As racing sailors, our adjustment to bluewater cruising hasn’t been without some challenges—especially for Brian. Racing, in some ways, is rather straightforward: spend as much money as you possibly can on the very best sails covering every conceivable wind angle and then collect your trophies. At least that’s how we remember it! Now we live aboard our St. Francis 50 catamaran and we’re trying to stretch our money as much as possible. That means we don’t have the perfect sail for every scenario. We’re very impressed with the sailing characteristics of our boat but we do have a few holes in our sail crossover/inventory. There are a number of reasons for this, primarily having to do with our unwillingness to run big gear at night or in big winds. We have two young boys aboard and we’re very conservative in how we sail. While fast is fun, easy is safe, and, well, easy!
That means we don’t fly our spinnaker at night or in stronger winds (our eyes start getting shifty when we see more than 20 knots true).
We also won’t fly our furling Code Zero/Screecher in winds over 15 apparent (around 25 true @ 130 AWA) due to its material and construction. Both of those sails are fantastic, covering all downwind angles and allowing us to comfortably sail at 10 to 12 knots in 20 knots of wind. The spinnaker is a really big sail, though, and is doused using a snuffer. This becomes rather challenging/intimidating to take it down in anything over 18 knots (true) with just the two of us. Add the standard 6’ to 8’ waves offshore, darkness, and two sleep-deprived adults and it’s rather obvious why we won’t fly it past 5 p.m.
That leaves us with our genoa and mainsail. This combination is “bulletproof” in terms of wind speed; we can use them from 6 knots to 40 knots but we do have some holes with this combination. When sailing downwind in the standard 15-25 knot trade winds, with an AWA between 120 and 160, we struggle. The main shadows the headsail and the headsail really isn’t designed for these deeper angles. We’re often forced to just sail under the main alone, or completely douse the main and just sail with the headsail using a barber-hauler led outboard to help with its trim. We’ve had great success with both the main and headsail, wing-on-wing, in winds up to 35 knots (true) and boat speeds of 12-15 knots, but we’re limited to a range of about 20 degrees (AWA 160-180) for that combo.
While we have no regrets about our decision to switch from a monohull to a catamaran, a monohull is able to pole out its headsail when running downwind and cover a rather large apparent wind angle of 60+ degrees (AWA of about 115-180+). Most catamarans don’t have that option and we’ve seen a number of interesting solutions to this, one being a twin headsail combination. The most common solution is having an extremely strong (at least 2.5oz) running headsail on a furler. Many cruising catamarans will use only this sail, foregoing the main so as to not block the wind to the headsail. Unfortunately, our boat didn’t come with this option and our budget doesn’t allow for a new sail at this time. So if you’re ever tracking us online and see us sailing only 6 knots downwind in 15-25 knots, know that it’s likely nighttime, we’re sailing between 120-160 AWA and my husband is stripping his gears about how slow we’re going!