The Necessity of Staysail Winches

A Happy New Year to everyone.

Just curious about this. In my experience coastal-cruising the BCC over the past two years in conditions up to 30 knots, I’ve had little cause to use the staysail winches. I’ve always managed to haul the sail in by hand, put a wrap or two around the winch and cleat it off. This leaves me wondering just how vital they are, and whether one can sail the BCC without them. It seems to me this is doable.

Any thoughts on this?

Hi Warren, I agree with your comments about normal sailing conditions but there are a few things to consider.

  1. The staysail is not a hard driving sail but when the wind and weather really kicks up, it is essential to keep the balance of the boat. Example: Winds are 40+. You triple reef the main or set the storm trisail. This drastically reduces the sail area aft of the mast so you should drop or roll up the jibtop. That leaves the staysail to keep the balance (Center of Effort over Lateral Resistance). In these conditions, you may find it impossible to handle the sheets by hand.

  2. If sailing in open ocean and you are injured. Someone else or even you will have to handle the staysail sheets.

  3. On my own boat, I run my reef lines back to the cockpit. I could not pull the downhaul or out-haul to the proper set without the staysail winches. I also have my main halyard led back to the cockpit and I use these staysail winches to raise the mainsail.

  4. I suggest you get used to reefing your sails without turning the boat “upwind” to take the load off the sails. You are too close to having an accident, like an accidental tack while sails are backwinded. If you reef without ever changing your course you will find it safer. To do this may require a winch. Of course, your boat has to be rigged to do this with lazy jacks, etc.

  5. There have been times that I used these winches to take the load off the jib sheets when there was an override. I have also used these winches to help pull in the stern anchor.

However, back to your question…for coastal sailing, you could get by without the staysail winches.


Thanks for your comments, Roger. I figured the winches would be good to have around in a gale. Your point about being injured is something I hadn’t considered. As for the override I have blocks mounted near the gallows bases to route a relief line to the windward sheet winch. Worked the one time I had a serious override.

As for # 4, I have your book and have always followed your advice on reefing without turning upwind. My sailing friends have looked at me quizzically when I tell them to maintain course as I go forward to reef. The only issue has been that the aft lazyjack line is about six inches to a foot too far forward, Moving it aft is another line item on The List.

I’m now simplifying Voyager and how she’s sailed and am looking with a critical eye at the necessity of everything in preparation for some offshore sailing planned for this spring and summer. Another example of this is that I’m giving thought to loping off the scuttle hatch (it may have some rot issues at the hinges, to begin with) and going instead with a heavy teak hatch of the same length and width that sits about eight inches off the deck. This would provide a fuller foredeck and make the area around the mast easier to work in without having to go up and over or around the hatch. Other than the additional headroom and light below, I don’t know of other advantages to the current hatch.

Thanks again for your thoughts.

I don’t have anywhere near the sailing experience of you guys, but if you were in conditions where the jib is dropped and you’re using the staysail to balance the main, could you not use your jib winches for your staysail? I’ve not looked at the standard deck layout, so the lines might not run right… but could that be changed so they could perform double duty?

Yes, I think you could use the jib sheet winches in a pinch for the stays’l, but not ideal. If you fairlead the stays’l on the cabin top, as normal, you will have rubbing on the cabin eyebrow, and you will get overrides, because the fairlead block is above the winch. You could fairlead the stays’l sheet on deck to a block attached to the hawspepipe if you didn’t need to sheet in hard, and that certainly would work with the jib sheet winches. However, neither scenario is perfect.

I have self tailing stays’l winches on Elizbeth, and find them plenty useful, can’t imagine not having winches on the stays’l actually.

When we owned African Moon, a custom Flicka, I set up a 4-part tackle between the staysail tack and gammon iron. Once I hoisted the staysail, I went forward and tensioned the staysail luff with the 4-part tackle. Just a thought.