Keeping the BR20 mainsail tidy

The problem

A BayRaider 20 with the standard-sized mainsail on a standard gunter rig has a bit of a problem: dropping the sail into the cockpit for reefing or tidying away is messy and greatly reduces the space available for the crew to move around. The yard waggles around as the main halyard is released and the mainsail can billow around all over the place (including over the side) until it is safely stowed away.


Double topping lift

One solution to this mayhem is to fit a double topping lift. This catches and restrains the yard and quite a lot of the mainsail as it is dropped onto the boom, where it can be held at shoulder or head height.  This makes reefing and unreefing easier and provides an alternative way of tidying up the mainsail.

The BR20 double topping lift is arranged as follows:

  • It starts with a padeye at the top of the mast, starboard side, to which 4mm line is attached.
  • The line then goes down to the end of the sprit boom, where it passes loosely through the eye of a good quality removable swivelling hook (such as a Wichard 70mm).
  • This hook clips on to a fixed eye, screwed very securely with long screws into the end of the boom.
  • From there the line goes back up to a small cheek block at the top of the mast, port side and then down to a cleat at the foot of the mast.

When you pull the line down by the cleat, both sides of the topping lift (and the sprit boom) go up. The diagram below may make things clearer:

Topping lift


The procedure for rolling the sail up neatly is as follows:

  • Drop the yard and mainsail down into the embrace of the pre-tensioned double topping lift, where the sail naturally falls to the port side of the boom.
  • Standing on the port side of the boom, release the downhaul from the tack and then take the lowest bit of the sail, which is near the tack.
  • Roll it up into itself with two hands fairly far apart (rolling clockwise when looking forwards) and keep going until it is a neat roll on the side of the boom. Then use a good quality sail tie to tie it around the boom and yard.
  • Once this is done, move to the other parts of the sail to roll and tie them on too, using four or five ties.
  • The aft end of the horizontal yard should be secured to the furled mizzen with a sail tie, to prevent any residual movement.
  • The main halyard can be left attached to the yard, hauled in fairly tight. Alternatively it can be let go, laid along the top of the boom towards the gooseneck, secured there and then hauled tight (this produces less windage and allows a sail cover to be put on).
  • The mainsheet can also be left attached to the boom.

Boom and gunter yard supported by a double topping lift, with the mainsail rolled up and secured alongside.  Note the solar panel laid along the top of the boom.

The whole process takes a couple of minutes. In good weather, the knot to use for the sail ties is a slipped half hitch with a bow, which means that the whole sail can be unfurled in about 30 seconds and the yard raised in about the same time.

If you want, the bundle can be dropped into the cockpit to reduce windage.  Release the gunter jaws and parrel beads from the mast, pull the boom off the gooseneck, drop the topping lift and down it comes.


Harbour furling

An alternative to this is harbour furling, a process evolved on Drascombes with loose-footed mainsails which avoids fitting a double topping lift. As described by its main proponent, this is theoretically achieved as follows:

  • Leave the yard aloft
  • Disconnect the mainsheet from the boom.
  • As a right-hander, stand in the centre of the cockpit and grip the clew side of the boom (aft of the sail clew) with your right hand, the left hand holding the boom as far forward as you can reach.
  • Pull the boom aft to disconnect it from the gooseneck pin.
  • Tilt the mast side of the boom up to bring the entire boom parallel to the sail leech, and start to roll the boom forward into the sail until the roll with the boom at its core is parallel to the mast.
  • Tie the roll to the mast at chest height, and then secure the upper portion to the mast with the spinnaker halyard, if you have one.

In practice, and as its main proponent admits, the standard BR 20 does not harbor furl well. On some boats the gooseneck is on the starboard side of the mast, which stops right-handers from getting a strong grip on the boom. More importantly, because the mainsail is so long in the foot, the wooden sprit boom is very long and heavy, which makes it hard to tilt vertically even without the wind pushing it around. So in just a bit of wind you need to be very strong and well planted to do the furling part of a harbor furl. Once this has been achieved, there is a risk of the sail being blown open again from the yard end until the furl is fully secured to the mast along most of its length.  However, the topmost part of the furl, being much higher than the top of the mast, cannot be secured by the spinnaker halyard and may still be blown open again in any sort of wind.

Harbour furling can be made more manageable by having a smaller mainsail, which allows a shorter yard and means that there is less sailcloth to wrestle with.  It also means that there is a shorter top end to be secured to the mast with the spinnaker halyard and thus there is less risk of the top of the furled sail blowing open again.  Depending on whether the smaller mainsail also has a shorter foot than standard (not all of them do), a shorter than standard replacement for the wooden sprit boom  (especially if made of carbon fibre) will also help by being lighter and easier to tilt up towards the vertical at the start of the furling process.


A BR20 in California sporting a neat harbour furl

There is a YouTube video showing the process of harbour furling, followed by stowing the main ready for towing:

USA rig

There is one further alternative:  Swallow Boats have developed what they call the USA rig, which consists of a carbon one piece main mast and fully battened mainsail. The sail area is only a little larger than the standard gunter rig and is standard on the BayRaider Expedition.

The advantages of the rig are first and foremost easy reefing. Just pay out the halyard by a pre-marked amount, haul in on the tack and then the clew and the job is done. Also, lazy jacks work well on this rig – when you release the main halyard, the boom drops a few inches until the lazy jacks take up the slack.  The mainsail is thus constrained and does not fall into the cockpit (or over the side), in much the same way as the double topping lift keeps the gunter rig tidy.  Also, due to the stiff mast and battens, no matter how hard the wind blows, the mainsail leech will not flutter.

Downsides of the USA rig include extra cost and the fact that you have to disconnect the mast pin and slide the mast forward when lowering in order to tow the boat on a trailer, otherwise there is too much overhang aft. There is also extra rigging time involved in sliding on the sail slides and the horizontal boom along the foot of the mainsail probably increases the risk of contact with skulls.

The USA rig in action

Graham W   November’12