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On Willoughby Bay
The Great Mid-Traveler Debate
by John Wade

Greg, Enjoyed the great pictures Brings back many fond memories. My first regatta in Willoughby Bay must have been about 1947. There was no bridge to Hampton, no marina; just a hot dry sand spit. There must have been thirty moths there, mostly sailed by high schoolers, with some older guys too like Dorr Willey, and Dave "peahead" Pritchard. let's hope to see such a rebirth.

On another subject, I notice the boats are all sailing with the mainsheet trimmed from mid-boom. I suggest trimming from the top of the rudder. This will allow you to sail the boat with one hand ( afterall it is a single hander). You will find you have more control in a heavy wind, and the sail goes out easier in a light wind (less blocks). The mid-boom trim really doesn't offer much advantage in sail control, verses the convenience of ease of trim from the tiller. All the boats of the 40,s and 50's were rigged like that except for the Conneticut boats; but then they were yankees and a bit slow to learn.

John >>>>>>>>>>>

From Greg Allen:

Hi John,

Hope you don't mind but I thought your letter would make a great story. It might even spark some debate.

Also, I remember my Cousin Dave Ellis relating to me years ago how mid-ship travelers saw popularity in the Suicide Class. Somebody decisively won the Nationals with a mid-ship traveler and everybody followed suit. Nobody knew why.

I've often questioned the merits of the mid-ship traveler. What happens to the shape of the sail when you pull from mid-boom verses the end? Then too, all of the clutter mid-ship, ease of movement, possibility of mistakes, might it prevent one from moving forward for brief moments...

My Moths are mid-ship, but my M16 I rig both ways. When I sail single-handed I prefer pulling from the end of the boom. My Nacra 5.8 also pulls from the back (no boom).

What do you think?


John's Second Letter (Not the Apostle or the Beatle):

I have always preferred to sheet from the rear in dingies. I recall a Laser Nationals in Tampa Bay about 1973. Second day the wind was about 20kts, and I had no problem up wind , but down wind I turned over to weather about 3 times before reaching the leward mark. between races I re-rigged the sheet to trim from the rudder head and had more control. I could pump, sheet faster, and had one hand free to adjust the dagger board, etc. To weather the sail trimmed flatter because I was not bending the boom with the mid boom block. Anyone sailing with a loose footed main should trim fron the end of the boom, especially in heavy air, otherwise the sail will increase in camber the tighter you trim the sheet (mid boom sheeting).

The moth boat, with its open design was without a doubt the greatest training boat ever devised for learning to sail. With limited restrictions on design, youngsters are introduced to many fascets of sailing not found in one design classes.

The Laser, and its popularity, was a great set back to developing a broader sense of sailing technique. The mid boom trim was so inconvenient that they tried all sorts of gear, in an attempt to make the boat easier to sail. They had cam cleats, jamb cleats, and ratchet blocks, all at great extra expense. When I broached the rudder head trim system, they stuck their head in the sand and said it wouldn't work. Even though I had just sailed Half the nationals with that system.

Good luck to you, keep experimenting, and don't be afraid to look at the methods and systems of times gone by. Simple is better.

John >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Charles Graves::

Just adding my 2 cents:  In the late forties I sailed my Pram with a block on my tiller just forward of the rudder head, almost dead over a vertical line running through the pindles.  Later I added a jam cleat just forward of the block.  I used this same rig on my first Moth (Bought from Dave Aaron of W. Palm Beach).  I love this arrangement - it is more conformable and gives you better control and more freedom to accomplish other tasks necessary to winning racing. 


Dave Ellis::

Sailing with the mainsheet coming from the back of the boat along the tiller used to be called the English method. Had to sail the Suicide that way years ago since it had a wishbone boom. One must have a very powerful boom vang to make it work. If one knows how to hold the tiller like a microphone in the lap then one hand can hold the tiller extension and the mainsheet with mid boom sheeting. Fact is, the wind doesn't care which way you sheet the sail. As long as you can make the sail act like a good foil.

Dave Ellis

Joe Bousquet::

Here's the "modern" take on 'midships vs aft travelers from my perspective. The location of the traveler (aft or amidships) does affect the boom bend characteristics and the resulting sail shape and boom construction specifications regarding stiffness, weight, etc. My particular preference is for an aft traveler (similar to a Laser) since the boom can be much lighter and the purchase arrangements can be reduced (most 'midships travelers utilize a 3-1 or a 4-1 purchase. I normally use a 2-1 purchase with my stern traveler and at times drop the purchase to 1-1 in light air.) the location of the "traveler" however, is a minor consideration compared to two more relavent concerns.

First, how does the helmsman apply leech tension, which directly controls the sails twist and indirectly controls mast bend and sail fullness? The recognized standard approach is to use a sufficiently powerful boom vang. With a vang controlling the leech tension, the mainsheet controls simply the athwartships position of the boom. A traveler is therefore not needed. Such a "vang sheeeting" arrangement greatly simplifies the helmsman's duties! Consider an old fashioned traveler arrangement: Boats that used a 'midships traveler had a complex interaction between the sheet, the traveler and the vang. Typically when sailing upwind, the mainsheet pulled down on the boom and provided leech tension (acting as a vang) and the traveler car position (to leeward in heavy air, amidships in moderate air, to weather in light air) was adjusted to provide the correct sail angle for a given amount of leech tension. Hence the traveler was acting as a "sheet" in controlling sail angle. As the boat cracked off the wind, the traveler car was dropped down toward the end of the track and the sheet tension was kept relatively constant. When the boat had borne away enought to require the boom to move over the side past the end of the traveler track, the mainsheet had to be eased and the vang took over the function of providing the correct amount of leech tension. The helsman would constantly balance sheet tension, traveler position, and vang tension to arrive at the desired sail twist, shape and angle. The modern approach is to use simply two lines: the vang and the sheet. Note with the functional definitions of a vang as the line that provides leech tension and the mainsheet as the line that controls sail angle (in and out position), when you analyze a catamaran you find that the mainsheet is acting in the role of the "vang" and that the traveler control line is acting in the role of the "mainsheet" at least on most points of sail.

However, let's go back to moth boats consider the second and more important consideration of the sheeting arrangement: that of a lead to the skipper's hand from astern or from forward. Stern travelers can easily be rigged so to lead the sheet to the skipper's hand from the transom/tiller area. Amidships (mid-boom) travelers inevitably have the sheet leading to the skipper's hand from forward of the helmsman's position. My preference is to have the sheet lead from a stern "bridle" traveler, forward along to the middle of the boom then down to a ratchet block fastened to a strong point on the back of the centerboard trunk. The result is to have the sheet leading from forward simliar to a 'midships traveler, but with the reduced complexity and the more efficient engineering requirements of a stern traveler/bridle. So why is the forward lead more efficient? After all, if you are by necessity having to hold onto the tiller or hiking stich from the stern wouldn't make more sense to hold on to the sheet from the same area? You can easily hold onto both with the same hand! The answer does not have to do with the efficiency of using one hand or two. There are standard techniques for holding onto a forward-led sheet and a hiking stick with one hand (I use them all the time to adjust vang, cunningham, outhaul). No, the reason that a forward-led sheet is preferred is that when tacking and jibing the boat, a forward-led sheet makes facing forward when switching sides easier and more efficient. It's the act of facing the bow when tacking and jibing that drives the sheet location! Since most tacks and jibes occur either at marks or around other boats the skipper needs to carefully watch where the boat is turning and not face the stern in the middle of the maneuver! Most skippers who use stern sheeting face aft when tacking and thus lose the valuable perspective of seeing where and how they're turning. Skippers that use stern sheeting and do face forward have the awkward task of switching both the sheet and the tiller/hiking stick behind their back in the middle of the tack or jibe. The forward-led sheet has universally been adopted by the Europe, Finn, 470 and Laser Olympic classes (yes, I know the Laser mandates this particular set-up!). It is interesting however that the other three classes have no restrictions on sheeting arrangements (stern sheeting is perfectly acceptable) and yet coaches and sailors have found no advantage to a stern sheeting arrangement. If there was an advantage, however slight, it would be quickly realized by individuals seeking the ultimate efficiency in driving sailboats. National team coaches worldwide choose a forward led sheet as the perferred option. Sailors today learn in junior programs, college sailing programs, community programs and the like to efficiently sail, sheet, tack and jibe with a forward-led mainsheet. The stern-led sheet is still found in some classes (notably catamarans and older British classes such as the Wayfarer) but has died in most modern dinghy classes.

As an aside, this past weekend I used a midboom 4-1 sheeting arrangement on my moth when I sailed in the modern moth division at Brigantine. The modern boom is too short to reach my stern bridle. The 4-1 sheet did make the jibes particularly easy! Just grab the "falls" and throw the boom over.

Joe Bousquet :)

Walt Collins - My 2 cents::

I have returned to a stern sheeted, but mid boom led sheet. The primary reason for this change was that I was able to reduce my boom total weight (including all rigging) from about 9.5 lbs to 6.5 lbs. I was unable to achive lighter boom weights without experiencing excessive boom bending. The attainable leach tension when not close hauled is considerably less though, because the boom is not stiff enough to apply sufficient vang tension to completly control twist. On the otherhand, once the wind pipes up enough to overcome the vangs effectiveness because of the bendy boom, the mast is also bending quite a bit and the power at the top of the sail is less valuable. Also contributing to this decision on my part is the fact that most of our racing is done either beating or broad reaching. A mid boom traveler on a moth is not effective past a beam reach, so the vang has to provide most of the leach tension on a broad reach or run anyway. Leading the sheet from the aft end of the well maximizes your control while sailing, at the slight cost of a free hand for adjustments. When the sheet is also in the tiller hand, it is easy to hold. This becomes less true when a tiller extension is in use because the sheet tension will interact with the extension angle to the tiller to make the steering effort higher. Sme feedback between the two controls, heading and sail angle is almost unavoidble if the normal comdition is sheet and ruder control in th esame hand. In addition a sheet led from aft requires pulling across your body instead of toward it. For me, this was always ackward, and used up more energy. Thus, a mid boat lead is better for me even if the primary sheeting force is at the boom end.