How to pole out the jib – downwind sailing

Have you ever wondered how to pole out the jib? Or perhaps you’ve heard the term downwind sailing and wondered what it means and how you do it?! Read more and all will be revealed (video at the bottom of the article):

A sailboat can be propelled forward with winds coming from the front (at an angle), in addition to winds coming from the side and the back of the boat. The only time a sailboat cannot move forward is when the boat is heading directly into the wind.

When winds are coming from the front the boat is moved forward by the difference between the wind on the outside of the sail and the wind on inside of the sail… its a push-pull effect. When sailing into wind, a sailboat sails act just like the wings of a plane.

When winds are coming from the back of the boat, different principles are in effect. What happens is that the wind is actually blowing the sails and thus making the boat move forward.

This is called downwind sailing

There’s dead downwind meaning that the wind is directly behind the boat and then there are situations where the wind is blowing over the back left (port) or right (starboard) corner of the boat up towards the front (bow) of the boat.

Provided that the winds are not excessive, the general goal is to use the largest amount of sail to catch the wind and propel the boat forward.

When turning onto a downwind course in a regatta, or sailboat race, most boats will fly some sort of spinnaker (a massive colorful sail) to capture the most amount of wind possible.

For cruisers however, spinnakers are usually deemed too complicated and in its place a variety of other options are deployed.

Here are a few of the popular downwind sailing configurations for cruisers:

– Main sail and jib let out as far as possible (using a pole or not)
– Two jibs off the forestay – one on either side
– The jib and a genaker/asymmetrical sail or a staysail (or all three) with no main sail.

In the video I demonstrate how we pole out the jib to one side and have the main sail flying on the opposite side. This configuration works well when the boat is going dead down wind.

How to pole out the jib – follow these steps:

1. Put the pole in position along the foredeck preparing to attached three ropes to the end of the pole…
2. Attach the foreguy (a rope that stops the pole from slamming back against the mast and rigging)
3. Attach the topping lift (a rope that holds the pole up or parallel to the sea).
4. Attach the jib sheet (rope that lets the jib in or out) OR the clew of the jib/genoa sail. This enables the sail to unfurl attached to the pole and keeps the pole from slamming forward against the forestay
5. Adjust the foreguy and topping lift in addition to making sure the pole is parallel over the water (moving up or down along the mast)
6. Unfurl the jib pulling on the active jib sheet and let the sail come out.

Using the pole allows the maximum amount of sail to be flown in light winds. It helps to keep the sail tight rather than inflating and deflating with irregular winds.

After the jib is poled out, we then release the boom and swing the main over to the opposite side as far as it can go before hitting the spreaders.

For precautionary measures, we put a preventer on the boom to ensure it doesn’t accidentally swing to the other side. A preventer is a rope attached to the end of the boom (furthest from the mast) and tied onto the boat so to hold the boom forward.

Sailing downwind, especially in a swell, can be very uncomfortable in light winds. By using the pole and attaching a preventer boaters can ensure the maximum amount of sail is ready to catch the wind and reduce the noise associated to flapping sails and rigging.

So that’s how to pole out the jib.

How to pole out the jib video