Storm Sails are Good Insurance

If I didn’t have storm sails aboard, in the form of a hanked-on storm jib and a storm trysail, I’m pretty sure I’d soon need them. As it happens, since 2001 they’ve never been hoisted in anger. OK, call me superstitious…

But the truth is, if you sail long enough and far enough the odds are that sooner or later you’ll be caught in conditions where you’d be better off with dedicated storm sails aloft. The primary requirements of these sails are that they:~

  1. Must be very robustly constructed of heavyweight sail cloth, and
  2. Must be of a size suitable for the boat, and
  3. Should be highly visible against a grey and white sea.

Every offshore cruising boat should carry a storm jib and trysail.

Hove-to under these sails, a well-found yacht should be capable of riding out all but nature’s most testing conditions.

Long-keelers will heave-to like somnolent ducks, but fin and skeg sloops may find the required sail balance difficult to achieve with the storm jib set on the forestay, or on a removable inner forestay set immediately aft of it.

Setting a Storm Jib

how to rig a storm jib and storm trysail as storm sails on a sailboatRigging a storm jib and trisail

Ideally an inner forestay rigged about one third of the J measurement aft of the forestay should be available for a storm jib.

A spare jib halyard must be used – not the spinnaker halyard which will chafe on the forestay, where its ultimate failure will be but a matter of time.

Owners of cutters who’ve resisted the temptation to install their staysail on a furling gear have reason to feel pretty smug at this point, as their storm jib can now be simply hanked-on in place of their staysail.

The Gale Sail

Here's what Tom Burden has to say about it:

"The safest and easiest way to hoist a storm jib in heavy conditions. Simply furl the genoa sheets down to the deck and yank the Gale Sail over the furled headsail, attach its sheets and hoist it with a spare halyard or the spinnaker halyard. The reinforced Dacron pouch easily slides up and down over the furled sail and prevents any accidental unfurling of the genoa.

Eliminates the need for a removable headstay. No need to unfurl, lower and pack the genoa to hoist the storm jib. The Gale Sail is a heavy-duty storm jib that can be flown either by itself, or in combination with the reefed mainsail or trysail. The Gale Sail is typically a 50% headsail, when in doubt, go for the larger size."

Here's how it works in real conditions...

Setting a Storm Trysail

A separate mast track should be provided for the trysail, which should be sheeted through a block on the quarter rather than to the end of the boom.

Ideally the boom should be dropped on deck and secured, lowering the Centre of Gravity, reducing windage and negating its skull crunching malevolence, but this won’t be an option if you’ve a rigid kicker.

Well before the onset of heavy weather, the sail slides should be fed into the track, a pin inserted beneath to stop it falling out, and the bagged sail secured at the foot of the mast, ready for deployment.

A prudent skipper will make sure that there’s an end-stop at the top of the track to save embarrassment in the event of not having properly secured the tack before hoisting.

Recommended Sizes of Storm Sails

According to North Sails' advice about storm sails, the sizes of storm jibs and trysails should be:~

Storm Jibs

Boat Size
6oz 24-28' 13.1' 10.1' 6.75'
7oz 26-33' 15.5' 12.2' 7.75'
8oz 31-36' 17.7' 13.7' 8.9'
9oz 34-38' 19.9' 15.8' 10.0'
9.5oz 37-50' 22.51' 17.88' 11.31'
9.5oz 50'+ 25.44' 20.0' 12.8'

Storm Trysails

Boat Size
8oz 30-35' 16.0' 19.0' 8.3'
9oz 35-38' 18.0' 21.5' 9.3'
9oz 38-41' 20.0' 23.5' 10.3'
9.5oz 41-50' 22.22' 26.09' 11.44'
9.5oz 50'+ 25.0' 29.38' 12.96'

Best to Have Them but Not to Need Them…

With a careful eye on the weather forecast and due regard to the recommended sailing seasons in various parts of the world, your storm Jib and trysail should see little use.

But this can be no excuse for not having things all worked out beforehand, for when you do need your storm sails in earnest it’s a little late to be wondering which end goes up and which corner should have sheet on it.

More about Sails...

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