RIG TUNE AND SAIL SELECTION FOR CATALINA 320
A number of you have been in contact with me about how to tune a Catalina 320 and what sails
work and don’t work on it. Since I’m probably the only sailmaker in the country who has actually
spent enough time on these boats to develop some comprehensive numbers for the boat I thought
I would put together a tuning guide for you. What follows is the result of quite a bit of on-the-
water experience on the 320, both racing and day-sailing over a long period of time. I have a
number of customers racing these boats successfully now. While this guide is aimed at the ones who would like to get their boat around the racecourse quicker, it is equally applicable to a pure cruiser. No matter whether your interests lie in racing or cruising, both groups still want to sail as close to the wind as possible, as flat and fast as possible,
and make their sails last as long as possible. The only real difference for the two is in the choice
of sail materials. Other than that, the two groups have more in common than not.
Let’s start with rig tune and before I get into it, I want to set some parameters for everyone here. If
you don’t understand the terms I’m talking about, or are unfamiliar or inexperienced in the
methods discussed, then hire a professional rigger in your area to do this work for you. Do not
attempt to work on a rig if you are not qualified or completely confident in your abilities. Part of
what is called for here requires disconnecting stays on your standing rigging, which takes
knowledge and skill to accomplish safely and effectively. If you’re not qualified, give this to your
rigger and simply say, “Make it happen.”
Now that we’ve got that little disclaimer out of the way, let’s get down to it. The 320 has the
ability to go upwind well, but not out of the box. It needs a little bit of help from its friends. First
the forestay needs to be a little longer than it is. The addition of a toggle under the roller furling
unit will provide you with the needed extra distance. What this does is rake the mast slightly aft,
moving the center of effort with it. When finished, the backstay turnbuckles should be all the way
down and you should be able to swing the forestay in about a one-foot diameter circle at chest
height standing on foredeck with a moderate amount of effort. (This is done with the backstay
adjuster eased all the way.) I know it would be better if I could give you a pin-to-pin dimension
for the forestay, but I don’t have one. Most 320’s come delivered and commissioned from the
dealers with a "rock-hard forestay and backstay. I’ve never run across one that was any different.
While the hard forestay is ok for heavy air sailing, it won’t cut it for light air. I think most of you
already know that. So what the toggle installation accomplishes is two-fold. It rakes the mast
slightly and at the same time, softens the forestay.
Now for the sidestay tensions. These I can give you hard numbers for, but you’re going to have to
buy two tuning gauges to do it yourself. One will not do it because of your wire sizes. For the cap
stays (the ones running from the deck to the top of the mast) you will need a Loos PT-3 gauge.
For all the other stays you will need a Loos PT-2. Do NOT attempt to use the same gauge on all
of them. You’ll get it wrong. (Update of 8/28/04) The PT-3 is built to measure all three sizes of
shrouds found on the 320, but the tension readings for the D2’s and D1 laftstays are off the
bottom end of the scale and cannot be used. Several of you have asked about this.)
Cap stays-PT-3 gauge18
D1 forward stays-PT-2 gauge 31
D1 aft stays-PT-2 gauge 16
D2 stays-PT-2 gauge 18.5
In order of tightness, the cap stays are always the tightest, the D1 forwards are next, and the D1
aft and D2’s are the loosest. What we’ve done here is put a little bit of pre-bend in the mast by
tightening the forward D1’s more than the aft ones.
Now that we’ve got the front end and the sides done, it’s time to install a backstay adjuster,
which is mandatory after loosening up the forestay as much as we have. This can be done very
inexpensively and without ever drilling a hole anywhere in the deck. What you do is replace one
of the lower clevis pins on the backstay turnbuckles with a 3/8" shackle about an inch to an inch
and a half long. The shackle needs to be an inch or so long, not the pin. The jaws of the shackle
only need to be wide enough to fit around the toggle of the turnbuckle.
Sea Dog makes one the correct size, but you’ll have to hunt for it, not all stores carry the line.
The shackle makes the lower attachment point. The top end is done like any common backstay
bridle adjuster; two wire blocks running on the bridle connected to each other with a stainless
steel O-ring of any flavor. The O-ring provides the top attachment point for the adjuster, which is
a simple 6:1 purchase system with a cam cleat on the lower block. Use small hardware for this.
You’re not building a mainsheet system, so don’t get carried away. A Harken 086 works well for
the upper block and a Harken 095 does the job at the lower end. Use 1/4" line for the system.
You can shorten the amount of line you need to buy by making a three-foot pendant between the
upper block and O-ring. Some adjustments may be needed for your bimini where the adjuster
passes through. Look at it carefully as you use it. The bridle sides will draw closer together when
you put the backstay tension on.
Now you’re ready to enjoy light air sailing again. Ease the backstay adjuster completely in
anything under eight knots of breeze. Put it on increasingly hard as the wind builds. At about 15
knots of breeze you should have it on hard. Use this control aggressively as conditions change. In
sailmaker terms what you’re doing by easing it is opening the luff and closing the leech. When
you pull it on, the opposite occurs. In opening the luff, you’re letting the forestay sag to leeward,
allowing you to make the boat think you’re not really sailing as high as you are.
Let’s talk about a couple of other sail controls while we’re here. The 320 is probably the most
traveler-sensitive masthead boat that I’ve ever sailed on. Use it and use it aggressively upwind.
Talk to your mainsail trimmer about heel and pressure on the helm. If you’re fighting it upwind
and the boat’s heeled beyond 15 degrees, ease it down. One thing that will help you with this will
be to make a new end plate that the end blocks for the traveler and cam cleats bolt to. Make one
that does not tilt the cam cleat down so it’s not so hard to cleat. While you’re at it, make the plate
big enough to hold two sets of cam cleats so you have a choice of which to use. One cam cleat
would be in the stock location facing aft, and the other would be outboard, facing the rail so your
crew doesn’t have to come in off the rail to work it. This would be a simple quick job for any
Outhauls-the most over tightened and underused sail control of all sailmakers go to great lengths
to design and build a good shape into your main, and that shape goes all the way down to the
foot. But I consistently see mains on the water with the foot stretched piano-wire tight with the
outhaul. When I ask why they have it that way, the universal answer is, "That’s the way it’s
always been." Again, this is an adjustable control. Use it. Ease it in light air, pull it on in heavy
air. Same with the cunningham, use it accordingly.
Now for the hard-core racers among you; while you’re spending all this time, money, and effort
to upgrade things on your deck and aloft, think about what’s below the waterline. This goes
beyond spraying the bottom paint instead of rolling it on, or keeping it clean, or even installing a
folding prop. Two things combine to send a sailboat upwind. The sails and the keel. If you’re
going to spend money on sails, it would only make sense to spend some money on the keel as
The 320 elliptical rudder comes in pretty good shape out of the factory and until you’re going to
haul the boat to the 320 North American Championships, isn’t worth spending a lot of money on.
The keel is another story. I’ve seen factory keels (from everybody, not just Catalina) that range
from rough to horrid. Some have all the surface smoothness of blown stucco. Some have high
and low spots that are a half inch or more from top to bottom. That is not an efficient way to go
to weather. For just basic smoothing you can expect to spend about $1500 if you’re doing it when
you take delivery of the boat. For a full profiling and fairing job, anticipate spending up to the
$4000 to $5000 range. Like the old saying goes, “Horsepower costs money. How fast do you
On to the sails. What follows is not so much about factory sails from Catalina as it is all original
equipment sails. The bottom line is if you want to get more performance out of your boat, you
will have to go beyond the OE sails. They just aren’t going to cut it. Having said that, let’s talk
about them one by one.
The main is the likely place to start. While the 320 comes with a Dutchman system, if you’re
looking for performance, that needs to go and be replaced with a Lazyjack system or nothing at
all. I don’t recommend going to full battens on the 320 unless you’re going to be crossing oceans,
in which case that Dutchman system just started looking a lot better to you. Full battens will only
add to your maintenance costs down the line and I can actually build you a bigger roach (That’s
the area outside a line running from the head to the clew.) without a full top batten.
Top sail lofts now all build their mains loose-footed in the absence of a one-design rule
prohibiting it or the need for a Dutchman anchoring point, which dictates a shelf. I’ve read
through some of your questions posted online here about trimming them. Let’s blow away the
smoke now, trim your loose-footed main exactly as you would one with a shelf. What the loose
foot gets you is a cleaner shape at the bottom of the sail without the distortion of the shelf, and
the ability to add a little bit of foot roach, which is unrated sail area as far as your handicap
number is concerned for racing.
Something you should know here; sailboats are driven upwind by the luff of the jib and the leech
of the main. The longer these two lines become, the higher you will point. Think about that for a
minute. The bigger the roach, the longer that line becomes. Yes, there are rating rules that limit
the size of it, but since I’m not trying to put any of you to sleep I’m not going to go into the
specifics of it. The "real world" limit for roach size is your backstay. In the absence of a large,
masthead aft-facing crane like a race boat generally has, the limiting factor on mainsail roach is
the backstay. The 320 has almost no masthead crane to speak of so full battens will only mean
that the sail must stay within the backstay in order to tack and gybe without a fight. With a partial
batten I can build you a main that will overlap the backstay by two or three inches, greatly
increasing your light-air performance, and not hurting you in heavy air, because you can more
effectively twist off the top of the main. Most customers today are surprised at how long standard
battens have become compared to just a few years ago. On a dacron main, chafe on the backstay
is not an issue so don’t worry about it.
Let’s take a look at the front end now. Contrary to what I’ve seen posted here in the past, if
you’re looking for light air performance, a 155% genoa is the only way to do it. Yes, it puts a
small “bubble” in the main at the upper end of its range. Use the cunningham to take it out. If the
bubble comes too soon and won’t go away regardless of what you do with the cunningham or
outhaul, then your main is simply too deep or you’re overtrimming the genoa. A 320 has a fairly
wide slot between the main and genoa, so the bubble should never bother you with a well-
designed main and genoa.
Where things get complicated on the 320 is when you leave the #1 range (the 155%). The normal
sail inventory for a thirty-two foot boat would either be a #1, #2, and #3, or a light #1, heavy #1,
and #3. Sail sizes for these would be; #1 light and A/P:155%, #1 heavy:150%, #2 140%, and
#3 100%. In a perfect world, you would have one of those two inventories. Unfortunately the
world is not perfect and you cannot carry either of those two inventories for one simple
reason your D1 forward shrouds. They absolutely prevent you from using anything in the non-
overlapping sizes larger than about an 85% jib. That would be a #4 and far too small a step down
from a 140% jib. There are tracks on the cabintop for a non-overlapping jib, but I have yet to see
someone use them; the slot is too narrow and the LP will be too small.
With that as the limitations to work with, then whatever smaller jib you carry will have to be
something that overlaps the shrouds. And this is where it gets tricky. Not enough LP percentage
and you won’t turn enough wind to point effectively. Too much LP percentage and you’re
getting back into the genoa range. On the Catalina 22 (a boat that also has forward lowers) the
boat is raced with a 110% jib and a 150% genoa as per their class rules. On the 320 you don’t
have class rules to worry about and there is one more consideration to take into account; the
upper shrouds, or cap stays. On the 320 the cap stays are wider up top than most boats this size
so I chose an LP of 120% instead of 110% to turn a little more wind. This has proven to be a very
effective choice for a jib on this boat.
A crew of six can easily hold the boat down upwind with a full main and a 120% jib up to the 25-
30 knot range of true wind. Read that again. A crew of six can effectively sail the boat upwind
with a well-designed and well-built full main and 120% jib in 25-30 knots of wind. You’ll be
using all of your de-powering tools, the traveler, backstay, cunningham, sheet, and lead position
for the jib, which you will move aft about six to twelve inches so the top can be twisted off, but
you CAN do this. It’s not a high-wire balancing act. The boat is very stable and easy to control
when everyone has their act together and is on the rail, not all crammed together in the cockpit.
The boom end will be pointing at the leeward stern perch seat in these conditions. Target wind
speed upwind should be 6.2 to 6.4 knots.
While I’ve got your attention about upwind trim and inventory combinations, there’s one
modification that every single one of you needs to do, regardless of your penchant for racing or
cruising. Replace your OE jib and main halyards. To put it kindly, they’re junk. I’ve seen less
stretch from Home Depot nylon rope. A little bit of stretch in a jib sheet or mainsheet is not a bad
thing. It just eases the sail a little bit when the puff hits. Stretch in a jib or main halyard lets the
sail down in a puff, which increases your draft and moves it farther aft in the sail, increasing heel
dramatically. This is exactly what you don’t want. Both Yale and Sampson have some excellent
choices for you, depending on your budget. Call Henry Mallard at Lay Line (800-542-5463), or
Ed at Sailing Supply (800-532-3831) for some intelligent help in picking the right cordage for
your purposes and budget. Both are extremely knowledgeable and helpful. What I don’t
recommend is going to West Marine for halyards. All they seem to stock in the stores is New
England cordage, and frankly, there is only one New England line that I would recommend for
you. That’s their Regatta-Braid for jib sheets exclusively and it does a great job for that. No one
else makes anything like it and it’s purpose built for that job alone. Don’t use it for other things.
If I were free to pick an inventory for the boat, I’d do it with a light #1, a heavy #1, and a 120%
#3. If I were on a budget I’d do it with an A/P #1 and a 120% #3. As for cloth choices for the
upwind sails, your biggest consideration should be what are you going to do with the sails when
you’re done for the day. If they’re going to stay on the furler and boom, then dacron makes more
sense than anything else. If performance is your top goal and you’re willing to take them down at
night, then you should look into the composites that we offer. Quantum’s kevlar and carbon
Fusion or Membrane sails offer much less weight aloft and less stretch than a dacron sail can
ever hope to deliver. If the sails are going to stay outside in the weather, do yourself a favor and
stay with dacron so you don’t have to deal with mildew problems.
If I were going to cruise only and only do it with one headsail, it would a 140% genoa so I could
roll it down some without destroying it.
One quick tip to make whatever headsail you have on a roller furler live longer; the last thing you
need to do before leaving the boat to go home at night is pop the sheet stopper for the jib halyard
and let the tension off. Re-tighten it the next time you unroll it. You’ll be amazed at how much
better your luff looks over the years from this one simple act.
In dacron the choices run the gamut from inexpensive to high-dollar all-out racing. What
determines the cost is relatively simple. Better and tighter weaves with more resin cost more than
looser weaves. Don’t be fooled by thinking that all dacron is the same. There can be as much as a
40% to 60% difference in price based on cloth selection alone, even with the same construction
and design work. I won’t try to go into the specific differences of the various cloths here. It
would literally double the size of this article if I did. What I will say is just call if you want to talk
it over. I’ll be glad to help you exactly like I have all my other customers.
Spinnaker world, they don’t call this the most embarrassing piece of sailcloth ever invented for
nothing, but you can use them enjoyably and effectively. This is one place however, where the
cruising and racing crowd have different agendas. If you’re racing a 320 you want and need a
symmetrical spinnaker. If you’re cruising, an asymmetrical chute with an ATN dousing sock
makes all the sense in the world. No, you can’t drive the boat as deep downwind as the
symmetrical, but you don’t need seven people on the boat to run it either. Two people can easily
handle an A-kite in light wind and keep in mind that if you’re cruising you’re not going to put
this thing in the air if it’s blowing the crabs out of the water. It’s purpose is to keep the boat
moving in the dog days of summer, pure and simple.
At Quantum Sails we’ve got different sail materials to suit any purpose, from simple cruising
dacron to racing dacron, all the way out to the kevlar and carbon composites. We have our own
proprietary design programs, service lofts all over the country, and most of all, customer service.
With the time I’ve spent on 320’s and the number of them that I’ve put sails on, we’ve made the
design refinements that go with developing a boat like this.
Yeager Marine Services