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Outhaul Configurations

One of the most frequent questions that Southeast Sailboats is asked is what is the best outhaul configuration and the pros and cons of each?  If you look at photos of the top sailors it’s clear that there is no consensus on the best configuration.  In this article Southeast Sailboats has asked multiple world champion and Olympic Coach Jon Emmett; Team GBR sailors Micky Beckett and Matilda Nicholls; and 2020 UK Masters ILCA Standard National Champion Orlando Gledhill for their thoughts on the subject.

The outhaul system comprises a 6:1 system to enable accurate and easy adjustment of the clew of the sail.  There are different configurations of blocks to create a 3:1 system in the secondary line, which together with the 2:1 purchase in the primary line/clew block provides the overall 6:1 purchase.   The configuration of the secondary line system uses a floating block on the end of the primary line placed either in the middle of the boom or at the front of the boom by the gooseneck. In terms of efficiency and friction in each system there isn’t much difference between the two, the differences are subtle.

There are two variations of the middle of the boom configuration – top of boom and side of boom.  Both Jon Emmett and Matilda Nicholls use the middle top of boom configuration.

Jon Emmett writes.. “My preference has always been for a middle boom block configuration and you know what they say, if it isn’t broken… then don’t fix it! By having the block central, the length of line is consistent and the blocks are further away from the sailor. Although I primarily do racing on the standard inner and outer loop course used at many Laser events. For club racing we may well have a one-sided course, or windward mark rounded to starboard etc which will affect my choice of which side to place the downhaul and therefore outhaul.

Jon Emmett

For calibration purposes it is always easy to see the block above the boom which is of course a similar position to the sailor, whereas trying to judge exactly where the clew is can be hard. By having the block on top it means when the outhaul is “bar tight” (touching the boom) it isn’t also touching the block on one side.

The length of elastic along the boom also works well with the block being centralised. Southeast Sailboats have got this spot on, so that the length/fitness means the outhaul always moves when you want it to in light winds without adding unnecessary resistance for strong winds. Jon Emmett – Multiple Masters World Champion and Olympic Coach

Matilda Nicholls writes… “My personal preference for my outhaul setup is to have the outhaul purchase running at the top of the boom. There are both pros and cons to this setup. Personally, I find it very important to know and be able to see my outhaul calibrations. I use the black outhaul block and measure it against different positions of tape on boom to know exactly where my outhaul depth is. These calibrations allow easy baseline set ups for when I first get on the water. It also allows me to test out different outhaul depths and make sure I know exactly where my outhaul was when a certain depth has worked or not worked for me in various conditions. Having the block sitting on-top of the boom allows me to easily see the block in relation to my tape on both port and starboard tacks. I also find this system allows the outhaul on the Radial to run effectively in all conditions. The double puller bungee has always remained tight enough for me that the outhaul releases even in very light conditions.

Matilda’s centre top of boom configuration

The alternative system that runs along the side of the boom is just as smooth and is a very neat and tight alternative to have your outhaul system. However, you will have to choose which side is more important for seeing your calibrations. I think that both systems are effective and run smoothly and that it is down to personal preference as to how you decide on your sail set-up and use your calibrations to do so.” Matilda Nicholls – GBR Team Sailor

GBR Team sailor Micky Beckett uses our middle side of boom configuration. Here he explains why… “The system I use, where a block is tethered in the middle of the boom, on either the port or starboard side, to create the purchase, runs down the side of the boom quite nicely providing the tethered block is securely fastened in place. Securing the block on the side of the boom will ensure the foot of the sail isn’t fouled near the clew, as this creates a nasty and permanent distortion in the form of the sail which is best avoided. The calibration of the sail is nicely visible on one tack – but pretty useless on the other tack. For this reason I have my outhaul running on the starboard side and downhaul on port, so the calibration is visible on starboard.

This configuration enables the bungee inhaul to be looped under the boom keeping it clear of the foot of the sail. One end of the bungee is fastened on the boom cleat, it then wraps under the boom, through the clew of the sail, then back under the boom again before fastening near the block at the end of the primary line, creating the ‘double-pull’ than enables the outhaul to release so well. This bungee configuration is essentially a figure-of-8 around the boom.

Micky Beckett’s centre side of boom configuration

The alternative system is to have two blocks fastened near the gooseneck to create the 3:1 system there. This is slightly easier to setup than the mid-boom block option, simply requiring a much longer primary line. There is however an increased chance of the line fouling the foot of the sail near the clew, particularly as more vang is used – the boom will bend more but the outhaul line will run straight regardless. The benefit of the system is probably a calibration system that is visible on both tacks. It’s hard to be a passionate advocate for one system over the other, the majority of sailors go with the former system, which given the mid-boom block is well secured is hard to critique. My best suggestion is to consider your system with these three questions, then consider the best change you could make from there. Does the sail get fouled by the system in any wind strength? Are you able to use your calibration when you need it? Does your system quickly release in light winds?” Micky Beckett – Team GBR Sailor

The front of boom outhaul configuration is used by a number of top sailors.   2020 UK Masters ILCA Standard National Champion Orlando Gledhill was Southeast Sailboats’ first customer to specifically request a front of boom configuration of our outhaul system. Orlando writes.. “I first started with the front of boom system because I got some coaching from Nick Thompson back in 2007. He used it and it looked neat, so I copied it. I am so conservative that I have never changed or even tweaked my outhaul until I started using your block permanently attached to clew a few years ago and latterly the (genius) closed-loop quick release over the end of the boom.

Front of boom configuration

For me, the reason I started using front of boom was the tidiness and neat look of having less (thicker) secondary and the blocks all quite close together out of the way of the boom block and cleat.

As the front block is situated to one side of the boom, calibration at that point isn’t visible on both tacks so I asked Orlando what he does.

To calibrate I make a black indelible pen mark on the primary just behind the boom cleat and I have a calibration strip stuck onto each side of the boom, in the same position. It is easy to read off the pen mark down to the calibration strip”. Orlando Gledhill – 2020 UK Masters ILCA Standard National Champion

So, three outhaul configurations and each has its own pros and cons. As with a lot of things it really comes down to personal preference and the following factors highlighted in this article:
• Calibration – ease of reading on both tacks, and where you like your calibration marks.
• Sail distortion caused by primary line, particularly when lots of kicker/vang on.
• Sail distortion caused by bungee.

Based on sales of our outhaul systems, the most popular configuration by far is the centre top of boom, followed roughly equally by the side of boom and front of boom.