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Is it bad to sail with only a headsail?

2015 June 1

Dear Boat Doctor,

I sometimes get a little lazy when sailing my Catalina 36 and just use the roller furling genoa. I endure a bit of ribbing on the dock for this, but I’ve also been told that I’m putting extra load on my rig by sailing this way. Am I damaging my boat sailing this way?

Andrew Smythe, Cleveland, Ohio

Dear Andrew,

In general, sailing under headsail alone is just fine. You won’t want to try to go upwind with this setup, but for reaching or running it’s just fine.

In fact, this is a preferred way to sail downwind especially in lots of wind. Using just a headsail is a great option, and you’ll find that the boat tends to track better and roll less. It’s an even better idea to pole out the headsail with a whisker pole. The pole will keep the sail full and drawing, increasing your speed and decreasing roll. 

With regard to loads, flying just a headsail will put less load on your rig overall. Less sail area equals less rig load, with no real exceptions. So ignore the guys at the bar, relax, unfurl that jib and enjoy a nice reach.