideal close hauled. Photo by Birgit Hackl and Christian Feldbauer

Yankee, cutter and mainsail (plus spare main):
Our Pitufa is cutter-rigged, meaning that we have an inner forestay from which we can optionally fly a staysail. We have found that using a relatively small, high-cut jib (yankee) in combination with an inner foresail (cutter sail) is the optimal solution when we head towards up-wind destinations—especially in a fresh breeze. Different to a big genoa the yankee doesn‘t have to be rolled up quite that extremely when reefing and it also keeps its shape better. When the wind goes above 30 knots we can simply roll up the yankee completely and still have a balanced set-up to make miles with a reefed main and the little cutter sail. We use this combination whenever we are sailing eastwards in the tradewind belt—usually clause-hauled using shifting winds. The smaller yankee has the additional advantage that it‘s less cumbersome to tack than our huge genoa. We have met many sailboats that limped into port with empty diesel tanks after their mainsail got ripped and they couldn‘t properly sail close to the wind anymore, so we carry our old mainsail as a spare—just in case.

Pitufa’s Top Ten Makeshift / Recycled Items

Goosewinged with poled out genoa and main. Photo by Birgit Hackl and Christian Feldbauer
Goosewinged with poled out genoa and main. Photo by Birgit Hackl and Christian Feldbauer

Genoa and mainsail:
When we plan to go mainly towards downwind/reaching destinations (i.e. westwards in the trades) we take the bigger headsail out of the locker and hoist the genoa on the roller-furling gear. The bigger sail area is convenient in moderate to light winds and we always have the option to pole it out, get the mainsail out on the other side and sail goose-winged if we have to go dead downwind.

How to Sail Downwind With a Two Pole System for Ease AND Comfort

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Two genoas in heavy weather. Photo by Birgit Hackl and Christian Feldbauer
Two genoas in heavy weather. Photo by Birgit Hackl and Christian Feldbauer

Two genoas:
For extended dead-downwind-trips (e.g. our Atlantic crossing from Europe to South America) we fly two poled-out genoas with no main sail up. 

Unfortunately we don‘t have two forestays, so we have to hoist two genoas on the same furler (it has two grooves). This classic trade-wind rig has the advantage that it‘s very convenient to handle and reef—no need to fight with a flogging mainsail while reefing, less risk of broaching in heavy following seas—the two genoas can easily be rolled smaller and bigger again from the cockpit without changing course.

To have this option (and in case of damage to our regular genoa) we carry our old genoa along as well.

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Pitufa is a classic 70s design with big jib and small main. Photo by Birgit Hackl and Christian Feldbauer
Pitufa is a classic 70s design with big jib and small main. Photo by Birgit Hackl and Christian Feldbauer

Gennaker:
Our Pitufa is quite heavy, so we used to only go out in strong winds—but of course that means rough seas as well. We added an asymmetrical spinnaker (gennaker) to our sail repertoire and never regretted it. Since we own the beautiful, huge bubble we dare going sailing in light-winds and accordingly comfy conditions. Instead of turning on the engine whenever the wind gets too light for the genoa we now get out the blister—thus saving diesel and keeping our carbon footprint light. We have chosen an asymmetrical spinnaker as it can be used on courses between 60 and almost 180 degrees (at least in flattish sea conditions without a mainsail up) and is much more versatile than a classic spinnaker. A code zero may be even more comfortable in the handling, but it‘s also bulkier and needs more space in storage—a no-go on a boat without enough space as it is. 

Furling Headsail Sizes: Making the Right Choice

Serene lightwind sailing with our gennaker. Photo by Birgit Hackl and Christian Feldbauer
Serene lightwind sailing with our gennaker. Photo by Birgit Hackl and Christian Feldbauer

Storm trisail and storm jib:
So far we have never encountered conditions that would have required hoisting the storm sails (touch wood!!), but of course a bluewater cruising yachts need to be prepared for the worst and carry tiny, strong sails to withstand gale conditions. 

So this is why we carry nine sails on our floating home that contains way too many spares, gadgets, provisioning, tools and toys anyway. We sometimes consider getting rid of some our sails, but then there‘s always situations when we are glad to have every single one of them aboard. 

Genoa Size Related to Sheeting Position and Performance

Birgit and Christian have sailed their S&S designed SY Pitufa from the Med to the South Pacific. Pitufa is a classic 70s design with a tumble-home and a short waterline. Pitufa was built as a sturdy aluminum construction and weighing 12 tons she‘s quite heavy for her size. She‘s not great at going downwind, but loves cutting through the waves in rough up-wind conditions. More info about boat and crew on www.pitufa.at

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Birgit Hackl
Birgit Hacklhttp://www.pitufa.at
Birgit Hackl, Christian Feldbauer and ship’s cat Leeloo have been exploring the world on their yacht Pitufa since 2011. Visit their blog: www.pitufa.at
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