The Blue View - Rigging for Downwind Sailing

nine of cups  

It's been awhile since we rigged Nine of Cups for downwind sailing. On our passage from St. Francis Island to Eucla, however, we saw light to moderate winds from the southeast to the northeast, and we needed to wipe the cobwebs off our whisker pole and rig it for poling out the genoa. We also needed to clear the cobwebs from our heads and try to remember how it was, exactly, that we rigged all those lines.

We used to use the whisker pole a lot when we were in the Caribbean, and occasionally when crossing the Pacific, but it has been at least two years since we last deployed it. How did we route the fore guy? What line did we use for the aft guy? (I didn't make a mat out of that line, did I?) What height should the pole be for the old genoa? Which blocks did I use last time? Lots of things to figure out again, but I suspect we will be using it a lot when we begin crossing the Indian Ocean next July, so it was good to get it all organized again.


pole rigged


We have an extendable pole that is mounted on a track on the front of the mast. When stowed in place, the car for the inboard side of the pole is located at the top of the track, and the outboard end is locked in place at the lower end of the track. Here is how we rig it to pole out our genoa.

We tie a four foot section of line to the lifelines just aft of the bow pulpit. This will be used to restrain the outboard end of the whisker pole and keep it from swinging around and smacking something or someone while we're deploying it.

We next route the fore guy and attach one end to the bottom of the whisker pole. The topping lift is always left attached to the outboard end of the pole and runs from there to a block about 2/3rds up the mast and back down to a cleat at shoulder height on the mast. We remove it from its cleat. The aft guy is routed from the cockpit, through a block near our sheet turning blocks, then forward, outside all the shrouds, and tied to the lifeline near the four foot section of line. Both of the genoa sheets are faked out in the cockpit, and the windward sheet is given some slack.

Once I unclip the outboard end of the pole from the mast, Marcie uses the fore guy to control the outboard end of the pole. I use the uphaul control line to lower the inboard end of the pole. As I lower my end, Marcie guides the outboard end towards the line attached to the lifelines. Once it is lowered enough that the outboard end can rest on the lifelines, Marcie uses the short line tied there to keep it in place. She ties a very loose loop around the pole with a reef knot.

I continue lowering the inboard end until it is at the bottom of the track. At this point, the pole is nearly horizontal and resting on the lifelines with the opening of the jaw facing upwards. The fore guy is attached to the underside of the pole and the topping lift is attached to the top of the pole.

Marcie uses a bowline to attach the aft guy to the underside of the pole and clips the genoa sheet into the jaw, making sure the release pin is locked shut. I slack off on the topping lift and pull on the line that extends the pole as Marcie helps it along on her end. We extend the pole to the length of the J dimension of our headsail – the distance from the bottom of the headstay to the mast – whether we are using our 90% yankee or our 120% genoa. On Cups, the J dimension is 20 feet, so the pole is extended about 8 feet beyond the lifelines. We have a mark on the pole that indicates how far it is to be extended, and when it has been extended to the correct length, I cleat the extension control line.

Marcie now heads back to the cockpit and takes in the slack on the fore guy and aft guy. Once she has them secure, I release the line holding the pole to the lifelines, return to the mast and raise the outboard end of the pole using the topping lift, while Marcie uses the two guys to keep the pole from swinging too much as it is raised. We want the pole to be about the height of the clew when the sail is unfurled, which is different for the yankee and the genoa. I have the topping lift marked in two places, so I know when the outboard end of the pole is the right height for either. Once it is at the correct height, I cleat the topping lift.

Next, I use the uphaul to raise the inboard end of the pole until it is at 90 degrees with the mast. As with the topping lift, I have marked the uphaul control line, so I know what height it should be for either headsail. Finally, both the uphaul and downhaul lines are cleated tight, and the guys are adjusted until the pole is at the desired angle to the wind.

The headsail is unfurled in the usual way, except that the sheet is winched aft until the clew just reaches the pole. We make sure that the clew is not winched so tightly that the knot attaching the sheet to the clew becomes wedged in the jaw of the pole.

As the apparent wind direction changes, we adjust the angle to the wind using the guys. The headsail can be reefed down or furled as needed.


pole lines


Jibing takes a bit of time. Let's say we are jibing from a starboard tack to a port tack. First, the headsail must be furled. The extended pole is too long to clear the deck behind the baby stay on Cups, so it must be lowered, secured to the lifeline again and retracted. The sheet is unclipped. The aft guy is removed and rigged on the port side. Since Cups is a cutter rig, the fore guy must be untied and rerouted from the port side of the boat as well. Another 4 foot line is attached to the lifeline on the port side, then the inboard end of the pole is raised back up towards the top of the track until the other end of the pole can be swung to the port side, where it is secured to the lifeline with the short line. Then the process is the same as before.

Like most things, it only seems complex until we've done it a few times and worked the kinks out. The first time we ever rigged the pole, it must have taken us an hour while we figured everything out. We've changed a few things to make the process easier, and both of us know what we are each supposed to do, so we can usually get the pole up in a few minutes – less time than it takes to read this blog post... or at least this is how long it will take once we get ourselves retrained and organized again.