Sailing in 20-25 knot winds with only the headsail

c.gustafson

Member II
Hello, Mates. Christian Williams made a comment in a thread yesterday that caught my attention. This past weekend, I was sailing in 20-25 knot winds on Valhalla -- '87 Ericson 38-200 -- with only my headsail out (no main). I have a 140 headsail. There were a few times that the rail was in the water, but overall Valhalla was steady and seemed to be under control. In general, Valhalla sails very well with just the head sail out. Of course, I typically use both the main sail and the head sail, but in heavy winds I sometimes just use the head sail. Here's my candid question --- and your candid replies are welcomed and encouraged. Is it stupid -- or at least ill-advised -- to sail with only the headsail in 20+ knot winds? Am I better off in heavy wind with reefing the main and using only a portion of the headsail? As always, many thanks for your input/advice. :)
 

Loren Beach

O34 - Portland, OR
Senior Moderator
Blogs Author
If there is a possible question there about designed-in rig integrity, no, the boat and rig will be fine.
You have noted that you can shift the center of effort a lot by setting the reefed main or just using the jib. Yup.

I would first look at 'basics', like the shape and condition of the sails you have.
Huge (!) difference in sailing with a newer/flatter main and newer/flatter headsail. Sail shape can be difficult for us amateurs to assess, at least it is for me.
Most of us can spot "blown out" sails a hundred feet away on another boat, but looking up from our own deck it is difficult to really see the "belly" of our own used sails when under load.

Given how little sail area it takes to drive your Ericson in any breeze, I would guess that your 140 is really too much area for driving to weather, and once the wind gets into the mid 20's a 110 - give or take - paired with a single reef in the main would give the same speed and keep the deck dry, and totally be fun to sail.
Can you roll in some area on that 140? Is your reefing easy to do or cranky with too much friction from old block axles?
(Over the years I have changed out all of the OEM solid-axle Lewmar blocks at our mast base and also the organizers for ball bearing types.)
 
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c.gustafson

Member II
Thanks, Loren. Yes, I was partly wondering about rig integrity. My headsail is newer than my main, although the main is in reasonably good shape. Sounds like the better all-around approach in heavy wind is to reef the main and put out only a portion of the headsail. I think you are right about the 140 being too much sail area in 20+ knot winds. Thanks
 

goldenstate

Sustaining Member
Blogs Author
I think it's about how the boat is handling.

Were you wrestling with the wheel the whole time to keep a course, or was the steering relatively light and balanced?
If the boat was heeling uncomfortably, then that is another clue.

If the boat has balanced steering and is going under control in the direction you want to go... then that's what works.

As a humble beginner, I have had a lot of fun trying different sail plans:


Your boat probably has a better answer for you this forum.
It should be as easy to sail in 30kts as in 5kts once you understand how to adapt your sail plan.
 

Christian Williams

E381 - Los Angeles
Senior Moderator
Blogs Author
I think the issue was furling the full headsail downwind in 20 knots, which means heading up to relieve pressure, which might be awkward. As a practical matter, jibs flap like the dickens when luffed and a mainsail helps blanket them. Similarly, it's not a good idea to fly a symmetrical spinnaker alone in heavy air, because it's hard to set and retrieve without a mainsail to hide behind.

But Ericsons sail very well under jib alone. I spent three days with 30 knots on the beam with only a scrap of jib on the 32-3. The boat was balanced well enough for vane steering to work.
 

G Kiba

Member III
I would not fly a symmetric spin without the main because the main balances out the power. Try it in light wind. It's really awkward. You use the jib to shelter the spin when dropping or hoisting.
 

steven

Sustaining Member
I was out over the last weekend in 15 gusting higher with working headsail alone. Have been out in higher winds too. Sails just fine. (I have considered replacing the main permanently with a boomless trysail - sailmaker thinks I'm crazy).

The only problem is that some maneuvers - e.g., tacking especially if there is a head-on chop - can be a bit sluggish. I haven't worked out the reasoning carefully but I think that in the maneuver when you loose power on the jib, you still might have some drive from a main. Making the maneuver less abrupt seems to work. (but over 25kts this might not)

Jibing is of course easier with no main.
Off the wind with no main I find it best to over-trim the headsail. Brings the COE back towards the keel instead of it pulling the nose down.

--Steve
 

Shawn Rodel

Member I
I was out a week ago in 25 to 30k after some good advice from everyone on the site with regard to difficult helm. I was able to put the advice to good use, one reef on the main did not even put it up just sailed on the jib at 80% slight heal and light steering 6 to 7 knots.
 

K2MSmith

Sustaining Member
I've sailed in 25 kt winds with just the headsail an/or just the mainsail. For my boat, which has a fractional rig, I favor the main-only setup, especially off the wind. I was doing 6-7kts yesterday on a broad reach with a double reefed main-only, but my boat is really overpowered with the rig I have (which is almost as big as your rig but with a 33' boat). I think it is a best practice to "balance" both sails. So if you are in higher winds, reef the main and partially furl your jib (if it is designed to be furled ). Yesterday, it just got so windy, I decided to just bag the jib and go main-only (double reefed), but sometimes, I have done jib only (furled to about 70%). The jib only gives me less heal going to the wind but I don't think it is as effective as main-only in my case.
 

c.gustafson

Member II
Thanks for all the replies! Very helpful and informative, as always. :) This is one of the things I enjoy about sailing ---there's LOTS to know and always learning something new. I greatly appreciate the wealth of information on this forum.
 

p.gazibara

Member III
Don’t expect to go to windward very well without the main, especially in any seastate. The main also helps control the boat’s roll in swell. On flat water, it’s not really a big deal, on the ocean, I’ll keep the main up just to make the ride more comfortable, even if it’s a deep reef.

On flat water and especially off the wind, jib only should be some sweet sailing.

-p
 

Jdodson

New Member
Sailing in SF Bay I find myself in heavy winds more then not. My E27 does great under jib alone (120%) in heavy winds. If it gets to be too much ill furl in untill she's balanced. If I find myself in a situation when I'm sailing downwind and get caught in quickly changing winds under full sails and I cant get my main down w/o doing a 180, I'll furl the jib completely and sail in main alone and reef as needed.
 

kapnkd

kapnkd
Sailing in SF Bay I find myself in heavy winds more then not. My E27 does great under jib alone (120%) in heavy winds. If it gets to be too much ill furl in untill she's balanced. If I find myself in a situation when I'm sailing downwind and get caught in quickly changing winds under full sails and I cant get my main down w/o doing a 180, I'll furl the jib completely and sail in main alone and reef as needed.

Same with our ‘73 E32-II. The boat actually gets most of it’s drive from the headsail and it balances very well for a comfortable sail.

As you mention, it’s also easier to adjust the roller furler than to be jumping up and down to reef the main. (Now sailing in my late and lazy 70’s...this is a real plus!)
 

Christian Williams

E381 - Los Angeles
Senior Moderator
Blogs Author
It works on our boats. For a cocktail sail it means you don't even have to take off the sail cover, and can control everything from the helm and not have to disrupt the guests on their cell phones. And you can short-tack through a crowded harbor with ease and without fuss, jib alone.

But a third reef is more fun (and bother), and reduces the forces on the main so much that it's fingertip control even in high winds.

Here's 30 knots for three days on a 32-3, beam reach, with this much jib up--and the self-steering was happy.

Ericson 32-3 jib alone.jpg
 

kapnkd

kapnkd
It works on our boats. For a cocktail sail it means you don't even have to take off the sail cover, and can control everything from the helm and not have to disrupt the guests on their cell phones. And you can short-tack through a crowded harbor with ease and without fuss, jib alone.

But a third reef is more fun (and bother), and reduces the forces on the main so much that it's fingertip control even in high winds.

Here's 30 knots for three days on a 32-3, beam reach, with this much jib up--and the self-steering was happy.

View attachment 39142

Nice photo!!!
 

patrscoe

Member III
A few years ago, I took a racing trim course. Not to bore everyone but it really made me a better sailor (and safer).
They explained that you trim first, then reduce your headsail, then move your mainsail traveler down, then reef your main. Keeping all in balance with less weather helm. My previous sailboat, this sequence was a must and if I set just a headsail at 15 kts plus, there was too much weather helm. On my current Ericson 34-2, I don't notice an excessive weather helm with a smaller headsail alone, if properly trimmed. With the main traveler on the cabin top, having the headsail alone in strong winds, is easier to handle while keeping it trimmed.

I do love sailing my Ericson. Two weeks ago, I had 6.5 - 7 kts of wind and I was ghosting along at 4.5 kts with my 130% and main.
It's hard to complain about that.
 

toddster

Curator of Broken Parts
Blogs Author
This comes up in a lot of threads and it's starting to worry me - 20 knots with too much jib (forget jib alone!) and I get massive lee helm. And a gust will knock the boat down, spin it around and head it for the rocks at high speed!
 

toddster

Curator of Broken Parts
Blogs Author
I think it spins around to about a broad reach with the rail in the water. It has been a long time since I last let that happen! Kind of makes sense to me: Center of effort is out in front of the mast. Rudder isn't very big. And the old mainsheet used to have a tendency to slip out of the clam cleat that held it, to sudden exciting effect!
Dunno - maybe with enough genoa rolled out (maybe more than I have), the center of effort would move aft, but I think the boat would still be on its ear.
The summertime gusts around here might be more in the 30-35 range.
 
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