Rigging Simplicity & The Con of Leading Lines Aft

Ben Eriksen Carey Words 79 Comments

This is an op-ed  piece. The opinions expressed here represent my current state of thought on the subject, and I make no claims of ‘best practice’ or attempts of conversion… and who knows, I may change my mind a few years down the road. The views in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of SSPH!  ~ Ben
(A version of this article was also published in SAIL Magazine April 2013)

I’ve had the good fortune to sail aboard a wide variety of boats from 7′ dinghies to 180′ square riggers. Aboard traditionally rigged schooners with simple block and tackle, powered by a few humans, we moved a lot of heavy things: anchors, canons, fishing dories, wooden gaffs, topmasts,  booms, etc. on a regular basis. We used friction to our advantage when belaying or surging, and we reduced friction as much as possible when hauling or striking sail.

It was aboard these big boats that I was first introduced to Jan Adkins. His book Moving Heavy Things‘ is a clever, humorous, enlightening read in which he eloquently states,

The Power of Simplicity
The more complex a machine or procedure or set-up becomes, the less directly it applies its power. Simple forces applied intelligently should carry the day. This is no snub of wile or cleverness or inventiveness, only a caution against dissipating your efforts in the bother and friction of complication.

Elizabeth, our former 28ft cutter was rigged simply. There was no boom vang or cunningham, no battens or lazy jacks, not even roller furling on the jib and she didn’t have any lines led aft to the cockpit. Yes, every time we had to raise, reef, or lower the mains’l, we got out of the cockpit, and went to the mast to do so. We prefer it that way.

What we enjoyed most about sailing Elizabeth was the ease with which her sails went up, came down and reefed. The battenless main allowed her slugs to slide effortlessly up the track. Her single sheave halyard enabled us to raise the main in less than 10 seconds, without a winch. Likewise, the lack of lazy jacks induced no friction or chafe on her threads as the mains’l fell effortlessly when released, even off the wind.

Because it was so easy, we reefed often and we reefed early. There was no hemming and hawing over the question: to reef or not to reef. If the thought crossed our mind, we reefed, long before conditions got too hairy.

I’ve heard many accounts of owners performing the ‘all lines led aft’ upgrade. The belief is that lines led to the cockpit make sailing safer and easier. By not having to leave the cockpit to adjust your sails, you reduce the risk of injury or falling overboard. By having all lines led to your fingertips, you can remain safe under your dodger or bimini, while staying dry and in control.

That’s bilgewater! (sailor talk for bullshit)

The notion that leaving the cockpit is dangerous must be denounced. What is far more dangerous is not being able to feel the wind on your face or being able quickly and efficiently drop or reef sails. It is my opinion that the running rigging complexities found aboard many modern sailboats actually contribute to the difficulties and fear of sailing in bad weather. It is a fact that the more turns and bends a line must make, the more friction is introduced into the system, and this fact alone makes lowering sails more difficult.

I have yet to sail aboard a boat with lines led aft that did not at some, point  when efficiency is paramount, force me to leave the cockpit, deal with a snag, overhaul some slack, or re-lead a fouled line. Inevitably this occurs during the worst conditions, completely negating the number one reason the lines were lead aft. Furthermore the sailor who is not accustomed to getting out from behind the dodger while underway will be unrehearsed for the foredeck dance when the squall’s sinister song plays.


Between the two of us, Teresa and I have owned three boats so far: Two Nor’sea 27’s and a Bristol Channel Cutter 28. We’ve sailed our boats for years making both offshore passages and coastal day-trips—most of the time single-handed. Efficiency, safety, and ease of use have always been top priorities. But it wasn’t until our third boat, the Bristol Channel Cutter, where the lines were not led aft, that we felt the most confident in handling and adjusting sails in any condition.

I like sailing aboard a variety of boats. By doing so, I gain exposure to new and creative techniques. But despite having sailed aboard many, and even owned boats with lines led aft, I’m even more convinced that there must be a better solution. Until I find a system that combines both the accessibility of lines led aft with the efficiency and reliability of the opposite, I’ll stick with the system that provides fewer opportunities for problems. I’ll keep my rigging simple, direct, and always running smoothly.

Why I dislike leading lines aft summary:
1) Additional cost of longer lines, fairleads and larger winches required for increased loads
2) Lines running along deck makes footing more treacherous
3) Increased friction on halyards inhibits sail lowering ability
4) Single line reefing doesn’t produce a good reef
5) Excessive line clutter in the cockpit causes snags, knots and high potential for tripping
6) Doesn’t afford the opportunity to inspect your rigging at the mast regularly
7) Doesn’t prepare you for going forward for when the shit hits the fan. Remember: practice makes perfect

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this subject in the comments!


Comments 79

  1. Pamela

    Interesting point. As a newbie sailor, I’ve already experienced the frustration of struggling to reef as slugs got snagged. It is scary to be clinging to the mast in high winds but I would have been scared for a much shorter time if the mainsail had dropped more quickly and easily.

    1. Post

      Pamela, what you have observed is exactly what I have also observed. Over complicated systems make sailing harder. Simple is safe! Thanks for your insight.

      1. Andren Appelquest

        I bought a 1982 Baba 35 last year. I removed the jib Pro Furl, the lazy jacks, all lines running aft along the deck to the cockpit, and the excessive amount of line used for reefing (there are better ways). Next goes the boom vang. Now I feel safe to cruise extensively again as I did when simpler was safer, therefore better.

  2. Colin Sarsfield

    I totally agree. An added point is that the foredeck isn’t well kept for going forward on many such boats, e.g. inadequate/nonexistent toerails, handholds, nonskid, or too much deck clutter. We do have the genoa on our bowsprit rigged on a furler which does make that sail change much easier singlehanded. In four years, it’s only been a trouble once, when a squall hit and tied the genoa sheet around a lifeline. Naturally, there was a lee shore involved. Still, having more experience now should make that particular situation avoidable, and when it comes to the sail on the end of a long bowsprit, I’m still really split about furling vs. non-furling. My furler has been nearly 100% reliable, so I’ll probably just keep it. Not sure if I would buy one if working from scratch, though.

    1. Post

      Colin, good point on some foredecks not being well designed for use underway. Another often seen obstacle is the dinghy on the foredeck taking up nearly all the foot room, and adding to the treacherousness of it all. What kind of roller furler do you have?

      1. Colin Sarsfield


        You’re getting a lot of good thoughts and comments on this page, and I’ve been interested to read what everyone is writing. I also dislike dinghies on the foredeck, as it’s the more challenging area of the deck to work, and seas seem more more likely to claim one there. We’re going to put a nesting one behind our mast, but will lose some visibility as a result. Trade offs, as usual.

        Our roller furler is a Profurl C32E installed in 1993. I just recently replaced some parts on it that were lightly corroded after 20 years of mostly seasonal, coastal sailing. I don’t think any other maintenance was done my either of the previous owners.

      2. Daniel Jones

        I also had a 32′ Channel Cutter I built here in my back yard. Rigged so we had to go to the mast and work. I’ve had boats where I led every line aft. Wouldn’t do it again. It’s too much friction and the cockpit is a mess! We did however use a roller furler out on the bowsprit for the Yankee. It was a ProFurl. Worked without a problem for the 10 years we owned the boat. I took it apart every year for inspection and lubrication. I also rigged the Staysail loose footed and self tacking.In heavy weather with a reef or two, the Yankee furled and the Staysail self tacking the helm was easy and even single handed the boat was real easy to sail. At sea or short tacking through an anchorage.

    2. edt101

      “tied the genoa sheet around a lifeline” that might have happened roller furling or hank on though? Or it happened up front around the drum? I agree although there are a few things to check regularly, it’s handy singlehanded – no need to pack up the sail.

  3. Adam Plourde

    Big agreement here.

    I bought my Bayfield 29 last fall and the one thing (well, the biggest thing) that drives me nuts is the lines led aft.

    It’s a cutter rigged boat, with roller furling on both headsails (first time I’ve ever had roller furling…so far it hasn’t failed meaning so far I like it), and the headsail halyards are still led all the way back to the cockpit. More interestingly, they both have their own winches. Given that with roller furling dropping the sails out of the slot is pretty rare this not only seems silly, it actually makes putting on/taking the sails off the furlers much more difficult, especially for a single hander.

    The main isn’t much better as I have to leave the cockpit anyhow to pull off the sail cover, and to tie it up when it comes down. Not to mention that it seems like there is always a jam or something going on whenever I try to raise it. Now to add insult to injury, it is NOT set up to reef from the cockpit, so when the weather gets a little snotty no matter what I have to go to the mast anyhow. The only thing is now I have to make several trips back and forth mast to cockpit to deal with the reefing instead of just handling it all at the mast in one trip. Pointless and frustrating and I don’t know why other people insist it is better.

    Unfortunately, since the halyards run inside the mast (I’m not so sure I like that, either…it seems to me that if I ever lost a halyard, installing a new one will be much more difficult this way) and exit just above the cabin top, I don’t see any easy way to convert to something more sane. But, I’m thinking on it.

    1. Andrew Troup


      I’ve sailed on many boats where the internal halyards emerge just above deck level and the halyards head straight back up the mast via turning blocks on the deck collar (or the mast exit boxes are often suitable on their own).

      I have a personal preference for standup blocks, because they make it trivial to redirect the halyard aft or forward to suit the situation, as well as up – and if either block fails, the other helps to limit the ‘sawing’ of the halyard up the extrusion (not usually an issue since the general demise of wire halyards)…. but failing that, mast winches can be used as in my previous post to redirect the line.

      1. Seth

        I’m 100% in agreement with the approach of keeping the lines at the mast, but I’m not so quick to decry the use of a turning block.

        I’ve also sailed boats with turning blocks at deck level which simply redirected lines up to a pin rail or to cleats on the mast at about waist level. I’ve found that, in many cases, a turning block can be a much simpler ammendment than a winch. Granted, you add some friction but simply changing from a pull-down action to a pull-up action allows you to better use your major muscle groups and can be a net-win. Even when I don’t need the power boost, I find it a much more comfortable action, easier on my aging back, and less fatiguing overall.

  4. Scyph

    I’ve gotta say, I’m not a huge fan of—what did you call it, “cockpit spaghetti”?—on my Ericson 27. I get the sense that most cheaper mass-produced sloops like mine are rigged this way.

  5. Luke

    I owned 4 sailboats so far. On all of them, the lines were leading into the cockpit. It was like that and I never asked myself why… Most of my boat-owner friends have similar layouts and I was surprised to see some boats having lines coiled at the mast.

    I went for my ASA certifications and the “school sailboats” did not have the fancy jammers/rope clutches. So, out to the deck to hoist or reef ! After the first few days, I started to enjoy the benefits and
    decided that my next sailboat (I currently don’t own one but keeping my eyes open…) will not have the lines leading aft.

    Sitting in the cockpit is okay, but feeling the wind, getting the real feel for sailing and dropping the main at the mast while folding it port/starboard nicely, was allowing me to inspect everything at the same time.

    Thanks, Luke

  6. Brian Klumpp

    I can agree on most points. I think the one thing you may have missed, however, is the type of sailing one would be doing. Typical “production” style boats where lines are led aft may work better for some. For example, that retiree who sails Traverse Bay only on sunny, calm days may appreciate all those lines being led aft. Granted things can turn quickly in the Bay just like anywhere else, but I have to imagine that even with that in some cases those aft led line boats may work for some.

  7. Chris

    I’m a fan of a middle-ground: the simplicity of fewer leads and bends, and the ease of having singlehanding in tight harbors with some lines led aft. On our 39′ ketch, the foresail is far too large to drop on deck or do sail changes on when singlehanding, especially since the tack is out 4′ on the sprit. For this reason, the roller-furling makes sense for us. When we bought the boat a few years back, she had a solent-style rig, with a smaller blade jib just aft of the genoa, rigged to a Hoyt boom. Despite how much I loved being able to go to a smaller foresail in a matter of seconds (furl in one, furl out the other), it was a pain in the ass when tacking! The slot between the two sails was so small, that in order to tack, you had to furl in the genoa completely, complete the tack, and then furl it out again. In rough seas, the boat would lose any and all headway and you’d be stuck in irons until the bow got blown over. We took the inner stay off two years ago, and for coastal sailing, the setup works much better now.

    As far as lines led aft, we only have the jib furling lines and sheets coming to the cockpit. Every other line is at the main-mast (or mizzen mast, but that’s in the cockpit anyway), and we have two large winches on the mast to help raising and lowering the main and foresails.

    I will say, I’m not sure how you guys ever sailed all those miles without battens! Even though we have a large displacement, full keel cruising boat, I still cringe when the sails are out of trim. Years of racing will do that 🙂

    S/V Pierian Spring
    Gloucester, MA

  8. Lee Cumberland

    It depends on many things. The size, deck layout, and intended use of the boat all factor into what seems like a personal preference in the end. My Tayana was rigged with all lines aft in the past and still has the cleats and blocks on deck. I was planning on putting it back to the all lines aft system but now you have me thinking about the opportunity of simplifying a system for a change, something that never seems to happen in this increasingly complicated world.

  9. Barry Antel

    I am glad that you decided to write on this subject. I often find myself in the minority when I venture to assert the benefits of not leading everything to the cockpit…

    Another benefit to be had if the lines are all cleated on the spars is that doing so reduces stress on the mast step, as the loads carried by halyards, reefing lines, outhauls, etc. are all then taken by the spars alone in simple compression rather than having to be transferred from the mast and boom to the step.

    Getting people out from under their dodgers and biminis is a great thing. Most of us have seen someone grinding away on a winch in their cockpit under a dodger or bimini while their halyard was looped under the lazy jacks or a mast step; or a batten had caught one thing or another; or… you get the idea. If they could see what was going on, they would have immediately seen the problem. If there wasn’t so much friction in their system in the first place, they wouldn’t think it was so normal to have to struggle for every sail evolution or adjustment.

    1. Andrew Troup

      Great point. I hate the crick in the neck (or worse, a serious backache) from sailing on such boats>

      At best, I’m forever trying to contort myself to be able to see up the rig while grinding a halyard.

      Some boats you just can’t look up; I’m programmed NEVER to winch a load where I can’t see the action.

    2. Post

      You’ve hit on one of the fundamental issues… the increased loads on the lines and difficulty in determining normal loads from fouled loads. Thanks for eloquently explaining this.

    3. Knut Garshol

      Barry, very good point and especially these days when many boats have electric winches. Winching without seeing (or feeling the load) is an invitation to cause damage.

  10. pbarr

    That’s what makes the world go round. Different strokes for different folks. I lived aboard sailed offshore for 3 years on a 43′ 1979 solid FRP Montivedio made in SA. All lines lead to the cockpit Had Profurl in boom main and storm and genie on Profurl, twin mast mounted down wind running poles which I could put up and take down by myself 6 minutes each. Had them up 18 days straight getting to the Marquises in light wind. A passage I wont soon forget. I too reefed often and early and had the correct size winches and equipment that my wife and I could handle by ourselves. More cost and maintenance which I did myself. I took a year to redesign and rebuild from the keel to the top of the mast. I starting sailing when I was 7 in Hawaii. Our boats had nothing, not even jam cleats. I appreciate simplicity vs poorly thought out solutions but having been a minimalist for years, I feel I gain the knowledge to know how to set up a blue water boat for me. Not right for everyone. Guess I’m just saying there’s lots of ways to skin a cat, find the one that works for your situation. I’ll be the guy with the electric carving knife.

  11. Guy Rittger

    There are multiple factors that come into play when considering whether or not to lead lines aft. The size of the boat, sail configuration, number and mobility of crew members, primary type of sailing, etc. On racing boats, where you typically have several crew, maneuvers must be performed as expeditiously as possible – and often simultaneously – it makes good sense to lead lines aft, rather than having more hands forward of the cockpit, or executing tasks slower and sequentially.

    For example, on all the big boats I’ve raced – from 21ft to 52ft – we frequently made adjustments to main and jib halyard tension during tacks / gybes. This is a maneuver easily managed by one person on a cabin-top winch; doing the same maneuver at the mast would be more challenging, to say the least, particularly as you want your mast man (typically a tall, beefy fellow) on the rail hiking. Similar observations could be made about most other “pit” activities – adjusting vang tension, outhaul, tailing spinnaker halyards, adjusting foreguy / topping lift controls, etc. – you don’t want your big bodies standing up at the mast doing stuff that a small fellow in the back can do.

    For singlehanded or doublehanded sailing, in my experience, it’s exceedingly rare that one camps out in the cockpit making various adjustments, even if most lines are lead there. Putting in a reef, using lines lead aft, still requires a trip to the mast to hook the reefing point in the luff to the horn on the boom, or reconnected the cunningham to the same, if there is no attachment on the boom.

    One personal reason I prefer lines lead aft is that it makes it safer to launch and retrieve spinnakers when sailing solo or two-up. As a bowman, primarily, I’m quite comfortable doing these things from the foredeck, if there’s another person on the halyard. But if I have to tend to the halyard and spinnaker sheet at the same time, I don’t want to be balancing on the foredeck, trying to shove the exposed kite down the foredeck hatch; positioned in the back of the boat I can bring the kite down behind the main and straight into the comparatively protected cockpit.

    As for the increased friction / loads generated by routing lines from the base of the mast aft to cabin top winches and rope clutches, it’s true that the 90 degree deflection from vertical to horizontal requires additional effort, in addition to friction introduced by rope clutches in many cases. But to be fair, on boats over 30-35 feet, you’re going to need to be on a winch anyway, even if you’re at the mast, when raising mainsails / genoas / spinnakers. And if you’re already on a winch, then leading the lines aft doesn’t really make all that much difference.

    So I’d have to say that I remain a fan of leading lines aft, but since I’ve spent much of my racing career dancing around the pointy end, having that convenience doesn’t make me disinclined to go forward in any conditions. At the same time, I confess that it was nice to be able to put in and shake out reefs in 25-30 knots, while delivering a 50-foot race boat from NY to Bermuda, without going foward and getting soaked. I mean, I would have done so had it been necessary, but it wasn’t.

    Really enjoy the blog and following your collective adventures. Best regards.


    1. Post
  12. Denny Grover

    I agree with the case for simplicity with 2 exceptions, 1. Full batten main sails are more efficient and if combined with a Fast Tack slide system are easy to raise lower and reef. 2. I installed a Pro Furl 5 years ago with some trepidation about not having the right sail up for the conditions I gave it a trial. For me the issue was laid to rest at 2a.m. when the wind jumped from 8 kts to 26knts and I went from a 150% genny down to a 100% jib (granted it was shaped as well as my 100% hank on) without leaving the cockpit. I was able to ease the main off with the traveler and avoid reefing as the edge of the squall past in about 20 minutes. Aside from sheets and furler line everything is done at the mast. Yes simple is best but some gear does make sail trim and handeling easier, safer and the boat faster.

    1. Post

      Denny, excellent points. The Fast Track system has gotten great reviews. I have no experience with it, but would love to try it out! Where are you located 😉 I do believe a roller furling jib has alot of benefits. Although our28′ BCC had hank on jibs, I think a roller furling jib makes alot of sense as the boat size increases. Thanks for the comment.

  13. William Thomassen

    Copenhagen, Denmark.
    thanks for you blog and your educational approach to sailing I enjoy your writing.

    From 1975 to 2011 I sailed traditional nordic spidgattere, with halyards and reefinglines at the mast. Well, my first boat had a boom, that you could make turn and reef as the sail was rolled around the boom, the roller reefing,… and your hands got bruses and you said words your mother would not appreciate,- the main sheet being mucked up at the aft of the boom, so you had to go aft and shake it free and forward to the mast… the system was simple but din not function easily.
    The next boat had points reefing; two reef- lines, and the reefing was done at the mast. It was easy, fast and simple, but as a singlehanded it could be tricy leaving the rudder and standing up at the mast.

    In 2011 I bought a Grinde, 27 foot ”modern” boat,built in 1973, most of the lines goes back to the cockpit.
    The main halyard goes down to a sheave on the cabin- roof, and over the cabin-top and to a clutch and a winch. One shave and 3 meter more line compared with the traditional system.
    The main goes down in at “sailtainer”, a furling- boom. It took a little experimenting to learn to use it, but now it functions ok, and the cockpit is tidy and no sails to fight with in the harbor -routines.

    Reefing the main is easy; loosen the halyard, pull the mains reef-line, set the halyard and haul the reef- line and set it. It takes only a few seconds, and there is nothing to do on the deck.
    The jib is mounted on a furlingsystem, the halyard is fixed on the mast. Reefing the jib is of cause done from the cockpit, fast and easy.

    There is not a mess with many lines in the cockpit; one halyard and two reefing- lines. The sheets as usual. This layout is simple and there is not much that can go wrong. The jib can be changed just at easy as on my old boats, if anything should go wrong. The sailtainer does function easy with the wether in straight from the bow.
    The decks are open, no lines … apart from the sheets, plenty of space.

    It took some training to learn how the new systems could work and many a time I wished for my old systems at the mast. But now I enjoy adjusting my sails from the cockpit, the tiller at hand, fast, easy and … simple. Also in the harbor,- in for sail, singlehanded.

  14. Burger Zapf

    After cruising 150,000 blue water miles and crossing 3 oceans, I have to put this article in perspective.
    I remember the days of our first boat, wrestling down a jib on the foredeck, standing to the waist in green water or while reefing the main being almost swept overboard.

    We now employ all roller furling systems, leading aft into the cockpit. It makes all the sense in the world. Nothing beats reefing the roller main and jib at one in the morning in 40 kts of wind from the safety of your cockpit without getting a drop of water on you.

    Since halyards are barely ever touched I leave them at the mast. But furling lines for main and fore sails in the cockpit are the eternal feel good solution.

    1. Post

      Thanks for the insight Burger. It sounds like your set up has been working well for you with few, if any troubles. What do you think makes your set up work so well? Perhaps the problems I’ve experienced with lines led aft aren’t due to the lines being led aft, but rather the execution and design of the aft-leading system. Please share your boat and rigging specs if you can. Thanks for the comment.

  15. Micheal

    I agree with this article. Simple is safer. I have been sailing most of my life and I have ended up simplifying my boats for ocean sailing and cruising. The only exceptions would be adding a good reefing/down haul winch and permanent preventer to the mainsail. A good tight reef is essential and the ability to do it under load. The preventer though it produces additional clutter makes gybing and reaching MUCH more efficient.

  16. Kevin

    Last summer I found and bought a 1976 35′ Hallberg-Rassy that hadn’t seen any upgrades over the years she is set simple both the main and head sails have wire rope halyards at the mast one end is attached to the winch via set screws and the other to the sail. I like this set up no rope ever to clutter the deck or get tangled up. I had a sail maker come by to measure the sails to be replaced and he thought I should switch out the wire rope and run it all to the cock pit, I gave him a funny look and asked why this would be better than what I have when he couldn’t justify his reason he just that my current set up was fine. I think it’ll stay that way for as long as I own the boat

  17. Alan

    This so called simplicity has killed sailing and the boating industry, It wasn’t that long ago that most boaters would learn to sail on a sabot or like small boat soon moving up maybe to a Catalina 22 or 25, over the years small increases in boat size would be natural transitions as sailors gained confidence in their ability and their cruising ranges would grow. Boat prices were relativity low and affordable giving the owner more free time to sail rather than working to pay for their boat .Now you can buy an off the shelf plastic fantastic on monthly payments large enough to pay for a house, take a 4 day course that will get you off the dock and use your huge motor to get you where you are going and back in time to work and make your monthly payments by Monday morning, I call them Marconi Trawlers. I have been in this industry for 25 years and less than one in ten people I meet can actually afford their boats.

    Things get pretty crowded in my area and I can always tell which boat will drag anchor when they motor into the bay. Its a fact that a small boat anchored poorly will hold faster and do less damage to surrounding boats than a large boat poorly anchored will.

    I recently helped a guy who has owned his 37′ Hunter for 5 years but couldn’t get his main off or bend it back on, he had never owned any other boat and his 2 day ASA sailing class didn’t teach anything about sails. I can rig most boats blindfolded with one arm tied behind my back but this boat was spaghetti hell, it had a Doyle stack pack flaking system which was an absolute nightmare to re rig while tripping all over the 12 lines led aft and trying to crawl over his house size dodger. When I started to try and re rig his reef lines that each ran through half a dozen blocks he told me he just left those out as they we too hard to use. The very next week he asked me for help with his anchor windlass which had failed due to improper use, while doing all this I suggested that his anchor chain was about 10 years past its usable life. He ordered 200′ of new chain and 100′ of half inch 3 strand on the recommend nylon by the local Chandler for a 18.000 lb boat. I suggested he take the line back and get the proper size but he didn’t want to deal with it and said he couldn’t afford to pay any more money. He has a 37′ 18,000 boat and wouldn’t shell out another 100 bucks for a safe anchor system. Which boat would you rather have anchored next to you in a blow in a poor anchorage at midnight, his or a 25′ 4,500 lb bay sailor? We all make mistakes and that’s what learning to sail is all about but that’s the whole point in learning in small light boats, the potential for disaster is substantially reduced in a smaller boat. By the time a properly seasoned sailor has moved up to a 35′ boat he/ she should have 5 or 10 years of sailing under his belt.

    How many times do we read in the news that a perfectly good boat has been abandoned at sea due to a minor failure that could easily be fixed by a remotely competent sailor. Too many people are buying boats way too large and complicated to safely sail and heading out with no experience which is a recipe for disaster.

    A new trend I am seeing is that marinas are removing their small slips and adding larger ones all but killing the little guy or newby sailor.

    I could write a book about all that is wrong in the sailing industry but I will leave this mentioning the one simple fact that simple and safe sailing is dead, New boats will be increasingly more complicated in the effort to completely remove the sailor from the actual experience of sailing until one day we will all just stay home where it is safe and live vicariously through the remaining few sailors who actually want the experience of sailing.

    1. Chuck Rose

      I agree 100% Unfortunately, it is just not the American Way. You are supposed to buy the biggest new boat your credit limit will allow, then take a class to learn how to drive it and buy lots of insurance. Then you have to leave it sit in the marina, occasionally inviting friends over for cocktails while you spend 60 hours a week working to make the payments and insurance premiums.

      Personally, I would never…NEVER go into debt for a boat.

    2. Post

      Well Said Alan. Thanks for the insight. I’d really like to get a better idea of where people are learning their seamanship skills. Is it ASA? Books, forums, power squadron? Anyone know the statistics?

    3. Paul C

      I agree with Alan, too many people buy boats to big to handle, especially if they like sailing single handed. All of my sailing over the past 5 years has been day sailing, often by myself or with a crew with very limited experience. Prior to that it was mostly racing.

      I have owned the same 25 foot boat for over 30 years. I keep it because it is paid for but mostly because I do not know of of boat in the same size range I would prefer. It would at times be nice to have a 30 foot boat but the maintenance costs go up by quite a bit and the muscle needed to control a bigger boat increases also.

      I feel quite safe with my current boat in all kinds of weather and can manage it very well even if my guests do not know that sheets on a sail boat do not refer to bed linens.

      The is a business management lore called ‘The Peter Principle’. It states a manager will rise in an organization to a job he is not fully capable of managing and will rise no further. I think the same principle may apply to many boat owners and the biggest boat they buy.

    4. Leifur Thor

      Thanks to Ben for writing this piece, all the other comments and especially to Alan for your comment.

      Having an odd history with my sailboats, living on free anchor on a Cal 24 with a girlfriend off Catalina Island, sailing a sunfish extensively in the Golden Gate Bay with a friend in full suits, booties, gloves, and hoodie, including once going out the Gate, I’ve learned one thing more than any other when it comes to sailing which is the attractive factor, or two-foot-itus, is balanced with effort in having it.

      So when I would take my sunfish out nearly every day after work, dragging it from the tree it leaned on, to the water, dropping the mast in a hole, attaching rudder, and off I’d go, sailing past about 20 beautiful sailboats docked on the other side of the narrow inlet I’d sail out from, never once did I see any of the owners take any of their boats out, not once! Sure I’d see them working on their boats all the time, but never sailing them, as I sailed past them in my ratty tiny hardly a sailboat sailboat.

      It taught me I could either look good, or go sailing. Or the best way I’ve heard it phrased by a boater friend is “Don’t buy the most you can afford, buy the smallest you can get by with.” As an example, a 30′ sailboat will cost roughly 4 times what a 25′ sailboat will cost in parts and maintenance. That’s a lot of extra cost for that additional 5 feet!

      Taking that idea to heart, I recently bought a full keel 1978 Ericson 25, the earlier model with only 2 windows to each side (instead of 3), and if you can believe this, I live aboard her!

      For those unfamiliar with this most precious sailboat, an excellent blog about this model is here, not written by me, but a great blog just like this one-

      Most people, especially other boaters think I’m nuts to live aboard such a tiny boat, with a 5’7″ headroom, I have to crouch slightly to move about the boat, and finding a marina that would allow me as a liveaboard with a 25′ boat was a small miracle, no actually it was a big miracle… But here’s the thing, my boat, my home was $2,000, my maintenance is nearly non-existent, my parts are very affordable, like getting a new used motor (outboard 2h 7.5 kicker for $425), with some patience in learning to move in the smaller boat, now 9 months living on her, it’s become easy to live on. Every morning I wake up, and while making breakfast, I see the other boaters working on their boats often, sailing rarely.

      One guy near my boat has the most beautiful decked out Columbia 34 with every bell and whistle on-board a sailor could have, the boat is beautiful, but he’s never out sailing, always working to pay for his beautiful boat, and he even works at a marine supply shop!

      I’ve had so many snickers from other boaters especially sailors who scoff at me, and it used to bug me, but now every day when I wake up, make my coffee and eggs, sitting in my cockpit, and watching them fixing their boats while I’m just enjoying my coffee and my boat, it doesn’t bug me anymore.

      And after reading this piece, I’m not going to rig my boat with lines running aft, something I was seriously considering and planning to do, since I completely agree with most everyone who’s written here including the OP, simplicity is best. And when it comes to sailing. Every point made regarding the tension on lines, stress being kept to the mast, they’re all spot on, so again thanks everyone for your comments, and thank you especially to Ben and Alan, who I couldn’t agree with more.

      To simplicity, to sailing, and to elegant design, thanks all!

  18. Gerd Fehlbaum

    Damn TRUE, Alan! You really put it in the right words! I am NOT in the “industry”, but sailing since very young, spending a good 20 years aboard my boats between Med and Pacific/Indic.

    Check Australia: Its the same MESS! People think, they HAVE to go complicated! Its an INDUSTRY, able to suck out more bucks of us, than anything…, but still a small industry…, like a Sizilian MAFIA telling us sailors, what drugs to stay high to take…

    So, F… THEM! I go damn SIMPLE wherever I CAN and never ever got into the dangerous side of the maritime world.
    Of course, NON of my three boats I had, had lines led back to the cockpit…

    Its all about SUCKING OUT MONEY from wannabe sailors, so only the RICH finally can afford it!

  19. Jeremy

    Random question to lifelong cruisers who prefer walking forward on deck to handle rigging in SHTF situations. I presume most all of you are wearing harnesses when doing this, but do you wear helmets? I am not a cruiser, so I speak from no experience here. It would seem to me that if your deck is moving around sufficiently to need a harness to keep you on deck, you are only increasing your chance of serious head injury without a helmet. If you’re tied to a moving object less than 5 feet away with the real possibility of slipping and falling, you need to make sure you can’t be dazed for 10-30 seconds (or worse) from a blow to your head.

    I feel like a baby preaching to the choir.

    1. Alan

      Good question, a lot of people who have never experienced heavy weather cant comprehend how little is actually going on. The boat is moving at 5 knots or so maybe surfing at 10 which is a really good indicator that you should consider heaving the boat to. Sure there is lots of noise and extra movement but all in all no real big deal. If its that crazy I simply crawl forward and sit doing any of my for deck chores. Remember most weather doesn’t just slam you out of nowhere Little puffs of wind get larger, the clouds always let you know what is coming, we use our barometer all of the time. So no At least for me I would never wear a helmet, then again I never wore one on my Harley at 100 mph. Of all the things you will experience at sea storms are the least of them. Any prudent sailor will follow the seasons and yes there will always be a big blow here and there most of your time will be spent wishing you had bought a better sailing boat and more canvas. 🙂

      PS after 25 years of sailing, really heavy weather still scare the shit out of me but so does flying and being a passenger in a car both of which are far more dangerous than going to sea.

  20. Pingback: This and That—May

  21. Todd

    Absolutely agree based on the one boat I sailed with the lines led aft. Every time I went to raise the main, I would have to jump up to the mast 3 or 4 times to help the sail into the groove, while keeping tension on the halyard by pulling the line 180 degrees off the direction it was designed to be pulled. Bringing the main down was just as bad. I’d be up at the mast helping the sail down and the halyard would snag back in the cockpit.

    I was all over the idea of having the lines led aft at first. In practice however, I will never have a boat like that again.

  22. Andrew Troup

    I couldn’t agree more with your conclusion, (and like you I’m a Jan Adkins fan) but my #1 reason doesn’t appear on your summary list:

    When things go wrong at the mast or the bow, lines led to the cockpit require me to be in several places at once. That is all the reason I need to rule it out.

    It’s trivial to lead, say, a headsail halyard 270 degrees around a mast-mounted winch and take it to the bow with me. If a sail jams coming down I can jiggle the halyard to free the jam, ditto if I’m at the mast rather than in the cockpit when a halyard loops around a steaming light, I can tail with one hand and flick the halyard with the other, etc etc…

    It’s not just when solo sailing that one has to be able to cope alone:

    – the other crew might be needing restore or accumulate a bank balance of undisturbed sleep;
    – seasickness or injury might deplete numbers on deck;
    – the person who usually helps us might be disappearing in the wake, in the worst case ….

    1. Post

      Really good point Andrew, agreed 100%. Back and forth from foredeck to cockpit with a flogging sail, especially a clew cringle on a jib can be quite dangerous. Thanks for the addition to the list!

  23. Mark

    I learned to sail on a 25 foot Catalina in Marblehead MA,

    I had a simple mast system and later added a system leading to the cockpit,

    I admit, it was more difficult to raise the main by hand from the cockpit,

    I think it depends on what kind of sailing experience you want,

    in bad weather, i would rather remain in the cockpit though, in a larger boat with winches does it really matter?,

  24. Ben W

    I’m late to this conversation, but maybe all the knowledgeable folks here would be willing to answer a question for a newbie. I sail a J-24 on San Francisco Bay (I don’t own the boat, but I have a nice arrangement with the owner). What is appealing to me, conceptually, about the idea of lines led aft, is that the J-24 will not stay where you point it, without someone on the tiller at all times. Perhaps that’s a characteristic of the boat, or perhaps it’s that I don’t know what I’m doing well enough to keep the boat well balanced. In any case, it means that I always need to have someone else on board who is at least good enough to keep the boat pointed in the right direction (not necessarily easy for someone who’s never done it before) while I go up to the mast to reef, etc. I always thought “when I get my own boat, I’ll solve this problem by leading all lines aft” but obviously this article has made me rethink that. Any folks on this thread have any thoughts about this?

    To answer Ben’s question above, when I decided I wanted to learn to sail I took “Basic Keelboat” and “Basic Cruising” from OCSC in Berkeley, CA. I’d say that amounted to about 65 hours on the water and 10 hours in the classroom before I was sailing on my own. Since then it’s been trial and error. 🙂


    1. Teresa Carey


      Typically boats will want to head up into irons if they had their way. What is causing a boat to turn one way or the other is based on the shape and trim of your sails and the forces on them. My Nor’sea Daphne was most balanced when the mains’l was spoiled just a little bit. As you become more familar with your boat you will find out how to balance it….then the conditions will change and you’ll have to figure it out all over again! It isn’t easy and most people never become proficient with it. But its absolutely fun to try!

      Sailing solo (or without a reliable crew) makes the decision of where to lead the lines more tricky. I understand everything you were talking about. I sailed solo on my Nor’sea and had all my lines led aft. However, in the worst conditions was when they would jam and I would still have to venture forward to work the sail. It was even worse because after I got the sail down I would have to go back to the cockpit to pull the hailyard through. So sometimes there was a back and forth when I planned to stay in the cockpit and it was times like that when I simply wished the winches and cleats were at the mast in the most reliable and predictable way.

      Having said all that…Daphne was a fantastic boat and I had I kept her longer I did not plan to change how the lines were rigged. All boats have their nuances.


    2. Andrew Troup

      It is not usual for a boat to maintain its course when you release the tiller.

      The usual solution is tiller lines of some description.

      These can be rigged either as a single line across the tiller, usually a little aft of where you normally hold it, with perhaps a length of chain (plastic chain is good) of which you can drop the appropriate link over a peg on top of the tiller.

      … or as a line from each side, looped over the tiller and secured back to themselves with a rolling hitch or equivalent (there’s a type of clamcleat, CL234, intended for fenders, which lends itself to this)

      If you’re sailing to windward, it’s generally best to slightly oversheet the headsail and undersheet the mainsail. This produces a stable trim if the wind varies in strength and direction.

      If you’re needing to reef or unreef the main, you would want to readjust the tiller lines with the mainsail sheeted right out, so the boat continues sailing on just the headsail.

      If this does not prove possible (and for any boat there will be circumstances when it will not) then you need to heave to in order to leave the cockpit and go to the mast. Once again, this will require tiller lines, as the helm must be lashed fully to leeward (the headsail being hauled aback, to windward)

  25. Paul C

    I used to be an avid racer, and a good one. Usually I raced with crew but I also raced single handed at times. I am all for leading lines aft for several reasons.

    1) Racing with crew: Halyards, out hauls and down hauls on most racing boats are lead aft to the companionway hatch area. This makes it possible for one man to control all these from one station. It keeps the foredeck clear for sail handlers and keeps weight off the foredeck, which slows the boat. For sail changes and flying spinnakers, it is important to keep foredeck clutter of lines to a minimum. Spinnakers are powerful sails that take many lines to control them. Spinnaker lines are easy enough to snarl even without having halyard lines on tailed on the mast. Halyard tension is an important element of sail trim too. Adjustments to halyard tension can be made easily and quickly and without moving weight around.

    2) Racing single handed: All of the above applies but even more so. The less time it takes to get to lines needed to control the boat the less apt one is to loose control by not being at the helm. Loosing control during a race is definitely slow and can in some circumstances be quite expensive.

    3) Docking: if you have ever sailed into a dock with inexperienced crew or no crew, lines led aft makes it easier to drop the headsail from the cockpit, assuming it has hanks or roller furling.

    Some of these preferences, as another racer mentioned, are habits acquired from racing and racers, if they are any good at all, are a bit up tight about sail and boat trim. Even if I did not race, I do enough single handed day sailing to make aft led halyards desirable as a convenience and for more efficient control.

    1. Teresa Carey

      These are all great points, provided that the lines run smooth all the time. But every turn provides one more opportunity for a foul! I don’t race anymore, but I do sail solo and I’ve prefer lines led to the mast any day! But I guess you made the most important point when you mentioned “habits acquired.” We always get used to sailing with what we have. Learning new system takes some adjustment, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work any better or worse. Only time will tell.


  26. Dean

    Lines forward,,, lines aft.

    I am just making the transition from having only hanked on sails and nothing lead aft,,, to roller and all lines lead aft. So far I am unimpressed with this new ‘simplicity’. Both substantial boats.

    With the old system, winches at the mast, external halyards, all hanked on foresails or slides on the mainsail, I was very good. I could drop the genoa and flake and roll between my legs and hank in the storm jib all in 3 minutes? Yes, I was carrying 4 or 5 foresails,,, but even with a furler,, shouldn’t you as well? I’ve rarely had a hank jam and I’ve taken down sails in 50 knots a number of times. Reefing the main? Out on the deck,, hands on the reef lines and setting reef ties at clew and tack, out haul to tension, and a bit of clean up with ties in each of the mid sail reef points……. Three or four minutes while running and sometimes in the dark.

    Now,, i cannot see from the cockpit, my hands cannot feel the tension, I had to round up and point into the wind and try twice and even three times of up to the mast, back to the cockpit, up to the mast,,,,, EVERYTHING is up there. Why are all the lines lead away? Its dark, its blowing like stink, you can’t see the job from the cockpit, you can’t see the job when you are laying out on the boom gathering sail…. BUT with it in my hands,, i can feel what I cannot see,, and feel it really well.

    The forward roller furler is really nice, works great ! Butt if it is blowing like stink, that is the wrong sail. I HAVE NOT yet figured out how I am going to swap sails with all the lines in the back and me trying to pre feed a track. That sail sure as heck is not going to stay there when I scoot back to the cockpit to hoist,,, and it has jammed every time.

    IF I never take the foresail down…… I can furl it 30 or 40 percent only … Okay so I am ONLY going out in 6 to 12 knots of breeze and only on a perfect sunny day? What about the other two thirds of days? Dockside barbecue?

    I may well be tearing off the tracks and rollers and bolting in some cleats and winches where I am working.

    Either perfect days or a race crew of 6. Now I begin to understand the need for 6.

    36 foot racer/cruiser with a PHRF of 108


    1. Andrew Troup


      I feel your pain, it’s an eloquent description of some of the downsides of the ‘new normal’.

      With regard to the demerits of roller headsails, there is a way to have your cake and eat it: you might want to consider retaining the roller headfoils, but fit the headsails with some form of slug (Kiwislides are a good option, as they don’t require adding eyelets or grommets)

      This lets you retain control over the sail’s luff during the time it takes to hoist or drop the sail when changing. There’s no substitute for having the right sized headsail when you’re going upwind in a lot of breeze, I fully agree.

      There are also ways of setting up the mast area so that the halyards can be led up the mast (or to the foredeck) when sailing solo, or back to the cockpit when sailing with crew … or for that matter when solo for ease of adjustment, without rethreading.

      In the latter case, when you go to the mast to take a reef, you can simply take the halyard with you.

      Depending on what obstructions there are, it may take a bit of ingenuity.

      There’s a new form of rope clutch technology, Constrictor from Cousin, which looks to me as though it could play a useful role in such a setup to make it easier to arrange. Mounted on the mast, it could be remotely operated from the cockpit simply by pulling a cord. Unlike conventional rope clutches, the actuation is “single acting” rather than double acting (a conventional clutch would require two cords, which tends to lead to the blues. 😉

      By mounting a winch above a single-acting clutch on the mast, the halyard tail could then be taken to the cockpit when desired, with just one turn around the winch. This way the winch acts as a turning block when the halyard is being controlled on a spare cockpit winch. (A snatch block ahead of the latter winch would be needed to correct the lead)

    2. Colin Sarsfield


      Total agreement here! I’ve got all lines at the mast or beside it on a pin rail on the shrouds and love it. I do have the headsail on a furler (sheet and furling line in cockpit, halyard at mast.) Some days I love the arrangement. Just two days ago, we were on a close reach offshore and wind was very gusty/shifty. We needed lots of canvas to make good time against the sea state, but it was easy to get overpowered when the wind picked up for a bit. Being able to either put out, partially furl, or fully furl the genoa every half hour or so did help.

      That said, the luff tape drives me nuts and I hate to think about sail changes, esp. singlehanded. Also, working to windward in more than about 15 knots, it’s the wrong sail. I’ve been trying to imagine if I can have the best of both worlds by having a sail made with slugs. If so, my next headsail would also come with grommets and spare hanks, so if the entire furling system breaks and parts/money aren’t available, I can take off the furler, sew on the hanks, and go simple.

      Speaking of working to windward in a strong breeze or more, if you have a staysail that takes over for the headsail, and its furled, then all that sail and foil stays up as weight and windage. That’s got to hurt a lot, but I haven’t had the opportunity to sail my boat without it, so I don’t know just how much, yet.

      Of course, I could just save $$ and go to hanks, but I have learned to love the furler, with caveats. Still waiting to see if anyone I come across has a good, simple setup with slugs that would be the best of both worlds.

  27. Dean

    Hello Colin, Andrew, and All,

    Great input. It all makes me think, new boat to me, what is right for me.

    I have running backstays. Hate ’em. Already had one pop off the result of a sloppy main hoist. (Bosun’s chair, up the mast, pop it back in) The sail shape of the main is also pretty awful when it lays against the nascent stay in its forward position.

    Can I replace them with fixed, likely rod rigging, and add a chain plate well out board and 3 to 5 feet rearward from dead abeam? I’d equal that to the fore with an inner stay, removable, that would be suitable for hanked on choices of working jib, yankee, storm jib,,,, the smaller sails that a 140% roller on the forestay cannot duplicate.

    Ideas? Personal knowledge?

    Teresa, I hope this is okay to ask this slightly off subject question.


    1. Colin Sarsfield


      There are lots of options here. Here’s what I would do. Take the time to get to know your current rig in and out under all kinds of conditions. Take some other sailors out with you and see how they handle the rig, ideally sailors experienced with similar setups. Then, think long and hard about what you want to improve and what you’re willing to sacrifice. Write up a description of your rig and goals for changes and post to the SparTalk forum linked from Brion Toss’ website. There’s lots of really knowledgable riggers there.

      Cheers, C

    2. Andrew Troup


      I’ve sailed on a boat with the rigging item you describe, referred to as an “after intermediate” stay, in lieu of a running backstay.
      This was a large, heavy displacement expedition boat, with a fixed inner forestay and a short, heavy two spreader rig.

      In that context it worked pretty well.

      However the loads are much higher than for a running backstay, unless it is brought far enough aft that it presents an obstacle to squaring the sail and boom well outboard.

      Inability to do this has consequences in addition to the obvious chafe on batten pockets:

      1) It narrows the range of headings on which you can spill the wind when manoeuvring in close quarters under sail
      2) It impedes the tactic of crash-stop by rounding up with the boom hauled square outboard by a toerail vang — or the tactic of heaving to under main only with the same arrangement (not widely known these days, but very useful)
      3) It can make it more difficult to avert a broach during a gust, because the heeling force cannot be eased to quite the same extent when power reaching

      I wonder if you would be better addressing the issues with the runners you have, by:

      a) Fitting a keeper to prevent the T-terminal (or what have you) popping out
      b) Reorganising the stowage position of the ‘nascent stay’ so it does not impede the main

      Running backstays can be a nuisance, but they make the rig wonderfully snug and stable in hard weather when they’re both set up (either because you’re under staysail only, or because the main is reefed so that the head is below the junction of the runners with the mast).

      If you find them a hassle, in lighter conditions they could perhaps be set up in the location you describe, as “after intermediate” stays, and left there: if it’s a good enough location for a permanent stay, it’s more than sufficient for a light weather runner.

  28. Paul C

    One thing about rigging I am sure of is that it is best if it suits the boat and especially your particular sailing habits and preferences. A well thought out deck hardware layout can make your boat well suited your preferences and common usage. A deck layout also does not have to be completely static. it can be made a bit more flexible to suit different conditions with addition of a few pieces of hardware where needed. Existing hardware can also sometimes be re-tasked for purposes other than the intended one. Most experienced sailors are pretty resourceful though and are well aware of these things.

    For head sails, it is hard to beat a roller foiling system for convenience but not efficiency in terms of driving power per square foot. That trophy would go to a high tech racing sail made from low stretch materials on a head foil. The same high tech sail on hanks would also out preform a roller furling sail. The reason is that the design required to make a sail roll up neatly is not also a design that has the right shape to maximize lift.

    On my small 25 foot boat I have opted to stay with hanks all these years. This is partly because I raced but also because of maintenance costs and reliability. I do not think I have ever seen a furling system that did not jam up at least once for the boat owner. If I did allot of cruising, I would have a double, side by side, head stay arrangement and use hanks.

    I recall once I helped transport a 35 foot Hunter to Cleveland for winter storage. At the end of the voyage after we pulled in behind the breakwater wall we found the head foil jammed. It was blowing about 25 knots . We couldn’t do anything with it, it wouldn’t roll up and we couldn’t drop it. Our final solution, after dropping the main, was to motor around in circles until enough of it was furled so that we could manage rolling the rest of the sail tack around the foil by hand. Coincidentally, a Cleveland Browns football game was being played at the waterfront stadium. There was a Goodyear Blimp above displaying advertisements on it’s side and transmitting live TV broadcasts of the game from above. Later that day in the marina pub we related our troubles to a few fellow sailors. They had been watching the game and remarked, so you were the guys going around in circles out there. Apparently we caught the eye of the blimp camera and game commentators were wondering why we were going in circles. They were wondering if we were nuts. We probably were. We had started the journey by removing a foot of snow off the deck and sailed 30 miles through a blizzard with fifty foot visibility in four foot waves and ended the journey going in circles in the Cleveland Harbor.

  29. Hoyle Hodges

    Lot’s of great comments and ideas on this subject. I sail gaff rigs and love them. I believe the advantages of this rig outweigh the disadvantages. My first “gaffer” was a Tahiti Ketch modified with a cutter headsail rig with removable inner stay, gaff main, gaff top sail and marconi mizzen. My current boat is a 59′ Pinky Schooner with jib on a club, gaff foresail and gaff main. I like the ability “scandalize” a gaff rig to rapidly reduce sail area, this is accomplished by lowering the peak of the gaff until it hangs down vertically, giving you a triangle shaped sail of about 50-60% of normal sail area. The other advantage of the gaff rig, is you can reef it under any wind direction as gravity works and the gaff always comes down as you slack the halyards. The other advantage of a two master be it Schooner, Yawl, or Ketch is the ability to drop one sail completly if winds suddenly change and continue on making headway under “Jib and Jigger”. I find I do this more often than reefing, as its faster, gets the boat back on her lines quickly, and still allows you to have a balenced sail plan without a bunch of weather helm. Then you can decide which reef point to put in, and do it with the sail down and not flogging you to death. The only line I have in the cockpit is the main sheet. All peak and throat halyards are lead to pin rails (love it) and the jib is self tending on the crosslog with the sheet cleated on the foremast, halyard and downhaul to the pinrail. With the main and foresail laced around the mast, there are no jams going up or down, and so little friction that only a single block is needed for both peak and throat halyards making raising and lowering the sails a breeze. I don’t have any turnbuckles either, just lanyards and deadeyes with lashingings. If any part of my rig fails, I can fix it with line and seine twine for the most part. No winches, no jam cleats or rope cluthes, simplicity at its most simple. Yes, I do not singlehand my 59′ schooner, but with the wife aboard we can handle all tasks in any weather. I have considered roller furling for the jib, as we have an 11′ bowsprit and I have been on the end of it pulling down the jib in 35 knots of wind after the top hank came loose from the stay making it impossible for the downhaul to pull it down. On the other hand I like the simplicity of a hanked on sail. I’m currently investigating how to rig a “bonnet” which traditionally was used to remove around 1/3 to 1/2 of the jib’s sail area on Pinky Schooners. It seems to be a lost technique, I’ve only got one picture of it and for a traditional rigged boat with long bowsprit it makes perfect sense. I believe we have a lot to learn from our fore fathers who created some amazing, simple technology that worked everytime, all the time. More complex does not mean better, I love my GPS but know how to use a sextant and reduce a sight to find my position. I also carry a lead line and full charts for my sailing area (currently Puget Sound) as I have had my depth sounder fail just when I needed it, considering the 16′ tideal range we have here. I have sailed on friends boats with lines led aft, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I think it is more a function of having a well thought layout, very robust gear, and lot’s of practice using it which determines how successful your all lines led aft setup is. Personally give me two sticks and a gaff rig, but to each his own.

    1. Colin Sarsfield

      The Pardey’s have a nice discussion of their bonneted jib in the Cost Conscious Cruiser:


      I also recall Montissier referring to bonnets when he was sailing on Joshua. If you google “sail bonnet jib” there’s some very old sailing and sail making books that google has archived with some info, too. I think bonnet’s are quite intrigued for the cruiser who wants to save weight/space/cost and maximize their jib’s usefulness in different wind ranges. One may well be in my future and could even be used with a furler, if constructed carefully.

  30. Trevor

    I am just now looking to learn how to sail. I am planning on taking classes here in CA. I hope some day to buy a sailboat.
    I just want to say thank you for putting this information up online. I am learning a LOT by reading your stories and other people’s responses.
    Thanks again

  31. Mauricio

    I usually said: “if you don´t like to be on deck hoisting your main then you should buy a motorboat”

    if you sail alone in a big sailboat +33ft then it´s understandable, but in small sailboat is totally unnecessary.

  32. Robert

    I agree that certain lines should definitely not be lead back to the cockpit and that in many cases a simple boat to operate is a safer boat. I am almost always single handing my boat and also reef often and sometimes need to reef fast. . For this reason, I have my reef lines lead back to the cockpit. I can reef MUCH faster this way. Also, if one has issues organizing their lines in the cockpit, line bags are an option. I cruise with my wife and twin six year olds, therefore it is imperative that I maintain a safe but tidy boat. Clearly there is no one correct answer and each sailor needs to figure out what works best for them and their boat.
    BTW I am not a fan of reefing mainsails due to the jamming issues and the danger that it presents. I use a dutchman system and it works great; even in heavy air.

  33. roverhi

    Have led the main halyard, topping lift, tack and clue reefing lines, vang and outhaul back to the cockpit. Consider it the best thing I’ve done for the boat. Can reef in a couple of minutes from the protection of the dodger. Have never had an issue that forced me to go forward. Reefing is double line, separate lines for clew and tack and has worked superbly. Extremely easy to pull the leech down with the tack reefing line then haul in the clew most of the way before winching the final couple of feet.

    Always found it interesting, as in the Chinese Curse meaning of interesting, to reef at the mast. Fighting against a bucking boat, strong winds whipping the sail into a frenzy and constantly soaked with spray while trying to stay perched on the cabin top just isn’t my thing.

    All the foresail halyards and spinnaker pole hoists, etc are at the mast. Find dealing with these sails and hardware usually requires me to be on the foredeck. Can’t imagine trying to change a roller furling sail or spinnaker solo with the halyard at the cockpit.

    Make it a hard and fast rule to make a thorough inspection of the boat from stem to stern at least twice a day on a long passage. On the last sail to Hawaii had to crack the whip on myself as ran wing and wing for 12 days, jibed once and never really had a course change. Did tie in a reef once cause it was so easy and I was bored. Can’t wait for the Karma to catch up with me on the sail to Alaska.

    Have sailed on a couple of boats under 30′ feet with single line reefing. To put it politely, not a fan. Took two people, one on deck, to reef because of the friction of the way too many cringles and turns the reefing line took.

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  35. Charlie

    I don’t usually read blogs, especially one with a lot or replies (there’s usually too much “noise”). Thanks for starting this thread, the original thought and the comments are very informed and useful. Thought provoking.

    Experience: no kidding there are too many inexperienced (no experience) “sailors” out there who have big boats they have no clue about. Just like the cars on the road, with people who have no clue how to drive and no interest in any courtesy. I HATE regulation, BUT you can’t fly into clouds without an instrument rating and you can’t fly a Travelair without a multi-engine rating.

    Going Forward: JACKLINES and Harness! The SECOND thing I did when I outfitted my C+C 30 for blue water sailing was to put stem to stern jacklines on both sides of the boat. This was even more useful for local single-handed sailing I did often (though they were never used after going overboard, thankfully, though they should have been – see below). As soon as anyone needs to leave the cockpit under way, they simply “hook up” to the jacklines and have complete movement on deck WHILE BEING ATTACHED TO THE BOAT. This, of course, presumes they have their harness or harness embedded jacket on.

    The first thing I did when outfitting my C+C30 was to cut off the roller furler from the headstay. It was an early segmented aluminum extrusion (sections of which I adapted to closet hangers). I replaced the leftover hank sails with #2 luff tape and put a plastic HeadFoil2 system on the forestay. This gave me TWO slots on the headstay. As this system was new back in 1981, I have no idea if it still exists and I’m sure the roller furling systems have evolved since then! BUT, as with a car, you need to “shift gears” with a sailboat when the conditions warrant (the WEATHER/WIND). A 150% genoa is not going to cut it in a blow and a working jib will not get you “there” in light air. More importantly, how many people carry STORM SAILS? You know? That REALLY heavy dacron sail with huge rope rings, wire rope in the leech, and triple stitched seams?

    The third thing I did was run everything from the mast (except spinnaker pole rigging) back under the dodger to sheet stoppers. There were triple sheet stoppers on both sides of the cockpit with a winch behind each. This was a holdover to my racing days and the fact that when I went on a cruise I had a full crew but when I was single handing (often) it was “easier.” BTW, this put holes in my deck that increase the likelihood of water penetration. In fact the reason I read this blog was I was just about to do the same thing to the new to me J-24 I just bought.

    I am reminded of the time Sam and I went sailing to Block Island from Cape Cod. On our way back from Cutty Hunk to Osterville I decided at 6 AM it was a beautiful September morning and we should fly the tri-radial. Both of us being experience racing sailors, we immediately agreed. As the wind freshened we loved the sleigh ride – until it REALLY started to freshen. Time to douse the spinnaker. Releasing the spinnaker halyard sheet stopper was pointless with a fouled halyard!!! East and West Chop and shoals were approaching as was the coast of Menemsha. I had to go aloft with Sam at the winch and tiller. While I was cleated to the mast Sam had to go forward to pull in the spinnaker when I cut the halyard. Just as I cut the halyard, a gust came up and it pulled Sam overboard (no harness, of course, notwithstanding my jacklines and the harnesses in the cabin). I had a GREAT VIEW of the cliffs that I was about to run aground on but somehow Sam managed to grab onto a spinnaker sheet and haul himself up while the boat was sailing itself down a narrow passage at hull speed under the main. Had our rig been cleated at the mast I have no doubt it would have been easier to know the spinnaker halyard was fouled, but the winch at the cockpit didn’t care. Of course it was my fault that Sam had not donned his harness before going forward – after all we weren’t really “blue water sailing” at the time, just an extended “day sail.”

    Iron Genny: whether an outboard or inboard, most sailors today ASSUME their “auxiliary” power is the sole method of landing on moorings and entering slips, etc. WRONG! How often to we shoot moorings (or even docks) under sail these days???? When we were learning on dinghies, it was the only way we could land. But, as mentioned above, this is seldom the case today. I remember one day we took a nice sail to from Edgartown to Chap
    paquidick Island Beach in a gorgeous Nautor Swan. As we hauled anchor we got no power from the engine. Reverse had caused the prop shaft to part from the engine and nearly exit the stuffing box!!!! A dive below helped to secure the prop with a line to the transom, but we would have no power heading back to Edgartown. As we approached the harbor under sail, tacking around the traffic, we headed toward Edgartown Marine Dock – again – under sail. As the Dockmaster looked at us in horror he could not believe we planned to land on his dock. We did so without incident because it was not unusual for me to shoot moorings and docks under sail – just to hone my skills as a sailor. Skills come in handly.

    Bung plugs: How many sailors carry thru-hull wooden (or other material) plugs? If your hoses fail and your seacocks are frozen (because you haven’t operated or lubricated them) or worse yet your gatevalve stems break – do you have a electric and manual bilge pump that will keep up with a 1-1/2″ hole water intrusion? If you have a plug that fits – you do……………..forget updating your flares for their expiration date, a wooden plug has no expiration date, but it could mean life or death. Talk about simple solutions to terrifying problems!

    I agree with others here, the days when dingy sailors graduated to larger boats seems to be over. This is not necessarily a good thing, especially when you can borrow money and but a huge plastic tub with all sorts of electronics.

    Speaking of electronics…………

    …………..I remember in the days of LORAN and RDF and depth finder being in a 0 Viz fog in the shipping channel off NYC Narrows. We dropped anchor to wait it out next to a gong with a big RADAR reflector hoisted at the mast truck. A big cabin cruiser approached us to “ask us where we were!!!!” It was a delivery captain transiting a brand new yacht and his electronics had gone out. Imagine how he felt having to ask a sailor for directions! But why hadn’t he been keeping an updated chart with his way points? What about Time and Distance? Today with cheaper and cheaper GPS and integrated weather, RADAR, SONAR, GPS, and DVD/Stereo – along with are Smart Phone Aps – I worry about being in my J-24 if a fog comes in and all of these boaters decide to just “make for home” and their batteries run dry (or they really never practice using all their “aids to navigation.”

    I’ll admit to being old school. And I sold my C+C twenty years ago. In retirement I just want to do some gunk holing around the Gulf of Maine, where I used to love sailing to from Cape Cod. But I worry about both sailors and motor boaters around me who have no training or experience in commanding their craft.

    This blog helped me decide NOT to lead all my lines aft as I had thought I might. And it convinced me to rig jacklines again, especially since I’ll be single handing a lot.

    As for roller furling. I know it’s convenient, but I just can’t let myself install it. So what if I have to go forward to change jibs? You can bet I’ll have my self-inflating vest attached to the jacklines if I’m single-handing. But for those days when I’m out sailing with capable friends, I’ll know I can get optimal speed out of my little boat with the right sails and trim. I’ll also be shooting moorings and docks under sail. The iron genny will get as little use as possible. To me, that’s what it’s all about. Otherwise, why not get a stinkpot?

    Sorry, perhaps I have contributed “noise” to this blog. I hope not.

    Shiver me aluminums!

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  37. Florian

    We’re sailing an old 1923 Huon Pine gaff ketch in the Great Barrier Reef – “Sea Scout” is quite a whopper with 22 m LOA and 17 m LOD. But: the only reason why we have two lines going aft from the bow is that we have a furler for the jib, a fancy later addition to the boat. We most likely will retail a furler, but I’ll swap it against a classical bronze Wykeham-Martin furler, which is more in line with the ship. Apart from that every sail is hoisted manually (“toughen up, princess…”) and all halyards stay with the masts – easy & safe.

    Before caring for “Sea Scout” I sailed on a huge variety of medium- and large-sized boats, all of them having lines leading aft, and in many cases quite an obstacle in bad wheather – you either trot on them & flop over, or get entangled, not to mention that it looks messy.

    There are a lot of reasons for preferring one or the other, but we’re happy with our tidy solution.

  38. Capt Don Q

    Hi Ben,
    Nice blogs and videos. You guys do a nice job. However…regarding the issued of lines led aft, I have to agree to disagree. I have sailed and owned sailboats rigged both ways and have sailed both types in good and bad conditions (reefing). I have to lean towards lines led aft. Yes there are times when I must go and clear a snag, but the other 90% of the time, I just haul away from the cockpit and I’m all set.
    In poor, cold, rainy, snowy, dark, weather, I really appreciate that fact. Regarding reefing, I am truly amazed how many people approach that task the wrong way. Unles it is done properly, you often get a poorly set sail. First rule; always pull the main down to tension the reef, not up.
    I reef this way:
    1) ease mainsheet, preventers, vang (whatever you have) 2) raise end of boom to reef cringle height using proper topping lift 3) tension reefing line so aft cringle is tight to boom and properly placed cheek block 4) ease main to reef mark and cleat it off 5) haul main down and tension luff properly. 6) ease topping lift and re-trim the main
    Tada…properly reefed main. It literally takes less than 5 minutes with very little hard work. When its convenient and if necessary, tie in the gaskets and you’re done.
    I do this from the cockpit (except tie in the gaskets). I have 3 reefs in my main. It reefs so easily that I do it almost as simply as triming the sails. Just another set of lines to haul. I use wind vane steering (Cape Horn) so I reef a lot to keep the boat balanced.
    I think a boat that is properly set up (cabintop jacklines, short elastic “Y” tethers, permanent boom preventers, etc.) is a lot easier to sail and a lot safer. Being at the mast while my feet are being washed out from under me or drenched and airborne at the foredeck doesn’t seem to be the better, safer idea. Not to me anyway.
    I often use the lines run along the cabintop as a great handhold or hook my feet under them to hold position when moving about the deck. Instead of a tripping hazard they are often a very dependable hand/foot-hold. The lines led aft are only about 10′ longer that when led to the mast with tails. Not very much extra money at all compared to the safety and comfort they offer me and I am meticulous about hanging each line in its proper place. They are color coded as well to keep things organized or when I have a guest aboard…”Pull the red line.”
    I have properly run jacklines on my cabintop with a good harness and very short elastic tethers, so I tour my deck and check rigging et al routinely. Probably not during a storm in the dark though unless it lasts a few days.

    I think when I get older I will have even stronger opinions about it.

    Smooth Seas,


  39. Fred Roswold

    Should you lead your lines back? Only if your leads are clear and the friction is low. Halyards, reefing lines, controls lines…if they can’t go just about straight to a winch it’s going to be hard work to use them. Cabin top main sheets? Almost impossible to pull the main in or let it out. Single line reefing? Tangle city (try it on a dark night in a 40kt squall). Even roller furling isn’t easy on many boats. We went out recently on a 42ft racer cruiser and we were astonished at how hard everything was to work compared to our very basic 43 ft race boat. We are in our late 60’s but we can do everything we need to do on our boat pretty easily. Yeah, there are times when going forward seems like going to work, but at least I know it’s not likely to end up in a flogging tangle.

    So our boat is simple and fun to sail and most of the lines do lead back in a straight line and close to some big winches. Yes, sailing without roller furling or even lazy jacks involves some work (like folding sails when we get back to the dock) but sailing, for a couple thousand years, has always been work. For us, sailing our simple boat is a delight and when we put the dodger down and have the wind in our faces, we’re really having fun. When I see all those boats motoring around and not sailing I wonder why they need all those conveniences, or why they even have a sailboat.

    If you don’t want to do some work, stay home and watch TV.


    1. Knut Garshol

      Hi Fred,
      I think you pretty much hit the nail on the head. Of course, a lot of readers will not like to hear it, or admit to you or themselves that you are right, but so what.
      I also think that the apparent resistance against going forward on deck is a bit of a mistake. First of all, regardless of conveniences, there will never be any guarantee against having to go forward, so better face it and don’t let it complicate things unnecessarily.

  40. alaskanalain

    I have a haida 26,. My first boat had the lines led aft, it was small and easy to sail, but when I went up front the motor would run dry so it needed lines aft.
    My 26 foot is tricky for the following reasons, I hope you have advice.
    To raise the sails, in all but the calmest conditions, I motor into the wind, kick the motor into neutral, with the rudder tied off and main uncleated I have to make a mad dash past the dodger to the mast. I uncleat the halyard and hoist as quick as humanly possible. At the three quarter hoist mark the boat has already turned hard and the boom swings one way or the other, by the time I cleat and make the mad dash back the boat already has a healthy wind around stern and is tipping hard, which makes for an uncomfortable and scary ride, often towards rocks. After the clanging of untied pots and mugs and feeling like a rag doll I manage to get the motor throttle up and the rudder uncleated making my way around, back to windward, the whole process is repeated getting the jib up, often worse this time around. It also seems to seldom stop raining where I live (southeast Alaska) so being whipped in the eye by a freezing hoodie also complicates things.
    Is there something obvious, a little trick perhaps, that I am missing?

    1. Andrew T

      A couple of options I would suggest:

      One would be to get underway with a headsail, and see if it is possible, by experimentation, to set the helm at such a position that the course remains stable for long enough to raise the main.

      Be mindful that in a boat this size, the heading will change depending on trim, both fore and aft and side to side. This will of course be different because of where you are standing as you pull up the main, so it may be necessary to fudge the helm angle a bit (by experimentation) to allow for that.

      Another option would be, having put up the headsail, to heave to under headsail alone in order to raise the main. This can be done several ways, but the least challenging, if there’s a fair breeze, is to get underway under headsail (as above) and then to slacken the loaded sheet while tightening the other sheet to haul the sail across the front of the mast, at the same time counteracting (by pushing the tiller down to leeward) the bow’s tendency to bear away from the wind.
      Eventually you end up with the jib hauled all the way to windward, and the tiller lashed fully down to leeward. The boat should sit quietly, without any attention to the helm or the sheet, while you do what needs to be done with the mainsail.

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  42. Nathan

    I know this is an old post but I was wondering what type of system do you recommend for your mainsheet? I know there are many people in love with their travelers but I also know that they often tend to break, diminish cockpit space and/or require special tracks on top of the companionway which would then require more lines running aft. Recently purchased a 37′ and needing to redo the rigging and I agree that simpler is better. Most larger boats I see without travelers have the main sheet cleated right in front on the steering wheel but I have seen one with a Crosby rig setup but only that one (also cant find anything on-line about a Crosby on a larger boat). Any info appreciated thanks

  43. poygmnts7

    Have led all the mainsail lines aft. Can reef in a minute from the protection of the dodger. No more having to go forward in big seas and high winds to wrestle with a flogging sail and bucking boom reefing the main. Don’t know where any complications come from. Just longer lines and a block or two to get it back to the cockpit. Never a problem as long as it’s rigged properly. Having the mainsail control lines aft has made reefing so easy, do it sometimes just for fun. No longer hold off reefing or shaking one out. It’s the best change I’ve made to the boat and would never go back to at the mast reefing. All headsail halyards are at the mast. Changing headsails, etc seems to always involve a lot of back and forth from the headstay to the mast. Sailing single handed wouldn’t want to have to add the hike back to the cockpit to raise or lower a sail. If you always sail with a crew and trust them not let a halyard fly at the wrong time, might be an argument for running the halyards back. Tried having the foresail halyards at the cockpit but soon abandoned as way way too much of a hassle.

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