Riding Sails – The Answer To A Variety Of Issues

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This evening we have three yachts anchored with riding sails set. Riding sails being an important part of any cruising yacht’s equipment, and it being dark, we thought we’d combine a photographic test with some comments.

All of our sailing yachts have been equipped with some form of riding sail, either mizzen, or “backstaysail” (a sail attached to the backstay on a single-sticker). These perform several important functions. First, they hold the boat head to wind. This improves ventilation, particularly in light airs. It also reduces anchor load by minimizing shearing at anchor. And they look cool.

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A riding sail can also act as a flopper stopper in bouncy anchorages, provided it can be sheeted home hard. The 78-foot ketch Beowulf had no spinnaker poles (she did not need them downwind) and so the only flopper stopper we had was her 850 square foot mizzen, which was very effective. We would crank down the sheet really hard to bend the mast, which in turn flattened the sail, together with maximum outhaul.

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If you have a Bermudan (Marconi) rigged ketch or yawl, full battens will be of great assistance in keeping the mizzen from chattering when the breeze gets up. If the waves are at an angle to the wind and hull, making life uncomfortable, try sheeting the mizzen to the side, pushing the boat around to a more comfortable alignment with the waves.

Photo notes: These were shot after sundown, using ISO (film speed) of 1600, and a 24-105 zoom lens, on a Canon 1DX body. Processing was in Lightroom 3.

Posted by Steve Dashew  (August 18, 2012)

6 Responses to “Riding Sails – The Answer To A Variety Of Issues”

  1. Stedem Wood Says:

    I know that lens. F4 isn’t the fastest around, so the photos are even more remarkable. I’ve followed your photos with almost the same excitement as your boat information (well, maybe a distant second).

    I was considering the new 5D mark III, which I thought you were using, but the 1DX seems to have captured your fancy. Maybe it is worth considering as the better choice.

    All my best,


  2. Steve Dashew Says:

    The 1DX could be considered overkill for most shooting. But, in fast changing situations, and with moving targets, it is amazing. For example, you can change auto focus point choice, going from a single to a group, while shooting with a simple button push, and then back to the single point. Or, switch to a complete set up with another button push.The tracking, focus acquisition, and dynamic range are a step up from the 5D3.With both the 5D3 and 1DX you will need to retrain your eye on what is possible and how to use exposure compensation with the much higher dynamic range. I should add that the new family of glass from Canon and the enhanced stabilization are also a step up. One to two stops better on stabilization and faster focusing. Bottom line is a higher percentage of keepers, and new opportunities. Aside from cost, the downside is that most of what you have shot before will pale in comparison. On the other hand, given decent light, and static subject matter, a new point and shoot will deliver amazing results too.

    On glass, the 24/105 F4 is an old standby, which is our walk around lens. Onboard we usually have a 100/400 zoom, 400 F2.8, and the 24/105 on bodies ready to go. The other two lenses that see the most work are the 70/200 2.8 and the 16/35 2.8. The 100/400s have a reputation for uneven quality. We got lucky with ours and it is reasonably sharp at F8 and above, but soft any more open. So in good light it is useful. Otherwise, we switch to the 70/200 on that body.

  3. Warren Cottis Says:

    Hi Steve

    Would you elaborate on the “backstaysail” (a sail attached to the backstay on a single-sticker)… Googling didn’t give much and nothing re images except for one blurry photo which looked they had the spinnaker pole stuck out from the stern ???

    Thanks, Warren

  4. Steve Dashew Says:

    A fully battened triangular sail, attached with hanks the backstay, hoisted with a spare main halyard, and sheeted forward. Big hollows on the edges to reduce chattering. There is a drawing in Offshore Cruising Ency along with photos. Think in terms of a fully battened storm jib.

  5. David Guest Says:

    Is Linda an ardent photographer as well as you?

  6. Steve Dashew Says:

    She has the “eye” and is chief spotter, as well as working with the lighter equipment.