There’s an old nautical saying dating from the 19th century that goes, “Gentlemen don’t sail to weather.” This comes from a time when sailing craft were primarily working vessels engaged in fishing, trade and transport, private yachts were virtually unknown, and the idea of sailing for pleasure was about as odd as we would think recreational tractor trailer driving would be. Sailing to weather means sailing upwind, and it’s generally hard work and a bumpy ride. My understanding of the origin of the term is that when recreational yachting first started in the late 1800’s, British lords and ladies (gentlemen and women) would have their servants sail their yachts upwind along the coast, where the gentlefolk would then board for a comfortable downwind sail home.
Hunter sailboats tend not to be very gentlemanly. Their B&R rigs utilize steeply raked spreaders, and the boom can’t be let out very far before the mainsail is laying flat up against them, potentially chafing itself full of holes. The mast is stepped far forward and carries a very large main, which completely blankets the jib once the wind angle gets deeper than about 120 degrees. Now there are actually a lot of advantages to this rig for recreational sailors, ones that are beyond the scope of this post, but basically this means that they just aren’t suited for sailing directly downwind. They sail upwind really well, and love a beam reach, but if downwind is the direction you want to go, the best approach is to gybe back and forth from a port broad reach to a starboard one and back again.
Having to sail a zigzag course downwind can be a real pain when the channel is narrow or restricted, and we naturally see a lot of that sailing in the Intracoastal Waterway. But there are some things that can be done to improve the situation, and we’ve finally worked out way through the list.
First, after our mainsail returned from its recent spa vacation, we took it to the local sail loft to have Spectra reinforcing patches sewn on where it rubs on the spreader tips. Next, we’ve rigged up a simple boom preventer that clips to one of the mainsheet blocks and can be run forward to a bow cleat. This keeps the boom from crash gybing if the helmsperson’s attention wanders for a moment and they fail to notice a wind shift or drift off course while on a deep broad reach. And most importantly, we’ve now added a whiskerpole. This will let us pole the jib out to the opposite side from the main, getting it out of the main’s wind shadow and allowing us to hold a wing-on-wing setting when sailing deeper than 120 degrees.
All of this should really come in handy as we head downwind, working our way west towards Mexico along Cuba’s north shore in a few months.
Some tips for you other H376 owners out there. If you look it up on the Forespar website (the go-to company for whisker and spinnaker poles) they say a Hunter 376 requires a 12-22 pole, or one that is adjustable from 12 to 22 feet. They would be wrong. Based on our J measurement (less than 12 feet), we went with the 10-18 instead, and it’s almost too long. You can just get it clipped onto the jib clew with the sail furled. Any longer, and it would be near impossible to set the pole properly. So don’t pay any attention to Forespar’s recommendation. It’s just a general suggestion for a generic 37 foot boat. If they had actually ever sailed a Hunter 376, they’d know that the 10-18 is the one you want.