Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Adjustable Lazy Jacks--Done the Lazy Way

rev. 4-29-2012

My PDQ came with a very functional set of non-adjustable lazy jacks. One block, 2 legs; perfectly adequate with a full batten main. Chafe has never been an issue; the main is original, reasonably blown-out from years of use, and yet not a stitch has frayed. But they can be annoying on the hoist, catching the top 2 battens. In lighter airs close attention will do, but in rough conditions it can be a little pesty.

Anyway, a $20.00, 2-hour project, including the time spend figuring and returning wrong parts to the store. Maybe I can save you a little time.


The Harken system is adjustable and fancy, but not optimized to be retractable. Not much better than the PDQ system; the PDQ system could be adjusted by retying a knot on the boom, but in practice, once it's set, it's finished.
  • I think Harken makes them just to sell blocks. Lazy jacks aren't under load and don't need blocks in the smaller sizes.
  • The blocks chafe on sails and clank on the mast and boom. I've known folks to remove Harken systems.

The EZ-Jax System looks easy. I've seen them on boats and watch the demo at the Annapolis Boat Show. But they have some features I don't like:
  • They pull down on the spreaders. I've seen spreaders pulled out of place.
  • I would need to climb the mast to re-rig. Not a big deal, but not needed.
  • I would need to replace more parts. Not a big deal, but not needed.
  •  I would have to add a cleat on the mast (sheets love to snag on those) and a retaining hook or bungee cord (one more thing).
  • Reaching the mast-mounted cleat while working a snag at the far end of the boom is annoying.

The Lazy Way

I drilled and tapped  4 holes, mounted 2 small cleats on the boom, and replaced 2 lines, all from the comfort of the hard-top.
  • Mount a small cleat about 1-foot aft of the mast on each side of the boom. Further forward and the jacks may ping on the mast in higher winds. I hate lines pinging on the mast. Mounting them slightly aft gives the line a little angle as it crosses the mast and stops the flapping. Further aft and the the lazy jacks won't fit under the sail cover at the mast end. Be certain you are drilling into unused space and don't use self-tapping screws in a spar; they will snag on lines or wires at some point in the future.
  • Replace the lower line (3/16-inch solid braid nylon was used on my boat) with one ~ 25 feet long. Tie it to the aft eye strap, up through the hanging block, and down through the forward eye strap. On a much larger boat replacing the forward eye with a cheek block might be better, but the eye strap is just fine on the PDQ. Tie 2 big stopper knots near the end of the line, to prevent un-threading when retracting.
  • To deploy, pull the line semi-tight and cleat. Coil the excess, if it's going to be a while, and tuck it between the line and the boom, up against the cleat.
  • To retract, uncleat the line, pull the lazy jacks forward and tuck under the forward ear of the cleat, and cleat the line over this. Pull tight.
I suppose you could even make the system single line, adjustable from one side. No one does, because in reality, the lines often need to be worked around wrinkles in the flaked sail, and that would be very difficult if the cleat was on the other side.

Are Retractable Jacks Better? 

The down sides?
  • Something else to fool with when heading out. I find I don't always bother.
  • They aren't as easy to retrieve from under a big pile of as they would lead you to believe. Doable.
  • You need to redeploy them prior to reefing, if you like to keep things simple.
The upsides?

  •  In a breeze, yes. In lighter air, maybe.  More important when single handed, less so with a crew that can keep the boat exactly into the wind; for this only the leeward side must be retracted. Hoisting is a breeze with the lazy jacks pulled forward.
  • The sail cover fits a bit better with the lines out of the way. Of course, it fit well enough before, for me. Also, adding slits in the sail cover to accommodate fixed lazy jacks is easy.
  • Speed. At least a 1/100th-knot improvement. Probably equivalent to sticking my hand out the window.
Do I recommend this project? If you like having more things to tweak and like small improvements, sure. If you single hand a lot, absolutely yes. If you like bare simplicity and can hoist OK with fixed lazy jacks, leave them be.

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