Saturday, November 26, 2016

Singlehanded Tacking--Releasing a Sheet from a Self Tailing Winch

A simple little trick, not often seen in books. A real "ah ha" moment for me, years ago, when I learned this simple trick.

To tack:
  • Make certain you are at full speed.
  • Reduce the number of wraps on the winch to no more than two.
  • Loop the tail around the wrong side of the winch.
  • Release the leeward traveler control. I want the traveler to fall all the way to leeward when I cross the eye of the wind, so that it does not push me back into irons.
  • Set the autopilot  to steer 110 degrees to windward (I single hand a lot).
  • When the jib breaks, wherever you are in the cockpit, simply give the line a yank. 
  • Haul the new working sheet in as the turn is completed. With good timing, only a few cranks on the winch will be needed.
  • Bring the boat up to her true course and bring the traveler back up.  She accelerates better with the main brought in by degrees.
The remaining two wraps will give some resistance, reducing the flapping of sheets, but adjust this to the wind and the boat. I can flip those turns off with a flip of the wrist lick from the other side of the cockpit (which is well out of reach on a cat).

NEVER backwind the genoa. That is a great way to stop the boat and lose control in the waves. I tacked several times yesterday in winds ranging from 25-30 knots in a terrible speed 4-foot chop, with 3 reefs in, and still had no trouble punching through. It is a matter of sequence and sail balance.

I have also gone to 1-piece sheets, where the port and starboard are connected into one loop, like on a beach cats and dinghies. On one hand, you can't coil them up when finished sailing, but I can always get control of both sheets from either side of the boat, it's easy to pull them with me as I move. Tangles are virtually eliminated. There are good reasons dinghies do it this way. I also have two sets of genoa sheets (inside and outside tracks).

I have kept separate spinnaker sheets. I don't jibe that often, and some days I don't even attach both sheets, since I won't be jibing and it keeps the clew light.


  1. When do you use both inside and outside Genoa tracks. I use one for the Genoa and the other for my Staysail.

  2. I do not use both tracks at the same time. If I am reaching, the genoa is fully unfurled and goes outside. If I am beating, the genoa must be furled to about 110% and the tension transferred to the inside track.

    Sometimes I remove the set of sheets that are not in use for easier tacking, but this is not strictly required. It does reduce tangles when furling in over about 15 knots.