Boat Technical Solutions

Over the years I have experienced a series of technical issues on sail and powerboats. This page describes the issue and solution – the goal is to help other boaters either reuse these solutions directly or put them onto ideas that could help with their unique situation.

Issue: Catamaran Mainsail Hard to Raise and Reef

Situation: After two years of sailing, we found that the main on the Catana was getting hard to raise and reef. The halyard winch was struggling to get the main all the way up, and I had to send crew to the base of the mast to pull the halyard out of the deck to get enough slack to lower the main. The issue snuck up on us – it just kept getting worse and worse.

Initially I thought the problem was with the halyard winch, or with the halyard itself. With the sail raised, I tossed the halyard tail overboard to stream behind the boat. The Catana has a doubled halyard – the end is anchored at the top of the mast, runs down to a block attached to the head of the sail, and then runs back to the top of the mast, down inside the mast, turns at the base of the mast, and the proceeds down a halyard tunnel to a block at the aft end of the cockpit, where it exits and runs up to a halyard clutch and the halyard winch. The halyard is astoundingly long – close to 200 feet. By tossing it overboard I could let it unwind, remove kinks, and then inspect it as I pulled it back into the boat.

We were sailing at 7 knots upwind at the time, and there was tremendous load on the halyard! I inspected every foot, and although I did not find any worn sections, there were many kinks that unwound themselves. So that helped.

It was only when I took the boat in for service in Trinidad that we discovered the root cause. Catana had installed a set of halyard turning blocks at the base of the mast that had aluminum sheaves and a steel axle. The aluminum was riding directly on the steel, with no delrin or other insulation between the dissimilar metals. The sheaves basically “welded” themselves to the axle, so the halyard and reef lines were running over fixed points instead of rolling sheaves. Catana replaced the block set under warranty – problem solved!

Issue: Catana Screatcher Upper Fitting would Jam

Situation: The catamaran has a screatcher – an enormous furling headsail set part way out the spinnaker pole. The halyard is dead-ended 90% up the mast, runs down to the head of the sail, back up to the mast, and then down to an exit at the halyard winch attached to the mast.

I found that when I would attach the swivel to the head of the sail and hoist the furled sail prior to setting it, the halyard would spin around itself, creating tremendous friction and making it almost impossible to raise the sail. Lowering the sail was not as big a problem but raising it was almost impossible, particularly after the boat had been used for a few years and the halyard was kinked and snarled. I tried tossing the halyard tail overboard while sailing, as described above. Not much improvement…

The solution was to move the fixed point further up the mast, so that there was a bigger angle between the location of the mast sheave and the fixed point. Having a bigger angle kept the halyard separated as we hoisted the furled sail. Rapidly raising the halyard also helped – less time for wind to catch the sail and load/spin the halyard.

The higher fixed point also slightly raised the sail so we could crank on more halyard and point a little higher. Double win for this simple fix!