Jibing the Jib

I recently received an email from a friend asking for a bit of sailing advice.  The email read “What is the best way to manage the jib during a jibe?  It embarrasses me that I probably have been taught how to best do this, but I can’t recall and on several occasions I’ve managed to wrap my jib around the front side of my forestay … creating a real mess of things.”

I have a feeling that if you asked this question of six sailors in a bar you would probably get seven different answers.  Part of the problem being that differing conditions require different solutions.  Here are some techniques that work for me.

The first thing to recognize is that the main is your primary concern.  Get it right, then worry about the jib.  As far as the jib is concerned, timing is important.  Release the jib sheet too soon and the jib blows around the front of the forestay, potentially getting tangled into the mess my friend described.  Wait too long and you end up with a back-winded jib.  Wait too long and forget to straighten the rudder and you end up hove-to.  Unfortunately, the right timing may involve more “art than science.”

Before going further in discussing the jib, lets walk through the steps of jibing the main.  While not an absolute requirement, often a jibe is completed from a broad reach on one tack to a broad reach on the opposite tack.  Assuming that’s the case, the helmsperson starts the process by asking the question “Ready to Jibe?”  This should be a question and a request to get ready.  It is never a statement that the jibe is commencing!  After everyone acknowledges readiness, comes the command “Jibe Ho!”  In other words, start hauling in the main boom.  Two things to keep in mind at this point.  First, the boat can turn much faster than the main can be trimmed!  Second, the harder the wind is blowing the more difficult it will be to trim the main while on a broad reach.  To handle both of these concerns, the helmsperson should begin a SLOW turn away from the wind and then stop turning when the boat is on a run.  Do not turn too far.  A good way to judge the point to stop turning is when the jib begins to hang limply in the shadow of the main.  The main sheet trimmer should now be able to bring the boom to the centerline of the boat for completion of the jibe.  Once the boom is centered, the helmsperson can continue the turn, allowing the main to “come across”.  Once across, it’s critical the main be allowed to run smoothly and freely.  Three wraps on a winch will not allow freedom.  Ge the sheet ready to run free.  Not allowing the main to run freely may result in the turning force on the sail overcoming the ability of the rudder to stop the turn, forcing the boat to spin quickly into the wind (broaching) even to the point of laying the mast horizontally on the water while its happening.

How about the jib … what do we do and when?  Much of the answer depends on how many crew are available and what point of sail you want to end up on.

  • If the same person will be doing the main and jib, I personally prefer leaving the jib alone until the main is across.  As soon as the boat is stable on it’s new course and the main properly trimmed bring the jib across.  Depending on the point of sail (run or broad reach,) the jib may backwind for a short while, but oh well.
  • If there is an extra crewmember or two, try bringing the jib to a wing-on-wing position when it goes “limp” behind the main.  It can be very satisfying to hear the thump of the jib filling with wind just before the main comes across and runs smoothly to the correct trim on the new tack.
  • If you the goal is to end up on a run, leave the jib alone and jibe to a wing on wing position.

Practice those last two methods in safe conditions (read mild wind and wave conditions) and when you need to jibe, you will be ready.

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2 Responses to Jibing the Jib

  1. Tony Johnson says:

    Don, well done!
    Another tip for those sailing shorthanded: As Don has said, the mainsail is your primary concern so if there are two of you that has to be attended to. If you don’t have a third hand to handle the jibsheets, you can fall off until the jib has been blanketed by the main and hangs limp, and then with the lazy sheet pull the clew of the jib so it is directly in front of the mast and release the working sheet. When you jibe, the jib will automatically be roughly trimmed and you can fine tune it.

  2. Don Gilzean says:

    Excellent point Tony!

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