To see as much of the world as we can,
Using the smallest carbon footprint we can,
Spending the least amount of money we can,
Making as many friends we can.

Team Red Cruising

Mizzen Tension

We took Hannah out on Red Ranger in 15-20 kt of wind, with waves of 3-4 feet. This was our first trip in conditions that were more than "light breeze" or "gentle breeze" on the Beaufort Scale. We bounced around a bit; had quite a bit of trouble tacking; and docked like we knew what were doing.

The coolest thing, however, was the number of friends we ran into at the marina. We weren't sure who would be there early on a Friday -- we never show up until quite late. But we ran into a bunch of folks we hadn't seen for a while (Brooke and Susan of Liquid Therapy), chatted with some new folks in the pool, learned the name of the dog on Liquid Assets ("Bender").

Running into friends at the marina helped Hannah see what it was that her parents were up to. Plenty of "sit around and chat" time punctuated by sailing and boat repair. Talking about it isn't really the same as actually seeing folks and actually helping them. Driving Dave and Nancy's stuff to the storage facility, for example, is the perfect way to show what we love about this "boat thing" we're doing.

Some Lessons Learned

The cockpit drains work if they're not packed with leaf litter. Once you clean out the leaf litter there's a big sucking sound as four inches of rain water runs down the drains. Our hatch and portlight gaskets are in good shape (knock wood for luck): no leaks.

Marks 5 and 7 in the Jackson Creek entrance are dicey. The Waterway Guide has a note from last year on this. The NOAA chart (12235) isn't perfectly helpful. After the storm Thursday night, the sand has clearly shifted into the channel. How far? Far enough that we found it. Twice. We finally went wide enough around the mark to miss the sand, but it took some patience and power from Mr. Lehman. And some help from local anglers.

We learned that we have the running backstay tension all fouled up. We haven't found a "solid" link or reference for running backstays on a ketch. Dave and Nancy of Fawkes point out that everyone will teach you to sail a sloop, but no one teaches you to sail a ketch. So, gathering information on running backstays is challenging. We'll return to this below.

Speaking of below, don't go below in 4-foot seas unless you've had your Dramamine. Read the Coastal Waters Forecast first. Take Dramamine if necessary. The "Small Craft Advisory" doesn't really apply to Red Ranger herself; she's up to much heavier conditions. However, her crew's land-lubber stomachs need a little help, and it's important to know that beating or reaching into 3-4 foot seas will involve some rocking and rolling.

Don't leave tools on the workbench. This is a "Duh" lesson. Everyone knows this. The workbench doesn't have fiddles to keep things from sliding off. So -- duh -- things slide off on starboard tack.

Interestingly, under mizzen only, Red Ranger won't tack; she just heaves to. She stops moving, holds a tight angle to the wind, and drifts. Unlike most sloops -- which can still make good progress under main alone -- a ketch will park under mizzen alone. When we discovered this, we were baffled. However, it's since been confirmed by other ketch-owners in the marina and on-line.

Running Backstay Tension

Backstays hold the mast up. Newer boats have "permanent" backstays -- sometimes just swept-back shrouds, sometimes a proper stay. Many boats have an adjustable backstay, which allows tweaking the mast bend, which -- in turn -- tweaks the sail shape. The idea is that a little bit of bend in the mast makes the sail a little flatter. It reduces the power generated aloft, making the boat heel less in heavy weather. This is all very modern and well-documented in books on sloop rig sail shape.

But running backstays are a bit of a mystery. There's a discussion on Cruiser's Forum that's just bewildering in it's technical depth. It includes an email from Brion Toss that would require days to parse and analyze. Spring Stay? Jumper Stay? I think I'll trust my riggers (Southern Bay Rigging) and not worry about overall rig tension.

But we do need to worry about operation of the mizzen's running backstays during ordinary sailboat evolutions like tacking and gybing. I've been leaving them mostly tensioned, which appears to be mostly wrong.

There's one discussion on Yachting and Boating World that's helpful because a Whitby owner piped up. The Whitby owner's post had a technical error and a correction, so it requires some editing.

  • "Basically if you are on a starboard tack the [starboard] mizzen backstay is tensioned and [port] one is slackened off. When preparing to tack, we slackened both off initially, then tightened the opposing stay" From Capn Pugwash.

  • "Basic rules are: Use a preventer at all times. Keep the upwind runner tight at all times, slacken off the leeward runner if/as necessary. When changing course release the preventer, sheet the sail into the centre. Tighten the slack runner, loosen the tight runner as necessary, ease the sail over. Reset the preventer" From KellysEye.

Okay. That echoed what Dave said about Fawkes: ease the leeward runner and pull it forward so the mizzen sail (or mizzen boom for that matter) doesn't lay against the stay. We need to be more assertive about slacking and tensioning the running backstays and getting them out of the way of the mizzen.

Additional Notes

There is some advice about managing a ketch rig. Some of it is very useful. But very little addresses the running backstay issue.

  • Sailing Magazine: "Sailing Under Control". Good advice on different approaches to reefing at various wind speeds. The ketch suggestions are nice.

Compass Yacht Group: "Heaving To". "If the boat will not lie this close with a headsail, try heaving to bare headed, with just some ... mizzen set." That confirms one of our lessons learned.