Skipper's Guide To Sails
Posted on : 03/04/2012
Introduction:There are so many types of sails because different sailing boats have different rigs that it can be confusing to new boat owners. Not only the different names but what are the different sails for? You may have heard the term, sails wardrobe, well this refers to the number and type of sails an owner has for a yacht. The idea here my heartys is not to get too technical, instead we will aim to cover the most popular sails. So here is a simplified Skippers guide to sails. It is not exhaustive and there are many different opinions so treat it as a start and if you want to make further enquiries then consult a sail maker or more experienced owners and crew.
Main Sail (sounds like Mainsul)
The Mainsail is a tall sail that runs from the main mast at its leading edge & leads aft (back) along the boom. It is usually triangular and large. On a sailing yacht designed for cruising this is the most important sail. Most cruising yachts just have one Mainsail. When you motor out of the harbour, the first thing you will do is hoist the Main Sail whilst the engine idles. It is like a weather vane which helps you guide the boat into the wind. It provides both stability and the main thrust for forward motion.
Head Sail (Headsul)
The Headsail is any sail that is forward of the main mast. Jibs, Genoas and even spinnakers are headsails by definition. The headsail provides less forward motion than the mainsail. It can be used to optimise the sailing yachts performance.The type of sailing and the weather you are presented with will dictacte the type of headsail you choose. Racing headsails are cut lower which impairs vision but traps more wind and in turn optimises the racing boats speed. Most owners are into cruising so they opt for a higher cut sail which gives better vision and is easier to handle. In heavy winds then a small sail called a storm jib maybe used.
The Genoa (sometimes referred to as the jenny)
The genoa is often muddled up with the jib but there is a technical difference. A genoa actually overlaps the mast and mainsail and the different genoas are graded by the percentage overlap. You may have noticed that sailing club races and class rules may specify the maximum Genoa size. So think of number 1 genoa (150% overlap), number 2 Genoa (a 125% overlap) etc..... So it is mainly used by yacht racers in moderate winds as it has a large surface area which is used to optimise the yachts speed. However with modern day cruising and modern sails the boats invariably have one Headsail which is large enough to be a genoa and at the same time easy enough to furl and to create a jib.
A triangular sail that extends from the front of the mast (or foremast if more than one mast). So it is the front sail. It does not extend beyond the mast. Modern cruising boats normally have a jib as their preferred headsail. You would normally hoist this one after the mainsail has set and if the wind was too strong for the genoa. On cruising yachts and most racing yachts the jib has to be moved when tacking (jibe). Basically there are two ropes, one will be released and the other tightened when the boat has headed into the wind. On other cruising yachts, and nearly all racing sailboats, the jib needs to be worked when tacking.
Storm Jib (Stormsail)
These are strong, heavy, reinforced sails that allow you to put enough sail out in stormy conditions to allow you to to keep control of the yacht in stormy conditions without being overpowered.
The Lightest, most colourful and largest sail used by experienced sailors in light winds predominantly when sailing downwind. There are three main designs of spinaker which are created by the cloth panel pattern. The radial(vertical) spinnaker is great for the lightest winds, the horizontal cut is also for light winds, the star cut designed for stronger winds (up to force 5), and the tri-radial head cut is a blend of all the others, providing a good balance between manageability and speed optimisation.
This is like a spinnaker but 15% smaller and its easier to handle as there is not so much equipment required to handle a spinnaker. You dont have to use a pole so you can have all the fun of fast downwind sailing without so much hassle. Just like the spinnaker there are variations in cruising chute design. Patterns of cruising chutes can be geared towards reaching and others towards running.
If you have a ketch or yawl, the boat will have two masts. The sail that runs from the aft mast towards the stern of the yacht is called the mizzen sail. It is attached to the mizzen mast! It is not as popular these days but the mizzen gives so much stability and manageability. Popular amongst motorsailing boats it is located so far back that it enhances the helmsperson’s ability to control the direction of the bow into the wind i.e helps steady the course.
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