sailing - page 11

2.11 Raising, Unfurling the sails

You have motored your vessel from the slip into open water and ready to unfurl the sails. The procedures for unfurling sails are reasonably standardized; however, every sailor will, over time, develop their own routine. On modern sailboats, main sails are commonly stored – furled – either by being:

  • Lashed onto the boom

  • Rolled into the mast.

  • Rolled onto the boom

There are many opinions as to which is the preferred method, but for now, you will find that each has its pluses and minuses. Sailing is rife with opinions that add greatly to the excitement of this sport.

Unfurling main sail

In preparation to unfurling the mainsail, head the vessel into the wind. Depending on wind conditions, you may wish to keep just enough speed, from the engine, to maintain steerage. The mainsail is unfurled first. When furled it is attached to the mast (luff) and boom (foot). Unfurling is done by either raising the sail from the boom, or hauling the sail out from the mast. The following steps provide a guide when the mainsail in furled in the mast.

Step 1 Motor into the wind maintaining steerage.

Step 2 Release main furling line.

Step 3 Release tension on the boom vang and mainsheet.

Step 4 Pull (haul) on the outhaul line – This brings the mainsail out of the mast along the boom.

Step 5 Tighten the mainsail against the boom by tensing the outhaul line.

Step 6 Trim the main sail and secure the mainsheet (line - rope).

If the mainsail is to be unfurled from the boom, you first attach the halyard and then raise the mainsail. Mainsails often have battens, semi-rigid slats that are inserted into pockets sewn on the sail. Battens help a sail to maintain its most efficient shape. Even “in mast” furling mainsails now contain battens.

Raising the mainsail

Still many boats these days do not have a roller-furling mainsail and you must therefore raise the sail up the mast by pulling down on the main halyard.

The following steps provide a guide for raising the mainsail.

Step 1 Get everything ready

  • Unzip sailbag.

  • Check your halyard.

  • Release lines holding your boom down.

  • Check (release) reefing lines.

Step 2 Head into the wind​

Step 3 Slow down 

Step 4 Pull halyard to raise mainsail.

Step 5 Look for vertical wrinkle or trough.

Step 6 Re-tension mainsheet and boom vang.

Slide gallery:

All the steps for raising the mainsail

Turning Off the Engine

Before you switch off the engine, bear away from the wind and get the boat sailing so that you have maneuverability. Ok, now you are sailing and may turn off the engine. You stop the engine using the “kill switch” which is often a simple pulled handle. A buzzer will sound and you are free to turn off the key. There are variations on this turning off the engine procedure, each peculiar to the vessel.

Setting a Course

Next decide where you want to go, i.e. select a heading (destination), such as a compass heading, a scenic spot in the bay, a distant idyllic island, or maybe a channel marker. When this decision has been made, you will next unfurl the head (jib) sail.

Unfurling head sail

Before starting to unfurl the headsail, it is best to have the downwind jib sheet wrapped around the winch 2 - 3 turns (wraps). Should the wind be strong, you may wish to head higher into the wind as the jib unfurls, to help control its unfurling motion. It is time to unfurl the headsail – jib. With your vessel headed windward, but not directly into the wind, the jib sail is easily unfurled. Make certain the jib furling line is loose and laid out so that it can pay out without tangling. Now you simply pull (haul) on the downwind jib sheet. As the headsail begins to fill with wind, it may unfurl rapidly by itself. After the jib is fully unfurled, use the winch handle to further haul (pull) in the jib sheet to establish the desired jib sail set. The tension necessary for the most efficient sail plan depends on the cut of the jib sail, wind speed and vessel heading.

Finally, check how the wind is hitting your vessel and trim both sails for efficiency. It is that simple.