The Big Markup- CHESSS

Hello everyone,

As I mentioned last week, the board is posting a technical write-up or video each week on a different topic to help you optimize your boat for shorthanding. This week's article is by our past-Secretary, present-Treasurer, Jeff Halpern. He discusses how to mark your lines to make everything from docking to spinnaker usage safer and more efficient.


THE BIG MARK-UP- An Aid For Short-Handed Sailors

Decades ago, a cruiser friend of mine invited me to go sailing with him. He had been complaining that his boat did not sail as well as her sistership and wanted me to see if I could figure out why. We had a lovely sail during which I experimented with jib sheet leads, halyard and outhaul tension, tightened the backstay, showed him how to use the traveler more effectively and so on. By the end of the day, we had the old girl pointing higher and seeming to make a little more speed. Most of the adjustments were pretty basic for a racer, but my friend had been of the “adjust-it-once-at-the-beginning-of-the-season-and-don’t-touch-it-again” school of sail trim.

Back on the dock, my friend commented that he wanted to learn more about adjusting his sails better and so I suggested that he go out on a race boat. When he agreed I got him an invitation to go out on the competitive 40 something foot IOR boat that I was crew on at the time. More than any boat that I raced on before or since, this boat was ‘raced by the numbers’meaning every control line had a reference mark and a set of numbers marked on a surface next to the line.

In practice as the boat approached a mark-rounding, the skipper call out the current point of sail, apparent wind, and the expected new point of sail. Then the lightest crewmember (usually the owner’s 16 year old son) would leave the rail, reach into the companionway, and pull ‘the bible’. The bible was a neatly typed sheet that was laminated in plastic. On one side was a chart listing various apparent windspeeds in columns and points of sail in rows. This chart was needed to figure out the true wind and the apparent windspeed on the next leg,

On the flip side was a chart for each point of sail that had the columns labeled with apparent windspeeds and a row for each control line. The ‘preacher’ as the person reading the bible was jokingly called, would read off settings, “Jib Halyard 5 going to 7”, “Jib lead 4”, “Outhaul 6”, “Vang 7” and so on. After the preacher read the control line and setting, the crewperson assigned to that control would repeat back the line and setting. This allowed the boat to be very quickly trimmed to approximate ideal settings for the next leg.

Afterward, my friend commented that he was most impressed by the numbering system, but thought that it really had no place on a cruising boat being too complex to deal with when there wasn’t an 8 to 10 crew pulling the strings. I agreed that while true, cruising boats tended to have fewer control lines and so maybe a simpler system might still make sense.

As a short-handed racer and cruiser, I started using a color coded system using electrical tape. In my case, I used red tape marks at one end of the range of adjustment for heavy air and blue at the other end for light air, with a few more color marks in between used as reference for conditions in between.

To place these reference tapes, I put reference marks on the control lines and went out sailing on a windy day. After experimenting with the control line settings until I had them where I wanted them and I made pencil marks where the ‘heavy air’ red tapes would be placed. I did the same on a light air day. Back at the dock I added intermediate tape marks.

This is not a perfect system since the setting for a deep reach would be different than a beat even in the same apparent wind, as a cruiser or a short-hander, the marks give a quick point of reference to get the sails adjusted approximately correctly. While speed may not matter as much to a cruiser, properly adjusting control lines not only can improve pointing and speed, but can also reduce heel angle and weather helm making a cruiser’s day more comfortable. And that’s a good thing.


Above is the backstay adjuster on ‘Synergy’ set for light air. The white reference mark can be seen on the swage and the color code for the various wind speeds are applied on the fixed part of the cascade.

The control lines on Synergy’s cabin top (from top to bottom) are the vang, outhaul, spinnaker halyard, main halyard, jib halyard, and second reef clew line. They are set for roughly 12 knots apparent wind. The reference marks are contrasting color whippings so that they can be felt at night.

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