Pip Hare tests three products designed to prevent or ease a crash gybe – the Walder boom brake, Wichard’s Gyb’Easy and the Sailfuse – plus the traditional rope preventer method.
A shout, the mainsheet whips through the cockpit and the boom crashes onto the other side of the boat – everyone has had a bad gybing experience at some point. Most of us develop the automatic flinch reaction or dive for the helm as we feel the pressure come off the mainsail just before the boom heads in towards the cockpit.
In reality, when we head onto the water either for a daysail or extended cruise we are guarding against those situations, sailing ‘safe’ angles to avoid dead downwind situations and gybe controlling the mainsheet throughout, a planned and practised manoeuvre.
But sailing is a live and organic sport, the wind can suddenly change direction or force as a squall creeps up behind you in the night. A helmsman can get distracted or just get it wrong. Sea states can be difficult. It is under these circumstances that gybing presents a risk even to the most experienced sailor.
There are a number of solutions on the market to help control a gybe and minimise the effects of a crash gybe, but how practical, effective and relevant are they to the average cruising sailor?
With this in mind we borrowed a Dufour 385 and set out to test the Walder boom brake, the Wichard Gyb’Easy and the Sailfuse and compare them against a conventional gybe preventer set up with a long piece of line.
The day we chose to test these products I had doubts as to how much I would learn as there was very little wind and no chance for them to strain against the force of a fully loaded gybe. However, the benign conditions actually gave me a chance to get to grips with how each of them worked and assess how useful they would be in the everyday routine of a cruising sailor.
In short, I believe there is value in rigging a gybe preventer in the right circumstances – if only to allow peace of mind and a well-earned rest during those night-time off-watch hours. The one benefit the Wichard Gyb’Easy and Walder boom brake have over a regular rope preventer is that they can be set to allow a gentle gybe and not just to pin the boom out, which in itself can present a risk.
The full report and conclusions on preventers and boom brakes is in the June 2015 issue of Yachting World, available from 14 May.
My main tips to avoid an accidental gybe are: when you feel the boat starting to heel, ease the pole forward, sheet on, steer high, and trim the main. For further information on how to avoid a Chinese gybe, see our Advanced Sailing Techniques video here
Pip Hare is an offshore and solo sailing specialist who works for the RNLI and is also a Yachtmaster Instructor and Examiner. This year she is campaigning an entry in the double-handed class of the Rolex Fasnet Race.