Tradewind sailing

17:00.5S 88:24.9W

2131 NM on the GPS

At about latitude 18 degrees south we finally hit the trade winds. On our way around the edge of the high pressure zone the winds had been much more variable in strength and prone to shifts in direction. The sky was also very overcast, probably on account of the meeting of these two very different air masses. Now we were seeing the typical trade wind cloud formations and enjoying a much steadier wind. Time to try the twin headsail set up again!

Typic tradewind clouds

The normal sailing set up of having both sails on the same side works well until you need to go within 30 degrees of straight downwind. If Aries is steering make that 60 degrees of straight downwind (to be fair the area from 60 to 30 degrees downwind is difficult steering even for a human helmsman). 

Both sails on the same side

So when you want to go downwind you either use the spinnaker, or if you are shorthanded and cruising rather than racing, you go goose-winged, Mainsail on one side and Genoa poled out on the other. (You can also go with just a Genoa but this is rather unbalanced and slow unless it is blowing hard.)


The traditional rig for sailing downwind in the tradewinds is using twin headsails, a foresail poled out on each side. This time around we got it rigged without too many problems and, fingers crossed, two days later all is still well.

Twin headsails

In our experience twin headsails is the most balanced and comfortable. However it takes a lot of setting up and unless you have a boat rigged with twin roller reefing stays, is difficult to change, for example if you have to make a large change of course. So we normally use goose-winged because it is easy to swap back to sails on the same side if necessary (note in the photo above that we have done that and left the pole out ready to change back). Twin headsails are only worth the effort if you plan to sail downwind for days rather than hours.

Caramor usually sails in more variable climes, so she was not rigged with twin headsails in mind. So we fly the extra sail loose (not attached to a forestay), using the spinnaker halliard* to hoist her and attaching her to the foredeck using a Dyneema sling made fast to the anchor bits.

Very much an improvised affair

Post by Franco

* After a bit of research and hard thinking we worked out that using the spare foresail halliard was a mistake. It is designed to take all the strain along the direction of the forestay and any side-to-side movement will saw the rope at the edge of the hole where it exits the mast. The spinnaker is also a 'loose' sail, so the spinnaker halliard block is mounted in such a way that it can swivel in many directions.