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Neuse Sailing Association

NAUTICAL SKILLS/ Sailing downwind

Delivering Misto from La Rochelle to the Azores

By Ros Cheetham
S/v Misto

At the beginning of August we took delivery of our new Nautitech 442 catamaran Misto, named after Mr Mistoffelees, the Magical Cat of the Broadway musical “Cats”.  For the 1200 nm journey from La Rochelle, on the French North West coast, to Ponta Del Garda on São Miguel Island of the Azores, we had four of us on board.  This is not the favored route across the Atlantic to the U.S. East Coast due to the variable winds and the famed Azores High that can leave sailors windless. However, our insurance company did not like the proposal to route down to the Canaries, across to the Caribbean and up the East coast due to the chances of tropical storms and hurricanes, and mandated the Northern route via the Azores.

Our journey was fortunate to encounter reasonable winds, varying from 10-35kn blowing predominantly from the North East, resulting in downwind sailing, interspersed with motoring and motor/sailing when the wind dropped too low to make at least 5 knots. The sails that were available to us were a main, jib and gennaker and we learned a number of useful downwind sailing techniques.

The Main: The swells tended to be disorganized and come from at least two directions at once. Although they were several seconds apart, this resulted in the sort of boom flapping and banging that is only too common when sailing on the Neuse River and Pamlico Sound. We did not have a gibe preventer fitted on the boom and learned the value of taking a dock line, attaching it around the outermost end of the boom and lashing it to the aft cleat. On really bad days a second dock-line attached in a similar place but led forward to the mid-ships cleat, almost completely stopped the boom and sail from flogging in the wave troughs. At night this rig brought the security of knowing there would not be an unexpected gibe, unseen in the darkness. If you do not have a boom brake or gibe preventer fitted on your rig we can recommend this cheap and easy solution.


The Jib: Cats do not usually carry whisker poles (although I have read a number of recent articles suggesting that they are valuable) and with the jib sheet coming directly back to the winch as it would when closer hauled, the jib would not stay filled and there was chafe in multiple places. I’ll say more about chafe below. To assist with both problems we led the jib sheet outside of the lifelines to a snatch block attached to the mid-ships cleat and then back to the winch. This helped to both keep the jib filled and minimize chafe on the sail and lines. We have never owned a snatch block before but our delivery captain recommended carrying at least one.  We took one and we intend to buy at least one more as we found multiple uses of them on board. You might want to try this setup for your jib when sailing downwind and we think the addition of a snatch block to your gear is a really worthwhile investment.

The Gennaker: According to some, on a Cat, the Gennaker is a Screecher!  If anyone can enlighten us about the difference we’d be delighted to know as we have not been able to work that out yet. We flew the gennaker on only a couple of occasions as this was essentially a delivery situation. However, one day, with a moderate wind dead astern we furled the main and flew the gennaker and jib wing on wing. It certainly balanced the boat and made for a pretty sight!  On a boat without a backstay, as is the case on a Cat, be sure to use the topping lift and main sheet winched down tight to create support for the mast before flying your fore-sails in this type of configuration.

Finally, a few words about chafe. Chafe is the enemy of cruisers and worst when downwind sailing. Everything seems to touch – sails on spreaders (don’t let your main out too far when sailing downwind); sails and lines on lifelines, deck fittings and coach-roof. Inspect your rig multiple times a day for potential chafe; don’t ignore anything that is touching – as it will chafe!  The most useful items that we had on board to counteract chafe were about 6 feet of chafe guard purchased from the Provision Store in Oriental before we left, and cable ties! The Provision Store sells chafe guard by the foot in a couple of widths and it was the best investment we made.  Although intended for dock lines it can be used on lifelines, side stays, lines and even the edge of sails (split open).  For any type of line it can attached with cable ties!

Misto will be living in Annapolis for the next two years, but we intend to bring her to North Carolina for Memorial Day and the week-long cruise in 2014.  She’ll also be on show at the Annapolis and Miami boat shows; we are looking forward to welcoming members of the NSA aboard.

About the Author
Ros Cheetham is a past NSA Vice Commodore of Cruising.  She took up sailing in England as a teenager in Enterprise sailing dinghies and later 470’s as an undergraduate.  She also enjoyed sailing clinker-built wooden sailing boats on the Norfolk Broads. Once married and living in South Africa, Ros introduced her husband Howard to sailing, and they sailed a Laser 2 in regattas for a number of years. Arriving in the US 12 years ago, they increased their sailing knowledge through ASA courses and chartered boats as far afield as Croatia and Turkey to the East and the San Juan Islands to the West.  In 2008 they bought a Beneteau 37, Island Dream, which was recently sold and replaced by Misto, a 442 Nautitech catamaran.

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