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The dance of death
by Tom Cunliffe
Tom Cunliffe defuses onr of cruising's nastiest bombs - the booming out pole

Try as we may, all of us end up sooner of later sailing on a dead run. We khow it's slow and uncomfortable, yet there are times when there is no alternative but to put the breeze right aft.

As soon as we are squared off, the genoa collapses in the wind shadow of the main, leaving us with three choices. We can let it bang around, going nothing for the cause and driving everybody nuts, we can close-haul it in the lee of the main and thus put it to sleep, or we can goosewing by sheeting the headsail across on to the weather side, doubling our drive and, one hopes, keeping things quiet into the bargain.

Unfortunately for many of us, this latter arrangement is not achived without executing a sort of 'Dance of death', teetering around the small triangle of the foredeck, battling with an item that would have done credit to a Knight of Old.

In my early days of sailing on the Norfolk Broads, on could goosewing simply by allowing the sail to drift across to weather, then curbing it carefully with the sheet. Because the water was flat, it would stay put for much of the time. In any sort of a seaway, however, so idyllic an answer is a non-starter. The clew will fail in with the first weather roll, and must be held out to windward with a pole. Some yachts are supplied with a light whisker pole for achieving this, and for those under 30ft this can work well. Once the boat sizes up, however, the loads increase dramatically.

The primitive tendency of an untrained sailor is to grab the pole, balance it somehow, attach one to the clew of the sail,poking it outboard, before connecting the other end to the mast fitting. In a 32ft boat, pr larger, to attempt this in anything other than flat calm conditions is downright dangerous. Two hundred and fifty square feet of genoa banging around can easily launch the bowman into orbit. A system is required whereby the sail canbe boomed out without the foredeck hand ever having to bear its weight, ideally with everyone aft while it is being gybed.

The first action is to put the half-shadowed headsail to sleep by sheeting it hard into the lee of the main. The sail will not now sweep the foredeck clear, and the crew can go forward in the secure knowledge that they won't be swatted over the side like flies.

Next, feed the pole under the lazy weather sheet of the genoa the place its inboard end in the mast socket. This is now raise so that the pole will be parallel with the water when the clew of the boomed-out genoa is setting naturally. Rig the pole with its topping lift and foreguy(sometimes called the downhaul). The topping lift is often made fast at the mast, but the forguy fall is always led back to the cockpit. lastly, feed the bight of the weather sheet through the forward end of the pole so that it can run freely. Before teh crew leave the foredeck, the pole is raised with the topping lift, ensuring that its outboard end is on the windward side of the forestay. At this point, the crew retire to the safety of the cockpit.

Slacking off the foreguy so that the pile can be squred, the genoa is now gybed on to the polw. the lee sheet is eased steadily as teh weather sheet is winched aft. At some stage the sail will fill. When it has been trimmed, set up the foreguy so that the pole is held rigidly. The whole system is now very stable, and a blissful state has been achieved without anybody ever having been put at risk.

This rig is uncomplicated to operate and is edeal for most circumstances. However, it has one drawback. It can cause problems if you want to execute a major course alteration, perhaps in an emergency. WHen you ease the weather sheet, the pole goes all the way to the forestay and the sail must be forced between pole and stay to gybe it on to the leeward side. This untidy state of affairs can be neutralised by rigging a guy aft from the pole end. The foreguy, the topping lift and the gight of the sheet are arranged as before. Now a further line (the guy) is led out through a quarter block, outside the shrouds, and attached to the forestay and the foredeck crew lay aft. This time, the pole is squared using the 'after guy' leaving the genoa still close-hauled behind the mainsail. The pole is now held firmly by three control lines, so you can gybe the genoa on to it at your leisure. If you need to get out of the goosewinged state in a hurry, you can easily gybe the sail, because teh weather sheet will run sweetly. Once you are reaching, the pole can be taken down at your leisure. On an extended run, this is by far the most seamanlike way to rig the pole. poling out a headsail using one of these two methods takes all the stress out of the job. No strenght is required and the task can be executed safely after dark in a strong blow. It might be over-dramatic to say that the technique could save your life, but once you've practised it a couple times you' ll find that running becomes positively laid back. if it weren't for the rolling, you might even look forward to it.

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