Ask three sailors for the proper time and place to flake a main, and you are liable to get a confusing array of answers. Even sailing instructors vary on the process and timing, however, basically there are two options. 1) flake the sail neatly as the main is lowered to save time at the dock during clean up, and 2) get the sail down as fast and safe as possible and clean up the flake at the dock. Often the method taught includes a decision making process. If it’s calm, choose option 1. If there are substantial wind and waves, option 2 is better.
During the time I have been sailing, I have personally witnessed only one actual crew overboard. The cause? Option 1! During nearly windless conditions, the main was being lowered. Three crew members were working on getting the sail neatly flaked while dousing. The boat rolled one way while the boom swung the other and I heard myself yelling “man overboard” as I watched in slow motion the feet and legs of one of the crew disappearing from sight. Everything worked out in this case. The crew was in the water for less than five minutes. We had warm dry clothes on board to change into, and there were no injuries other than to his pride. It could have been much worse.
What is the best way to douse and flake a main?
- Get the motor started and head into the wind with just enough speed to have solid rudder control.
- One crew should be stationed forward of the mast, facing aft, left hand ready to guide the starboard side of the sail, right hand ready to guide the port side of the sail.
- As the halyard is lowered, the crew at the mast pulls a fold into the luff of the sail between the tack and the first sail slide. The sail will let you know if the fold should go to port or starboard. If, for example, the first fold goes to port, then pull a fold to starboard between the first and second slides, then back to port between slide two and three, repeating the port/starboard folding process all the way to the head.
- As the luff is being folded (more correctly, flaked), allow the leach to spill onto one side of the boom.
- Once the mainsail is all the way down, secure the boom.
- Now the crew working at the mast can move to the side of the boom the sail is spilled over and begin to quickly “roll” the sail “like a sleeping bag” until it is rolled onto the top of the boom. Put on enough gaskets (the nautical term for sail ties) to secure the sail to the boom and head for the dock (or anchorage.)
- Once tied securely to a dock, flake the leach to match the luff and secure.
A some points to consider. First, get the sail down as fast and safe as possible. Second, don’t expose any more crew than is necessary. In many cases only one person on deck is needed. Third, flake the sail nice and neat after return to the dock.
Following this process may prevent an embarrassing and potentially dangerous situation from happening on a boat over which you have responsibility.