Single Handed Set Up

By Stephen Jensen:


The San Juan 21 is a great boat for going sailing even when you can’t find a crew.  They are lightweight, easy to rig, easy to launch, and easy to sail all by yourself.  Even when sailing on “Charmed Juan” with the Admiral or the first mate (wife or son), I am still basically single-handing. With a couple of rigging modifications you can make your boat even easier to single-hand.


Routing Lines to the Aft Cockpit

The most complicated modification is running the Halyards and other lines back to cleats on the cabin top next to the cockpit.  With this, you can raise, lower, and adjust the sails from the cockpit without having to move too far from the tiller.


Charmed Juan's deck layout looking forward


When running your lines aft to the cockpit, you have a variety of different types of cleats to choose from.  Horn cleats, Clam or V-Cleats, Cam Cleats, and those trick looking rope clutches.  I use Cam Cleats on the halyards and the Jib downhaul lines.  This is because when stepping and un-stepping the mast, raising or lowering the sails, long runs of these lines will go through the cleat. With the V-Cleats or Clam cleats; the lines can catch and bind in the cleat as the lines run through them.

The Rope clutches will also work here, if you want to spend the extra money.  I am still not sure I like the Spinlock mini rope clutch.   The Cunningham lines, Spinnaker poll lines, and reefing lines may not have much of a run through the cleats.  Here, you can use a V-Cleat.  I also use Fairleads and rope guides for the cam cleats. This makes it easier to trim a line with out having to be right behind the cleat.

Charmed Juan’s Deck Layout looking aft


You will need to install blocks at the base of the mast.  Either blocks mounted directly to the deck with eyes, or welding plates to the mast base


Another consideration is to place the cleats upstream of your cabin top winch if you have one. This way you can use the winch to pull the lines tight, this can be handy if you want to pull a halyard up a little more when there is already wind pressure on the sail.  If you do mount the cleats up stream, you will need to have them mounted on risers and wedges so it will be easy to pull the rope into the cams without having to pull the rope right on the deck.

I have seen many cam cleats that are difficult to work because of this.  In the picture below, you can see the fairlead upstream of the cams.  This keeps the rope down low infront of the cams and allows the rope to go into the cams more easily.  The Gray guides allow you to cleat the line while pulling at an angle to the cleat.


Cam Cleats with Rope Guides and Fairleads



 Jib Downhaul


A trick I have that has proven to be very valuable is the  Jib Downhaul.  This simple set up allows the single-handed sailor to do two things.  One is to lower the jib to the deck from the cockpit.  Handy when you are approaching the dock and there are a bunch of powerboats milling around or when the winds pick up quickly and you need to get the sail down NOW.  It can also save your jib from flogging around while you are moving forward to bring it down.  On Charmed Juan, I can drop the Jib to the deck in about 5 seconds from the cockpit.  It works well for small 110% Jibs, with the Genoa you will have to tie the sail so it won’t flop over the deck into the water after it’s down.  One important trick is to tie a loop in the line about 6" below the halyard shackle and attach the loop to the top hank.  This way when you pull the jib down it pulls on the top hank, not on the head board which can twist the top hank which will bind it on the forestay.


The other benefit is to act as a temporary forestay to hold the mast up after stepping so you can pin the forestay. After stepping the mast, pull the Jib downhaul line tight and cleat it.  Make sure the Jib Halyard is also cleated or you will be in for a nasty surprise.  Now you have the ability to let go of the mast, go forward and attach the forestay.


Jib Downhaul rig



 Mast being held up by the Jib Downhaul rig prior to installing the forestay



Bringing the mast down is just the opposite.  Release the backstay adjuster, cleat the Jib Halyard, tighten and cleat the Jib downhaul. The forestay should be loose now.  After you remove the forestay pin, you can let the mast down to about 45 degrees with just the downhaul line.  After this you need to hold the mast as you would normally.


It consists of a 3/16 polyester double braid line,  attached to the Jib halyard shackle, runing to a block at the bow tang, then to a cheek block to keep the line away from the forehatch, and back to a cleat at the cabin top near the cockpit.


Tiller Tamers


Of course, to make it possible to leave the tiller without having the boat suddenly change course, you need a device to hold the tiller steady while you are away from it.  This may be the single most important device for the singlehander.  I have found three examples.

Davis products makes one called the Tiller Tamer; it isn’t the strongest unit on the market but readily available and not too expensive.  It’s best to mount these on the bottom of the tiller so they are out of the way.  The lines can be lead aft to the transom and cleated with V-cleats.


Davis Tiller Tamer



For those of you who don’t want to spend any money, there is the Cajun Tiller tamer.  It consists of a rope coiled around the tiller three times then run back to the aft cleats.  Use the dock line attached to the stern cleat. Lead it forward at about a 45-degree angle and wrap it 3 times around the tiller, making the first pass under the tiller, not over. Secure the end of the dock line to the other stern cleat.

To engage the CTT, slide the loops forward, until it tightens around the tiller and holds it. To fine-tune the position of the tiller, grasp the loops and rotate them around the tiller a little. To disengage the Cajun Tiller tamer, slide the loops around the tiller aft, so the loops around the tiller loosen and the line is slack enough to permit you to move the tiller freely.


Cajun Tiller Tamer



For those who want something a little more permanent, the Huntingford’s helm impeder (must be British).  This device is another home build item.


Huntingford's Helm Impeder


Huntingford’s Helm Impeder


Sail Slides


Along with routing the halyards back to the cockpit, sail slides or slugs help make raising the mainsail a one-line pull.  You don’t need to feed the boltrope of the sail into the mast while raising it.  When you first rig the boat, you feed the slides into the mast and lock them in with a sail stop so they don’t come back out.  With the front of the sail already flaked, it’s easy to flake the sail to the boom.  To raise the sail, just remove the sail ties, and pull the main halyard.  This also allows you to get the sail down quickly, and still have it attached to the mast so it can’t fall into the water. 

The bottom slide should be 18" to 20" above the tack and then spaced about 20" to 24" apart from there. The top slide can be placed about an inch below the head board.


Sail slides mounted on Mast

Sail Slide Stop


Masthead mounted topping lift

Another must have item is a Masthead Boom Topping Lift. This is an inexpensive boom kicker that will lift the aft end of the boom so it doesn’t fall into the cockpit when lowering the mainsail.  The standard Boom holder is called a pigtail and is attached to the backstay.  I have forgotten to detach the pigtail before and almost got flattened when falling off the wind.   With a masthead setup, you won’t face that embarrassment.  This consists of a line from the masthead crane down to a block on the back of the boom then to a v-cleat on the bottom of the boom.  This allows to the boom to be raised by just by pulling the line.  You can drop the sail simply by tensioning the topping lift line.  No need to hook the boom to the pigtail.  It also allows you to raise the boom a little in light winds so the weight of the boom won’t pull the leach too tight.


Boom Held up by topping lift


Another benefit with this set up is the ability to raise the boom way up when the sail is lashed to the boom for more headroom.  You can raise the back of the boom with the topping lift and then raise the front by sliding the gooseneck up and locking it into position with a sail slide stop.


Charmed Juan rigged for standing head room




With these modifications, single-handing is easy with no need to leave the cockpit or move too far from the tiller.

If you have any other ideas or pictures of your set-ups please contact me and I can put them in this article.