THE CATAMARAN ADVANTAGE - DOUBLE HEADSAIL DOWNWIND SAILING
When we started our circumnavigation, we decided that we wanted to do it the easy way. We would sail around the world in the trade winds.
Of course, it's impossible to go all the way around the world in the trades, but for the majority of the long passages, it's possible to sail in the trades.
Five-hundred years ago, sailors knew that the trade winds were their friends. Whenever possible, they headed for the trades to get the horsepower they needed for their global adventures. Although ocean voyaging has changed a lot since the days of the square-riggers, trade wind sailing remains unchanged. When we wish sailors well, we still say, "Fair winds and following seas." That means only one thing - winds and seas abaft the beam.
Catamarans are excellent trade wind yachts. They can sail directly downwind without the rolling that plagues monohull yachts. Catamarans travel like they are on railroad tracks when sailed like a square- rigger downwind.
The fore and aft rig is a problem when running directly downwind. When you run wing and wing, the mainsail and genoa continually battle for supremacy. If the mainsail wins, the boat rounds up into the wind, and if the headsail wins, you sometimes experience an unwanted, uncontrolled jibe. It's hard to balance the mainsail and genoa in the wing and wing configuration. The crew continually has to stay on top of the sail balance and make helm adjustments to keep things under control.
The battle between the genoa and mainsail isn't so bad if you don't mind standing eternally at the helm staring at the sails. You can sail wing and wing forever if you have a large, competent crew. But if you want to use the autopilot, the wing and wing configuration can cause problems. Out of balance sails can overwhelm the autopilot, and if you are unlucky, the autopilot will strip its gears while attempting to get the boat back on course.
When I sail offshore, my first priority is to keep my crew out of harm's way, and my second priority is to protect the autopilot. Our autopilot steered Exit Only 99% of the way around the world, and I hold our autopilot in high regard. On only one occasion on our circumnavigation, our autopilot was overwhelmed by a full mainsail in following seas, and the autopilot made a valiant attempt at correcting our course, and instead succeeded in stripping its epicyclic gears.
When the autopilot attempts to make a course correction without success, it doesn't stop trying. It just keeps putting pressure on the gears, and finally the motor overwhelms the gears and strips them.
I stay away from the wing and wing configuration on Exit Only because I want to protect my autopilot. I also stay away from it because a double headsail rig works much better on a catamaran.
When I sail downwind in the trade winds, I don't use my mainsail. Instead, I sail using two genoas held out by two eighteen foot spinnaker poles. One of the genoas is attached to the roller-furler, and the other is flown with a free-standing luff.
This double-headsail rig moves the center of effort of the sails all the way forward to the bow, Exit Only glides smoothly over the waves, and the autopilot has a smile on its face. With the double-headsail downwind rig, lee helm and weather helm aren't a problem. The helm remains neutral, and the autopilot easily makes small course corrections as we sail downwind.
In the picture at the top of this page, I am enjoying our transatlantic voyage as I recline in the comfort our mainsail. The autopilot holds us on course for Barbados as I live my trade wind dreams.
When we sailed across the Atlantic, we used our double-headsail rig all the way to Barbados. The rig is easy to set up and take down.
Before we leave port, we fix our spinnaker poles in position using a topping life, a foreguy and an afterguy. We leave those poles up all the way across the Atlantic. The poles serve a triple purpose. First, they keep the sails out in front of Exit Only at the level of the bows. Second, they keep the headsails quiet. Third, they allow us to carry the double headsail rig until the wind moves forward almost to the beam.
Keeping the sails out in front of the bows keeps the center of effort of the sails forward and balanced which makes it easy for the autopilot to steer downwind.
Keeping the sails quiet is a big help to the person on watch. He doesn't need to continually look at a thousand square feet of white sail in front of his eyes to tell what's happening. He only needs to listen with his ears. If the sails are starting to flutter, the wind has moved forward, and it's time to adjust the course. If the sails are quiet, it's time to keep on trucking.
The poles make it possible for the wind to move around a great deal without having to make major course adjustments. You don't need to be sailing directly downwind for the rig to work. As long as the wind stays twenty degrees abaft the beam, you can carry the downwind rig.
We have one headsail on a Profurl roller-furler, and the second identical headsail flies with a free standing luff. We roll the Profurl headsail in and out according to how hard the trades are blowing. The Profurl sail is like a throttle that we adjust to control our speed and the amount of stress on our rigging.
If the wind becomes too strong and we want to take down the free-standing genoa, we unroll the Profurl on the same side of the boat as the free standing genoa to blanket it. Then we can easily take down the genoa without having to battle a flogging sail. It would be easier to have two Profurl roller furling headsails, but that would cost a lot more money and require modifications to the mast and rigging. So we do it the less expensive way which is a little more work.
If the trade winds blow really hard, we use only one headsail; we roll the Profurl in and out to suit the prevailing conditions.
It's more fun to go sailing when you do no bruising cruising. It's more fun to sail downwind when you have a balanced helm. It's more fun to cross oceans when the autopilot steers the boat. That's why we sail in a catamaran and use a double-headsail downwind rig.
Life is good.
Awesome music video that captures the essence of what it's like to sail offshore in a catamaran around the world when conditions are less than perfect. David Abbott from Too Many Drummers sings the vocals, and he also edited the footage from our Red Sea adventures. This is the theme song from the Red Sea Chronicles.
Sailing up the Red Sea is not for the faint of heart. From the Bab al Mandeb to the Suez Canal, adventures and adversity are in abundance. If you take things too seriously, you just might get the Red Sea Blues.
If you like drum beats, and you like adventure, then have a listen to the Red Sea Chronicles Trailer.
Flying fish assault Exit Only in the middle of the night as we sail through the Arabian Gulf from the Maldives to Oman. And so begins our Red Sea adventures.
Sailing through Pirate Alley between Yemen and Somalia involves calculated risk. It may not be Russian Roulette, but it is a bit of a worry. Follow Team Maxing Out as they navigate through Pirate Alley.
Stopping in Yemen was just what the doctor ordered. We refueled, repaired our alternator, and we made friends with our gracious Yemeni hosts. We also went to Baskins Robbins as a reward for surviving Pirate Alley.
After you survive Pirate Alley, you must sail through the Gate of Sorrows (Bab Al Mandab) at the southern entrance to the Red Sea. The Gate of Sorrows lived up to its name with fifty knots of wind and a sandstorm that pummeled Exit Only for two days. Life is good.
Join Team Maxingout as they sail through Pirate Alley and up the Red Sea
See what it's like to cruise on a catamaran before you spend a bazillion dollars purchasing one
After watching the Red Sea Chronicles you will be able to see yourself sailing on the ocean of your dreams
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