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Installing inner forestay offers sailplan flexiblity

Jan 1, 2003

To the editor: Most sailors fitting out a production sailboat for offshore work agree that an inner forestay is a must. But the agreement pretty well stops there. Some like a stay for a Solent jib, starting from near the masthead and coming to the deck about 1/3 of J behind the forestay, because it doesn't require running backstays. Others favor the slutter rig from about 3/4 of the mast height to a point ondeck close to the bow. A third (smaller) group has boats with a babystay and no forward lowers. They can hoist a storm jib on it using the spinnaker boom topping lift and have a fully maneuverable boat in hard weather.

Finally, there are those, like me, who prefer the staysail sloop rig with the inner forestay parallel to the outer forestay because it allows the use of a yankee jib with the staysail. If the yankee is of the furling type, it allows easy reduction of the foresails area while keeping the center of effort close to the mast.

One point to consider is where to fasten the lower end of that inner forestay. In my case, the obvious place was the bulkhead separating the anchor well from the forecabin, a 3/4-inch plywood panel well tabbed to the hull and deck. I installed a bent Schaefer chainplate, bolted through the bulkhead, and a backing plate. The upper attachment point was defined strictly by eye: attaching a light line to the chainplate and passing it through a loop of the spinnaker halyard that circled the mast above the crosstrees. Raising the halyard progressively allowed me to see when the line was parallel to the forestay.

The hounds piece was a gift from my rigger. It came out of his scrap pile. It isn't quite the ideal fitting, as it does not include the attachment of the running backstays. But since the mast of my Columbia 8.7 is over-strong it is exactly the same extrusion used for the Bristol 32 I simply bolted the tangs for the runners through the mast. Two more bent chainplates were fastened to the boat's transom to get the widest possible spread to the runners, made of 3/16-inch, vinyl-covered lifeline wire (to minimize the chafe on the mainsail) and tensioned by 4-to-1 tackles.

The next question was how to tension the forestay; the ABI forestay release was too expensive and the Johnson shroud lever did not give infinite adjustment possibilities.

The Dutch marine shops have always had sliphooks that fit on a turnbuckle and would combine precise adjustment with quick fitting and release. So I faxed my old chandlers in Belgium and asked if they could supply me with one. They said they could, but what size did I need? It comes in 6- to 12-mm (1/4- to 1/2-inch) diameters. I chose the 10-mm (3/8-inch) and got it for about $16.00 (postage included).

I ordered the forestay somewhat overlong so as to be able to cut it to the right size once I fastened it to the mast and fitted a Norseman terminal on the lower end.

By sheer coincidence, the length of the inner forestay, minus the turnbuckle and slip hook, is such that it can be fastened to a U-bolt installed on the deck, just forward of a forward lower shroud, while the halyard goes to another U-bolt on the opposite side. It just takes a moment to fasten the turnbuckle to the lower end of the inner forestay and to put the sliphook through the shackle at the chainplate.

When I got the boat, it came with a furling genoa and a jib, since the first owner had only installed the furling gear two years after buying the boat. The jib, being practically unused, was recut to make it into a staysail with one band of reefs, so that use of the storm jib, which I ordered along with a trysail, would only be done in extreme weather. The reef came in handy when I got lazy and decided to put the whole nesting dinghy on the foredeck, instead of dismantling it and stowing it behind the mast. The reefed staysail just cleared the dinghy.

Just before leaving for the Atlantic triangle (to Europe and back, via the Caribbean) in 1998 after reading an article about the poor efficiency of a furled genoa when working one's way up from Trinidad to St. Martin I happened to come across a second-hand furling yankee of about the right dimensions. It made a world of difference when beating into a solid east-northeasterly along the Windward Islands as well as when caught between a rock and a hard place sailing from Cape May to New York in a 25-knot northeasterly the hard place being the Jersey shore and the ships approaching New York harbor from the South being the rock.

With the inner forestay and the runners installed, in addition to the beefed-up standing rigging (from 7/32- to 1/4-inch), I wonder whether the mast would survive a capsize. I hope I never have the experience, and I think my chances have improved.

John Somerhausen is a retired Belgian ambassador living in New York City. In the early 1980s he sailed his boat trans-Atlantic from Europe to South America for positions as consul and ambassador in Rio de Janeiro and Uruguay.


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