A boat, this is for sure something we all know very well, is always a compromise. A boat is always a limited by the scope of demands it is to satisfy and those demands cannot comprise the full whole range of stuff one can do with a boat: This is why we find such a rich variety in designs, concepts and ways to roam the Oceans. The mainsheet arch is one of these designs and I want to dive deeper in defining detail of a modern cruiser.
I´ve had my first own experiences with the mainsheet arch aboard a Beneteau Oceanis 48 which I´ve had the pleasure to be in command of during a celebrity regatta my company was a sponsor of some weks ago (read my article about one week sailing in Croatia here). We´ve had a lot of fun on that boat and besides my impression that the yacht was sailing very, very nicely she – you guess it – was equipped with a mainsheet arch. As a matter of fact, Beneteau´s recent range of Oceanis cruisers all feature the targa bar except for the brand-new models.
But the mainsheet arch-concept isn´t proprietary to Beneteau. There are a lot of other brands at least offering the bar as an option. Two years ago when I had a complete walkthrough of the fantastic Grand Soleil 46 LC, she did have a mainsheet arch as well as the X6 by X-Yachts and some other boats currently on the market. There must be something about it …
Advantages of a mainsheet arch
At first, the biggest pro of the mainsheet traveller arch from my point of view is that the cockpit instantly gets tidy. There won´t be any lines at all lying around and bothering yourself, the crew or your guests. When the boat is underway, the mainsheet – no matter if installed the classic way or as a German mainsheet system – will be coming to the aft helming stations or arrive at one of the cabin roof-mounted winches – so no lines in the cockpit.
Of course, having a mainsheet arch and NOT utilizing the German mainsheet system is stupid in my eyes, because, having the mainsheet coming to one of the halyard winches on the coachroof will put some of the lines back into the cockpit or – as one does it during sailing – down the entryway into the salon. With a modern cruiser you don´t want to sail like this. It´s a common trend to more and more separate sailing and boating from each other. It´s only via German mainsheeting that the lines will arrive back at the sheet winches, way out of the way of the guests and the guest´s areas which is the better part of the cockpit area and the salon for sure.
I also found a very good argument for the mainsheet arch that the whole construction of sprayhood and bimini gets a lot easier to install and to remove. Just look at the sprayhood: It is attached to the massive mainsheet. This gives it a very strong base to be mounted to – and it´s so easy by the way. The whole backside of the sprayhood is to be pulled into a long notch and that´s basically it.
Same with the bimini which is also fasted to the mainsheet arch by means of a long notch where it finds a good grab. It then extends further astern where it is attached to a simple set of metal spreaders. To have it stowed away, you simple pull a zip, roll it up and lash it to the frame. This all is to be done in under two minutes and it takes just one man and two hands to have it furled away and re-installed. We´ve done it at least two times a day in Croatia.
Another significant feature of the mainsheet arch is the height of the boom for the mainsail: In order to have the mainsail´s peak arrive well clear above the arch, the gooseneck has to be mounted significantly higher at the mast. There is no chance at all that you, your crew or your guests can jerk their heads on the boom – or worse, ketting kicked by the boom during a manoeuvre or a Chinese Gybe accidentally. Again, sailing and boating made separated.
Safety aspects of a mainsheet arch
Speaking of safety: There are some very serious safety-related arguments which point towards the mainsheet arch. At first, the arch – at least on Beneteau-yachts – is equipped with a multitude of solid stainless steel grab handles. Both inside, facing the inner side of the cockpit, and outside of the cockpit. I find this a significant feature to talk about because these handles raise the level of safety enormously.
When the boat is sailing heeled, people can cold to the bars and support a safe passage downstairs or the changing of seats during a tack or something. Also, when the boat is making way through foul weather these bars are a very practical and welcome grab for the sailor´s hands. Believe me – we didn´t had any foul weather situations at all (but some excessive heeling though) and guess what, me and my crew happily used both the bars and the arch itself to catch a good hold in rough manoeuvres.
The best part is when you have to leave the cockpit to proceed to the foredeck in order to clear up some mess with the jib, help fastening fenders for a landing manoeuvre or whatever – the arch´s grab handles are such a great thing in leaving the cockpit and finding one´s safe way further up front where more handles mounted on the cabin roof wait for the crewmember to hold on to. From a safety standpoint there´s an absolute yes in favour of the mainsheet traveller arch. But …
Aesthetics of a mainsheet arch
… but there is the aesthetics. I know. For a “pure” sailing guy the mainsheet arch is just annoying. Also, the higher boom may make the boat look unbalanced in some way and I can perfectly understand the aversion of some people stating that the mainsheet arch is running the boat´s lines. Well, of course, beauty lies in the eye of the beholder and I would agree that the arch works on some boats and on some boats it just doesn´t work that much.
That is especially the case the smaller the boat gets. Take a look at the 35 feet and the 48 feet Oceanis and you might agree that the mainsheet arch on the smaller boat is overly dominating the lines and somehow increases the impression of height of the boat – thus destroying the sleek, “speedy” shape of the boat. I think it´s the same impression you get from center cockpit yachts like Hallberg-Rassy, where the center cockpit and the fixed windshield somehow looks strange the smaller the boat gets.
Clear downsides of mainsheet arches
Anyway, no matter of personal gusto in favour or against the mainsheet arch, there are some undeniable downsides of this concept which I´d like to mention here. First of all, the height of the boom is a problem. The smaller the skipper or the members of the crew get, the more evident this problem becomes. If the yacht is equipped with a full-battened mainsail, you will encounter some difficulties here.
See, I am 1.87 metres tall and usually I don´t have any problems with reaching out to something. But with our Oceanis 41.1 the proper packaging of the main sail after a nice day out sailing is made more difficult by the height of the arch – standing at the gooseneck to pack the luff is possible but I´d have to stand on my toes in order to do it. But it gets more difficult the more you reach aft.
You are packaging a main sail starting at the leach by dragging the leach aft. This is how I learned it and it works just perfect. But in order to reach the leach you have to climb up on top of the mainsheet arch and even there it is really a thing of artistry grab the far end of the boom. If you don´t want to stand on the bimini-rack (which I think is not so good, although it takes the load of a man). You have to be careful up there. The safer such an arch makes sailing out on the sea, the trickier it is back at the berth, it seems.
Structural aspects & mounting of mainsheet arches
I found it particularly interesting to see how the mainsheet arch is mounted. When our Oceanis 41.1 was delivered by the yard, it of course came by large load truck. As maximum clearance for German bridges (and I think it´s the same all over Europa at least) is 4.50 metres, the boats will be delivered by the yard with the targa bar not mounted. A very good construction manual with all material needed of course is part of the package.
The arch is placed an the right position at first. As this thing is naturally a very heavy part of the boat – which is logical as it has to take on loads of several tons of the main sail – it takes at least two men to do this. When placed right, bore holes in the arch will match pre-drilled holes in the cabin roof of the boat. I have been to the yard many times and seen all production steps and can assure you that the area where the mainsheet arch is mounted gets a special treatment in terms of GRP-layup and material thickness. Now the arch is permanently attached to the boat by a special industry-grade polyurethane glue that is part of the delivery. The glue will make for a dead certain bond between arch and hull. To further tighten the connection (at least on the Oceanis 41.1) four massive 20´ bolts with thick washers are mounted adding massive mechanical force to the whole structure. There is no way any wind force in the mainsail could break up this bond now.
The outside part of the mounting holes is then covered by two nice panels bearing the Beneteau-logo as well as inside in the two aft cabins by another two covers. That´s it. Once mounted this way it will be a pain in the ass to remove the arch (in order to have the boat transported on the road again after a possible sale of the boat).
To arch or not to arch?
So, are you an arching-type of sailor or not? I would say, the arch may be very attractive to the classic cruiser-sailor who is out there sailing mostly with family, kids and friends, maybe people who are not so much into sailing itself but rather out on the seas to enjoy boating life, use the cockpit area for sunbathing, reclining and dreaming and simply relaxing. You cockpit area will be clean and no lines around whatsoever – a true plus for your guests who don´t want to be bothered by ropes.
The arch is also a plus in very hot and sunny areas: I can tell you that after three days of bimini-less sailing in Croatia (in spite of being moisturized with sun blocker all over the place) I was seriously burnt by the sun. Having such a great bimini and sprayhood above your heads is just a dream! And it´s even more a dream if you can fold it away or re-install it that effortless like we could do it on the Beneteau! For all who dislike the arch, there is one good news here: In all new models of Beneteau, the arch is now an option, not compulsory anymore. Because, arch or not – these boats do sail like hell for a cruiser, I can assure you!
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