Trail and Error or should I say terror!
Last December I was invited to join the ARC 2016 cross Atlantic trip on a wonderful Hallberg-rassy 40 called Enigma. The owner had contact with the sailmaker at Elvstrom Sails, who asked her if she would like to trial a prototype asymmetrical furling foresail.
I arrived to join Enigma in Portugal, there were to be four of us on board including the owner. A new bow sprit had been attached to accommodate the new sail. The new sail was raised to the top of the mast, and attached to the furling gear at the base. A continual loop line was then run back on the starboard side of the boat and attached to a pulley on the stanchion.
The sail was like a giant diamond, attached at the top and base of the asymmetrical sail, furling down a central spine. Our task was to test its capabilities, furling and unfurling under various wind states. Also to check what speed we could achieve under the lightest of winds and the various angles we could gain.
We set off for our six day passage to Gran Canaria, we were working three hour shifts, the wind angle was on our starboard stern quarter, variable from 7 knots to 15 knots we were able to use our main and the new sail from Elvstrom , which was a starboard tack and could pinch in at 25 degrees. The sea state was moderate. The wind had been slowly increasing, so as night fell we furled in the asymmetrical sail.
All went well until 3.30 A.M. the wind speed increased slowly to 24 knots, all but the skipper were asleep. He came down and woke everyone up saying that there was an emergency and we were to get fully dressed with lifejackets and safety lines.
We all mustered on deck, to discover that the new sail; had come lose from the furling gear on the bow. It was by now very windy, pitch black with slightly more than a moderate sea. The strength of the wind whipping at furled sail caused the sheets that were ties to the guard rail either side to pull up the guardrail from the deck on the port side.
It was imperative that we secured the asymmetrical sail to prevent further damage to the deck.
Three of us used our safety lines to secure ourselves before we went forward, the deck light was turned on to illuminate the issue. We tried to pull the sail back towards the boat, but by now the proto type sail from Elvestrom had started to seriously unfurl from the base. We just did not have the strength to pull the sail back towards the deck. One of the crew went to the mast, the idea being that he would lower the sail slowly whilst the two on the foredeck pulled the sail back on board.
All the best laid plans of men and mice, maybe due to tiredness, but certainly it was human error, he released the jammer fully, the next moment we lost the whole sail into the sea. You can image our initial thoughts. The sail was on the portside, which was the same side that no longer had the guardrail attached. To cut a long story short, inch by inch we retrieved the sail, and dumped it soaking into the fore cabin.
On arrival at Gran Canaria, some days later we discovered that the pin securing the furling gear and been put in the wrong way round and had not clicked into place.
Our next trip was from Gran Canaria to the Azores. Once again we put out the new asymmetrical foresail, we hauled the sail out with a spinnaker poleon the starboard side but once the wind reached 20 knots this snapped, we attempted to furl the gear back in, under such pressure we couldn’t furl the sail, in discussion we decided to lower the sail slowly and pull it onto the deck. Once again the Elvstom sail was dumped rather too quickly into the sea, this time into the sea on the starboard side (more human error and burnt fingers). This time we managed to retrieve the sail a little more easily, but it was placed in the sail bag and not seen again until the Verde Islands.
But we did realise our error, under stronger winds we should have passed one half of the sail through to the other side, so that it just created a foresail, then turned into the wind and furled it as you would a normal foresail , which in fact we did further into the trip.
I’m making it sound as though all we did was dump the sail into the sea; this wasn’t the case. We learnt to use the sail. We loosened and the tightened the tension on the foresail to work out which tension on the furling gear gave us the best angle, we found that dropping the sail about six inches from the top of the mast, gave the sail a better shape.
The furling gear, needed securing differently, so we played about securing and changing the way in which we secured the pulleys, enabling us to effectively furl and unfurl the sail one handed.
On our last stretch from the Verde Islands to Saint Lucia the wind veered from downwind to on our starboard stern quarter, using only the asymmetrical sail by Elvstrom we were noting that in exceptionally light winds such as six knots we were cruising frequently at the same speed as the wind. On one occasion we didn’t move or tweak the foresail for five days. We had mastered the new sail.
The ARC isn’t an actual race but you do declare your engine hours , and with our new sail being so good in light winds, Enigma came in fourth from Gran Canaria to the Verde Islands and second from the Verde Islands to St Lucia.
Would I recommend the new design Elvstrom sail, most definitely. Now the sail should come with a list of tried and tested instructions, all learnt the hard way, by trial and error with a few willing sailors, so you’ll all benefit from our experiences – good and bad.
If you have your own boat, and you would like help covering some of your boat costs, why not take a look at our website, Static Boat Holidays and see if we can help you.