New yacht designs are showing easier ways to set up for double-handed cruising as well as racing

Sailing double-handed as a couple is becoming more popular as partners elect to enjoy the experience of cruising and ocean voyaging without the complications of extra crew. It can be tiring, sometimes tricky, but you can make it so much easier if your yacht is set up carefully in advance.

Here, short-handed and solo sailor Pip Hare offers expert advice on offshore sailing two-up, and explains the ideas, deck layout, set-up and handling that two-handed racers are using that can be adopted by any crew.

Keeping near to hand

When sailing double-handed you’re on standby even when off watch. You may be lurking by the companionway, kitted up and ready for action, or fully asleep in your bunk.

But while the co-skipper is on deck, required to make calls on navigation, other vessels and weather updates, you’ll want a means of maintaining good communication and interaction with each other, and a way for the off-watch partner to rest but still be able to get out and up quickly in the event of an emergency. A good below-decks layout should offer a couple of comfortable sea berths close to the action.


A large bean bag can offer a good off-watch solution for rest

Leecloths on saloon berths can often provide a solution, though trying to jump over one to make an emergency exit can be a challenge in itself. Personally, I prefer to sleep in the sitting position when off watch, usually opting for a beanbag on the floor, which can be moved with each tack and moulded into a seat with a headrest.

Take a look at the the JPK 1030 and the Jeanneau Sun Fast 3300 – these two new designs offer twin U-shaped seats at the base of the companionway, shaped so a person will not slide out if sitting on the high side, yet can recline in the seat to a comfortable position. For me these represent a perfect standby location, close to the action yet warm and dry.

The forward-facing windows in the Sun Fast 3300 give a great view of jib trim and of the horizon on the leeward side, which improves situational awareness for the off watch skipper.

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Get the cockpit clear

You don’t need to be an octopus to carry out manoeuvres double-handed, you just need to be methodical and organised. Break each hoist or drop down into component actions then carry them out in order.

For this, a cockpit needs to be spacious and well laid out. Ropes should be easy to identify, with clear leads to pull them from different positions around the cockpit. And the ability to cross-winch is a must.

Ideally, a helmsman when left alone on the deck will have access to all the important lines from the helming position. This includes the ability to release spinnaker sheets – ideally cross-winched to the windward side – and release the kicker, which so often is an impossible distance away on the coachroof yet so often is your ‘get out of jail rope’ when powered up and reaching.


Lines should be well organised and easily accessible to the helmsman when double-handing

In both the Sun Fast 3300 and the JPK 1030, the primary winches are set aft in the cockpit, just forward of the helming position, and both spinnaker and jib sheets can be lead to the windward side without worrying about damage to cockpit covings or trims. Cross-sheeting can be a problem in conventionally shaped cockpits but it is worth playing around to see if you can route spinnaker sheets in particular to the high side.

Try setting blocks on Dyneema strops so that when under load they will sit high off the deck to clear any coamings. These can be held in place with elastic when not in use.

The kicker should be long enough to reach the helm and use a clutch that can be released from a seated position aft. Remember that to flick a rope out of a cam cleat requires a bit of height so if the cleat is on a coachroof this will be hard.


The use of purchase systems means there’s less reliance on winches

Making it easier to trim and sheet

Anything that can be addressed with a straight pull instead of winding in with a winch is going to help the short-handed sailor; even better if it can be pulled with one hand. These new boats make use of purchase systems to obviate the need for winches, speeding up manoeuvres and making it possible to adjust trim with one hand while steering with the other.

There is also a safety element to these purchase systems as less load is carried through the ropes, so they are easier and safer to control on the release. Both the JPK and the Jeanneau make use of purchases for adjusting the mainsheet, backstays and jib trim.

If you are struggling to pull the main in tight with one hand then consider putting a fine tune into the system – it can be easily added to the end of your existing mainsheet. If you are struggling to move the backstay, a good solution is to put another cascade into the existing purchase.

This will require more travel from the system so may need the wire part of the backstay to be shortened by a rigger, but it will turn this part of the boat into a trimming tool that can be used to great effect.

Jib trim is controlled via a clew ring and transverse track. With the right purchase this system allows leech tension to be adjusted and the sail inhauled or outhauled even when under load, and without the need for a winch.

Most cruising boats have longitudinal tracks which can hardly be moved when the sail is under load and which require a separate sheet to be rigged for outboard lead fetching or reaching. It would be relatively simple to retrofit the system we can see on these shorthanded designs.


Pip sailing two-up on the Jeanneau Sun Fast 3300

Being on deck together

Although double-handed sailors are required to manage for large periods of time on deck on our own, it’s not really solo sailing in shifts. Part of the benefit of sailing with another is the ability to share thoughts, to talk through scenarios, to feed each other information and generally make the boat go faster.

When on deck together it’s important that co-skippers can sit at a distance where talking in normal voices is possible yet in positions where they will not be in each other’s way or in the way of the instruments.

The JPK 1030 does this particularly well by providing a foot chock behind the helmsman so a crew can sit, play the mainsail or simply shoot the breeze without being in the line of vision.


Good stern locker access to the pilot ram and other systems on the JPK 1030

Access all areas

On any offshore passage double-handed, your autopilot is essential. So it’s very important to have good access to the ram and computer for troubleshooting.

Crawling into tight, dark spaces trying to diagnose and fix faults is never a fun job but when you are sailing short-handed this aspect of installation is something that should be considered.

My first autopilot was fitted in a locker I could barely get into. I had to climb down through the back of another locker, slide under the cockpit drains and then work with my hands and head thrust through a hole, while the rest of my body contorted in agony.

Position all the elements where you can access them easily. What you lose in stowage you’ll more than gain in stress-free problem solving. This has been thought through on the JPK 1030, which provides open, clear access to the pilot ram and rudder reference units.