Old Dogs and New Tricks – retrofitting an older boat for Short Handed Sailing

I recently had the pleasure of sailing 30 miles on my mate’s Jeanneau Sun Fast 3600, down Port Phillip Bay (Melbourne, Australia) the day before he set off on the double-handed Melbourne to Osaka race (5,500 miles). It was a revelation. He had already completed the single handed OSTAR in it, but he bought it brand new; the yachting equivalent of plug and play.

Basically, you take off the bubble wrap off and go single handed sailing. Everything is where it is supposed to be. No modifications required, this is a boat that is laid out perfectly for single-handed sailing.

It made me think about the modifications we had done to our yacht, to make it easier to sail short-handed, either racing or cruising. And I am steadfastly of the opinion that it there is little distinction, when it comes to setting up your yacht, between racing and cruising; all any of us want is a boat that is easy to manage. In racing it may mean a place on the podium, in cruising it just means you enjoy it more with less stress and effort.

Our yacht is a 34 year old Farr 11.6, built in Australia. They were sold as a Farr 38 in New Zealand, South Africa, and Canada. She is a delight to sail, and relatively fast for her diminutive stature and comfortable interior. I bought her thirteen years ago with no intention of sailing her fully crewed. But unlike the Jeanneau Sunfast, she was not set up to sail alone. More like a crew of eight. But over the years we have refined, moved things, added fittings. The boat is a lot simpler now, and the addition of a few extra cleats, some saddles, and some shock cord, have made life a lot easier. It means we do better on the race track, and life is more relaxed when crewing. As stated, easy sailing brings rewards when racing or cruising.

Shock cord on mast for reefs:

We have bog-standard slab reefing on Apriori. The main halyard is marked for the reefs, but my biggest frustration when sailing solo, was hooking the reefed tack under the bull horns, then racing back to tighten the halyard to find that the tack had fallen out of the bull horns. Then having to run forward again….

There is an easy fix. I attached a saddle to the mast above the gooseneck, which has a loop of shock cord. Once you put the reefed tack onto the bullhorns, put the loop of shockcord around it, and it won’t move. You can then go back to the cockpit and tighten the halyard.

reefing shock cord on tack

Saddles on boom for reefing points:

With our slab reefing, making sure the clew reefing pennants were in the right place was a constant source of angst. We have two mainsails; a carbon racing mainsail with two reefs, and a dacron delivery/cruising main with three reefs. On the starboard side of the boom, there are two saddles in just the right place for the reefing lines to go through for the racing main. There is three on the port side for the cruising main. Outcome: Reefs go in perfectly, first time, every time. #relax. I am totally in love with my labeller, so we know exactly where to put them.

reefing saddles cruising by three







Clutch on the mainsheet:

This was the oddest thing on the boat when I bought it, and I swore it was the first thing I would get rid of. But after 13 years, it is still there. We have a four to one mainsheet, with a six to one fine tune. The coarse tune at four to one is great. When you come around the bottom mark, you just pull in the slack quickly, and then pop it around the windward primary windward winch and grind. The low ratios means it comes in with speed. You have to have the traveller locked off up and down to make this work.

And coming around the top mark is a pleasure. Lucas passes me the course tune, I take it around the tertiary winches next to the wheel and make it off in the self-tailer. He releases the clutch. And as we go round the top mark, I ease the mainsheet off the secondary winch with one hand, while steering with my left (then pull the brace up, make off the kicker, and tail the spinnaker halyard, then pull on the spinnaker sheet).

On a boisterous two sail reach, then we just play the course tune on the windward primary winch.

mainsheet clutch and winch.jpeg

Cleats on the mast:

I copied this idea from my friend Jen, who owns the well-travelled custom 80’s Sayer 10.6, Soothsayer. But it also appears on the Jeanneau Sunfast. There are two large cam cleats on either side of the mast, near the base. Primary purpose, is that when you are solo, you can pull a spinnaker (which has been woolled) to the top, from the mast. You then cleat it off at cam cleat, run back to the cockpit, and pull the slack through the clutch. Then pull on the sheet and off you go. The trick with this is making sure that the cam cleat is in a place that when the halyard is tightened to the clutch, it automatically releases the cam. (You don’t want to be trying to pull it down when the cam is still engaged – we have done this). For our boat, it meant having the cam low down near the turning block.

It’s also useful when hoisting the jib or main on your own. You can pull it up as far as you can from the mast, put it in the cleat, then run back to the cockpit and use the cabin top winches to hoist the rest of the way up.

Kicker next to the brace:

With a conventional pole and pole downhaul (or kicker) system, you cannot touch one without the other. When I bought the boat, the kicker was on the cabin top. I moved it to just aft of the primary winch. There are two benefits. One is that you can adjust the brace in one hand, you can adjust the kicker with the other.

The second benefit is that when Lucas is up the front pulling a kite up, I can reach the kicker from behind the wheel and make sure the pole is tacked down. Life is easy. If you refer to the photo below, you can seek the kickers next to the brace.

Tweakers in reach of the helm:

We used to dip pole gybe, but this was near on disasterous two up. So (after my hernia operation) we exchanged the heavy aluminium pole for a carbon one, and never looked back. Lucas throws it almost effortlessly from side to side, and I lock the tweakers down to keep the kite under control. All from the convenience of my steering position. If you refer to the photo next below, it shows the tweakers.

Cleats at the back of the cockpit:

I have installed two cam cleats at the back of the cockpit on starboard side. Quite often I get asked what these are for. I can give numerous examples, but they are most often used when dropping the spinnaker. As we approach the leeward mark, Lucas puts the spinnaker pole topping lift once around the cabin top winch, and passes it back to me and I cleat it in one of the cam cleats. He then takes the spinnaker halyard, wraps it around the winch in the same way (if it is windy then twice) and passes it back to me, and I cleat it in the second cleat. He then opens both of the clutches.

He positions himself to pull down the spinnaker, and then when we make the call to drop, I release the spinnaker halyard out of the cam cleat, lassoy it off the winch (if windspeed appropriate) and control the drop. Once the spinnaker drop is undercontrol, I then release the topping lift and drop the pole neatly to the deck.

cleats at back of cockpit 1.jpeg

Moving the primary winches:

Our yacht is wheel steered, and this definitely had downsides for short-handed. You are “stuck behind the wheel”.  But personally, on a boat this size, I prefer wheel steering. When you are surfing at 20 knots (which we do), I appreciate the gearing. It was easy and cheap to move the primary winches back 12 inches. This made an incredible difference in so many ways. When we are sailing double-handed to windward, I can reach forward while steering and trim the headsail, and when tacking, release the outgoing sheet while Lucas pulls the new one on. It makes an incredible difference. Similarly, in spinnaker drops, I can reach forward to release the brace without leaving the helm.

If I am on my own, I can steer, release, tack and sheet in all from aft.

A by-product of moving the winches, is that (if we ever start sailing fully crewed, which we probably won’t) the primary winches are now away from the mainsheet and traveller. Again making life easy.

reaching winches from the wheel.jpeg

Bank of clutches by the helm:

Both of our tacklines, for the code zero and the assyo spinnaker, as well as the jib furler, are on clutches within reach of the wheel. Behind the clutches are pulleys, so that I can divert the lines to the self tailing spinnaker winches, again within reach.

clutches on side deck.jpeg

Mainsail track diverts for Trysail:

Again, this is something that people look at my boat and think is weird. But trust me, putting up a staysail in 60 knots on your own; it works. (I’ve done it twice). The track for the mainsail comes down the mast, and then at the gooseneck goes to port and runs two feet down the mast (below a side entering gate). So you can drop the mainsail and push it to the side, open the gate, and hoist the trysail above it. The mainsail is contained on the track on the mast. Simple, but fantastic solutions.

I understand that this is not an easy thing to retrofit to an existing boat, but it is great to use.

trysail track with gate.jpeg

Bowsprit with anchor guard:

We have two bowsprits, long (for PHRF racing and cruising) and short (for IRC). But we needed to have a solution that allows us to retract a cruising anchor, via the electric winch and keep it on the bow. I had a difficult time explaining this to contractors, who found it difficult to get around the concept of a boat that has a bowsprit and a bow roller/electric winch as well.

What we ended up with is a very neat system; two light interchangeable bowsprits that bolt onto the bow, made of carbon. While carbon is extremely light and strong, it cannot take any impact (such as that of a anchor change being retrieved over it). The solution was to offset the bow roller to port, and cover the area of the bowsprit that is impacted by the anchor with a kevlar barrier.


The Shopping Bags:

We have two large bags, the opening at the top is the same size as the front hatch, and there is four snapshackles sewn into the corners. It has a webbing bottom to let the water run out. The snapshakles hook onto four saddles at the corners of the hatch inside the cabin. We can easily store our frozo (fractional code zero) or genoa staysail in these (sails that tend to be flown downwind and in reasonable weather, hence avoiding water ingress to the front cabin). To hoist, we just open the hatch, plug in and launch directly out of the hatch. The sail comes down the same way, then you can go forward in the cabin, unhook the bags from the saddles, hook them together and the sail is stored!

You can then hook in another bag with another sail, and off you go!

No excuses:

When we race, I have a “no double handed excuses” rule. That means that we aim to have our kites go up as fast as anyone else’s, and come down as late as anyone else. I’ve found that quite often we can do this, but the key is to have strong processes, both on the boat and between us, and to make sure that every sail change or mark rounding is organised and well thought through. And I rebut that this is only beneficial for racing. If you are cruising and you can effortlessly slip a reef in when a squall comes through, it makes for harmonious sailing. Apriori will never be finished; she will continue to evolve. As noted, our yacht was a standard, eighties cruiser racer that we have effectively turned into a fun, single or double hander, racer or cruiser, with limited effort and outlay.

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