ELVSTROM BLUE WATER RUNNER: Modern Interpretation of Downwind Twin Headsails

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Runner downwind

Here’s an interesting item my neighbor and erstwhile shipmate Jeff Bolster recently pointed me at. You may recall his Valiant 40, Chanticleer, was unfortunately parked last summer in Road Town, Tortola, and was dismasted in Hurricane Irma last September. He now has the boat in Kittery, Maine, for a refit (she motored on her own bottom from Tortola to St. Thomas, traveled by ship to Florida, then by truck to Maine), and he was thinking this new headsail system from Elvstrom might be worth trying out.

The basic concept, a symmetric pair of matching headsails for flying wing-and-wing at deep downwind angles, has been around a long time and was once considered de rigeur for bluewater cruisers running down the trades. It’s much easier to get a boat to sail itself downwind with a rig like this, and in the days before reliable self-steering gear this was an important feature. What’s new about the Elvstrom system, dubbed the Blue Water Runner, is these twins are set together on a single torque rope and are controlled with one continuous-line furler.

A very cool idea, I think. Check out these videos from Elvstrom:

I blogged about a similar system that an acquaintance of mine, Iain Simpson, made up himself a few years back. As can be done with this Elvstrom system, Iain flies his two sails on top of each other when he just needs one headsail for reaching or going upwind.

Runner upwind

The Blue Water Runner in reaching/upwind mode

The big difference is that Iain sets his twins from a regular rigid furling rod instead of from a flexible torque rope.

Some questions/points to ponder:

1. You’ll see on the relevant web page that Elvstrom describes the cloth used for these sails as “light Spi Polyester cloth.” I’m not sure what this is or how light it is, though it does look pretty light in that first video shot in the sail loft. Every spinnaker I ever met was made of nylon. With two sails made of this “light polyester” rolled up around one torque rope you could end up with something fairly heavy that is hard to handle and stow when furled. As in the rolled-up sails will be very stiff and hard to fold down into a bag. In my experience headsails that set on torque ropes (I had one on old Lunacy) are super-light laminated sails.

2. It will not be possible to reef this rig. Setting the sails with a continuous-line furler it will be all out or all in. With Iain’s rig, because the sails are on a furling rod, I assume reefing is possible.

3. Poles! I don’t expect you can fly the twins without them except in really flat water. As seen in the second video and the lead photo the main boom can be used to help support one sail. A whisker or spinnaker pole could support the other one. (Or you could just use two poles.)

4. Elvstrom isn’t suggesting this, but I expect you can fly a mainsail behind the splayed-out twins to increase your effective sail area downwind. Iain, you’ll note in my old post, does this with his rig. It would be very similar to flying a symmetric spinnaker with a mainsail, except in this case the “spinnaker” should be much easier to control.

5. In reaching/beating mode, when the sails are laying on top of each other, flying effectively as a single sail, your working headsail may not be any larger than your regular one. If your regular headsail is a proper genoa, it may even be smaller. The sails shown in this Elvstrom publicity are pretty high-cut. But on a boat like the Hanse shown by Elvstrom, which carries a self-tacking blade jib, the Blue Water Runner would serve as a larger headsail in single-sail mode.

Runner furled

The Blue Water Runner all furled up

Personally I’m hoping Jeff plunks down for this kit so I can try it out. It might make good sense on my boat!

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3 Responses
  1. Phillip O'Reilly

    I have had one now for several months on my Hanse 385, as you can see in the videos the test boat is a Hanse 455.
    The problem with the Hanse setup is the self tacking jib is very inefficient downwind, it flaps around and unbalances the boat in light airs.
    Anyway, I initially simply assumed that the answer would be an asymmetric spinnaker but put off obtaining one because I wanted to reinforce the bow and put in a two to one halyard prior. Also I was a bit skeptical that it would be used all that much as I sail with wife and keeping things simple is absolutely imperative.
    The upshot is that when I became aware of the Blue Water Runner I thought, its easy to deploy, it sails dead down wind, it is a light wind head-sail when I need to get moving in sub 10 knot conditions and it is not that much more expensive so ordered one.
    The sail does everything Elvstrom says in its advertising. To me it like conjoined Yankees. The clew is very high cut giving great visibility forward I dont see it, there is a large Velcro pad that holds the alignment when set single.
    The material is half weight Dacron, that feels strong and holds its shape and is very well made.
    The torsion cable/ furling drum is very easy to deploy and use, the two to one halyard doesn’t have to overly tight, just firm enough for easy furling
    The power it adds to my boat when deployed had me gobsmacked when we first put it up in ‘genoa’ mode.
    Dead downwind it is a dream, with dropped main, boat speed is excellent and the boat is stable. I am not going to get poles etc. because personally I dont want the hardware,
    When not needed I drop into the bag and stow it because it doesn’t have an UV protective strip.
    So far we have only taken it out on trial runs but have a few longer cruises on the horizon where we will learn more.
    Cairns, Australia

  2. Eberhard Harmd

    It is not at all a new idea. But a very convincing one. My 1984 French built Fruit de Mer steelboat came, additionally to the furling yankee, jib and storm jib, from new with double Genoa on a roler furler. This sail (in those days called’booster’) has the size of a Genoa 1 twice, is made of lightweight dacron and is set at the rigid furling forestay.
    In light winds up to 12 knots, with both sheets on one side it is a powerful sail for upwind sailing. But when reefed it will lose the shape like other furling genoas. So it is better to change to a smaller head sail. No problem with a cutter rig with a jib on the inner stay.
    For beam reach to downwind it is simply the best headsail you can have for cruising. Nearly as big as a spinnaker (for my 10.5t steelboat about 950sqft) but you can easily reef it down to whatever size you need, when the winds increase. I’ve sailed it downwind at more than 40 knots of wind with about 70sqft on each side. When sailing in the tradewinds it was very reassuring in the twilight of the beginning night to know, that you don’t have to fear, like with a spinnaker or any other modern lightwindsail, that the wind might pick up or shift or even both with a typical sqall. No fight in the dark with a big colorful headsail. You simply reef within seconds. And after the sqall you unfold the ‘booster’ again to the original size within 5 seconds. Mostly I have a spinnaker pole out to windward as it works steadier like that, in the tradewinds ever poles out to both sides.

    It is a fast sail! On a reach I passed many more modern polyesterboats who didn’t dare to fly spi’s or code zero’s in stronger winds and at night.

    The first ‘booster’ was frequently used and stayed in good working condition for 32 years. When in the end it was blown apart on a close reach in the Caribbean I was very grateful to have a spare one ready.

    My best day’s run with a ‘booster’ was
    165nm, my fastest moment surfing downwind in the tradewinds was 15.6 knots. With my fully equipped steel boat weighting 12 ton!!
    And that was not a moment of fear. In the contrary, it was under windvane selfstearing. More than 15 knots I logged twice, more than 13 knots several times.

    So a really good cruising sail. Not a new invention by any means but good to know that they still make them. Now under a new brand.

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