Stability of offshore boats


One of the many features of a Mini Transat boat that attracted me was the basic premise of the boat. That seamanship was to be to the fore and all the gadgets were secondary.

British Delivery skipper Bob Salamon saw that the only game in town then, the O.S.T.A.R was getting too far away from its original, inexpensive, “run what ya brung”roots with big campaigns,big boats and big budgets. He wanted to offer a race that went back to basics. He thought that there would be enough sailors who would be attracted by the idea of preparing your own small inexpensive boat for a 3500 mile ocean passage, creating your own weather forecasts from simple tools like a barometer, air and water temp. and clouds were the only ways available then of course, plus the the sailing, navigation-Sextant and the seamanship required to make the passage.

This idea struck a chord with a young Californian sailor named Norton Smith. He had, I think,participated in one of the, if not THE first Single-handed Trans-Pac in possibly 1977. Following the first Mini Transat, Smith researched the boats and the race and ultimately commissioned local San Francisco Bay sailor and designer Tom Wylie to design him a boat. Wylie also ran a boat building business and so the boat that became American Express was built by Wylie in his shop in, I recall, Alameda on the North side of San Francisco Bay.

American Express was the winner of the second Mini Transat in 1979

American Express was the winner of the second Mini Transat in 1979

15 or so years later when I was having Wylie build parts of my boat I learned a bit about Smith’s boat.

It was cold molded plywood. It was to have water ballast in it, for at the time the Mini Rules were a bit like the 18 foot skiff rules in Australia: “The boats are 18 feet long and the start is at 2:0 pm”. Well the minis were roughly the same for the boats themselves. “They gotta be 6.5 meters long and the start is in September”. There were a few regs for the sails and kit required, but nothing like today.

Well before the current crop of Mini's with their cabin tops and escape hatches, American Express sailed in at least two Mini Transats, winning the 1979 edition.

Well before the current crop of Mini’s with their cabin tops and escape hatches, American Express sailed in at least two Mini Transats, winning the 1979 edition.









The way Smith and Wylie calibrated the water ballast configuration was very practical and well before the now default standard 10 degree  rule. This 10 degree rule common virtually default rule in solo offshore races and boats today and requires that any device that impacts stability of the boat usually water ballast or canting keels is restricted to a maximum heel angle at the dock of 10 degrees.

Remember too that this is years before the BOC and all the races it has wrought. Really the only Name Brand solo race was the O.S.T.A.R.

Compare the very "nortmal" hull shape and keel with the inboard rudder in this picture of American Express from the early 1990's.

Compare the very “normal” hull shape and keel with the inboard rudder in this picture of American Express from the early 1990’s with the keel and shape below.

Coopers mini at Sail Newport in 2002

Coopers mini at Sail Newport in 2002


They build the boat and went sailing on SFO bay. They rigged up a kite pole with a large drum or water carrier of some sort on the outboard end. The sailed up wind and gradually put more weight on the kite pole that was rigged square to the boats centerline. When the boat recovered from its un-ballasted angle of heel to one they thought was right, and faster, they measured the amount of water and built the tanks inside the boat to that volume.

Another “quick and dirty” detail was the deck. The Moore 24’s were very popular at the time, well they still are, and so they somehow got a Moore 24 deck, placed it on the top of the Wylie Hull and trimmed it to fit the hull,  glued it on—Job Done!!!

American Express preparing for the 1993 Mini Transat








The fascinating thing about this boat is that it is still active and apparently sailed in the Mini Transat in 1993. Further as the first image will indicate, a mini is incredibly stable. The displacement of a mini is about 2200 lbs, mainly because they must carry about 1,000 of gear including the skipper. The “pull down” stability test described in an earlier post  is relatively new but if you look at the first image, on top of a guy up the mast on American Express, in the early 90’s or late ate 1980’s the boat is totally unperturbed by the say 170 pound bloke aloft. 170 over 2200 is close to 8%. We could all contemplate what might happen to our boats if 8% of the boat’s displacement was hoisted to the top of the mast…..

The flat deck was both easy and fast to build and install and lowers the CG of the boat. It works from a sailing the boat and rigging layout too

The flat deck was both easy and fast to build and install and lowers the CG of the boat. It works from a sailing the boat and rigging layout too








If I ever act on one of my pet projects, to open a museum or similar institution dedicated to the sub species “Solo and DH sailing racing and cruising”, American Express will be one of the featured boats.

American Express at rest. Date unknown


Transat Jacques Vabre & The Mini Transat


For an admittedly small cohort of US sailors, it is relatively easy to understand the French passion for fast, short handed (solo or double handed)  offshore sailing.  For those of us who do relate to such events, two of the bigger ones, the Transat Jacques Vabre and The Mini Transat are both now fully underway. These races offer a couple or three weeks of the finest examples of this division of the sport of sailing.

One of the continuing fascinations for me is the skill these guys and girls have and the thought that goes into making them, the crews and the boats sufficiently safe so that there is a reasonable chance they will all finish in one piece. For instance all the Mini skippers have to carry an immersion suit. They are required to have a water tight bulkhead in the bow and they must have sufficient built in flotation to keep the boat afloat in the event of a holing. Minis were among the first class’s to have escape hatches in the stern. The qualifying process in terms of miles sailed and races completed is very rigorous in order to be accepted as an entry in the Mini Transat. Compare that with the entry requirements for most ocean races in the US. The only races I can think of right now that actually mandate qualifications and a qualifying passage are the Bermuda 1-2 and the Single handed Transpac.

One significant requirement that the Mini’s started and now is incorporated into the Class 40’s and the IMOCA 60’s is the stability test. For the Mini’s they must be capsized at the dock, the mast head at 90 degrees to the water plane, a weight put a roughly  50 Kg. weight on the top of the spar and the boat must recover from this position or it does not pass.

I often wonder how many "cruising boats" would pass a similar test.

I often wonder how many “cruising boats” would pass a similar test.

All sailors and cruising sailors in particular can always benefit from the  practice of important skills: MOB, broken equipment and so I think there is a lot to be learned from the world of the single and double handed races that the average cruising sailor could benefit from in terms of practice and forward planning. Anyway, read on:

As it turns out, after being in postponement  mode for two weeks waiting for it to stop blowing the labels off the wine bottles on the Brittany Coast, the Mini Transat race started 29 October last. A day or two later with the boats Half way across the Bay of Biscay, the race committee abandoned the race and instructed the fleet to beat feet to the closest port based on the forecast that it was to blow like stink again. 5 boats made it to Sada on the NW coast of Spain while the rest blew into Gijon further to the east. A couple more were further east and one, the sole US boat sailed by Jeff MacFarlane, drifted off downwind after he broke the rig and was lifted off by one of the escort boats. Jeff must be pretty hard on his boats: this is the second one he has broken in two years trying to keep his position as the number three ranked mini sailor in the world.

You are single handed on the boat, but no one does these things alone. Image (c) Don Miller Photography 1995.

You are single handed on the boat, but no one does these things alone. Image (c) Don Miller Photography 1995.


One of several minis in the North East USA.

One of several minis in the North East USA.

The Mini’s are 21 foot rockets sailed solo From France, with a scheduled stop in The Canaries, which for this year has been abandoned due to the weather delays in favor of merely passing through a gate adjacent to The Canaries, then full blast across the Atlantic finishing in Guadeloupe.

The 4 classes of boats in the TJV, a trans-Atlantic race sailed double handed from France to Itajai, a coastal city south of Rio in Brazil (and a repeat stop over port for the 2015 VOR) are class 40’s, IMOCA 60’s, 50 foot multi-hulls and 2 MOD Tri’s (sailed double handed at 25-30 knots most of the time) were also held for a few days due to 50 knots of gale blowing across the basin in Le Havre the starting point for the TJV. This fleet got off last Saturday or Sunday but shortly after the start the race committee instructed the Class 40’s to finish at Roscoff, about 200 miles SW down the track from Le Havre. Reason being yet another 50 knot gale about to blow across the Bay of Biscay and the 40’s were not going to be fast enough to get far enough south to avoid it. The idea of beating up wind in 45-55 knots in a Class 40 is less than appealing, even to the French.

A class 40. One of the impressive fefatures of these boats is the really properly water tight hatch into the cabin.

A class 40. One of the impressive features of these true offshore boats is the really properly water tight hatch into the cabin seen here with the hatch handles and a bar (for the padlock) on it

While the Minis had a week in Spain the remaining three classes of the TJV boats sailed

An attribute of the Mini Class is the, if not regulation requirement that you be able to sail with no mast...But the spirit of the race the boats the competitors and the events, all of them, encourage the kids of sporbel solving seamanship skills we all  ought to aspire too.

An attribute of the Mini Class is the, if not regulation requirement that you be able to sail with no mast…But given he spirit & history of the race, the boats, the competitors and the events, all of them, encourage the kinds of problem solving & seamanship skills we all ought to aspire too.

past C. Finisterre and the 40’s restarted based on the time differences recorded when they “finished” in Roscoff. On Tuesday the Mini’s started again and headed south down the Spanish/ Portuguese coast in the now 30 knot NE trades. This has interestingly enough put them right on the heels of the Class 40’s the tail-enders, 3  of whom were passing C. Finisterre  as the minis came out of the bay on which Gijon is sited.

As it turns out the lead mini has sailed past all three of the tail end Class 40’s. The third to last Class 40 is at 38:38n x 15:45 west…. although the lead Mini is about 200 miles further east, at 38:12 North x 11:13 West. The last Class 40 is the only boat with an America aboard, Rob Windsor sailing with Brit Hanna Jenner aboard the US sponsored 11th Hour racing. They were one of two C-40’s to divert back to shore after the second start to fix a broken head stay toggle which might have seen their abandonment but for smart work on the crews part to save the rig when the head stay fell in the drink. The price for this failure is their nearly 700 mile deficit on the leaders, but they are back in the race and will be pushing hard no doubt.

The leading Mini is the scow bowed, ugly, to my eye, yet seriously fast winner from the 2011 race presently in the hands of a pretty skilled, experienced and aggressive Italian.

The ten lead minis are AVERAGING over 10 knots with the leader averaging 12 but the third place boat is averaging 13.6 knots…Think about how fast they are really going to average such high numbers. The weather map says they are sailing in 25-30 knots.

One can follow the Mini Transat here:

The top 10 Class 40’s are averaging between 12 and the 15.2 of the leader AVERAGING, that is. One boat really pushing hard is the Anglo French pair Halvard Mabire (FRA) and Miranda Merron (GBR). They have hand steered their way to the front group up from 8th yesterday to 4th today.

And filed under the category of “know your boat, aka tiller time” this pair has completed about 60% of the Global Ocean Challenge DH RTWR for Class 40’s a couple of years ago, the Atlantic cup, the Quebec St. Malo race and lord knows what else in the same boat, a 2nd generation Pogo. It probably does not hurt that they are among the oldest pair in the race: Halvard will be 57 on Nov 18, another birthday at sea it seems & Merron is 44.

They also hold the race record for the most transatlantic passages at 54…Mabire has 34 and Merron 20 crossings. From the back of the envelope, 34 trips x 3,500 miles per, say on average = 122, 500 miles JUST in Atlantic sailing. Plus this one assuming they finish—4 boats have abandoned the race so far and the leaders are not at the Canaries…and this one is closer to 5,000 miles.

One can follow the TJV here–

These races are worthwhile following not the least for the ability to follow an ocean race where 20 years ago it would have been impossible once the boats were over the horizon, but because of the good ideas that can be got from looking at the many images of the boats under way and at the docks.



Full length Battens




The subject of full length battens and whether or not you and your boat need them is one of the longer discussions sailmakers and their customers have. Like much else around the boat, there are plusses & minuses and maybes’ and what if’s. This series is intended to outline the various issues to be contemplated when you get the idea to have full length battens on your boat or new sail.


What they can do:

 A Class 40 with a so called Square Head mainsail

A Class 40 with a so called Square Head mainsail


a)      Full length battens can support a more pronounced roach than a sail without full length battens.

b)      They can be retrofitted to revive the shape in an older sail

c)       They can make the mainsail “smoother” minimizing bumps, creases or hard spots at the forward end of short battens

d)      Maybe easier to flake and fold

Side rails to attach lazy jacks to.

Side rails to attach lazy jacks to.

e)      They can make capturing the sail as it is lowered less of a dance IF the boat has either a Dutchman OR a dedicated Lazy Jack’s system designed for the sail

f)       Reduce drag at the top of the spar, square head only

g)      They make the sound of the sail flapping less loud which has its own many benefits above the longevity of the sail fabric.


Issues to consider:

a)      Make the sail jump into its kennel all by itself–NOT

b)      Rating issues (if you do any kind of racing, an “oversized” mainsail will get a new handicap allowing for the perceived speed gain) with oversize roach, except when purely cruising or sailing open classes.

Kress LJ ears (1)

c)       Are they really faster as some have remarked?

d)      In the case of the large roach/square head sail the compression on the luff from the batten is considerable.

e)      Chafe esp. with aft swept spreaders. Also the batten pocket OR sail will chafe where the batten crosses the lee rigging when sailing down wind. It is perfectly possible to saw a hole through a sail overnight (I have inspected a sail so damaged) if this is not either addressed on the boat or in the construction phase of the sail.

f)       Whether to employ luff loading batten pockets or not. By this device the battens are inserted in the luff end of the sail with the leech end sewn shut thus making it really hard, as in you must really try to shake the batten out of the back of the sail. Much harder but not impossible.


g)      The larger the boat (mainsail) the more likely the sail needs low friction track and cars.

h)      Additional costs related to the detailing on the sail and the cost of the hardware.

A selection of available batten hardware

A selection of available batten hardware

i)        Value versus regular length battens

j)        Potential for damage when sailing-Like an all standing gybe where the sail lands up against the formerly windward runner usually with a great shock.

k)      The material from which the battens are made, there are mainly three flavors.

l)        Carrying spare (battens and parts) on voyages including the stowage on board, the shipping if necessary, the ease with which a long batten can be removed from the sail if the batten breaks



Batten sliding systems

There are two categories:

  1. Those using a dedicated track and
  2. Ronstan track and car system

    Ronstan track and car system

  3. Those that do not have a dedicated track but rather the “cars” run in the mast’s original track/groove.

Within “A”: there are two sub-decisions, ball bearing cars and slider cars without bearings.

Within “B” there is one variation from the almost universal use of simply some kind of slippery plastic and that is a car that has bearings incorporated into the car itself. I am aware of only two products that fit this last description.



There are three components to the fully battened system.

  1. The “cars” these may be simply a beefier version of the sail slug/slide the sailmakers might use anyway on a small boat’s mainsail. OR on bigger installations with ball bearing cars they are substantial pieces of engineering.
  2. The “batten box”, aka batten receptacle. The device into which the forward end of the batten is captured. This is in turn attached to the car by:
  3. Toggle”, aka universal. This can be as simple as webbing on a small sail or as complex as an unlimited multi axis universal ball joint on bigger hardware/boats.

There are of course all manner of small parts, screws bolts, nut, balls or slider inserts that are included in the various parts outlined above, but you get the idea


Do I want them or not?

Considering all the above the rational human would surely ask him/herself do I really want this headache versus what will I gain from having full length battens?


Read on.