Hoisting the mainsail - Sailing Fast - SchoonerMan (2023)

Last Updated on Wed, 05 Oct 2022 | Sailing Fast

As we say earlier in the "Preparing the mainsail" section, you must feed the mainsail luff (usually a covered rope or slides) into the mast for hoisting. Unless you're vigilant, the luff invariably gets pinched and stuck as you hoist. On a dinghy, you may have to feed the luff in yourself as you hoist. On a bigger keelboat, assign one person to stand next to the mast to feed the luff into the groove, as Figure 4-12 shows. Someone else (and, if need be, a third person) can then slowly and steadily pull up the halyard.

Mast

Head of mainsa

Figure 4-12:

Feeding the mainsail luff into the groove in the mast during hoisting.

Mast

Head of mainsa

Figure 4-12:

Feeding the mainsail luff into the groove in the mast during hoisting.

Hoisting the mainsail - Sailing Fast - SchoonerMan (1)

Hoisting the mainsail with a winch

Boats more than 25 feet (8 meters) long may have a winch to help pull up the halyards. A winch is a revolving drum that mechanically increases the sailor's power to pull on a rope. See Chapter 5 on how to use a winch.

To raise the main halyard by using a winch, start by putting a couple wraps of the halyard line in a clockwise direction around the winch drum. You want just enough wraps to enable you to hold the line without it slipping. As the load increases (when the sail is partway up), you need to add a wrap or two.

You just have to be different, don't you?

Some boats have the jib permanently rigged on a roller furler, so the jib stays hoisted and rolled up around the forestay even at the dock, as the photo in this sidebar shows. To unfurl the jib, all you have to do is pull on one line!

Some boats (including sailboards) don't even have a main halyard. The mainsail on these boats has a sleeve running along the luff that slides onto the mast like a glove slides onto a finger. Then you attach the mast and sail into the boat together. Chapter 6 covers putting a mast up, and Chapter 18 covers rigging sailboards.

Hoisting the mainsail - Sailing Fast - SchoonerMan (2)
Jib on a roller furler

Even with a winch, the easiest way to hoist a sail on a bigger boat is usually by jumping (pulling on) the halyard at the mast. Have a crew member (the jumper) stand at the mast where the halyard exits (presumably above the jumper's head — otherwise jumping doesn't work). Now he has great mechanical advantage to pull downward on the halyard. As he pulls, another person in the cockpit takes up the slack in the halyard by pulling the halyard that's wrapped around the winch. When the sail nears the top, the load may increase so much that jumping is inefficient. Then you must grind (rotate) the winch by turning the winch handle (a metal arm placed in the top of the winch) until the sail is up to the top. Pulling the halyard away from the mast like a bow string can also increase your mechanical advantage.

Avoiding certain mistakes

When hoisting a mainsail, you want to stay clear of a few important mistakes that can cause havoc and put a damper on your day at sea. The most common problems when hoisting sails include

1 Getting the luff rope jammed, which makes the halyard impossible to pull. If the luff jams, stop pulling the halyard and ease it until the person feeding the sail at the mast can clear the jam and prepare the sail to slide up cleanly again. If you're hoisting the halyard, watch the area where the sail is feeding into the mast so that you know when a problem is about to happen.

1 Failing to ensure that the mainsheet (the sail adjustment rope attached to the boom) has plenty of slack in it and isn't cleated. If the mainsheet doesn't have enough slack, the sail can fill when it's partway up, a real drag for the person doing the hoisting. Free the cunningham and boom vang to facilitate hoisting. (See Chapter 12 to discover how these control lines affect sail shape.) If the halyard starts getting really hard to pull, stop and look up — it may be caught on something up high or may not have been led correctly.

1 Forgetting a step such as attaching the halyard to the head of the sail.

This common (and embarrassing) mistake is sometimes tough to remedy. On small dinghies, you can tip the boat over at the dock to retrieve the errant halyard, but on big boats, you have to climb or hoist someone up the mast to retrieve the lost halyard. (For more on doing the high-wire act up in the rigging, see Chapter 15.)

How high is high enough?

How high should you pull the sail? All the way! The amount of tension you need for optimum sail shape varies (see Chapter 12), but in general, pull the sail up until the sailcloth is taut and just barely begins to show vertical lines of tension when luffing. The windier it is, the more tension you want. The visual aid is the tension in the luff, as Figure 4-13 shows. In the photo on the right, the mainsail is too low — note all the wrinkles along the luff and the gap at the bottom of the mast. In the left photo, the mainsail halyard tension is too tight — note the vertical strain marks just behind the mast.

Cleating off the halyard

After you have the mainsail hoisted properly, you need to make sure your halyard doesn't slip. Secure it with one of the following fittings:

1 Horn cleat (also called a t-cleat): A common cleat (fitting that firmly holds a rope under load) for halyards on dinghies and smaller keelboats. These are simple fittings with no moving parts to break or malfunction.

Figure 4-13:

Mainsail luff tension: too tight (left) and too loose (right).

Figure 4-13:

Mainsail luff tension: too tight (left) and too loose (right).

Hoisting the mainsail - Sailing Fast - SchoonerMan (3)Hoisting the mainsail - Sailing Fast - SchoonerMan (4)

To secure a line around one of these cleats, put one complete wrap of rope around the base. This wrap provides friction to keep the line from slipping when cleating or uncleating. Then make a figure eight and finish by twisting it to create a hitch on the final turn so that the end is underneath (see Chapter 19 for tying a cleat knot).

^ Jammer or rope clutches: Mechanical fittings with a lever arm that "squish" a rope so tight that it can't slip, even under an intense load (check out Figure 4-14). They're especially common on larger boats, where the loads on ropes are higher. Most jammers enable you to pull the line in when it's closed, but you can't ease it out. Keep the jammer open as you hoist the mainsail so that you can quickly ease the halyard if the sail gets pinched at the feeding point. When the sail is up and the luff is properly tensioned, you simply pull the jammer's lever down to cleat the halyard in position.

aHWSTV

aHWSTV

Before opening a jammer holding a rope under load, be very careful. Put a few wraps around a winch and then pull snug to take up the tension on the rope behind the jammer so that the rope doesn't burn your hands when it eases out.

Figure 4-14:

Jammers in action -"jammin'."

Figure 4-14:

Jammers in action -"jammin'."

Hoisting the mainsail - Sailing Fast - SchoonerMan (5)

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Continue reading here: Hoisting the jib

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FAQs

How do you hoist the mainsail? ›

After ensuring the shackle is tight and the halyard clear to run up, loosen the mainsheet slightly while the boat maintains its orientation into the wind. Then start raising the main by hand. On a larger boat, a winch is usually needed at some point because of the weight of the mainsail.

How do you raise the mainsail on a sailboat? ›

And pull your sail up number three you want to release. Anything that's holding your boom down you

What does it mean to hoist the sails? ›

to raise a flag or sail to its highest position on a pole.

What is one way to power up your mainsail? ›

The first and easiest thing you should do is ease the outhaul. This immediately adds depth to the sail because you are effectively bringing the leech closer to the luff. Also, ease the halyard or cunningham. This, in turn, relaxes the fabric along the luff allowing the draft to increase.

Which sail do you raise first? ›

Boats on moorings point into the wind, ideal for hoisting sails. The mainsail is first: It'll go up easily almost all the way, but the last foot or two will take some pulling.

What is hoist? ›

(hɔɪst ) verb. 1. ( transitive) to raise or lift up, esp by mechanical means.

Which type of simple machine helps a sailor raise a sail on a sailboat? ›

In the U.S.Navy, sailors used pulleys to help raise or lower sails, and to help pull heavy objects like whale boats or cargo onto ships. Today, the U.S. Navy still uses pulleys to pull heavy objects on board, usually with the help of a crane.

Can you sail with just the mainsail? ›

Can you sail with just the mainsail? Any sailboat can be sailed with the mainsail alone. Using only the mainsail will reduce your speed, but it can make your boat easier to handle, especially by yourself. Furthermore, using a mainsail alone is safer in some circumstances and can increase your visibility.

What is the difference between host and hoist? ›

The difference between hoisting and host is: Host as noun means a person who receives or entertains the audiance or guests. Host as a verb means act as host at an event or party. Hoist means to raise or haul up.

Who hoists the sails on a ship? ›

Rigger: Riggers work the rigging and unfurl the sails. In battle, next to that of a boarding party, the riggers' job is one of the most dangerous, as they pull enemy vessels near enough to board.

How do you speak hoist? ›

How to Pronounce Hoist? (CORRECTLY) - YouTube

What is the best method for reducing sail area in strong winds? ›

Shorten Sail: Smaller Jib First

In heavy winds, a well-trimmed reefed boat can provide much better speed, control, and comfort than an over-canvased boat. And the first step in reducing sail area is to reduce your jib size.

How do you depower the main? ›

Depower the mainsail by bending the mast, opening the leech, easing the sheet, dumping the traveler, and reefing if necessary. These adjustment are simply changing the total power being exerted by the mainsail. Since most of the main's power is side force, adjusting the amount of this power affects windward helm.

Why do sails have twist? ›

As with increasing angle of attack and depth, reducing twist adds power up to the point where the sail stalls and power drops. Twist is necessary because due to less surface friction, the wind is stronger aloft than at the surface; this phenomenon is called wind gradient.

Do you raise the mainsail or jib first? ›

Main sail goes up first, then the jib. That keeps the boat headed into the wind as you stand away from the mooring. Some sailors leave jib rigged, attached, but not hoisted when on the mooring, or returning to the mooring, and sail with only mainsail. When un-rigging, the jib comes down first then the main.

What is a boom vang on a sailboat? ›

A boom vang (US) or kicking strap (UK) (often shortened to "vang" or "kicker") is a line or piston system on a sailboat used to exert downward force on the boom and thus control the shape of the sail.

How do I set my sails? ›

Observe which telltale lifts first. If it is the lowest telltale, move the lead aft; if it is the top telltale, move the lead forward. When they all lift simultaneously you have it right! When over pressed, the sail should be flattened and twisted off to depower moving the lead aft.

How do hoists work? ›

A chain hoist is operated by hand. An operator will pull down on one of the chain loops on one side of the chain. This will turn a pulley mechanism inside the chain hoist housing. When this pulley turns, it will lift up the end of the other chain which usually has a hook on the end.

What is hoisting mechanism? ›

A hoist is a device used for lifting or lowering a load by means of a drum or lift-wheel around which rope or chain wraps. It may be manually operated, electrically or pneumatically driven and may use chain, fiber or wire rope as its lifting medium.

Which type of simple machine helps a sailor raise a sail on a sailboat? ›

In the U.S.Navy, sailors used pulleys to help raise or lower sails, and to help pull heavy objects like whale boats or cargo onto ships. Today, the U.S. Navy still uses pulleys to pull heavy objects on board, usually with the help of a crane.

How do I lower my main sail? ›

How to Lower the Mainsail | Inspire and Learn Basics | TMG - YouTube

What does the topping lift do? ›

Part of the running rigging, topping lifts are primarily used to hold a boom up when the sail is lowered. This line would run from near the free end of the boom(s) forward to the top of the mast. The line may be run over a block at the top of the mast and down to the deck to allow it to be adjusted.

How do you raise a jib sail? ›

Raising Jib - YouTube

What are the pulleys on a sailboat called? ›

"Block" is the nautical term for a pulley. Blocks make it easier to lift heavy loads and overcome significant force with rope. Blocks are used in purchase systems on sailboats so sailors can better control the high amounts of load created by wind and sails.

How does a sailboat use a pulley? ›

Pulleys on a boat are called blocks (as in “block and tackle”). They are used anywhere you need to change the direction of a pull on a rope, and also to create a mechanica advantage. Pulleys are used in sailing because of the amount of force that is needed to change the shape of the sails.

Which simple machine would you use to hoist something overhead? ›

A pulley is a simple machine used to change the direction of a force. Think of raising a flag or lifting a heavy stone.

When should you flatten sails? ›

The basic theory of trimming is simple: In light wind, a curved sail with lots of shape is faster, but as the wind speed increases, the sail needs to be flattened to reduce its power.

How do you raise and lower a sail? ›

The general rule for raising and lowering sails is that (a) you head up into the wind and (b) you raise the sail furthest from the wind (i.e. the main) first and then the genoa; when lowering sail you lower the jib first, then the main.

What is the term for lowering the sails? ›

If you to lower the sail entirely, and e.g. start the auxiliary engine, it is called, furling the sail. You can furl or reef the mainsail, the jib, the staysail or any other sail, for the matter.

When should I loosen my lift topping? ›

Tightening the topping lift provides more slack in the sail itself, making it easier to lower the sail part way and secure the reef. After raising or reefing the sail, however, it is necessary then to loosen the topping lift so that the weight of the boom pulls the sail tight.

What is the fastest point of sail? ›

Beam Reach – This is the fastest and easiest point of sail. The windis on the side of your boat (beam) and you'll sail with your sails outhalf way. Broad Reach – On a broad reach you'll be heading a bit further downwind, so you will have to let your sails out a bit more.

When should I tighten my topping lift? ›

The topping lift will only need to be tightened again if you are preparing to reef the sails or once you are preparing to lower the mainsail, once again taking the pressure off the sail and taking the weight of the boom.

Do you raise the mainsail or jib first? ›

Main sail goes up first, then the jib. That keeps the boat headed into the wind as you stand away from the mooring. Some sailors leave jib rigged, attached, but not hoisted when on the mooring, or returning to the mooring, and sail with only mainsail. When un-rigging, the jib comes down first then the main.

What is raising a sail called? ›

Sails are raised or lowered by lines called halyards. A gaff sail is raised using a halyard for the throat and a halyard for the peak, and must be raised together. Halyards are named for the sails they raise, for example the main throat halyard raises the throat of the mainsail.

When should I raise my jib? ›

Raising the Jib (Boat View) - YouTube

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