RYA Teaching Establishments are highly regulated. Sail Cruising Schools are subject to 3 separate pre-arranged inspections and 2 possible unannounced inspections by the RYA or MCA. Of the 3 pre-arranged inspections the annual inspection of the yacht has a check list which currently runs to 164 items.

One area in which there is surprisingly very little regulation is the choice of headsail system for a cruising yacht. It is up to each RYA Cruising School to choose between a furling, luff groove or hank on headsail system.

For my own single yacht sailing school I have attempted to combine all 3 systems with a 5 piece headsail wardrope (excluding the spinnaker).

In this article I describe the 2 headsails used during every RYA Course and in next month’s article I drag the remaining 3 headsails from their locker.

WESTBOUND ADVENTURER is a masthead rig Sigma 33C which is the cruising version of the popular Sigma 33 OOD racing fleet. The headsail system which I had fitted is a twin luff groove Rotostay furling system with a slot in the drum to accommodate a non furling headsail.

NO.1 HEADSAIL is a full luff length 150% genoa which is used when winds are light. The tack of this sail is attached to a U-bolt on the deck about 12″ below the furling drum. The top of the luff is fed into one of the twin grooves and the halyard attached directly on to the head of the sail. Once the sheets have been secured on the clew the sail is almost ready to hoist. The only problem to be resolved is what to do with the swivel which is an essential part of any furling system but redundant for this genoa. It could be hoisted to the top of the forestay via a burgee halyard or it could be allowed to rest on the top of the luff and ride aloft with the sail.

I used the latter method for a while but found that it started to damage the top end of the luff so I now attach the swivel to the head of the sail via a short chord so that it rides aloft about 2″ above the luff.

When this headsail is fully hoisted the bottom end of the luff is fed through the slot in the furling drum.

Using this sail in light airs creates several valuable learning experiences which the use of a single furling headsail throughout a 5 day RYA Course does not allow:

  • Hands on experience of preparing, setting and handing a non furling headsail.
  • Hands on experience of stowing on side deck/guard rail ready for rehoisting.
  • Hands on experience of practical solutions when anchoring with a non furling headsail.
  • Hands on experience of skirting the foot of a large headsail when tacking to windward.
  • Hands on experience of folding and bagging a headsail on deck while underway.

No.3 HEADSAIL is the yacht’s working headsail and I offer no apology for the fact that this is a furling headsail. I guess that 90% of cruising yachts have furling headsails and as the RYA Cruising Syllabus is designed for cruising yachtsmen it is entirely logical that sailing school yachts should have this system. This particular furling headsail was designed to meet a variety of needs:

  • I wanted it to take over where my No.1 genoa leaves off so that with a few rolls in the headsail it is almost as efficient as a dedicated storm jib.
  • I wanted a high cut clew to make life easier on the foredeck for anchoring or picking up a mooring under sail and for MOB drills.
  • I wanted tell tails and camber stripe for teaching purposes.
  • I wanted a UV strip and anti flutter line on leech and foot.

My sailmaker managed to achieve all this and the end result can be seen in the next photo.

I am not sure whether it is a blade jib with a high clew or a furling yankee or a full luff length working jib but whatever it is called it certainly works.

With this working headsail the full mainsail can be kept further up the wind range and hull speed is achieved at the bottom of a force 4. As the wind rises both mainsail and headsail can be gradually reduced in size. With several rolls in this headsail a very flat and efficient shape is maintained due partly to the design of the sail and partly to the inclusion of a foam luff.

During my summer teaching cruises of the Scottish Hebrides Westbound Adventurer has achieved some very fast windward passages. These have been faster than the target speeds for the windward legs of the Sigma 33 racing fleet. I claim no credit for this.

The 3 people who deserve the credit are

  • David Thomas for designing such an efficient and easily driven hull with a fine entry forward.
  • Chris Owen my sailmaker for the excellent design and construction of this working headsail and fully battened mainsail.
  • Warwick Collins for designing the Tandem Wing Keel which was fitted by the first owner of my yacht.

More about this keel in a future article but I believe that it contributes to windward performance in a seaway.

In conclusion then, the use of both these headsails within the context of a 5 day RYA Course leads to discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of each system. The novice is busy coming to terms with head, tack, clew, luff, leech and foot. For the more experienced, discussion leads to headsail shape, VMG and more. This is what sail training is all about and I am happy to take some credit for this!

In next month’s article I drag the 3 remaining headsails from their locker and examine their specialised use.