Setting Sail by Phil Hughes


INTRODUCTION by Michael Roberts

Phil Hughes, you would say, was something of a boffin. He was the former owner of DY320 then named “Yawl We Want”[He lived close to Rutland Water where he sailed] before its arrival in Topsham, on the river Exe in Devon. Its home now is on the Yealm near to Plymouth.
Phil bought the boat new in the early nineteen nineties and fitted the masts, standing and running rigging, some innovative controls systems, along with a Milanes rudder foil and stock.

His choice of main mast is of interest, he made the decision to go away from the straight up and down spar normally fitted as standard to the yawl at the time, and go for a slim fully tampered bendy mast.
Before stepping the mast and rigging the boat, he created a jig to take the mast and rigging in his garden, and in conjunction with a computer program that he designed and with much trial and error worked out the best spreader angle, their position on the mast and rig tension.

He also in collaboration with Batt Sails, designed the sails to suit the mast set up. The boat was launched for a Devon Yawl rally on Rutland water where it proved itscp pedigree, and subsequently blew everybody off the water with significant boat speed and upwind performance compared to the rest of the fleet at the time.
It could be said that this boat did much to push forward the tuning and innovative aspects of the Devon Yawl.

SETTING SAIL by Phil Hughes

Whether we race or cruise we can regard the sails as the engine of the boat. In the same way as we change gear in the car to deal with different road conditions, we should change the shape of the sails to cope with different wind and sea conditions.

Cars come in standard and deluxe versions and sail controls do likewise. In the diagrams I have tried to sketch out adequate, good and deluxe versions of each control. However there is one decision to make depending on crew experience and strength. If you have a strong experienced crew you may like to have controls on or near the mast or foredeck. If they are less experienced then running the controls back to the helmsman may be worthwhile.

When sailing we may like to make adjustments to the following.

   1. Genoa sheet angle

   2. Main foot

   3. Main cunningham hole

   4. Kicking strap

The simplest control for the genoa sheet angle is a slide on the side deck. This is not easy to adjust when the wind is blowing hard and is extremely hard on nether regions.

A simpler and cheaper choice is to have a pulley on a cord lead through a bullseye under the deck and hence to a cleat on the inside deck edge.

The deluxe version has two cords on the pulley allowing you to pull the genoa sheet inboard in light winds.

The main foot can be controlled with a clew outhaul consisting of a single pulley and line but you will have to be very strong to pull the foot out enough in strong winds. Increasing the purchase by using small pulleys solves this problem. Putting the pulleys inside the boom is really only cosmetic, however putting the final cleat where you can reach it is vital.

The simplest form of cunningham control is a cleat on one side of the mast and a hook on the other as shown in the diagram. Putting two pulleys on the deck and running control lines to cleats near the shrouds means that the crew can adjust the sails whilst sitting on the sidedeck. Running the controls back to the helmsman is a personal choice. Once again running the control back to the helmsman is a personal choice.

The Devon Yawl has a particular problem when it comes to the kicking strap. If you run the strap to the floor then you cannot let the boom out fully because the strap hits the side deck. This can be cured by running the strap to the mast at deck level but it must be connected to a strong fitting because the strains are very high. I connect mine to a wire strop enclosed in plastic which wraps around the front of the mast and is held down by a hook.

The angle of the mainsheet jammer is very important. At some time we all make the same mistake, we set the jammer at a convenient angle when we are sitting on the seat on a light sunny day then find the angle is too high to get the sheet out of the jammer when a gust strikes and we are leaning out trying to keep the boat up. Result; water in the boat and a terrified crew. The cure is to set the mainsheet jammer so it just goes into the cleat when you are sitting on the sidedeck and your hand is on the edge of the deck.

Mast bend is a whole separate topic but it can be accomplished by closing off the mast gate with a metal bar and then making up some T shaped blocks of wood to go in front and behind the mast. It is really surprising how a few millimetres bend at deck level changes the shape of the sail. Chocks are set up for the wind of the day at the start of sailing as they are difficult to change once you are on the water.

We have now reached the point where we can control the sail shape so which shapes do we use under which circumstances? Drifting: – wind so light it comes and goes.

Mast: Bend from behind by inserting half inch chock of wood, freeing the leech to let the wind escape Main Foot: Fairly tight, this also avoids the tight leech
Kicker: Disconnected

Cunningham: Loose Lean boat to hang sails into some kind of shape. Get boat moving.

Light steady wind:

   Mast: Take chock out so that mast is straight
   Main Foot: Loose to give large camber
   Kicker: Just firm enough to stop boom lifting
   Cunningham: Loose These settings give maximum power and can be used as long as heeling does not become a problem.

More wind: You have now reached a critical transition point where you have more power than you can handle. Depending on total crew weight different boats will reach this point at different wind speeds. Now we need to start giving away power we cannot handle.

   Mast: Small chock behind mast to induce a slight bend
   Main Foot: Pull out to flatten sail
   Kicker: More tension
   Cunningham: Enough tension to remove wrinkles at luff. Sit out fully and ease mainsheet in gusts.

Big winds:

   Mast: half inch chock behind mast. 1 inch gap in front Main Foot: Very tight                                                                                                                                                     Kicker: Very tight                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Cunningham: Very tight.

Sail on genoa, mizzen and only enough of the main not letting the boat heel to much.

All the above comments apply to taking the boat to windward in flat water. When reaching use fuller sail settings to generate more power. When sailing in waves use fuller settings because the waves will be slowing you down.

One of the most difficult arts is to tune the boat to react to gusts in an ideal way. You can only really judge by comparing your boat to other Yawls when hit by the same gust.


If your boat heels, broaches and leaves you fighting the helm whilst everybody else disappears into the middle distance then your sails are too full and the mast has not bent enough. Try more chocks behind the mast and tighter foot, cunningham and kicker.

If the gust hits and your boat hardly heels and everybody else once again sails into the middle distance then you are not generating the same power as the other boats. Try a chock in front of the mast to stop it bending too much and try slightly fuller sail settings.

If when the gust hits you are able to keep the boat level by sitting right out and easing the main slightly, then you have achieved the ideal combination. When you come ashore measure and record all sail and mast settings so you can set the boat up the same way next time.

Think of the boat as an animal. Is it happy? Does it want to go to go the way you want it to go? Are you having to fight it and tug at it all the time? Only sailing the boat and enjoying it will give you the sensitivity really to feel what the boat is trying to tell you.

You will never feel the boat if you have cleats that will not cleat; cleats that will not uncleat; cleats that slip at critical moments. Gusts wait for moments such as these when you are distracted by a piece of gear that is not working. It is no use blaming the crew if they cannot get the genoa sheet into the cleat on a windy day; it is your fault for not raising the cleat on a little wooden block or angled chock so that it can be operated whilst sitting out over the opposite sidedeck.

So get the gear into working order then go out and enjoy the boat.