Rig tun­ing for cruis­ers

Cor­rect rig ten­sion will max­imise the ef­fi­ciency of your boat’s sails as well as re­duc­ing stresses on the mast. David Pugh demon­strates a sim­ple rig set-up

Practical Boat Owner - - Contents -

Top tips for safe and ef­fi­cient sail­ing

As a cruis­ing sailor, it’s tempt­ing to sim­ply set up your rig at the be­gin­ning of the sea­son, then leave well alone. Per­haps you leave the mast up, per­haps you mark the po­si­tion of the turn­buck­les be­fore the mast comes down, per­haps you set the rig up from scratch or per­haps you pay an ex­pert. All these can work, but none are im­mune from one ba­sic prob­lem: boats move. How much de­pends on the boat’s con­struc­tion, par­tic­u­larly whether the mast is keel- or deck­stepped, but most will do so within a few days or weeks after the ini­tial rig ten­sion is ap­plied. The boat may con­tinue to do so over time and rig­ging may stretch, es­pe­cially when new, so it’s worth know­ing how to cor­rect it your­self.

My own boat, Contessa 26 Red Dragon, is a devil for this. Dur­ing the win­ter she sits on a trailer with the mast down, the keel sup­ported along its length and in turn sup­port­ing the su­per­struc­ture, aided by six pads and a bow post bear­ing on the hull. At launch, these forces all change: the buoy­ancy of the hull now sup­ports the keel, and the mast foot pushes down on the lam­i­nated deck beam un­der the step. The rig­ging, mean­while, in­creases the pres­sure on the step while try­ing to pull the chain­plates through the deck. I’ve never mea­sured her beam be­fore and after ap­ply­ing rig ten­sion, but I sus­pect she be­comes sig­nif­i­cantly wider. She cer­tainly doesn’t main­tain her ini­tial rig ten­sion.

Ben­e­fits of cor­rect rig ten­sion

The first and most fun­da­men­tal ben­e­fit of cor­rect rig ten­sion is safety. An im­prop­erly sup­ported mast is put un­der all sorts of stresses that it is not de­signed to en­dure, and dis­mast­ing can be the re­sult. Try sight­ing up the mast when the boat is close-hauled in a good breeze. If the lee shrouds are slack and the mid­dle or top of the mast is sag­ging to lee­ward, your mast is not prop­erly sup­ported and you should check your rig ten­sion.

The sec­ond ben­e­fit is ef­fi­ciency. The com­bi­na­tion of rig, spars and sails is any­thing but sim­ple, and if your sail­maker has done their job prop­erly and mea­sured your boat rather than mak­ing your sails from doc­u­mented fig­ures, the luff curve of the main and the hol­low of the jib or jibs will have been cut to suit the bend in the mast and the forestay ten­sion at the time of mea­sure­ment. That means you’ll need to be able to repli­cate that sit­u­a­tion when you set up the rig in or­der to gain max­i­mum ef­fi­ciency from your sails. And, just to make things harder, as time goes by and your sails stretch, these op­ti­mum set­tings will change.

Con­di­tions also af­fect the best set­tings for your rig. Light airs de­mand softer set­tings than sail­ing in a gale, and you’ll of­ten see rac­ers tweak­ing their rig ten­sions to suit the con­di­tions. For cruis­ers seek­ing to set up and for­get about their rig, the best op­tion is to err to­wards set­ting up the boat for stronger winds, es­pe­cially with shroud ten­sion. Forestay ten­sion can be more dy­namic, pro­vided your boat has an ad­justable back­stay.

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