The Naiad Voyages

Mark Austen

2016.07.30 - Some Safety Matters

One of the things that Charles Stock was fond of saying was 'The Nanny State ends at the sea wall' meaning, of course, that once you get out to sea you can't get immediate help. Even today with every ship, including ones like Shoal Waters, having a radio, help is not immediate and could be hours away. You are one your own and have to sail as though help were completely unavailable. Charles was also a firm believer that there is such a thing as too much safety. Shoal Waters does not have guard rails not because she is too small for them although that is a consideration but because Charles didn't like them, even on larger boats. Just the right height to trip you up and over you go he would say.

Likewise an engine. He could have put an outboard engine on Shoal Waters but again he believed that motors, although convenient, were a safety hazard because of the way sailors tended to rely on them and sail in a manner that was not safe. They would sail themselves into situations that were dangerous, automatically assuming that if something went wrong, the engine would get them out of trouble. There are many true stories of boats that have been lost because of this assumption when the engine failed or the propellor became entangled in rope, weed or netting just at the wrong moment. Charles' contention was that without these things a sailor would be more aware of safety, not less.

So, halyards. Charles fastened his mainsail halyards at the foot of the mast in the traditional manner. When he wanted to raise the sails he would move forward and hoist them, making the halyards fast to cleats at the foot of the mast when done. There's a photo of him doing just that below. Even in his later years he would still do this. He'd been doing it for decades and could probably have done it in his sleep.

Shoal Waters' latest owner changed this. He prefers to have the halyards lead back to the cockpit. To raise the sails he takes the rope out of the cleats, hoists the mainsail and when done makes the halyards fast in the cleats on the cabin roof. Easy and convenient. Since you do not have to leave the cockpit you are safer then if you had to walk forward to the mast to hoist and lower the sails.

But…

I'm not so sure. You see, there's one thing you need to do at the mast and that is reefing the mainsail. For those readers that do not know what reefing is, it is making the sail smaller by lowering the sail down a bit, tying the front of the sail and the back of the sail to the boom and then tying up the excess in a roll so that it doesn't flap around all over the place. There's a picture of Shoal Waters with one reef in the mainsail below, you can see the bundle of the excess at the bottom of the sail. You can also see the reefing points for the second reef. These are short pieces of rope in the sail to tie up the excess sail when it is reefed.

Shoal Waters has two ropes at the back of the sail ready to reef. Pull on the first one and the sail is pulled down to the boom nice and tight. But to do this at the front end of the sail you must get out of the cockpit and go to the mast, let down the sail a bit and tie the front bit down as well.

By the way, you reef a sail when the wind gets too strong, so when you are putting in the reef conditions are not what you might call ideal and having to walk up forward to the mast is not the safest of things to be doing at that moment in time. Not only that but in order to keep things safer you try not to let the sail down until you are ready to tie it up.

With the halyards where Charles used them this was easy. Go to the mast, take the halyards off the cleats and hold them in one hand, lower away pulling on the mainsail if required, tie the sail down using a piece of rope already tied to the sail, pull on the halyards to make the sail tight again and make the halyards fast on the cleats. Then go back to the cockpit and pull on the reef outhaul and make that fast to a cleat on the boom and the sail was now reefed. The excess was then tied up. More than half of the reefing points could be reached from the cockpit or by standing in the companionway hatch and the last two would need to be tied standing by the mast again.

But how does this work with the halyards led to the cockpit? Take the halyards out off the cleats and lower the sail. Move forward to the mast and tie down the front end. Go back to the cockpit and pull up the sail again to make it tight. Then do the aft end of the sail and the reefing points as before.

Safer or not?

Well, the mainsail has to be lowered before you go forward to the mast to tie down the sail so while you are moving forward to do this, the mainsail is going to be flapping around all over the place making the trip up to the mast even less safe. You had better know exactly how much halyard to let out as well. Lower the sail too little and you'll not be able to tie the sail down and will have to go back to the cockpit to let the sail down some more. Let it down too much and you'll lose control of the boat if not careful.

Which or these two will I do?

Lead the halyards back to the cockpit, I think, because I'm going to be raising and lowering the mainsail a lot more than I will be reefing it and since I do not have decades of experience going forward it is something that I'll do when in calm conditions or only when I have to such as putting in a reef.

Hopefully, knowing that putting is a reef is less safe with the halyards led to the cockpit will mean that I think about putting in a reef sooner and in safer conditions than I would otherwise.

After all, safety matters.

Raising the mainsail on Shoal Waters


Sailing with one reef in the mainsail.