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

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We’ve heard quite a few cruisers complaining after long downwind passages how they had to jibe back and forth away from the rhumb line after their spinnaker (or whisker) pole snapped and they could no longer fly the head sail in an ideal position. Luckily Pitufa came with two sturdy poles—even if we lost one, we’d be okay, but we’d still quickly buy another one. Going downwind without a pole just doesn’t work for mono-hulls with classic rigs (big headsail, small mainsail) as many cruising boats have. At least on our boat, it makes sense to pole out the genoa as soon as the wind goes aft of the beam: less flapping, better performance.  Here’s our Strategy: How to Go Downwind With a Two Pole System for Ease AND Comfort

One of our poles lives on a track on the mast, but the spare one is stored on deck. Of course it’s inconvenient to carry yet another, heavy piece, but the second one is not just a spare. There are more scenarios in which two poles have advantages:

Downwind Sailing: Run With It

Twin Genoas. Photo by Birgit Hackl and Christian Feldbauer
Twin Genoas. Photo by Birgit Hackl and Christian Feldbauer

Twin Genoas

Whenever we plan a longer dead downwind passage, we pull up two genoas on our roller-furling system. Unfortunately we don’t have two forestays, but at least the one furler we have features two grooves. We drop our regular headsail and then hoist two sails together. That’s a cumbersome procedure, but worth it. The two poled-out headsails pull Pitufa steadily along and we don’t even have the mainsail up, so reefing is wonderfully simple and safe. Reefing our mainsail requires turning the boat into the wind with one person steering and the other one handling winches at the mast. Rolling just the twin genoas a bit in (or out) to make them smaller (or bigger) is a simple one-(wo)man job. On top of that, Pitufa looks fabulous flying ‘angel wings.’

Furling Headsail Sizes: Making the Right Choice

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After we had crossed the Atlantic under two genoas, we tied the second pole down, thinking that we wouldn’t need two headsails for short hops through the Caribbean. Instead we went goose-winged, genoa on one side and mainsail on the other. A poled-out headsail is quite forgiving and even stays filled when the wind shifts to the ‘wrong’ side, but at some point it collapses. The easiest remedy is to adjust the course more down-wind again, but quite often an obstacle as massive as an island jumps in the way then—usually at night. “Sorry darling, wake up, we have to re-rig the pole…” And up stumbles the off-watch, grumbling and yawning. Rolling up the genoa, taking down the pole, rigging it on the other side, stumbling around on a madly swaying deck, re-adjusting sheets and pole guys, changing course, rolling out the genoa on the other side—not exactly fun for a short-handed crew at night.

Genoa Size Related to Sheeting Position and Performance

Standby Pole is Labeled

Standby Pole

It took a few interrupted slumbers and bloody toes until we finally remembered our second pole lounging lazily on deck. Now we routinely rig both poles whenever we are uncertain on which side of the bum the wind will be during the upcoming passage. Dealing with heavy poles and the many lines that have to be run correctly is so much easier in a calm anchorage than underway. With both poles rigidly rigged and ready to be used we may look like a weird fishing trawler, but the set-up is wonderfully flexible, not just when the wind shifts, or an island attacks, but also when maneuvering through a fishing fleet or around any other adversarial traffic. Having the second pole standing by, it is easy to jibe at any time or to change between running goose-winged and (broad) reaching with both sails on the same side.

We sometimes see mono-hulls without a pole on deck—maybe their crews rely on telescope poles (a bit risky as they’re often rather flimsy) or maybe they get by without ever knowing the joys of poling out. We’re not into racing, but we certainly enjoy the many advantages of starting in ‘pole position.’

Guide to Sail Control: Headsail Trimming

Poled Out Genoa is Labeled…


With one end of the pole attached to the mast at the right height, we start rigging it by temporarily securing the free end to the pulpit to prevent uncontrolled, dangerous banging. Then we bring the staysail halyard forward and attach it at the topping lift and lead the genoa sheet through the jaws of the pole. For the downhaul we use a line together with a block and tackle that is attached slightly aft of the mast base. The foreguy is a long line that leads from the pole end to a block at the bow and back to the cockpit. Having all those lines in place, we release the pole from the pulpit and pull it up with the topping lift until horizontal. The pole can now be pushed out and is ready to be used. Tensioning the downhaul against topping lift and foreguy should result in a rigid setup even when the pole is not in use. In rough seas and/or in case the downhaul lies perfectly in the same geometrical plane as the pole and the topping lift, an additional afterguy is needed to prevent forward movement.

Editor’s Note: New to Cruising?  Check out the Cruising 101 Starter Guide

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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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