Seamanship & Navigation, March 2021
After a second reef is tied in to a yacht’s mainsail, the next step in sail reduction is a storm trysail. Many offshore sailors feel that a triple-reefed main is not effective, inducing too much distortion and stress to the sail and not providing sufficient support to the boom. While not all modern yachts carry a storm trysail, those undertaking ocean passages should have one in their inventory.
In truly heavy weather conditions, a storm trysail not only offers an opportunity to fly a still smaller sail but it also will help reduce unnecessary wear and tear on the vessel’s mainsail which has already been buffeted and battered enough withstanding the wind and stresses of going through two or three reefs.
Ideally the storm trysail should be attached to a well-installed and separate track on the mainmast so the sail can be set up and made ready before it is actually needed. A storm trysail should have very large cringles at all corners. A good-sized, permanently-spliced pennant at the tack will facilitate the control of that corner and a short wire loop at the head would make attachment of the halyard fitting easier in the rough conditions that are likely to prevail when setting this sail. Also, by leaving the trysail in its own special bag while bending this sail onto the mast,,,,,, you can keep the sail under control until the time comes to fly it. This might seem unnecessary when you’re practicing with the sail in lighter conditions, but remember that you’ll be actually using the trysail in much more difficult conditions.
The tack pennant of the storm trysail can be made fast to large cleats mounted low down on the sides of the mast, below the gooseneck. A small turning block, attached to the cleat of one side will allow the tack pennant to be secured to both anchoring points and yet easily adjusted as the sail is raised or lowered.
The clew of a storm trysail can be sheeted to the main boom with a strong lashing, or it can be led through a block attached to a strong point on either side of the deck near the cockpit. Here again, a very short, stout pennant leading from the clew might make attachment of sheeting arrangements somewhat easier as well as making a recapture of the clew easier should it inadvertently let loose and begin to flog wildly in storm winds. When a storm trysail is sheeted to the deck, the sheet can be led outboard to somewhere near the rail for running with the wind, or it can be led to a point closer to the centerline.
Storm trysails are not necessarily tiny little handkerchiefs of heavy sail cloth. Some, in fact, can be rather large to begin with, but can be reefed down to a much smaller size if further sail reduction is warranted by extremely strong storm conditions. And, of course, the reefing cringles and reef points should be strong.
There is probably no better argument in support of the installation of a strong boom gallows on a cruising yacht than for use as a resting place for the boom when a boat is sailing under a storm trysail. A loose boom in any sort of rough sailing conditions can create a situation of extreme danger and must be avoided at all costs. With that in mind, the many uses of a boom gallows are easy to imagine.
In addition to the trysail, think about your onboard headsail inventory as well. To undertake an ocean voyage in a modern yacht without a variety of headsails, and the ability to change them at will, is not recommended. Regardless of how many fancy big headsails you have aboard, you need small ones as well. And that generally means one small sail and one even smaller sail.
The usefulness of the good old “working jib” is amazing. This is the sail that fills something just under 100 percent of the fore triangle. With a single- or double-reefed main and a working jib, most sailboats can handle a wide variety of wind conditions. And the working jib can be carried quite effectively in a moderating breeze as well, perhaps as the main is unreefed in stages, thus allowing a crew to postpone a sail change to a larger headsail until a more convenient time.
Some old-time sailors insisted on building a set of reef points and reefing cringles into their working jibs, or into a slightly larger headsail such as a 110% genoa. This would facilitate a moderate reduction in sail area forward of the mast without the hassle of actually changing down to a smaller sail. There is still some work involved, however, and a reefed jib is not always the neatest-looking arrangement — some sailors complain that it is difficult to safely secure the clew area of the sail because there is no boom on which to secure the sail. Perhaps this arrangement is really better suited for very temporary reductions in sail areas or for less demanding coastwise situations.
When it comes time to reef a working headsail, it is probably time to think about setting up the larger of your two storm jibs or dropping back to a staysail hanked to an inner forestay. The permanent or removable inner forestay is truly a wonderful piece of rigging for an offshore sailing vessel. It is such a comforting feeling to be able to set up a modest but effective staysail entirely on deck and not too far forward of the mast when conditions are beginning to turn nasty. Everyone has admired the look and the feel of a properly snugged down cutter holding her own quite nicely in a gale under reefed main and staysail. If your boat does not presently have some sort of inner forestay, this might be an excellent time to begin thinking about what would be involved in fitting one.
Most boat owners have to go through a certain amount of trial and error in determining the best place for sheet lead blocks for working jibs and smaller sizes of storm jibs. It may be necessary to install heavy-duty pad eyes at key locations on deck for sheet lead blocks as new heavy-weather sails are added to a boat’s inventory.