Back Up For Sail Handling Gear

Hi, I have searched my copy of the Encyclopedia for an answer to this question and not found it. My wife and I learned this past summer while chartering a 34′ sloop in the San Juan’s that the boat was just not big enough for us. So we have started taking out larger boats (up to 46′ so far). However, we are finding that many are not set up for shorthanded sailing by a couple over about age 50, especially in Monterey Bay outside of Santa Cruz.

We have been considering the kind of equipment we want on our future “own” boat, and have been looking into electric and hydraulic assisted sail and rig handling equipment (winches, vangs, backstays, etc.).

My concern though is about backup in case of hydraulic and/or electrical system failure. I have figured backups for the electronic gear, but have not found information on how to backup these major “muscle assisting” systems. I am interested in your thoughts. Thank you, Jim

Hi Jim: Good question, and one with which we wrestle all of the time on our own designs. Our philosophy is simple: Make sure you can sail the boat in heavy going without the powered winches.

In most cases, the lack of powered winches means things happen more slowly, and you have to be more ahead of the weather.

Our Beowulf is a prime example. She has five electric winches for sail handling. For short day sails, or for warping onto a tight dock, they are wonderful. However, for ocean passages they are merely a convenience, not a necessity.

Our sheet, halyard, and reefing systems are all geared (winch and block wise) so that we can handle the boat when it blows.

An opposite example would some friends who have a hydraulically operated in the mast furling system. They do have a manual override in case of hydraulic failure, but it is so cumbersome and slow that the concept of reefing or putting the sail away for the two of them in heavy weather is not realistic.

So, just make sure you can reef, jibe, and tack on a day when the onshore flow is pumping on Santa Cruz Bay and you’ll be in good shape.

Couple of final thoughts. We are not fans of hydraulics for powering winches. We feel they are expensive, costly, and more complex than electrics. Regarding what you can handle, a large part of this decision is based on your own experience level, and your physical condition. As long as you are in good health, age is not going to be a huge factor. Good Luck with the search–Steve Dashew

Posted by Steve Dashew  (November 30, 1999)

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