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Help to keep the boom under control

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What is the issue?
We have all been in this circumstance. It is dark, conditions are rough and you are tired and not feeling at your best. You put off reefing an hour ago because it is just too much hard work fighting the main sail and you hoped it would back down. But now it is too late – you have to get it down and it is going to be a real battle. Sound familiar?

Why address this?
Anything that makes mainsail handling without sacrificing rig simplicity is a major sailing win.

How to address this?
One of the best approaches to calming the boom, so that reefing is easier and safer, is to implement a boom gallows. A boom gallows is a big job, but it is well worth it for long-term cruisers.

Boom in coachroof mounted gallows
Photo: Scott Carle
This is a picture of a friend’s excellent boom gallows that I have to confess I coveted each time I saw it. Traditional boats relied upon trusty boom gallows to rest and secure the boom in position whilst any work was being carried out on the mainsail, such as while reefing or storage when the boat is sitting at anchor or on a mooring. Like the gallows of old, modern vessels have almost entirely left the sturdy boom gallows to be a relic of the past. Today boats rely instead upon topping lifts, tightened mainsheets, and solid boom vangs (hydraulic piston) to keep the boom elevated. Many people just don't like them because they think they look old-fashioned, add some weight and windage, and detract from a 'sleek and fast' boat design.

During our circumnavigation, I came to think that there were a lot of good old traditional values being lost here. Fighting with a boom that is snapping back and forth, even for a distance of twenty centimetres either way, when reefing is highly difficult and potentially dangerous in boisterous conditions. It prolongs the job significantly. Fastening it down in the boom gallows and getting the boom steady makes it significantly safer and easier to deal with. This makes a valuable contribution to slab reefing.

The strange thing I have to add at this point is I actually have in-mast furling. Yet I am still yearning for a boom gallows, in fact, a pair of them if I could. The reason for this is the benefits go far beyond sail control on a cruising vessel. This is particularly the case with my vessel where I have a high boom and plenty of clearance. The reasons that attract me are safety and comfort:

First and foremost a solid boom gallows is a great safety feature. By putting the heavy sail laden boom in the gallows, you eliminate the problem of a madly-swaying dangerous boom. If you are ever in conditions that require a trysail, instead of the mainsail, then it will control the boom which will be jerking about whilst unloaded by the mainsail.

Stern mounted boom gallows
Photo: Michael Harpur
It will protect the crew in the cockpit should the boom ever fall down which would seriously injure anyone below. Adding in the 'Murphy’s Law' factor, that dictates if it is going to fall it will probably happen in a gale, the integral protection of the boom gallows is most appreciated. Likewise, though Gybe prevention is a function of good handling and not a boom gallows, should mistakes be made, it could prevent the boom from sweeping low across the deck potentially hitting crew, possibly injuring them seriously or worse, or knocking them overboard.

In day to day use, it offers a great point to connect a lifeline to and strong handhold when going about the boat in stiff conditions. It also provides an excellent grab hold for coming aboard from a dinghy.

Assuming a vessel has a high boom, they offer a completely reliable place to fix an awning or cockpit cover to protect the crew from the elements. This can also be turned to your advantage with a mosquito net. It also offers a much more reliable place to mount a light to illuminate the cockpit, a riding light and or a safer place to hang a storm light.

Boom gallows provide an excellent fixing point for an awning or cockpit cover
Photo: Scott Carle via CC BY 2.0

Whilst at anchor, and no matter how hard the main sheet is cranked in, there will always be those final few inches of play. The only way that this can be totally pacified is in a boom gallow. I have to imagine that moving the centre of gravity for the weight of the boom onto the gallows that is much lower than at the block on the masthead must have the vessel sit more easily too.

A gallows need not be large to be effective
Image: CC0

Finally, it also allows you to fix the boom down when you are using the mainsail as a stabilising sail in a roll. One of the most infuriating noises is the mighty smack-crash reverberating throughout the vessel of the tightly sheeted boom slamming over the last few inches that cannot be removed.

For these reasons, many serious cruising boats have traditionally carried permanent boom gallows. The traditional gallows can't reasonably be used on most modern cruisers because the short boom on modern boats doesn't reach anywhere near the aft end of the boat. But if it does it has to be a serious consideration. Boom gallows need not be an as elaborate an affair as presented on my friend's boat. They can be easily made from a stainless curved steel bar as presented mounted forward and or aft of the cockpit.

With thanks to:
Michael Harpur, Yacht Obsession.

Building a boom gallows for a Irwin 38 - Part 1

Boom gallows part 2

Boom gallows part 3

Boom gallows part 4

Boom gallows part 5

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