Best sails for downwind cruising: reader questions

17 Aug

Totem in Moorea

What do you want to know about downwind sails? It turns out, more than we expected! Last month’s post on the best sails for downwind cruising was an answer for a friend, but it prompted other questions in responses- here on the blog and on Totem’s Facebook page. Jamie has many years of experience as a sailmaker, and is happy to help clarify or do Q&A.

This isn’t about light air sails, but downwind sails. Of course, that gets a little complicated because genoas, jibs, and Code Zero sails are upwind or downwind sails. The punchline, to spare rereading the old post: for cruisers, Jamie likes the “Cruising Code Zero” (CCZ) as the most versatile of downwind sails. Of course, a CCZ isn’t the best for everyone. If we were back at home in the Pacific Northwest, for example, with very light winds and a tendency for wind to be on the nose or very far behind, a general purpose asymmetric may be a better choice. Purpose, skills, performance, budget, and other factors all play in because (repeat after me:) everything on a boat is a compromise.

Indonesia outrigger sailing canoe bali fisherman

Sometimes it would be nice to have fewer choices (Indonesia)

Windspeed: why is a CCZ better for a range of wind speeds?  Are they just typically built of stronger material?

Yes, a CCZ is built with heavier material than a general purpose (GP) asymmetric. This is because when sailing closer to the wind, the loads in the sail are higher. A typical GP asymmetric is made from (roughly) 1.5oz and 0.75oz nylon. A code zero is 2+oz nylon, or from very strong high modulus laminates. It’s also to CCZ being smaller than a big AP Asymmetric.

Wind angle versatility: how can a sail that can only hit 60 degree AWA replace a genoa?  Most boats use a genoa upwind for all but the lightest of conditions.  Wouldn’t a CCZ cost pointing in lighter air?

A CCZ does not replace a genoa/jib for upwind work or sailing in higher winds. At about 60 degrees AWA, in light to moderate winds speeds and CCZ performs better than a big genoa, and MUCH better than a jib. If you sail close hauled or in much wind very often, then a CCZ won’t see much use.

spinnakers asymmetric sail sailing downwind

Once you’re sailing across or downwind, won’t the fuller shape of the asymmetric be much better?  How about the fact that the asymmetricals luff can project a bit upwind when broad reaching?

Everything is a compromise: a big asymmetric is perfectly suited to broad reaching. The perfect range of angles is limited though. So if you know the voodoo chant that will put 15 knots of wind at 120 degrees AWA for every passage then you should 1) absolutely get an asymmetric 2) patent and sell that voodoo chant.

When you say that the asymmetric luff projects upwind, I think you’re referring to the positive luff “round” (curvature), which a CCZ also has. An asymmetric has lighter cloth and more area than a CCZ, meaning it’ll float better in lighter air and project easier going very far downwind. The flip side is that the upper end wind range is notably lower than that for a CCZ. Compromises!

Someone noted that they can point to 60 degrees with their asymmetric. I don’t dispute this, but wonder if 1) instruments are calibrated correctly 2) how much good the sail is doing because the sail shape and sailcloth are just not designed for that and 3) if they should try out as sail trimmer for the America’s Cup.

I’m still not clear on the difference between a Code Zero or CCZ, and a large genoa. 

  1. Code 0 and CCZ have free flying luff and can be hoisted/dropped/stowed while furled. A genoa cannot.
  2. A CCZ and a genoa cover a broad range of wind angles and moderate velocity range, whereas the true code 0 is racing sail with narrower range of wind angles/velocities.
  3. They differ in cloth used (weight/stretchiness/cost). A genoa uses the heaviest of the 3 sails because of higher loads sailing closer to the wind.
  4. Sail geometry differences: CCZ and Code 0 have positive luff/leech/foot round, though the CCZ’s is more conservative.
  5. Shape. Genoas are designed for efficiency close to the wind, thus and all other angles are a compromise. A Code 0 maximizes performance in a small range of conditions. CCZ , is similar to Code 0 but shaped to be easier to trim over a broader range.

Can you put a CCZ on a furler?


There are two furler types for free flying luff sails: continuous line furler and top down furler. A CCZ works with either type. A top down furler will also work with an asymmetric. I haven’t tried one yet, but they look very promising. Even though both furler types are easily stowed below with the sail, a CCZ can be made with UV protection with leech/foot strip of UV treated Dacron or Titanium Dioxide film or a protective, zip-on sock.

This sounds too hard for a singlehander: they need simple setups. Shouldn’t they just have a larger regular headsail?

In uncrowded water and the open ocean, it shouldn’t be any more difficult to handle a CCZ on a furler than a typical genoa on a furler. It may be prudent to douse downwind sails at night, but that’s a personal choice. Still, most cruising miles are day hops, not extended overnight passages, so it isn’t much of a consideration.

A “larger regular headsail” is versatile, covering close hauled to poled out DDW, but not so effective in most of that range. Broad reaching in 12 knots true, a typical 40+’ cruiser will make about 4 knots with a headsail and 5 to 6 with a CCZ or asymmetric. That’s 10 to 30 miles more in just 10 hours of daylight sailing. Over a longer passage, the time saved can really add up. We don’t mind long passages, but there is a safety benefit with better speed.

I’m ready for a CCZ!

If you’re in the market for a CCZ or any sails, Jamie would love to work with you. He’s collaborating with a New Zealand sailmaker to build great sails, shipped anywhere in the world. His expertise can benefit you, and your orders help us keep cruising. Not in the market, but just have questions about sails? Feel free to get in touch and Ask the Sailmaker. And, thank you!

Code Awesome readers know we love it when you read this on the Sailfeed website.

This article was syndicated from Sailing Totem


  1. cwyckham

    Thanks for a great follow-up. I had no idea that a C0 had a free luff. I thought they had to be tensioned with a 2:1 halyard, etc. because they had a fixed luff tape.

    I wish that there was a very clear language for these new-ish sails. I think CCZ is a great description, but I don’t know what I would get if I walked into North or Island Planet Sails and asked for one. Good reason to work directly with Jamie, I guess!

  2. Behan Gifford

    Hi Toby- we are proud to share in the blame for your “insanity of living afloat”! To answer your question: yes, Jamie would recommend that setup (he’s helped a 50′ cat in Malaysia with the same). Any other questions, just ask, anytime!

  3. Toby Casley

    Hi Jamie,

    We are starting our sailing adventure in the beginning of next year and well I procrastinate a lot in my final months of full time work and end up reading your blog and looking at boats. The boat I am currently leaning towards is a Voyage Yachts 500 (a 50ft Cat made in SA), main reason for the cat is we have three boys under 10 and well I want the deck space. Ok my question for you I am looking into sail configurations (we are starting in the Med then sailing home to Aus over 3 years so a lot of our cruising will be downwind) I was thinking about a CCZ on the fore furler and a gib/genoa on the aft furler. As a experienced cruiser sail maker would you recommend this type of set up rather then a Genoa Jib arrangement.
    Oh I may start asking you more questions as the time gets closer, hope you don’t mind, but you guys are partly to blame for our “so called insanity of living afloat”



  4. Pingback: Best sails for downwind cruising: reader questions | Sailing Totem

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