Dear George: lazy jacks 3

More on lazy jacks – here and here.

Dear George

I know you are looking forward to getting your new boat – and that amazing experience when you finally hoist the mainsail on your own boat. I had that moment on Blue Mistress in the summer of 2006

Full of excitement and anticipation, we left the mooring on the Tamar and motored a short way downstream to be free of the boats around us. We turned into the wind and I hauled on the halyard and up went the sail . . . and promptly jammed about half way up. Yes – you guessed it, lazy jacks again. The upper sail batten had caught beneath the upper block. So I let the sail down a little, and tried again. It got caught again. Tried again, this time more cunningly – watch . . . wait for the moment . . . up she goes!

What happened next? The engine was killed, the bow fell away, the sail caught the wind and we discovered that blissful, heart-lifting moment when wind and water and boat blend together. Did we think about lazy jacks then. Of course not. As a result, over the next few months, we went through the same circus every time we raised the mainsail – watch . . . wait for the moment . . . up she goes. Until I began to think about how unhandy it was, particularly if I was sailing solo.

When alone, I would release the halyard clutch, bring the boat into the wind, ease off the throttle, go to the fore end of the cockpit and hurriedly haul on the halyard to get the sail aloft before the bow fell away on the wind – inevitably the top batten got caught and, as the bow fell away, we would start to sail with the mainsail half set. Then it was back and forward, juggling between using the engine to bring the boat back into the wind and going forward to lower the sail, release the batten, and raise it before the batten danced yet again behind the lazy jack and we had to start the whole process all over again.

I thought of several possible ways round it:

  • A sail without battens would be fine – but that would mean altering the shape of the sail;
  • An autopilot to keep the boat motoring gently head to wind would work well – but that had to be rigged specially as I didn’t generally use it otherwise – a clunky solution;
  • On one occasion I loosened the lines to see whether the batten would shake itself free – no;
  • But loosening the lines did allow the sail to regain its shape when set;
  • The problem with this was that the lines were made fast to cleats either side of the mast, so, if I wanted to tighten them before lowering the sail, I had to spend time at the mast uncleating and recleating them;
  • So then I decided to lead them back to a pair of spare jamming cleats next to the halyard clutches;
  • Then I discovered that the thin line along the deck rolled under my feet – something that never happened with the thicker halyards. I learnt very quickly to avoid standing on it. It was another hazard, but worth it for the extra control from the cockpit, (see the previous post on lazy jacks);
  • I experimented with shortening the forward of the three lines on the boom. This pulled the cradle of lines downwards and forwards. It lessened (but not completely abolished) the snagging of the batten, but now the lower battens tended to spill out before the sail was down on the boom;

And then, no less than three years after I bought the boat, it suddenly occurred to me that all I had to do was to stow the lines against the mast when I removed the sail cover and I would never have to worry about raising the sail again, and that’s how it has remained – (and only the once did I forget to re-rig them before lowering the sail!)


I have just read in the February 2012 issue of Sailing Today a letter from a reader, Tony Waldeck, advocating lazy jacks as a good way of containing the bunt of a reefed mainsail. Yes, that’s a good idea, although I have yet to use it. He states. “Lazy jacks are the answer – but not the off-the-shelf kits that incorporate blocks. All-string arrangements will not chafe the mainsail.” (An off-the-shelf kit is rigged on Blue Mistress. You can see the blocks on the sail below).


There, George, you have it – almost everything I know about lazy jacks.

Judging by the amount of time and energy they have cost me, ‘lazy’ is a pretty poor description.

Good luck with your new boat.



p.s. This is where I look back and wonder why it took so long to reach such a simple solution. Maybe this is the most useful lesson.

The world’s full of experts and no doubt every one of them could have told me the answer. Solutions are simple, especially in the evening around the bar – it’s getting to them that’s the problem. It has to be the experience of solving problems that makes all solutions worth pursuing.

Over the years, I have read many, many ‘boat books’ and I use a lot of what I have found in them, but the most enjoyable aspects of sailing, and certainly the parts I’m best at, are those I have had to work out for myself.

The first sentence in A C Stock’s introduction to his book ‘Sailing Just For Fun’ reads: “This book is for the man who has read all the ‘How-to’ books and still finds that he cannot.” Well, the more I know, the more I find I cannot. I used to worry about this, but no longer – I’m having too good a time finding out.

. . . End

2 thoughts on “Dear George: lazy jacks 3

  1. Pingback: Dear George: lazy jacks 2 « bill's boatblog

  2. Pingback: No wind yesterday . . . « bill's boatblog

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