DOWNWIND SAILING: RUN WITH IT
Occasionally while spending time with friends and fellow cruisers, the topic of running often comes up. Not so much running for fitness, but rather running before the wind on a sailboat. Often cruisers dread this point of sail, commenting on cork screwing and a wicked rolling motion that is intolerable. Well, if you rig your boat properly it can be a wonderful point of sail, fast, safe and relatively comfortable.
Another bonus is that broad reaching and running present the least amount of resistance and stress to your boat. My wife Kylie and I, aboard Meggie, our Cheoy Lee B30, have some simple methods that we use when running that work well for us.
First off, you need to look at the distribution of weight on board your vessel, such as water and fuel tanks. Making sure the weight is relatively equal on both sides of the boat will help with the rolling. Also weight aloft matters, heavy items such as radar domes and mast mounted wind generators add weight in the worst possible place.
Next is to decide on a sail plan. On Meggie we have perhaps the ultimate sail plan; being a cutter ketch rig we are able to fly four sails in total, so in light to moderate winds we carry full sail but as the wind strengthens we can reef or drop a sail as necessary. With the wind deep on the aft quarter, we set mizzen, main and staysail accordingly and then pole the yankee out to windward with the pole set square to the wind which works like a dream.
However, on a dead run we either sheet in the mizzen to deflect wind into the mainsail or drop it all together if it interferes with our wind vane steering. The staysail now blanketed by the main will also come down.
There is nothing more exciting and dangerous than an accidental jibe, thus making a preventer vang our first and foremost important part of our downwind system. Other important components of our system are the spinnaker/whisker pole, fore guy and topping lift which can be a spare halyard. A preventer vang and fore guy essentially serve the same purpose, holding the sail down and forward, resisting the tendency to chafe on any standing rigging or spreaders.
We bought some spare blocks at a parts swap and I hand-stitched a strong nylon webbing loop on them for instant fair leads. This can be put around an anchor roller or windlass cathead while in use.
Perhaps the easiest way to set the pole is to run with the wind on the quarter with your jib to leeward; it will be flogging around useless behind the main. Then set the pole with the lazy jib sheet, topping lift and fore guy to windward, now jibe the headsail over and square the pole to the wind.
It is important to try and balance the amount of sail area on either side of the boat, which will reduce the roll. On boats with furling systems you can simply roll away a little sail when necessary.
Above, I have described a typical wing on wing set up. Another running method is to douse the main sail and add a block to the end of the main boom. Lead the sheet from a second headsail, (preferably free flying) through the block and guy the boom out using the preventer vang and main sheet; use your main halyard as a topping lift. Essentially you will have twp poled out head sails flying, but beware of all this power forward, especially as the wind increases and waves overtake the boat.
Watch your speed. Look astern from time to time and check the faces of the following seas; when running, an increase in the wind can go unnoticed. Also, too much speed can cause the boat to track off its desired course and this extra power can overwhelm an autopilot.
We have learned to really enjoy running on our boat, feeling safe and comfortable. Both Kylie and I would choose to work on the foredeck or prepare a meal in the galley while running in 20 knots and a good sea running, verses going to weather in any velocity, any day. So get yourself a pole, make up some blocks, make your systems safe, experiment and enjoy. You may discover a whole new ocean.