Easy sailing. When easy means also safe sailing.

Easy sailing. When easy means also safe sailing.

How to sail effortlessly even with a small crew, from electric winches to bow thrusters

by Francesco Gambini

The term 'easy sailing' refers to that series of solutions that make managing boats easier, allowing safer sailing even with smaller or less experienced crews: from the electric winches to the bow thruster, from the furling sails to the self-tacking jib.

What does easy sailing exactly mean?

More and more often, crews do not only consist of sailing enthusiasts. It is often the case you'll have a skipper or a more competent, perhaps licensed, crew member. The rest of the crew may instead consist of sea/sun-worshippers interested perhaps in simply enjoying boat life with their family or friends.  

First of all, I'd like to emphasise that for any operation onboard, simplicity in the manoeuvres equals less effort and, thus, greater safety.

Easy sailing is a term used to refer to that simplification of manoeuvres on board and the rationalisation of the deck layout. A layout, you'll find, that with its specific ergonomics, is shaped in a way that allows sailing more easily and in a less demanding way for the entire crew. 

The Cockpit

An example of a great boat layout is a well-designed cockpit, perhaps with a double rudder, a clear deck plan, or the side decks connected with the aft deck as in the most recent Jeanneau boats.

Cockpit

A large cockpit functional and well organized on a Hanse 508: we can see all the manoeuvres neatly organized with a battery of stoppers and arranged at the helmsman's fingertips, the double wheelhouse accompanied by the large screen GPS chart plotter and alongside the bow thruster control

The Winch and Stopper

Another part to add to the list of what makes sailing easy and more comfortable is the position of the winch and the stopper grouped near the rudder to manoeuvre alone without it needing to be moved. Catamarans are champions in this, with a very rational skipper's position where all commands are in one place, and all manoeuvres converge.

On a boat, the real luxury is the comfort of spaces, a design built around core ergonomic principles and the comfort provided by the accessories positioned in the right places.

More recent boat models are usually geared towards this comfort and will usually feature technology to allow exactly that. 

Out of those onboard devices thought for that idea of easy sailing, I'd list three categories: 

Motorised devices

  • Bow thruster or jet thruster
  • Electric winches 
  • Electric anchor winch

Devices for special care in the boat rigging

  • Furling genoa
  • Self-tacking jib or self-tacking jib
  • Furling mainsail

Technology devices

  • Autopilot
  • Digital charting

Bow thruster or jet thruster

A bow thruster or jet thruster allows the boat's bow to be pulled sideways without going forward. It's made of a propeller or a water jet (jet thruster). In some cases, it has the stern also applied at the stern.

It allows you to enter with ease and full control even in the narrowest berth, without help and with pinpoint accuracy even under gusts.

It is operated with a button from the console in the cockpit. As for the windlass, it is important to remember to use it for short impulses of a maximum of five seconds so as not to stress the battery and the electrical system too much since it absorbs a lot of power.

Electric Winches

Often the load of the manoeuvres with the winches is high; high-diameter winches with two speeds do help. However, in some cases, an electric motor is an excellent addition to the winch as it allows us micrometric adjustments (plus, you can activate it at the touch of a button!)

Winch elettrico

All the rigging is neatly arranged at mast foot on this majestic Lagoon 52 F - as you can see from the pedal control, the winches are electrical

Electric windlass

It is a great comfort to pull up twenty-thirty kilos of anchor and a few kilos every meter of chain with the simple touch of a button: don't worry, by now any boat from 25 feet up - even more if used to charter - is equipped with an electric windlass. Thus, you will never have to experience what it means to do without it!

Electric windlass

A beautiful teak deck on this Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 490 with clearly visible electric anchor winch at the bow, and the furler with its selvedge to furl the sail

Genoa Furling

Also, in this case, unless there are particularly technical boats with the possibility of replacing the headsail by lowering it directly on the forestay. Any boat (especially those built for leisure) will have a furling headsail, with the possibility of arming additional specific headsails and mainly performing in certain situations such as gennaker, code 0...

The bow sail can be shortened or entirely closed with a furling genoa. What will usually happen is by pulling the line controlling the furler, you will not have to leave the rudder and go back to the bow.

Self-tacking jib

The self-tacking jib is increasingly popular on modern sailing boats and catamarans. These boats have a sail plan characterised by a powerful mainsail and a smaller jib, which does not go beyond the mast towards the stern.

Here we will have a rail with a trolley attached to the point of the sail sheet: turning will be the force of the wind itself to make it move without the need for us to leave the sheet on the old walls and cock it the new ones. This means that it will be possible to tack with ease even with just one person without taking the hands off the rudder!

Self tacking jib

On the wide and clear bow triangle of this Dufour 430 Grand Large, we can see the rail and the sheet of the self-tacking jib

Furling mainsail

The furling mainsail is all about simplifying your life on board, especially if we are not looking for maximum performance. Less common than the standard furling jib, this device allows the sail to be opened by crimping the base so that it unrolls along with the boom or closes it by rolling it up into the mast. 

Some people love it, and some people hate it: in fact, now with an easy bag and lazy jack, managing even a battened mainsail can be very quite simple. You have to let go of the halyard setting the bow to the wind, and gravity will do almost all the rest. 

Autopilot

The autopilot steers the boat for a few moments without our intervention at the rudder (it is always good to be vigilant, though), allowing us to dedicate ourselves to something else or go below deck for a moment without the obligation of always being glued to the rudder. An internal compass can act in relation to the wind or course angle, and the most advanced are even interfaced with a GPS.

Digital cartography (GPS) 

Knowing exactly where we are at any given moment thanks to a GPS, perhaps with cartography and a touch screen. Sailing as we did a few decades ago with estimated positions is convenient and a significant safety factor that certainly contributes to the serenity of navigation and the skipper.


This post is written by Francesco Gambini. Francesco met sailing in Liguria 20 years ago. A fleet specialist in Sailogy, his favourite boat is the Dufour 310 Grand Large. 

Francesco Gambini