Folksong: Temporary sail ties

In 2009, I wrote a post on lazy jacks. In 2012, I posted another three posts on lazy jacks, here, here and here. Then in 2013 it occurred to me that I was being very slow on the uptake, the boat is small enough not to need them. So I removed them.

No lazy jacks means that a whole series of lines are no longer there to be tangled with but it brings to the fore those vulnerable minutes between lowering the mainsail and stowing it neatly, when the wind can get hold of the sail and blow sections of it over the boat or, worse, over the side. At the same time, there may be other boats in the vicinity, so attention is divided between containing the flapping sail and avoiding the possibility of a collision. Lazy jacks are designed to avoid this so, if I have decided that the boat doesn’t need them, what is the alternative? This is the solution that works well for me.

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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

Dear George: lazy jacks 2

Dear George

Back to lazy jacks. You say you want lots of detail, so this is what I do on Blue Mistress to lower and stow the sails before returning to the mooring where I would restow everything that needed restowing.

On the radio the other day, I heard Colin Dexter, who wrote the Inspector Morse series for television, say that, when writing a book, he definitely knew the beginning and the end of the story but the middle was always a muddle. Manoeuvres on the boat are the same – they have a beginning, a muddle and an end. It’s your job to manage the muddle – and to do that, you need to think your moves through first:

    • Put on your life-jacket and/or tether if you aren’t wearing one or the other already. The rule is: if the situation is such that you are beginning to wonder whether you should wear them – put them on. Many people wear them all the time.
    • Make sure you are out of the main fairway, and any traffic. Avoid the racing fleets. They appear en masse from nowhere. You need enough sea-room to drift downwind. It takes longer by yourself – (not always true, ed.). Keep an eye out for where the boat is and other boats are nearby.
    • Set the self-steering – by the time we get to downing sails, the self-steering gear on Blue Mistress has been stowed. I have a short line with heavy bungee loops at either end. The loops slip easily over the quarter cleats and and three or four coils of the line on the tiller will hold her on course for as long as it takes to go forward and return to the cockpit. The long keel helps.
    • Check that the way forward is clear – particularly the step onto the coach roof. One of the reasons for the upright ‘come-in’ on Blue Mistress rather than a wider sprayhood is that it makes it easy to step from the cockpit to the coachroof. Being older and less athletic, I need all the help I can get.
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    • If the lazy jacks have been stowed against the mast as in the image below, you will have to free them from around the mast cleat and reset them. So, first, you have to free the lazy jack lines from the jamming cleat next to the cockpit clutches.
    • Now let go the fore-sheet and free the foresail halyard.
    • Attach the tether to the jack-line (if appropriate), and go forward to catch the foresail, securing it against the safety lines. You will already have three lengths of shot-chord attached to the safety line. It takes a moment to secure the sail. (I use the port safety lines – perhaps because I am left-handed). By the way, if I’d known I was going to use this image for a demo, I’d have secured the genoa neatly. Here we have just left the mooring and the lazy jacks are stowed against the mast (see part three)
    • Image
    • Back to the cockpit. As you do so, check the lazy jacks are not caught up on the sail or boom.
    • Tighten the port fore-sheet to secure the clew of the foresail.
    • Then tighten the topping lift, lifting the boom so that it will clear the sprayhood. This may mean releasing the vang and the mainsheet if close-hauled.
    • Tighten the lazy jack lines as far as they will go, slipping them into the appropriate jamming cleats. The lines on the lee side of the sail will tend to flatten it. You may not be able to tighten these perfectly – meaning they will be loose when you drop the sail. This shouldn’t be a problem. They will hold the sail anyway.
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    • Collect the sail ties from the locker and disentangle them. If you stuff them in your pocket, pulling one out is likely to pull the whole lot out leading to a mad scrabble on the deck to stop them going over the side. And threading them through your belt can result in two or three coming out at once. Work out how you’re going to use them.
    • To drop the mainsail on Blue Mistress, the boat has to be headed into the wind. At anything over five degrees or so off the wind the sail slides will jam against the mast and the sail will be caught partly down. As the bow falls further off the wind, so the sail will start to drive the boat forward, jamming the slides even more. There is no choice but to return to the helm to bring it back into the wind.
    • At this stage, I let the traveller out as far as it will go. This allows more space on the coachroof to furl the sail. (I hadn’t thought about until now, but I tend to come up into the wind on a port tack, which leaves the boom out to starboard. I find it easier to stow the sail from this side of the boom – perhaps because I’m left-handed. I don’t know what other people do.)
    • When the boat has been turned into the wind, leave the helm and tighten the mainsheet to prevent the boom swinging uncontrollably while on the coach-roof. The boat will come up into the wind and the sail will start to flap. (If you assume that you will be on the windward side of the boom and that it will not try to sweep you overboard, then eight times out of ten you will be right . . .)
    • Move to the forward end of the cockpit, release the clutch holding the main halyard and let the sail start to drop.
    • Attach the tether to the jack line, step onto the coach roof and go forward to the mast. This reduces the chance of the boom knocking you over but also, as mentioned above, the sail needs to be pulled down the mast in a hurry before the slides jam. You will feel the bow begin to fall away as the boat slows to a stop and the wind catches it. The trick is to get the sail down and under control before the bow starts to fall away.
    • The lazy jacks are there to hold the bulk of the sail close to the boom. Without them the folds of sail will tend to blow over the side and, in a blow, it can be difficult for one person to bring it back under control. It’s not impossible, it’s just easier and safer with the lazy jacks when single-handed. (By the way, the sail battens will not necessarily fall evenly and they will need to be aligned with the boom fairly swiftly).

At this stage, the boat should be lying quietly and the sail can be carefully furled. Make sure the sail folds of the sail formed by the slides are all on the same side, then, working from the mast along the length of the boom, take a two foot wide section of the foot of the sail – (hammock-like), and fold it over the bulk of the sail, aligning the battens and tucking the reefing lines into the folds as you go. The sail ties are turned round the bundle with the loose-end tucked under the turn so that they can be easily released if the engine fails and you need to sail again before you get to the mooring. It also leaves them ready for the next time you sail.

And all the above assumes that you know the engine is going to start so that you can motor back to the mooring. The one time I didn’t check before stowing the sails, the engine refused to start . . . that’s another story.

That’s all there is to it, George. If your eyes have glazed over, I’m sorry, but you did ask for detail. Have I got images of each stage? You’ve got to be joking!

I’ll tell you the few problems I have had next time.

To be continued . . .