Monday, November 27, 2006

Cruising Chutes

Last weekend I went out with some students who had just fitted their yacht with a cruising chute. They were not familiar with how best to use it and wanted some advice on how to put it all together and not get in to trouble.

I have never really been a fan of cruising chutes in the past, much prefering to use a spinnaker if possible. I have often found that a cruising chute only had a narrow range of wind angles where it worked effectively if it was flown with out putting the spinnaker pole on it (which sort of defeats the object of having one).

In this case the chute was going to be handled by only two people (I normally sail with 6 or 7 people) and came with a snuffer which for small crews is essential. I was surprised at how easy it was to use and to get it pulling efficiently.

As often is the case with sails that are retro fitted to a boat, the main challenge was working out how best to attach the fittings and get them set up correctly, not particularly difficult when you have done it lots of time but a bit daunting for someone to take on the first time.

In the end we found that attaching a block to the anchor roller and running a long line from a cleat in the cockpit through this block as a tack line worked best. Because it was easily adjustable we were able to trim the sail on a wide range of headings with out too much trouble. It was tensioned for closer reaches and eased off as the wind came further aft.

We also found that the best way to gybe the cruising chute was round the front of the boat, much like on a sailboard, instead of the way the manufacturer suggested of pulling it through infront of the forestay. The disadvantage of this approach is that the lazy sheet can drop under the bow and run under the boat. On this particular boat (a Legend) the shape of the pulpit caught the lazy sheet each time and prevented this from happening.

It did take a bit of practice when gybing to allow the sail to billow far enough forwards before hauling in on the new sheet, if the new sheet was tensioned too soon it tended to snag on the sail and cause a jam.

Having found that the boat's performance was greatly enhanced by the sail, especially in winds light enough that normally on a passage I would have ended up motoring to keep the speed up I was converted to the cruising chute's usefulness. I would suggest that anyone new to them goes out on a quiet day and experiments with the best way to handle the sail on their particular boat.