Put That Lazy Sheet to Work and Point Higher

It’s the holy grail of sailing, the one thing that is denied every sailor, yet they yearn and struggle for it anyway.  I’m talking about pointing higher upwind.  No matter how good of a sailboat you have or how good you are at trimming its sails, there’s a limit to how close into the wind you can sail and that limit can affect your course whether you’re cruising or racing.  On a short course, it can mean the difference between one tack and two tacks to reach your destination or between 8 tacks and 12 tacks on a longer course. Every tack you make, you lose speed and time. Sometimes it doesn’t matter, sometimes it does.

Without going into a lot of aeronautical theory, the pointing ability of every sailboat is dependent on several factors that you can’t easily alter: the hull shape, keel shape, sails, and weight to name a few. But one of the most effective and alterable factors is the headsail sheeting angle—the angle of the headsail relative to the sailboat’s centerline. The smaller the angle, the more directly into the wind you can sail. Put another way, it’s how close the headsail is to the mainsail when close hauled. Generally speaking, the closer in you can trim the headsail (without backwinding the mainsail), the higher into the wind the sailboat can point and maintain its speed.

The minimum sheeting angle is largely determined by the placement of the genoa car tracks (also called T tracks) on the side decks. Some sailboats have them placed farther outboard than others depending on whether the primary design goals of the sailboat were convenience and safety or maximum performance.

Original T track location on the port toe rail. The inboard track is for the bimini

To get better pointing ability and performance out of a sailboat that was designed for cruising comfort and convenience, some skippers install replacement or supplemental tracks closer inboard than the original, more outboard tracks. The new tracks allow them to sheet the headsail in a few degrees more and consequently, to sail a few degrees higher into the wind.

Original track screw holes on the toe rail and new inboard tracks being installed

Point higher but stay on track

On a daysailer with narrow side decks like the C-22, moving the tracks inboard is an extensive and expensive proposition for a fairly small improvement. Besides the cost of new tracks and cars, there’s lots of new holes to drill and lots of old holes to fill.  It’s generally not worth it unless you’re racing at a high level where a couple of degrees can make the difference between winning and losing.  But is there a way to get a smaller sheeting angle without the effort and expense of new tracks? If there is, you can bet that $tingy Sailor knows!

Rather than permanently changing the minimum sheeting angle with new tracks, you can temporarily reduce the sheeting angle by using what’s called a barber hauler, named for the Barber brothers who invented it.  There are many different variations of barber haulers for different purposes or to adapt to different sailboats but basically its an auxiliary block or cordage  that leads the headsail sheet at an angle that cannot be achieved with the lead block alone. You typically only use it in certain sailing conditions like when close hauled and you want the sailboat to point as high as it possibly can.

I’m big on getting multiple purposes out of my gear so I discovered a way to temporarily repurpose the lazy sheet as a barber hauler. It lets me quickly and easily rig one with only a simple carabiner, snap hook, snap shackle, or similar device. But you must have long enough sheets to reach across the cockpit while putting tension on the lazy sheet. If you can cross-sheet your headsail (a different trick for a future post), then your sheets are probably long enough.

Lazy starboard sheet clipped to the headsail clew and tensioned with the starboard winch

This technique has become one of the tricks that I use to compete with sailboats that normally point higher than mine. On some sailboats, you may even be able to point higher with a barber hauler than if you had installed inboard tracks.

Effect of a barber hauler on the headsail angle and sail slot

To rig a barber hauler with the lazy sheet:

  1. First trim your sails until you’re pointing as high as you normally can without the barber hauler. Typically, the lazy headsail sheet is laying slack on the deck serving no purpose until you switch tacks.
  2. Tie the bitter end of the lazy sheet to the carabiner. I prefer to tie a clove hitch, which is easy to adjust and easy to untie when I want to remove the barber hauler from one sheet and attach it to the other after tacking.
  3. Snap the carabiner onto the working sheet so that it can make a fair lead to a windward winch. Where you clip the carabiner may depend on the size of the headsail. On larger headsails like a 150 genoa, between the clew and the lead block works best for me. On smaller headsails like a 110 jib, I clip it right into the clew knot like shown in the first picture.
  4. Make one or two wraps of the lazy sheet around its winch, take up the slack, and cleat the lazy sheet.
  5. Tighten the winch to haul the headsail clew inboard, loosen the winch to ease the clew outboard. Leave slack the unused part of the lazy sheet (from the winch to the front of the mast and on to the headsail clew). Experiment with the winch until you make the perfect slot between the headsail and the mainsail and achieve the optimum sail shape, speed, and pointing angle. You don’t need to adjust or remove the working sheet.
  6. When it’s finally time to tack, slacken and disassemble the barber hauler, perform the tack as usual, and then set up the barber hauler on the opposite side of the sailboat with the new lazy sheet.

The next time you’re on a long beat to windward and the number of tacks that you will need to make is important (or even just for fun), consider setting up a barber hauler. After you do it a couple of times, it can become second nature. Your sailboat will perform like a slightly sportier version of itself and you’ve got another sail trim tool for your skills toolbox.


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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Randy Hoekstra says:

    Morning,
    Just read your post on pointing higher with using the lazy sheet and was wondering if you could use a separate line(sheet) and just move it back and forth after tacking. It would just go from the winch to the working sheet. I have a wing keel so I am looking foreword to trying this. Have a great 4th Randy.

    1. That could work too, especially if you have shorter sheets that don’t reach across the cockpit.

  2. Awesome! Can’t wait to try this.

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