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Sailboat Cruising – Different Types of Sails and Layouts



Sails and Layouts – Triangular Sails, Quadrilateral Fore-and-Aft Sails, Square Sails, and Modern Sails

New York (USA), September 02, 2017

Sails are of different types and layouts. Sails could be:

(I) Triangular Sails

These sails have three corners or points. The upper point is head and two lower points are tack and clew. Halyard is the line that raises the sail. This is attached to head. Tack is the forward point of lower part of sail. This is fixed to a specific point on the boat like deck in case of staysail or gooseneck in case of Bermuda rigged mainsail. Clew remains movable and is normally with running rigging. It is therefore attached to port and starboard jib sheets to control angle of sail to the wind.

Triangular sails are not perfect triangles. Sails normally have extra material on the outside as a line from head to clew. This extra material is roach and provides additional power and strength for any size of mast or boom. Roach normally keeps flapping in the wind, as it does not have any tension from any corners of sail. Most sailboats use battens as support for roach.

(II) Quadrilateral Fore-and-Aft Sails

Sails like Gunter, Gaff, Junk, and Lug have four sides and form quadrilateral fore-and-aft sails. One edge of this sail is leading as it is set fore-and-aft. The upper forward corner of this sail is throat, upper aft corner is peak, lower forward corner is tack, and lower aft corner is clew. Gaff rigged sails use two halyards to raise sails. Throat halyard raises forward end of gaff and peak halyard raises aft end of gaff.

Foot is the bottom edge of sail running almost parallel to deck. Foot is normally attached at tack and clew to a boom. Sail is loose-footed if not attached to boom. Head is upper edge of sail attached at throat and peak to yard, gaff, or sprit. The forward vertical edge of sail is luff, running along the mast. Leech is aft vertical edge of sail.



(III) Square Sails

A square sail is similar to a quadrilateral rigged sail. The topmost edge of a square sail is head. The side edges are leeches. If ship or boat is close-hauled, windward edge of sail is referred as luff. The two free corners of square sail are clews. Square sails have sheets attached to clews like triangular sails. These sheets are normally used in pulling sail down to the yard rather than to adjust angle made with the wind.

The bottom edge of sail is foot. Square sails have tacks and sheets although these do not constitute parts of the sail. Ropes attached to clews are clew lines and tackles attached to clew lines are cluegarnets or clewgarnets. These pull clews on to the mast while furling the sail.

(IV) Modern Sails

Modern sails are divided into three main types. These are mainsail, headsail, and downwind sail.

(a) Mainsail
Modern yachts like ketch, bermuda rig, and yawl boats have different types of sails. While sailing, mainsail remains hoisted constantly. Spinnakers and headsails are changed depending on specific weather for better speed and easier handling. Mainsails could be triangular or crosscut sails. If wind is very strong, surface of mainsails is reduced. Sometimes mainsails are folded and a trysail is hoisted to allow steerage without any danger to the boat.

(b) Headsail
Headsail is the main driving sail while going upwind. Genoa and Jib are the most common types of headsails. Headsails are of different types according to their usage. The weight of sailcloth and size of sail determine headsail number. It is numbered one to three as larger to smaller. Some headsails are specifically coded like windseeker, screecher, drifter, and storm jib.

(c) Spinnaker
These sails are used for reaching and running as in downwind sailing. These sails are very light and balloon-shaped. There are different types of spinnakers depending on shape, cloth weight, and area of sailcloth. Symmetrical spinnakers are best used on runs and dead runs. Asymmetrical spinnakers are best used in reaching when wind is at an angle from the side or to the boat.

Guide to Sailing and Ocean Cruising in a Medium Sized Yacht
The Complete Reference Guide to Sailing and Ocean Cruising in a Medium Sized Yacht


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