Chapter 9 – Storm Sails – Part 1

4 Oct
Chapter 9 deals with the all important storm sails. In Part 1 we will look at the best options for a Storm Jib including the Gale Sail and in Part 2 we will discuss the Trysail and deploying your storm sails.

You can download this chapter as a pdf here

Few sails in any sailor’s inventory are as neglected, controversial, or ultimately important as storm sails. These generally consist of a trysail, i.e., a kind of mini- mainsail bent on the mast after the regular main has been lashed to the boom, and a storm jib, a tiny scrap of sail flown either from the forestay or an inner forestay in place of a standard jib. In both cases these sails are made to withstand gale-force winds and an occasional knockdown. They should also be bright orange so that they are highly visible. You can have them manufactured out of special orange Dacron, or you can have your sails painted with a florescent paint.

The Storm Jib

A storm jib must be engineered and built for extreme conditions. It usually has a high clew and no foot round so the waves crashing over the foredeck will be able to pass easily under the sail. The fabric must be heavy enough to withstand not only the loads imposed on it by gusts, but more importantly, the flogging that occurs when the sail is set. For boats 30 to 40 feet in length, the fabric should be a woven Dacron weighing no less than 10 ounces. For boats above 40 feet the fabric should be at least 12 ounces or even 14 ounces. A well-built storm jib should have reinforcement patches sewn behind each hank, since when it is being hoisted a lot of point-loading occurs at each hank and without a reinforcement patch these areas could be potential weak spots. A storm jib should also have oversized corner reinforcement patches and a set of sheets permanently spliced to the clew to avoid having to search for strong sheets at a time when you need to concentrate on other matters. You should also splice a short strop at the tack to make sure that the entire sail is raised up off the deck allowing waves crashing over the foredeck that much more room to pass easily under the sail. Waves cause as much, if not more, damage in extreme weather as wind.

Under no circumstances should you consider cutting down an old sail to make a storm jib. Likewise you should not attempt to ride out a storm with a rolled-up headsail. In both of these cases the sail will not be strong enough for gale-force conditions. Storm jibs can be set on either the forestay or the inner forestay, and it’s my recommendation that it be set on the latter with hanks rather than a furling unit or bolt rope system. This is because when the wind is up you need to bring the center of effort of your sailplan more in toward the center of the boat. Setting the sail on the headstay will have the opposite effect. Setting it closer to the mast will improve the way the boat manages the conditions.

As for simply reefing a roller-furling headsail instead of setting a specially designed storm jib on hanks, the same points that were outlined in Chapter 7 apply, only more so, namely:
  • Hanks are reliable.
  • The storm sail will have a flat chord depth specific for the conditions.
  • The location of maximum draft in the storm sail will be correct.

Indeed, I find it astonishing that some well-meaning sailmakers are still telling sailors that they can use their heavily-reefed headsail as a storm sail. There are a number of things wrong with that assumption.

  • As we learned in earlier blogs the amount of engineering that would need to go into a headsail to have it fly properly in moderate conditions while still being strong enough to withstand gale-force conditions, is impractical.
  • Relying on a furling line to keep the sail reefed, or some kind of pin device to do the same is unsafe. There is an immense amount of torque on the furling unit and gale-force conditions only add to this torque. Furling lines break with alarming regularity and having to deal with fixing a pin on the bow of the boat when a storm is rising is unseamanlike at best.
  • When it comes time to set the storm sail, you are not going to unroll the head- sail and drop it. It’s simply impossible, especially if you are like most of us—a bit in denial about the impending increase in wind strength until it’s too late to safely set the storm jib.
  • It’s very difficult to hoist a storm jib with a luff tape or bolt rope, since it requires a person at the bow to feed the tape inch-by-inch into the groove, and someone to wind the halyard — an unsafe solution at best.

Note that the above points assume you are sailing on a larger boat or a boat that has room for an inner forestay. Small boats are a little different. If you only have a single headstay you might just have to sail with a heavily reefed headsail or change sails as a storm approaches. Fortunately, changing sails is not quite as difficult on a small boat.

Gale Sail

There is also a solution called a Gale Sail, a viable alternative for any boat that either does not have an inner forestay, or has a roller-furling headsail on the inner forestay. The Gale Sail is a storm jib with a luff that wraps around a rolled-up sail. In fact, it sets over the sail, either the one on the inner forestay, if you have one, or one on the forestay, so that you can leave the headsail rolled up where it is. The Gale Sail is designed and engineered to take the abuse of storm conditions and is fairly easy to set with a Dacron luff flap that is fastened back on itself with large piston hanks. You need a spare halyard for hoisting it, but once attached it slides up over the regular sail quite easily. Dacron is actually a fairly slippery material (ever tried walking over a flaked sail on your foredeck and slipped?) as are most other fabrics, and once you have the hanks attached you can hoist the sail just as easily as a regular storm jib. It’s a great product that goes a long way toward having a specific storm jib for storm conditions.

Note: I wrote an article for SAIL Magazine on Storm Sails – you can download a copy here.

The ATN Gale Sail lowered (left) and hoisted (right)
I hope that you enjoyed this blog. I invite you to subscribe so that you will not miss a blog post. You will get a great free gift and weekly blogs about sails and sailmaking. Click the pic to subscribe and if you are in need of new sails please contact us for a no obligation quote.

Brian Hancock – Owner Great Circle Sails

This article was syndicated from Maximum Sail Power Blog


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