Does gear failure often cause you to go slow or lose races? Jonty Sherwill asked team manager Campbell Field for tips on making your racing boat more reliable

It has been a tight race in a building breeze, but you’ve maintained the lead on this last beat and now just a loose cover on the boats behind should be enough to seal this race. “Make it a good one!” is the helmsman’s plea as the tactician calls the final tack for the pin end.

But as the sails fill on the new tack fate has other plans, the jib halyard parts and the No 3 is now wrinkled and fluttering down the forestay. The bowman is rushing forward with the second halyard and now it’s a race within a race to get the sail up again as the following pack closes in for the kill.

Just a single oversight can jeopardise a whole weekend’s fun for a keen crew. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that boats with a regime of post-race checks and job lists are often seen regularly at the front of the fleet and picking up the silverware.

Professional advice and maintenance will be needed when things go wrong, but it does not always require an expert to give your yacht the once over. Some regular commonsense checks might save the day, and a good time to get some useful tips is when you buy new sails and gear.

While the pro and semi-pro boats will have the advantage of sailmakers and riggers sailing on board, being as well organised as them will cost only a few minutes after the race. It’s a habit that pays off in the long run.

It might even attract more experienced crew to sail with you. So stepping up the maintenance regime to match those annoyingly consistent boats in your fleet could see you join their ranks sooner than you think.

While maintenance is a big and ongoing task, here are five tips for key areas that could avoid a costly breakdown.

1. Eyes on the rigging

Signs of corrosion or friction in halyards or control lines should be investigated immediately. Parts located by a pin such as a gooseneck or a sheave should fit snugly. Spreader inboard ends located by pins should be checked for movement; if the spreaders can rock on the spreader bars they can move out of column and collapse.


Worn sheaves cause point loading. Illustration: Jonty Sherwill

To check if fastenings have moved (excluding shackles) clean the head and surrounding area with alcohol and draw a line from the centre out to the surrounding area with white Tippex – this way you can quickly see if they are on the move. Shackles can be fixed with a small cable tie – any movement and the tie will break.

Fibre rigging should be checked frequently for chafe. Backstays or runners can have heat shrink or electrical tape to protect them.


2. Inspect your sails

Remind crew putting sails away to inspect as they go – any issues can be sorted before the next race rather than trying to patch a hole before the start. It is always a good idea to have a roll of spinnaker repair tape and ‘sticky-back’ on board, along with a good pair of scissors, some paper towel and even a small bottle of acetone all in a dry bag. The acetone and paper towel can be used quickly to dry and remove salt from an area of sailcloth before applying the repair tape.

3. Chack the steering system

On boats with wheel steering most of the systems are hidden from view so check that the cabling (wire or rope) is sound and has no evidence of chafe. If you fit new cabling it is a good idea to force the wheel against each stop, taking the stretch out of the system to help prevent the cables dropping off the quadrant or sheaves. Steering blocks are under significant load so increasing wear is a sign of trouble ahead.


Illustration: Jonty Sherwill

4. Look after your electronics

For a 12V system, 12.6+V is 100 per cent capacity while 12.1V represents a drop to 50 per cent. If after a few hours of charging or motoring you are not seeing 12.6+V on your battery monitor with no load (current draw) your batteries are losing capacity and will continue to decay as they work harder and harder to supply current to your systems.

Clean battery terminals and waterproofing will help a lot with ensuring your batteries charge well and hold capacity. Inspect all electrical connections for signs of corrosion and act early, move the connection, get a better waterproof box, find the source of ingress and seal.

Although not a show-stopper if they fail, wind instruments rely on mechanical bearings. At least twice a season inspect your sensor for corrosion, and check the vane and cups for smooth movement. Also the speed paddlewheel is exposed and prone to damage so always remove it before yard lift-out and carry a spare.

5. Taking ownership

By giving each crewmember a specific area of responsibility they will take ownership and check it over pre and post race.

They should use the boat’s equipment better as well as making sure they have any essential spares or tools on board. If all this is done well, your yacht should end a racing season in better shape than at the start.

Here is a suggestion of crew positions with most common areas of responsibility:

  • Helmsman – steering systems/interior
  • Tactician/navigator – electronics, electrical, interior
  • Main trimmer – sails, mainsheet, blocks, traveller, vang, backstay, outhaul, cunningham
  • Jib trimmer – winches and sails
  • Pit crew – jammers and other deck gear
  • Mast/sewer – running rigging/interior
  • Bowman – mast and aloft rigging


Campbell Field ran racing yachts for seven years in the 1990s and has raced professionally for 20 years. He has managed race teams and run the technical management of builds, as well being a yacht racing navigator inshore and offshore, from TP52s to superyachts.