picks up. It may be possible to sail the angles without a pole, but it would need a great deal of concentration to maintain a good VMG. Spinnakers, A sails, Parasailors, etc, all have their place when the wind is light, but if shortcrewed in a big seaway can be a handful.
Crews will often say that they do not intend to sail with a spinnaker at night and may well reef down when it gets dark; you do have to remember that nights in the tropics are long and restricting your sailplan through the hours of darkness does compromise your speed. With a light wind and full moon, running down the trades at night with a kite up is a great experience, and as easy as during the day, but on a dark night with a cross swell steering becomes very difficult and a kite can easily get wrapped.
It also depends on how many people you have – I would rather have two- than single-person watches as I find it a pleasanter passage and the watches fly past when chatting, but can drag if you are on your own and a bit tired.
Rather than making rules on what sails we may or may not use at night we find a little preparation for sail handling goes a long way to improving efficiency. Marking halyards is essential – eg, how far to drop the main halyard when taking a reef, or when you have reached max hoist. This saves damage and makes life easier, and is something we can take from the racing fraternity. We spend a fortune getting our yachts to the sun, but once there we spend even more keeping out of it. Biminis have become common on yachts, and boats without one are the exception rather than the rule. Aboard some boats with a substantial sprayhood and a bimini you can avoid the sun altogether, and looking around an anchorage in the tropics, I see there are a huge range of ideas to keep out of the sun.
It is a difficult choice; biminis do restrict upward visibility and therefore sail trim and, depending on the mainsheet system, can be hard to fit. On our yacht we do not have a bimini, which for the crossing was great, but for cruising in the Caribbean is probably a mistake as it does get hot and hard to get out of the sun.
Our mainsheet track is just in front of the helm, which makes all but a very small bimini difficult to fit; however we are looking at options for the Pacific leg of our voyage. Interestingly, quotes in the Caribbean were close to double those in the UK.
What we do have, however, is a sun awning that covers the cockpit when at anchor; after a bit of practice it only takes a few minutes to put up then gives great shade. We would have extended it forward to the mast, but this would shade the solar panels. Even so a great cooling effect is immediately felt once it is in place.
Over the past few years sunproof clothing has become readily available and without a bimini having long-sleeved sunproof tops and wearing hats has prevented any sunburn on the way across the ocean. Sailing in the tropics is different and although the sun is great when swimming it can all become a bit too much if at anchor in a well sheltered bay.
Anchorages in the full force of the tradewinds, but
Above: a bimini to protect the crew while helming is a boon if not too big