The following article appeared in the Island Packet Newsletter in Spring of 2000
"Men and ships rot in port," goes the old adage. So if you are going to avoid the rot you've got to get out there sailing. In 1995 my wife and I moved aboard Ventana our IP 40 and since that time we have cruised over 12,000 miles from the fog and fickle winds of Maine to the steady trade winds of the Caribbean. From the Bahamas to the Virgin Islands and on south is many many miles of windward work. The payoff finally comes in the 1,000 mile downwind run from Trinidad in the eastern Caribbean to Panama in the west. The following paragraphs outline the sail combinations that have worked for us on our passages.
Ventana's sail inventory is all from North sails and includes a 130% genoa , staysail, fully battened main, asymmetrical spinnaker in a sock and a storm trysail. The trysail has a separate track on the starboard side of the mast and is hanked on ready to go whenever we are on a multi day offshore passage. Fortunately we have never needed it. In my opinion the fully battened main, Harken battcars and Dutchman system rank right up there with GPS and onboard email as the best inventions of modern cruising. The Dutchman and battcars work flawlessly and make sail handling and reefing easier and safer.
Cutter rigs are the most common offshore rigs today and the advantage of a staysail in rough going can not be beat. The 130% genoa is I believe the correct size for the boat however if I were rigging a boat today to go to the Caribbean I would add a foam luff. More about this later.
First the facts- Bob Johnson has designed a fast boat. The first generation of IP's had a bad reputation mostly because they looked tubby. But even then IP 38's were winning the Caribbean 1500. The subsequent generations of IP's have just gotten faster and now they win even more rallys. The combination of a fast boat and a comfortable ride continue to allow IP's to outsail many other boats of equal or larger size. During over 4 years of cruising we have spent countless days sailing island to island with other cruisers. Nearly EVERY time we are faster than any boat under 50'. Many times we beat other respected cruising boats into port by an hour on an 8 hour sail. Even more times we hear complaints of rough passages and see our friends arrive beat up while we only noticed a bit of motion. This seems especially true going downwind where we find our IP 40 rolls far less than many other boats. We often sail dead downwind on a flat steady boat while others jibe downwind at no better speed just to ease the motion.
With the right sails up we find we can go 1/2 the windspeed in almost any conditions upwind or down. If its blowing 6 knots we can do 3 and if its blowing 15 we can do 7-8 knots. On a reach we usually do better and with the gennikker better still.
Reefing the main
In our first few thousand miles of sailing Ventana we were always pleased that we did not need to reef the main until about 22-24 knots. It seemed macho and went with the IP image of a sturdy boat. By dropping the traveler down to leeward we could stay in control and with the acute angle of heel and all the crashing and banging we just knew we must be going fast. It was only after I tried listening to my wife that I found by reefing around 18 knots or so we could maintain control, get the boat upright, stop the crashing and bashing and low and behold-- go faster. IP's are made to be sailed upright. As soon as things pipe up drop the traveler down to spill some wind. If you are heeling more than about 15-18 degrees and/or you have more than a spoke of helm it is probably time to reef. Keep in mind that how early you reef will also be determined by the size of the seas and your point of sail. In big seas or going harder on the wind you may need a bit more power than in smooth seas or off the wind. In general though reef the main early and get the boat on its feet. It's more comfortable, faster and easier on the gear and crew. With the battcars and dutchman system reefing is a 3 minute affair so we do it readily.
Reefing the genoa
In the Caribbean during the winter sailing season 20-25 knots is the norm and in the narrow slots between many of the islands that can mean 30 knots or more. During the "Christmas winds" of 1998 30-45 knots of wind was common in the area of the Grenedines. Perhaps the best rig for these conditions is a high cut yankee and a single or double reefed main. With our 130% genoa these conditions provided our biggest challenge. No mater how much or little I rolled up the genoa I was never happy with its shape. Going to windward it was just too baggy. If I rolled it up completely and went to the staysail I lost too much speed. There was a wide range of windspeeds there in which we just couldn't sail well. I believe a foam luff in the genoa would solve the problem. This should allow you to properly use the genoa reefed down yet still maintain decent sail shape. *
In really heavy winds the staysail and single or double reefed main are bulletproof and the boat moves well and remains easy to handle. On both the main and the staysail the proper positioning of the traveler can be critical so experiment with it until you get your sail flying properly without too much pressure on the helm. Even easing the mainsheet traveler a few inches can make abig difference. Make sure to check the tension of the genoa leech line and adjust it so you just remove the slop without cupping the leech of the sail. Also pay attention to the position of the genoa lead cars so the tension on both the foot and leech is proper and the sail luffs evenly along its entire leech.
Downwind sailing offers far more options and decisions regarding how to set the sails. After sailing thousands of downwind miles we evolved systems for most all conditions. If we are only going for a few hours and the wind is over 15 knots we often fly only the genoa and find we can do 6-7 knots. However if the seas are large or off one quarter we might add the staysail for balance. With this rig wing and wing the boat rolls less and speed is good. In this case it will be necessary to rig a preventer for the staysail boom to get it in the proper position. I run a line from the outboard end of the boom to the forward cleat. If the wind is a bit lighter we will be wing and wing with the main and the genoa. I run the main out to leeward and ALWAYS rig a preventer. For a preventer I use a block and tackle identical to the boom vang set up and run it from the aft most bail on the boom forward to the midship cleat. I then put the genoa out on a whisker pole.
In lighter winds or really big seas the genoa will colapse as the boat rolls or the wind is blocked in the trough of a wave. We use the whisker pole to solve this problem. Initially I always rigged the pole singlehanded while my wife was in the cockpit. Now we have evolved to rigging it together as its faster and safer. My wife handles the inboard end while I handle the pointy end. It's easy and any couple can do it. Our pole is the extendable Forespar pole and we store it vertically on the mast. We first attach the staysail topping lift to the very outboard end of the pole. We next attach a foreguy and after guy to the mid point of the pole where there is a cable bail. The foreguy and afterguy are pre-marked for length and they go to the forward and midship cleats. Their only purpose is to prevent the pole from swinging into the staysail stay or lower forward shroud. We next put the genoa sheet through the jaws on the end, then I hold the pole end up while my wife lowers it and extends it into position. She then cleats the inboard end, the extension line and the topping lift while I secure the two guys. The pole is now locked securly into position. We then both return to the cockpit and roll out the genoa. It is important after the genoa is out to check that the guy is tight enough so the thin aluminum pole does not chafe against the coarse shroud. Since the pole is totally secure and fixed in position it is no problem to roll the genoa in or out as needed if a squall comes.
Light Air Sailing
When the wind is really light you have two options- the motor or the gennikker. If it's only a few hour trip to the next island us lazy cruisers are likely to use the cast iron genny. However there are few things in life more wonderful than sitting on a perfectly stable non rolling boat going downwind at 7 knots and seeing your wind speed gauge show 10 knots apparent. Our gennikker is a North sails asymetrical in a sock and it really is easy to set- honest. We usually use the gennikker if it's under 12 knots apparent or even a bit higher windspeed if we think it will not be increasing. The gennikker flys well without a pole anywhere from about 80 degrees to 140 degrees apparent wind angle. We have a method of rigging the sail which we have found works great. When hositing the sock we leave about 6-10 feet of halyard showing from the masthead to the head of the sail to get the sail out away from the boat-this seems to make it more stable. For the tack line I rig a snatch block through the anchor retaining pin (which we have increased to 1/2" diameter). The tack line then is run back through the block wrapped around the windlass gypsy and led to the foredeck cleat. I pull the chain back from the windlass so it is out of the way. I can then easily ease the tack out or bring the tack closer to the boat by simply hitting the windlass foot switch. It is amazing how much faster we sail and how much steadier we can get the sail to fly by adjusting the tack in or out just a few feet. The windlass allows us to easily do this under load. I rig a second snatch block on the aft deck cleat and run the sheet to this and then to the primary winch. You can also rig the sheet to a snatch block farther forward on the boat at the midship cleat which gives a slightly wider sheeting angle. Others recommend putting a string of wooden parel beads around the rolled up genoa to hold the tack in but we have never tried or needed this. When dousing the sail we find it best to do it on a reach so there is no tendency of the sail to go forward and wrap itself around the headstay.
There are of course many ways to accomplish everything on a boat these are simply ones we find work for us after much trial and error over thousands of miles of cruising. The real secret is to get out there sailing and see what works best for you.
We hope to share an anchorage with you soon.
Rob & Dee Dubin
* Several months after this article was printed we had North sails add a rope luff to our genoa and it has worked as we intended it. We can now reef the genoa to any degree and get a flat sail that pulls well and has great sail shape.
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