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Going to Windward

Its been said that "Gentlemen don’t go to windward"

Well they do if they are hoping to get to the "Caribbean Windward Islands". I think the idea is that gentlemen can wait a day or two for more favourable winds and hence avoid the need to beat to windward. This strategy actually does work in many temperate climates where winds come from a variety of directions. But here in the tropics the winds are much more predictable and come almost always from the east. Days and days of east winds, generally varying from 12-15 knots to 15-20 knots, and slightly ENE in the winter and E-ESE in the summer. So the gentleman who hopes to sail from Saint Martin to Martinique will be quite close-hauled for most of the journey.

We just finished the upwind journey from Saint Martin to Martinique over the past 3 weeks.

"St Martin to Nevis (63 nm) - great sail close hauled! Average 6.8 knots."

"70 miles Nevis to Deshais, Guadeloupe (70 nm) - we do this 2.5 hours less than a nearby 44 foot sailboat !"

"Sail upwind Deshaies to Portsmouth, Dominica (45 nm) - 6.5-7 knots at 45% apparent in 18-24 apparent wind 1.5-2 meter swell"

"Upwind Dominica to St Pierre, Martinique (49 nm) - 6.3 knots - seas 2-2.5 meters, apparent winds 24-30 knots"

Wind Strength

If the wind is around 15 knots the seas will likely be less than 2 meters. This makes the whole thing more "Gentlemanly"... Our first three days the winds were 14-15 knots on average and the seas less than 2 meters. We were close hauled at 45% apparent but that is a very good point of sail for the Southerly with her 10-foot draft when the variable-draft keel is down (2’ 10" draft with the keel raised). We can point as high as 30 degrees but of course would slow down somewhat and would have more trouble in the big seas. So for us 45% is a fine angle. We had a romping good sail and passed all the other boats we saw out there. There are a number of factors here, and if you are on the margin on some of them then the day isn’t going to be nearly so enjoyable. Here are some of the factors that effect windward ability...


Our sails are just 3 years old and in excellent shape. Old baggy sails can’t point efficiently to windward and will slow you down considerably. We were using our mainsail with one reef in it. The fully-battened mainsail in good shape will almost certainly beat a furling mainsail when close hauled. We have a "self-tacking" jib just 100% and quite flat cut. It is an excellent sail and in good shape. It is just Dacron however - nothing exotic. So if you have more modern sails you might go better to windward, if you have older sails or are using a bigger genoa reefed down then you will have more difficulty pointing.


Not all boats are designed for close-hauled windward ability. Catamarans are commonly said to have more trouble going to windward and a number of our cruising friends on cats confirm this. The difficulty seems to be compounded in large seas as the two hulls hit the waves more often... But many monohulls are not that good going to windward. The depth of the keel helps, as does hull shape. A cruising boat with "shoal-draft" will not point as well as the same boat with a regular keel. In fact I think a modern cruising catamaran can perform as well to windward as most monohulls when not overloaded...


Regardless of boat design above, all boats will have more trouble performing to windward if they are overloaded. The problem with cruising boats is that it is very easy to overload them. A large stern arch bristling with solar panels, antennas, spare anchors, fishing gear, additional outboard motors etc, is a huge weight to have high and aft on a boat. Surfboards, jerry cans and more strapped to the lifelines are a big factor reducing stability and sailing ability. The designer didn’t plan for this and the performance will not match initial expectations! Catamarans are even more susceptible to this as they have a lot of interior space. It is a temptation to keep filling that space up, and as a cat gets lower in the water the bridge deck comes lower too. Then there are even more problems going to windward. I do not mean to point the finger at "cats". Looking around at the typical anchorage I think the cruising monohull is likely to be more overloaded than the average catamaran. So not to overload your cruising boat if you hope to achieve the performance you remember when you first got your boat - whether she is a catamaran or mono-maran :-)


Comparing our previous boats, our old Classic-37 "Two-Step" had a sailing waterline length of less than 30 feet. Distant Shores II has a waterline of almost 48 feet as she sails to windward. This means she pitches much less, absorbs the waves more easily and is drier as well. Not much you can do about this one, but be aware if passage planning that a smaller boat will have a rougher ride, especially to windward. I know that as we sailed these past 2 weeks we were enjoying the sail and sitting in the mostly-dry cockpit. Remembering Two-Step, as I looked at some of the larger waves coming at us I thought how much wetter and less comfortable we would have been on Two-Step.

The extra waterline length also means higher speed. As we averaged nearly 7 knots on the first 3 days we cut a couple hours off boats that were struggling to make 5.5-6 knots upwind. Its 71 miles between Nevis and Guadeloupe and we took 11 hours (average 6.5 knots). For boats that averaged just 1 knot less that would take 2 hours longer. That meant we didn’t have to get going in the dark, still making it in before dusk at the lovely harbour of Deshaies.

Reefed jib sailing in 20 knots to windward - notice (nearly) dry decks

Limits on Comfort

The last log entry is for the crossing from Dominica to Martinique. Seas were higher at 2-2.5 meters (7-8 feet), the wind was up with a forecast of 20-24. We certainly saw those seas and higher in the turbulent zones near the headlands. Apparent wind was 24-30. In these conditions I decided to just fly our tough 100% jib. We could have flown a double reefed main as well but I was worried about higher gusts near the high headlands. So we took it easier and slowed down a bit. As we passed the gusty headland leaving Dominica we had a few rolls in the jib to reef even further. With just the jib we stood up nicely and still sailed at a reasonable 6-6.5 knots. So knowing the limits for your sail configurations, and how comfortable you can be in bigger seas is a factor too. As we were closer to our "comfort-limit" on that last sail I wanted to take it easy on the boat and her crew. After all we were completing the last leg on our journey to the "windward islands" so hopefully can crack sheets and enjoy some reaching coming up!!

ARC Report - Rigs & Rigging

With the strong winds of this years ARC there were a number of breakages in the rigging department. On board the good ship Distant Shores II we were lucky and had no major problems. Our biggest problem was with the boom preventer I had rigged up, which was not up to the job...

Boom Preventer
I installed this U-Bolt fitting in the rail (to the left) to allow us to run a preventer back to the cockpit. Good idea but not quite strong enough and not quite far enough forward to get a good angle.

We spent 14 days of the 15 day crossing sailing downwind and only jibed once. We were sailing with reefed main and the genny out on the pole when we got a gust of nearly 40 knots. A large wave smacked the stern around and this coincided with the gust so we rounded up and backed the jib. Trying to get back on course we overcorrected and that’s when we jibed! The preventer took a mighty strain and did actually prevent the boom swinging all the way across.

You can see the U-Bolt is bent, the shackle pin is banana shaped and the block shattered leaving only the stainless centre pin holding the line.

The problem was I hadn’t rigged the preventer far enough forward to get a good angle. We re-rigged it to the forward cleat and it was fine for the rest of the crossing.

Not everyone was so lucky. A number of boats suffered breakages due to jibing. Our neighbour very nearly lost their mast when they jibed and broke their upper spreader, upper shroud and boomvang. The rest of the crossing was done under double reefed main alone!

Booms and Boomvangs
A number of boats broke their boomvangs, and/or broke their booms or boom-gooseneck fittings. Many had damage to their downwind pole. One boat was dismasted and diverted to the Cape Verde Islands. But looking at it another way... 230 boats started off on a journey of almost 3000 miles. That’s 690,000 sea miles to be travelled in total. With strong conditions for much of the crossing, it was a good test of equipment and preparation. Only a few boats retired back to the Canaries or to the Cape Verde Islands. The ARC recorded the fastest overall average time in recent memory, and most of the boats are now enjoying a Caribbean Christmas!


Downwind Sailing - Preparation

For anyone planning a tradewind crossing of the Atlantic - Canary Islands to the Caribbean - planning for downwind sailing is important. Heading east to west in the tropics generally means the wind at your back, and this will also be the case on passages across the Pacific. So we have to prepare for 3000 miles of (hopefully) downwind sailing, and we haven’t done that with this boat. In the next few weeks I will be setting her up to make sure it runs as smoothly as possible.

The Downwind Rig

Prevailing winds on the standard transatlantic route will be almost dead astern. Sailing with the wind this far aft means we need to pole out a headsail. While bigger crews might try to fly a spinnaker, we use a jib or genoa. Some boats even have two poles allowing them to put out two headsails. The twizzle rig is another alternative... google it ;-)

Here is our basic setup - main well out (with a preventer) and genoa poled out opposite.

Pole Setup

In this picture you can see our pole downhaul running up to the pole end from near the shrouds. This has worked well enough for occasional use but it is better to have a foreguy. This will be a line running from the foredeck back to the pole end. That’s a project I am working on now, putting a block on the foredeck and running the rigging for it back to the cockpit. I figure $200-300 for this. We already have a nice pole topping lift and a very nice system controlling the pole inboard end on its track.


Genoa sheet

In our case we have an inboard genoa track, so the sheet rubs on the lifeline when it is poled out. This won’t be good for a long crossing so I set it up running out the gate. This isn’t a very good long term solution so I plan to run the sheet aft t a block on the aft corner. This will reduce stress and friction as well.

Balance the helm

For many long downwind miles, the autopilot will be steering and we want to be sure we have the boat as well balanced as possible for easy steering (actually we would want this also if we were hand steering). Today wasn’t a bad day to test since tide against the swell was producing a bit of a roll. The transatlantic will be rolly since you are generally running in 15-20 knots with seas astern. In our experience these can be 2-3 meters. I find our very deep keel steadies the roll quite a bit. We draw over 10 feet with the keel down and that does seem to help. Also the twin rudders seem to make her track very well downwind. For our previous boat Two-Step (which was a full keeler info here) it was tougher to balance downwind. I found we had to reduce the mainsail to double reef so she didn’t slew around. This effectively moved the centre of effort forward so she didn’t want to round up.

Autopilot Setting

Reduce the autopilot settings to match the seas and use minimum power. We have a Raymarine Autopilot system tat has a "response" setting. By default this is set at 5 every time you turn on the breaker. I generally reduce that number (making it less sensitive) and have been using a setting of 3. For rougher water the boat will naturally weave bit around her set course, so a higher setting just means the autopiot is doing more work correcting when the boat would come back anyway. I have been trying settings of 1 and 2 and they seem to work very well. You might try adjusting the settings on your autopilot to see what you can get.


With our swept spreader rig we will need to watch chafe on the spreader ends. I will be adding chafe patches to the sail where it rubs on the spreaders. I will do this for the 1st and second reefs since we are likely to use these on the breezier days. Discs of the adhesive sailcl;oth about 20 cm in diameter work well and are easy to apply.

I also take a very close look at reefing lines, sheets and blocks etc to check for any small chafe. Over a long passage this can add up quickly to a bigger problem. This one passage will be more downwind miles than we have done so far in the 8000 miles we have sailed Distant Shores II.


The tradewind passage across to the Caribbean should be an enjoyable crossing. It will take between 2-3 weeks so time spent preparing for it is well worth it. And will help make it fun!

Tuning the Rig

Update: 2016 - Checking the Rig

We have now sailed Distant Shores II across the Atlantic Ocean 3 times. Before and after each crossing I do a rig inspection (and annually as well). Today in the BVI I went up to the top to have a look…
rigging-check-sailboat - 1
Before the 3000 miles downwind from Canary Islands - Cabo Verde Islands - Caribbean this November, we added this chafe protection to the spreader tips. Its a common problem with today's popular swept-spreader rigs that the mainsail chafes on the spreaders when going downwind. We added these foam covers (actually for plumbing to cover pipes) and they absorbed some of the chafe. Now I'll take off the covers again.

When we arrived in the Caribbean we had our favourite sailmaker (Kenny in St Lucia) add chafe protection to the mainsail to try and reinforce the sail at these chafe points.
rigging-check-sailboat - 2
Another chafe problem we tackled was where the lazy-jack lines run down to the sail cover. They used to run through the stainless fittings here, but they chafed badly. This time I tried these new Low Friction Rings made by Antal. I lashed them in place in Las Palmas and they now show zero friction after 3000 miles. COMPLETELY cured the problem.

After Crossing France 2012

We had the mast down as we went through the canals and just put it up a couple of weeks ago, so I have been checking it and tuning it up ready for the miles ahead. Here are some thoughts on "care and tuning" of the rig...


I regularly go up the mast to check it over, and since we just put the mast back up, I have checked it carefully. The rig is arguably the most important system on the boat, and regular care is needed to keep it in tune and working properly.
mast inspection
I look carefully at the standing rigging, spreaders, masthead, checking running rigging as well. On my way up I stop at the spreaders, radar and anywhere there are fittings to check! This also provides a break for the person winching you up!


Putting the mast back up means you have to tune the rig - basically setting the tension up on the shrouds and stays to the correct specs. If you have never done this before, having a professional rigger help out might be a good idea. But you can follow along and it will be a good idea to get to know the rig yourself - as the captain you are responsible and its got to be best to know about this important system.

Our mast is made by Selden, and they have an excellent guide that helps new owners to become familiar with their rig. Although it concentrates on Selden products it is also a great overview of tuning and managing any modern mast. Here is the PDF link

Under Tension

Setting the proper tension on the shrouds is one of the trickier parts of tuning. I have seen "experts" who claim to just give a wire a tug and know if the tension is correct. Possibly they have an ability to judge this, but I know I can’t. Instead I got this lovely "Loos" gauge that measures tension in different wire diameters up to 10mm (which is our upper cap shrouds).

Loos CU
Simple to operate, you position the gauge on the wire with the two white rollers at the bottom. Then pull the rope to hook the clip around the wire. This puts a tiny bend in the wire and you read the tension off the pointer (below you can see the pointer is on the high end of the scale - at 50). The number corresponds to a tension for your diameter of wire. In this case "50" means 1360 kilograms - 16% of our 10mm wire’s breaking strength (from the image above).


It is important to clean and lubricate the turnbuckles before adjusting them as they operate under tremendous pressure! We don’t want to grind grit into the threads. I thoroughly cleaned the turnbuckles using white-spirit and a toothbrush to get in the threads. Selden have a recommended rigging lubricant. In the past I used lanolin.

Test sailing

With the rigging set up its off for a test sail checking everything with 15-20 degrees of heel. I needed to increase tension just slightly on the intermediates (which I did at the dock). Then tape up the turnbuckles to prevent getting anything caught in the split pins, Ready to get going!!
up mast

Do you dream of sailing the Bahamas?


Mast down - hints & tips

This was the first time to take down the mast on Distant Shores II. Taking the mast down is biggish job but we have done it 3 times before on Distant Shores 1 - similar size and fittings, and also on Two-Step (6 times). We spent two days removing sails, building the horses and pulling out halyards etc.

Here are a few hints to happier “de-masting”

Plan and prep - carrying the mast on deck. I did a scale drawing to plan out the mast horses in advance since we would have to pass under a clearance of 3 meters. I used the drawing to plan how much lumber to buy. The drawing shows I will have to fold the dodger (sprayhood) down to clear the mast. The yellow box from the waterline is for a clearance of 3.1 meters. Different canals have different clearances. We need to clear 2.9 for the Nivernais so I don’t think we will take that route!

Unrigging the mast - make notes and take pix so you can rerig it all. It makes sense now but will I remember which line went in which block when we come to put it back up?

Wiring - remember to disconnect wires that come out of the mast - in our case VHF antenna, radar, lights and wind instrument. Label and photograph connectors to help with reassembly. I put the “1” and “2” labels on the identical grey wires with Sharpie” permanent marker.

VHF - with the mast down we loose our VHF radio - we carry a small “rubber ducky” VHF antenna which can be connected where the mast feed is disconnected. Now our VHF and even our AIS works so we can use our radio to talk to locks etc. Note our AIS is the Raymarine unit that multiplexes the signal from the masthead. So the one little rubber duck will do both and we see ships coming on our AIS.

Main support aft - I have made this one as a tripod so it also supports the mast for-and-aft. This is very important as we don’t want the mast to start sliding when we cross a wake.

Forward support - ours holds about 45% of the weight with a cross to stop it tipping and most weight supported on the centre post.

Block to support front of mast at bow. This will be lashed better to also help support against the mast moving for and aft.

Over-engineer - we don’t want this falling down - I have used a heavy 2by6 lumber (50mm X 150mm) for main supports and 50X100 or smaller ones (2 by 4 inches)

Its is bolted together with heavy 10mm carriage bolts and oversize washers to attach the timbers. There is another bolt hidden that connects the 2 cross members.

Carpet or rubber to protect the mast and deck. It also spreads the load to timbers and also where the stands rest on deck.

This is from a doormat that was rubber and carpet together. Most people use carpet scraps but we didn’t have any.

Boom lying on deck - we used a cushion to spread the load and protect the fibreglass.

We planned to have the mast hang over the stern by 2.5 meters. This way I see it easily while manoeuvring from the helm. The bow hangs over by less than a meter so it is easy to judge. It was tougher with Two-Step which had a keel-stepped mast - so the overhang was more than our deck-stepped mast.

Another advantage of a small bow overhang is we can come in bows-to and not block the dock.


Season 2 - Equipment Roundup

Well it’s been a great sailing season! We have never been so far north! We sailed almost 4 thousand miles and had a chance to fine-tune the new boat! Here is a round-up of new gear that stood out from this season of sailing!

Feathering Prop - Autoprop - Last year I lamented the lack of a feathering or folding prop since I felt we lost too much speed with the big fixed 3-blade prop. So this year we changed to an Autoprop. What a difference! Getting rid of a fixed prop has to be the first thing to do to improve performance. It’s like towing around a bucket. Dollar for dollar it must be the best way to get more speed. The Autoprop automatically adjusts its pitch depending on speed through the water and seems to work quite well.

Downwind Pole - Selden Carbon Pole - We have always had a downwind pole and use it to pole out one of the headsails when sailing right downwind. We hadn’t got around to installing it when the boat was new so we added it this spring. It’s a carbon pole and even though it is quite large it is easy to lift with one hand! We used it 6-7 times this summer. Mostly it was in quite light air when we might otherwise have had to motor. Nice to have it back!

Anchor tackle - Rocna 33KG + 80 meters chain - Norway this summer meant some very deep anchorages. We anchored in 12-18 meters of water a few times. Yikes! It was great having long chain and knowing we would be fine. And as usual the Rocna set beautifully. It is a great all around anchor.

Autopilot Remote - Raymarine Smart Remote - This is a little wireless remote to control the autopilot. It also includes a repeater for all the basic data (speed, depth, wind, heading, VMG etc). On cold or rainy days it is nice to stand up under the dodger (sprayhood) and steer with the remote. Sheryl can take it up to the bow when we are anchoring and check the depth before she drops the hook.

Electronic Charts - Navionics Charts + Apps - Electronic charting has come a long way in a few years. The newest charts are amazingly accurate, and now include lots of other data. Aerial photos of harbours we are approaching are a very nice addition. All tide data is also included so when we sailed in the Brittany coast and the tide exceeded 8 meters we could quickly find a tide station to check where we stood. Much quicker and easier than using printed tide table. Plus I have to recommend the Navionics App!! We have this on our iPhone and it’s amazing. All chart data, plus tides for the British Isles is included in an app for around $20!! How could you NOT buy this. It works for iPhone and there is a HiRes version for iPad. It also comes for Android devices. It’s great for planning (and even serves as a back-up for our chartplotter.)

On board preparations!

We’re back on board in Itchenor (South of England) getting ready for this year’s cruise. Weather is lovely - like summer actually as its 24 degrees and sunny, flowers blooming etc. Its even a holiday weekend!

Not much maintenance to do - just checking over systems ...

but I do have some NEW PROJECTS that didn’t get sorted last year

Carbon Downwind Pole - Lovely! - beautifully tapered at each end. Carbon might seem like a big expense on a downwind pole but the value is not so much performance as just being able to handle it. This pole is quite a bit lighter than our aluminum pole from our 37 footer Two-Step. So its much longer and stronger but lighter to lift and handle when setting it. I like to store the pole vertically on the mast so we have added a mast track and car to store it. To store on the mast the pole has a socket arrangement to connect it to the mast car. This allows for articulation without jamming when you set the pole (as opposed to a hook/piston going over a ring on the mast)

New Propellor - we sailed last year with a standard 3 bladed fixed propellor and really felt the drag. It is like towing a 20 inch diameter bucket around. We have a shiny new Autoprop this year and are anxious to test it out. Here David of Bruntons (who make the Autoprop) shows me how the bladed rotate to automatically find the correct pitch.

Electric Winch

Why go electric?

I have often wondered about adding an electric winch. As boats get bigger, as we get a bit older, or just lazier, it might seem like a good idea. I also wonder if there are times I might not bother raising the main for just a shorter sail and just putting the jib out because its easy! I guess that means I am lazier ;-) Anyway with the new 49 footer it was time to think about the question again.

Raising the main on the 49 is just that much more work than the 42. With the 42 I could raise the sail to within 3 feet of the masthead and just winch it the last bit. The job is a tough one first thing in the morning (and honestly a bit much for Sheryl I think). When we were spec’ing out the 49 I wondered if we would need an electric halyard winch but decided to wait and see. The sail is 33% larger than the one on our 42 and I would guess roughly that much heavier.

Now that we have had the boat for a few months and sailed her in a variety of conditions we have found out just how much difference there is between the two. Without the winch I can pull the sail up just above the upper spreaders. That is a tough pull then there is still almost 20 feet left to winch. So it was definitely time to go for an electric halyard winch.

Adding the winch turned out to be a medium sized job in two main parts...

  1. running the heavy wire from the main battery bank to the winch
  2. installing the winch itself on deck

In this case the installation was much simpler since we were converting the existing Lewmar winch to power. All Lewmar winches sold in the last number of years are easily convertible using a standard conversion kit. So we would be using the same winch and just adding a new base plate, and motor assembly belowdecks.

Running the wire
  • Electric winches use a lot of power so we used very heavy wire - 70mm2 or double-0 AWG.
  • A 150Amp circuit breaker was used to connect it to the main distribution
  • If you have any doubts about this kind of work it may be best to have a contractor help with the wiring (or do the whole install)
Heavy wiring pulled through
Heavy wiring installed ready to connect to winch

Installing the winch
In our case I was converting the halyard winch which is on the cabin top so we had to carefully consider where the motor would intrude the least into the cabin. The winch itself will have a new base plate and a gear shaft that allows the motor below to drive the winch. This requires a new large hole drilled in the deck. Always fun drilling a big hole in your new boat!!

After final fitting the new base plate is set down with silicone.

I mounted the switch under the winch checking so we could see the main while pushing the button.

Using the winch
Our first outing with the new winch was for our 30 mile sail down the English Channel to Brighton. A mid afternoon departure was dictated by the tides so 1500 hours saw us heading into the wind in the Solent. Raising the main was a dream! What a pleasure to just push the button and watch the sail go up. On to Brighton, then Ramsgate, then across to Holland!

One useful technique we have seen on other boats is to use the halyard winch for other jobs as well. In our case we can also lead other lines to the electric winch. Our two forward furled sails also require a good healthy pull. They can be winched by the aft cockpit winches but it is a long chore in heavy wind. Now I can lead the furling line with just one turn around the cockpit winch then up to the electric winch. What a great advantage!! One electric winch doing quite a few of the heaviest winching jobs. It was certainly a conversion well worth doing.