There are some cruising sailors who consider performance cruising to be an oxymoron and anyone who suggests it to be a moron. But performance means a lot of different things to different people. That’s why we asked a really diverse group of authors to tackle the articles in this month’s special section on performance cruising which starts on page 40. We have noted racer and sailmaker at Quantum Sails Dave Flynn, sailing instructor and BWS associate editor Andy Cross and a diehard cruiser, that would be me.
Certainly, performance cruising is about sailing well and fast. Even heavy displacement, old-style cruising boats can benefit from a new set of well made sails. And, modern, lighter displacement boats that all builders are now offering as cruising boats already sail so much better than their chubby forebearers that an upgrade to new, high tech sails is like adding a turbo charger to a powerful engine.
Sails matter but sail trim matters even more. If you can’t trim the sails to their optimum shapes, you are throwing away all of the potential built into them. So, understanding sail trim is fundamental to better sailing performance. And to my way of thinking, trimming sails is one of the seriously fun parts of sailing a good cruising boat.
But, of course, sail trim is not the only thing. Performance cruising is all about having your boat set up for the way you like to sail it and for safety and efficiency at sea. A good example is in how you have your downwind pole set up. First, having a whisker or spinnaker pole ready for flying the genoa wing- and-wing is cruising 101 since this is the simplest and easiest way to sail your boat dead downwind. Spinnakers are fun and fast and great in light air and we suggest every cruising boat have one aboard. But, we tend to douse the chute when the wind pipes above 15 knots which is when a “wung out” genoa on a pole comes into its own.
Knowing the pole will be used often, experienced cruisers rig a topping lift from the mast to control the pole in the up and down frame and set up permanent foreguys on both sides to control the pole forward and aft on both jibes. To complete the pole control system, you can also rig after guys on both sides that will hold the pole in position even when the genoa sheet is slack or the sail has been rolled up. If you mount swivel blocks on the foredeck and side decks, you can leave your spinnaker pole guys rigged all the time for use whenever you need your pole. And you can rig the unused foreguy (opposite the pole) as a preventer on the main boom.
Lastly, performance cruising is also about sailing the right course to your destination and by right course I mean the safest, fastest and most comfortable route, which is not always the straight rhumbline. You may need to avoid shipping lanes, adverse currents, stiff winds close to bold headlands or approaching squalls. You may need to sail around a low pressure system or run from a towering thunderhead that’s throwing lightning bolts. In other words, you may need to sail smart instead of fast.
Performance cruising is all about doing it well—sailing, passagemaking, navigation and boat handling. And the better we get at it, the more confident we become and the more fun we have out there living our dreams.