Sunfish FAQ

An archive of commonly asked questions about sunfish rigging, repair, and sailing.

Sunfish FAQ Archive

These Frequently asked questions were written in the late 90s on the original Sunfish Class Website. They are archived here for posterity, many of the links are no longer active.

  • How can I get the water out of my hull?
  • How should I transport sails on my trailer?
  • How do I fix small holes/tears in my sail?
  • How do I clean my sail?
  • How do I refinish/paint my Sunfish?
  • Can I repaint the splashguard?
  • Can I use a piece of line for my traveler?
  • Can I race my Sunfish with a colored sail?
  • Can I have a window installed in my sail?
  • Where can I get a copy of The Sunfish Bible?
  • How do I refinish the old style wooden blades?
  • How do I replace or re-secure my bow-handle?
  • Can I straighten out a bent spar?
  • How do I install a hiking strap?
  • What should I wear in cold weather?
  • How should I store my boat over the winter?
  • Where should I install cleats on my spars?
  • How do I dry out my hull?
  • What is an easy way to trailer my Sunfish and dolly?
  • What type of block should I use to trim the mainsheet?
  • Some general racing tip from Cordero
  • What should I do with sail when the wind increases?
  • Should I install a mast cleat?  Where?
  • Should I install mainsheet cleats? Where?
  • What kind of knots should I use for sail ties?
  • How do I "break in" a new racing sail?
  • Where should I place telltales?
  • What size should my main sheet be?
  • What are the PHRF numbers for a Sunfish?
  • What is the optimum skipper weight to race a Sunfish?
  • How do I start in big fleets?
  • Where do I sit in light air?
  • How do I "Tune-a-Fish"?
  • How do I install an inspection port?
  • What is the difference between the racing sail and the recreational sail?
  • How can restore the color on my hull?
  • How do I replace mast or boom end caps?
  • How do I stop the stainless strap from cutting the hiking strap? 
  • Guidelines for building a Sunfish cradle on a trailer

  • How can I get the water out of my hull?

    There are 2 things to consider when dealing with a wet boat. 

    1) The water you can find and drain (i.e., the inch sitting in the bottom).

    2) The water that has gotten into the structure - the foam and the fiberglass itself. The foam blocks and fiberglass can absorb a 100 pounds of water or more into the structure and leave not a drop running in the bottom of the boat.
    We pretty much automatically install a 4" port behind the splash rail, even in a new boat. If the boat is still heavy even after the water is drained we install a second port in the aft deck to help get better air flow though the hull. Even a drain plug added to the transom will help quite a bit. Daniel Feldman, Wind Line Sails

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    How should I transport the boat and sails on my trailer?

    Here are some suggestions:
    The Dickinson Mark II Sunfish Trailer
    - Malcolm Dickinson / Bruce Cattanach
    "A" Frame Trailer
    - Bishop Stieffel
    Shelf Type Trailer
    - Bishop Stieffel
    Storage Box Trailer - Author Unknown

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    How do I fix small holes/tears in my sail?

    West Marine carries sail repair tape that looks to be clear (kind of like packing tape) and is spec'd out to be strong enough for emergency repairs to spinnakers. This may work for you. Otherwise, the fabric backed tape comes in different colors. If West Marine or Layline do not have the colors you want, try calling you local sail loft.

    Here is the trick: ALWAYS round off the corners of the patch!!! If you leave the corner at 90' it WILL peel off eventually. Also, make sure that the sail is clean and dry and you have a hard flat surface to work against when applying the patch. If its just a pin-hole, a single side patch will work. If its a small tear, then put a patch on both sides of the sail. Make the patch large enough such that the tear has at least 1in of new material around it. If its a larger tear, then you may need 2-3in of new material around it.

    My Sunfish has several white patches in its sunrise sail; it look OK and is still holding together after 4 seasons. - Ken Park

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    How do I clean my sail?

    Star-Brite's Sail and Canvas Cleaner works well. You can get it from West Marine or P-Yacht for around $7.00 - Matt Munson

    We use a product called "Whink - Rust Stain Remover". It is made by Whink Products Co. and we find it at local grocery stores here in Texas.  They also have a Web Site at ...where you can order it online by clicking on the "Shop Here" icon.  It really works on sails, clothes, gelcoat, etc. Just a drop or two on a rust stain immediately bleaches it away.  The smallest bottle will last a long time. - Jim Schwobel, Owner, Corpus Christi Sailing Center, Inc.

    Send it to Sail Care, in Ford City Pennsylvania, check out their website.  Sail Care - Richard Waller

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    How do I refinish/paint my Sunfish?

    I have never used exterior enamel on a boat myself; even at twenty bucks a pint (plenty for a 'fish), a marine single part polyurethane made specifically for refinishing fiberglass boat topsides is a lot cheaper than my labor. I can tell you that Harold (Dynamite) Payson, who is kind of the Norm Abram of wooden boat-building, swears by it for plywood utility - type boats. I don't know how well it would stick to oxidized gelcoat. As far as the truck bed liner stuff goes, if you could find it in white or silver it might be OK - I've only seen it in black, and in the sun it gets hot enough to cook on. - Dave McGranahan

    I have just completed refinishing my 60's-70's fish. I used Interlux Brightside topside paint. It is well worth the extra money. I paid $18 for dark blue (hull) and $16 for off white (deck). It goes on fairly easily, I followed the manufacturers suggestions exactly using the roller and tip method (don't skimp on the primer either - it's $16). Got a very nice glossy finish very similar to gel coat. I would not suggest using gloss white or white on the deck; you will go blind on a sunny day. - Tom Blanks

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    Can I repaint the splashguard?

    Yes, you can paint it just like you did the hull and deck, it is made of fiberglass. If it is an older model, then you can remove the splash rail because it is screwed down rather than riveted like the newer models with will make it easier to remove and paint.  - Tom Whitehurst

    I've repainted a few of the light blue ones with white spray paint and it worked great. I found them to be very porous and soaked up the spray paint. My best results were when I sealed the splash guard with a sandable marine primer such as West Marine sells for lower out drive units. - Mike

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    Can I use a piece of line for my traveler?

    Not if you plan to race - rope travelers are not legal for racing. 

    For racing, you must use one of the two manufacturer supplied travelers.  Both are made of wire. One has a loop swedged in the middle and the other does not.  

    If you are just day sailing, then a piece of 1/8" line would suffice. - Class Rules

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    Can I race with a colored sail?

    You may sail with any class legal sail, however you may not find you are as competitive as you like.  There are several differences between the racing sails and the colored OEM sails. Below is a list of the differences.

    • The racing sail is made of different cloth and is about 8% larger. Most of that is cloth added to the draft of the sail, which makes  it more powerful.
    • The shape on the racing sail is much more carefully controlled.
    • The racing sail in addition to a window also has anti-flutter panels on the leech, a window and a reinforced cunningham grommet.

    If you encounter a colored sail with a four-digit number on it, it could be a sail that was used in a world championships. Worlds sails are racing sails (same size and shape as a regular racing sail) but are made from colored fabric.

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    Can I have a window installed in a sail?

    Yes, but be aware of the class rules if you intend to race with it, as there are limitations to the size:

    3.6.2 One rectangular window may be installed in the sail so long as the shape or size of the sail is not altered. The total area of the window shall not exceed 600 square inches (3871 sq cm).

    Here's a place that does it for $75.00; - Matt Munson

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    Where can I get a copy of The Sunfish Bible?

    It's out of print, but the class president has the negatives and full permission to reprint the book for the benefit of the class. - Will White

    Click here to contact the Class Office

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    How do I refinish the wooden style rudder or daggerboard?

    You can use 60 grit sandpaper to get the old finish off (make sure you get all of it). Don't use the white 'no-clog' sandpaper for finish sanding - it's coated with zinc stearate, and if stearate particles get onto the wood and you don't get them all off, you'll get "fish-eyes" in your varnish. It's OK for removing old finishes, but sand afterwards with uncoated paper and wipe the blades down with mineral spirits or thinner before you start varnishing.  Depending on the condition of the old finish, it may look blotchy when you get done because UV light darkens mahogany; this doesn't hurt the wood, but if you find it objectionable, you can use a paste-type filler stain (like Interlux) to make it all the same color. Once you have all the old varnish off the blades, finish sand the whole thing with 100 grit and then 120 or 150. Don't go any finer than 150 on bare wood. If you are going to stain, do it now. You will need about 8 coats of varnish on bare wood; that should hold up for years with a top coat every spring. Use good varnish, like Interlux or Epifanes, not the stuff with a picture of a boat on it that they sell at the hardware store. Also get a can of the appropriate thinner. Thin the first coat about 50%, next couple 25%, remaining coats only enough to make it brush properly. Sand between coats - 220 grit after the first couple, 320 after that. Use a good brush made for varnish, at least for the final coats. If you can get the good foam brushes - the kind with the wood handles - they are ok for initial coats, but a real brush is better for the last couple of coats. The foam brushes with plastic handles are worthless. Lay the varnish on with the grain, then brush it across the grain, then finish by brushing very lightly with just the tip of the bristles with the grain. If you aren't sure of your technique, practice on a piece of scrap wood first.

    Don't bother refinishing a rudder if there are cracks in it that run lengthwise. I did this, and during a heavy air race the board split wide open. The Sunfish Bible offers recommendations for reinforcing such cracks on page 344 within article titled "Solutions for rudder problems."

    Hope this helps - my negligence made for a disappointing day for me.

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    How do I replace or re-secure my bow-handle?

    I installed a 4" inspection port forward of the splash guard and to the right (starboard) side.  You may be able to reach the bow handle if you have a very long arms.  I would try to fill the stripped holes with epoxy, then put some small pieces of wood in  the holes.  After this has cured and dried, drill, bed the handle with 3M-5200 (you can get this at any marine store, it's like a silicone sealant - just stronger) and install the screws. -  Greg Grasshoff

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    Can I straighten out a bent spar?

    The top spar (gaff) can be straightened if it is not badly bent or dented. Take off the sail and disconnect it from the bottom spar (boom). Pad it with cloth and then find two fixed points a foot or two apart. (A fork of a tree, two nearby telephone poles or pilings, or something similar)  Slide it in between them so that the bend is exactly against the nearer post, then carefully bend it back into straight by holding it at the end of the tube and applying gentle pressure against the two fixed points. 

    Be careful not to dent or kink the tube at any one point. If you are careful, use a lot of padding and take your time, you can get it back to almost perfectly straight. You then may want to rotate the tube 180 degrees (i.e. move the stainless steel connector one full rotation) so the tube is less likely to re-bend.

    If you are racing, I would suggest you get a new spar, since a straightened spar will never be as good as an unbent one.  But if you are just day sailing, the straightened spar should work fine. Good luck. -  Alan Glos

    I would add that this technique will work fine for the lower spar too. Just remove the gooseneck first. - Malcolm Dickinson

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    How do I install a hiking strap?

    On the back of the cockpit:

    Mount two pad-eyes on the back wall of the cockpit, between the floor and the shelf leading into the storage compartment.  These should be about six inches apart and parallel to the floor.  Pre-drill the holes for the pad-eyes, fill the holes with 5200 sealant and coat the screws with 5200 before screwing the pad-eyes into the holes.  Make sure to use good stainless screws.  This is where you will secure the rear of the hiking strap with a piece of line.

    At the front of the cockpit:
    There are differing opinions on where/how to mount the front.

    1. Get a small stainless plate about 3" long by 3/4" high and drill a hole 1/4" from each end.  Place the plate on the lip of the cockpit right behind the mainsheet block where the lip turns down and faces the back of the boat.  Pre-drill two holes through the lip of the cockpit so that the plate can be bolted on.  Slide the plate through the front of the hiking strap and bolt the plate on - again using good stainless steel nuts, bolts and washers.

    2.  This method requires the installation of a porthole on either side of the centerboard trunk to allow access to the inside of the hull.
    Get two small stainless plates about 3" long by 3/4" high and drill a hole 1/4" from each end.  Place one plate about 3" above the floor of the cockpit on the front wall of the cockpit and pre-drill two holes through the lip of the cockpit so that the plate can be bolted through the wall.  Use the other plate as a backing plate to bolt through.  (the backing plate should probably be a good bit larger)  Just before bolting everything on, fill the holes with 5200 then run the bolts through. - Bishop Stieffel

    Diagram 1

    Diagram 2

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    What should I wear in cold sailing conditions?

    The main thing you should be concerned about is staying dry. Do NOT wear anything that is cotton - use synthetic clothing only. If your local marine store doesn’t carry anything, try a ski shop. 

    For extreme conditions you will need three layers: a base layer to wick the moisture away from your skin,, a thermal layer or fleece to keep you warm, and a shell layer (like a one-piece suit) to keep the spray off you. This system will still allow you to move around yet keep you warm and dry. Make sure you have something for your head and hands too. 

    Look at for more info. - Tom Whitehurst

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    How should I store my Sunfish over the winter?

    Your Sunfish won't have any problems with hot/cold temperatures but you should do things to protect the hull, sail rudder and centerboard from the sun, dirt and rain.  Ultraviolet rays from the sun are damaging to just about everything, so simply covering your boat with a tarp will provide the most important protection. Those inexpensive blue plastic tarps work fine when tied down securely.

    If you store your Sunfish right-side up, you can put your spars and mast on top, creating a high point for the tarp that will allow water to run off, but only if the tarp remains tightly stretched throughout the winter (not very likely). You should also put some padding between the spars/boom and the deck to prevent scratching the deck finish.

    My recommendation is to store your Sunfish upside down. There are several advantages to this: it will prevent water from collecting in flat places on the tarp and in the cockpit. Also, the natural curve of the keel will allow water to run off quickly, even if the tarp is not stretched tightly.

    If your Sunfish is on a trailer, you might place a couple of 2x4s (or similar) across the trailer to provide deck support for an upside-down boat. Two well-spaced supports should be enough and placing some old carpet or towels between the boards and deck will prevent scratches.

    I always recommend that the sail be removed from the spars, folded and kept indoors along with the sail rings (or strings), halyard and mainsheet. An old pillow case makes an excellent sail bag. Sails rolled up on spars and left outside seem to always attract nest-building insects.

    Your spars and mast are made of aluminum and can be exposed to the elements but you should remember the sun will affect the end caps and the plastic sheaves of the boom blocks. If the spars and mast can't be stored in a garage or other inside location, storing the spars and mast under the Sunfish would be fine. The end-caps won't deteriorate that much and are inexpensive to replace when they do.

    You should always store the tiller/rudder assembly and daggerboard inside. This protects them from the sun of course, but also big temperature and humidity changes, which do the most damage to those parts. How about storing them under a couch or bed?

    Well, that's a lot more information than you probably needed or wanted, but it was fun for me to sit down and write this. I hope it helps you keep your Sunfish in great shape.

    - Jim Schwobel,  Corpus Christi Sailing Center, Inc.

     - - -
    If you have a basement, leave the sail on the spars and carry them into the basement. Make two loops of rope and attach them to rafters roughly 14 feet apart. Slide the tips of the spars through one loop and the other ends through the other.  Now the sail should be able to hang freely with no kinks or folds. This is the best storage method in my experience.  - Malcolm Dickinson

    - - -
    Pictures of two methods - hanging from the roof of a garage, and tied against a fence. - Author Unknown

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    Where should I install cleats on my spars?

    Take a look at this image...

    The outhaul and cunning cleat locations may be changed to make it more comfortable for you to reach and adjust each haul. 

    Every Sunfish should have a mast cleat.   Picture this:  when you raise the sail, you are pulling down on the halyard (in essence, trying to push the mast through the bottom of the boat, right?), then you run the halyard through the eye on the deck right next to the mast and pull up (in essence, trying to pull the deck off of the boat).  Now, stand back and look at the two forces.  Together, the forces are trying to tear the deck and bottom of the boat apart, consequently ripping the foam braces loose inside the boat and every wave you hit only increases the forces.  Installing a mast cleat will eliminate this problem.   The location of the  mast cleat, however, is limited by the Class Rules:
    3.5.9 One cleat of any type may be installed on the mast not more than four (4’) feet from the base, for cleating the line used to tie the ‘Jens Rig’ (Ref. Rule 3.7.3). It may also be used to cleat the halyard. If utilized, there must be some means to securely attach the rig to the hull using the end of the halyard.

    The Salsa quick release that is pictured is a bicycle seat-post quick release. It is anodized aluminum with a stainless steel shaft. Cheaper ones are not of this quality and may have low grade steel shafts.  You might pay two to three times as much for a stainless shaft, but you won't be buying one every four to six months. - Bishop Stieffel

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    How do I dry out my hull?

    Two commonly used methods:

    1.  There are two things to consider when dealing with a wet boat. 1) The water you can find and drain, i.e., the inch sitting in the bottom. 2) The water that has gotten into the structure - the foam and the fiberglass itself. The foam blocks and fiberglass can absorb a 100 pounds of water or more into the structure and leave not a drop running in the bottom of the boat.

    We pretty much automatically install a 4" port behind the splash rail, even in a new boat. If the boat is still heavy even after the water is drained we install a second port in the aft deck to help get better air flow though the hull. Even a drain plug added to the transom will help quite a bit.

    As far as fixing leaks around the splash rail and old metal rail - There is seldom a quick permanent fix. For leaky splash rails it is usually best to remove the fasteners and the part and then reinstall with plenty of marine grade caulk. Caulking around the rail or splash rail seldom seems to last for very long. If you feel better, pull the piece off and then reinstall and THEN caulk around the fitting. That way the fittings will be nice and tight. - Dan Feldman, Wind Line Sails

    2.  Install a 4" port behind the splash rail then, simply sponge out the water and place a light in the opening. Place the boat in a dry location and leave it with the light on.

    As for a sail tube, the 8” is the right size but sometime difficult to attach to a trailer without raising the supports for the boat, unless you have a different setup. They only come in 20’ lengths and you will need to cut it down. Make sure you don’t leave your sail in the tube for an extended period of time as any moisture will mildew the sail as well as stain the window ( provided you have a window ) . If you are a member of the listserve, there are several topics on this and suggestion. - Tom Whitehurst

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    What is an easy way to trailer my Sunfish and dolly?

    Have you considered trailering your sunfish right side up on a Seitech dolly?  When your trailer has been properly equipped, the dolly just slides onto the trailer, is tied down and off you go.  Seitech equipped my trailer with their latest design late last spring. Having trailered my Sunfish with the dolly/trailer combo to most of the major Sunfish races in New England, I can assure you that the system works like a charm.  Suggest you view the system on their web site -  - Marty Rich

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    Some general racing tip from Cordero

    Eduardo Cordero's Clinic

    Cordero emphasized setting up the sail for maximum power. He sets the luff tension slightly loose, enough to allow half inch scallops to form below the mast along the upper spar. The outhaul is also set up to allow for slight scallops along the lower spar. The strings attaching the sail on either side of the halyard must be eased somewhat so creases don't form at those grommets when the sail is tensioned. He prefers his halyard attached in a position that leaves the spar about four inches off the deck. Vang must be applied with sufficient tension to keep the lower spar from rising downwind, a mistake that most of those in the clinic were making. He puts purchase on his halyard with the use of a double bowline. This knot can be easily undone after being tensioned. He almost always sets his gooseneck at 16" from the end of the boom.

    His recommendation on depowering was to adjust gooseneck first, then vang, and to adjust outhaul and cunningham only as a last resort. He prefers to change sail shape with the mainsheet. On the beach he demonstrated the effect of mainsheet tension on the sail shape. Eased, the sail is quite full and flattens as it is sheeted.

    According to Eduardo, "We sail two different boats because of the sail being against the mast on port tack. " On starboard, the boat must be sheeted with sail eased more than on port. Overtrimming on starboard brings the sail too close to the middle of the boat. Most participants were not sheeting hard enough on either tack although the mistake was more prevalent on port. In gusts he recommended a big ease on starboard, a slight ease on port, and then after the boat picks up speed, some trim on starboard, and big trim on port.

    Extensive practice on mark roundings showed that many boat lengths are routinely given away in that maneuver. A wide approach and a close exit from the leeward mark is known to be the best technique. Video analysis of the practice showed even those who were aware of this technique were not executing it correctly. It was pretty evident that practicing roundings would be a good way to improve finishes.

    At the windward mark, he demonstrated raising the dagger board before completing the rounding. This allows him to bear off faster with greater speed, giving him a better chance to get on the first wave sooner.

    Leaving the windward mark with speed is crucial to his downwind game plan. He prefers to go low because he does not want to be trapped by boats luffing each other down the leg. Clear space to leeward is necessary to be free to bear off down the waves. He is always looking for a wave in the area 30 degrees off his windward bow. When he gets on one, he rides it down and then comes up before slowing and starts looking for another. On the run, he often finds it is faster to sail by the lee rather than dead downwind. This is dependent on the angle of the waves and the wind.

    Eduardo demonstrated various exercises he does to get in shape. He advocates stretching, running, and bike riding. Bike riding is good for the knees and helps in light air situations when it is necessary to sit with bent knees on those light air days.

    Training is probably one of the most overlooked areas in the quest for speed. To sail with his gooseneck at 16" all the time requires him to "hike like an animal". If that can't be done, depowering techniques need to be employed and they reduce speed. Good conditioning is necessary to be able to come off a long beat of straight leg hiking and then be ready to keep it up for every puff and wave down the reach. Even in light air, proper fitness allows
    the body to withstand the awkward positions that must be assumed to keep proper trim in those conditions.

    Eduardo's coaching gave everyone the opportunity to improve their finishes. He emphasized that in order for the techniques to work, the most important thing is to go out and practice them.

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    What should I do with sail when the wind increases?

    When conditions warrant depowering the sail, I believe that the techniques should be applied in this order:

    Adjust the gooseneck:  as the wind increases, move the gooseneck back on the boom.  The idea is to balance the helm (the amount the tiller pulls when sailing upwind - making the boat want to go up)  Once adjusted, sail flat upwind for a minute or so, to see if the helm is balanced.  There should be a very slight pull to leeward.  You should not move the gooseneck any further back than 26" from the front of the boom (not including the plastic end cap).

    If you can't balance the helm by adjusting the gooseneck alone, then consider tightening the out haul, as this will flatten the sail.

    If you're still overpowered, set up the Jens rig, as described below by Daniel Feldman and in the Tips and Tricks section of this website.  This is the most drastic of the depowering methods.

    Another method that can help is "reefing" the sail.  To do this, you must lower the sail, untie the uphaul and retie it so that the head of the sail is secured about 8 inches from the top of the upper spar.  Raise the sail again and tie the first grommet up from the tack down to the tack eyebolts (in essence, making the sail a bit smaller).  This is not a true "reef" because there are no grommets on the leech to tie down to the boom.  Then tighten the outhaul very tight.

    If you are still having problems holding the boat down, try raising the centerboard between 4 and 6 inches for the upwind legs.  This decreases the lateral resistance below the waterline.  You will not be able "track" upwind as well as some of the heavier sailors, but it will help you control the boat.

    If you still can't control the boat.......  just do what you can to get through the the finish line, because there will be plenty of others who are having the same problems and by finishing the race, you should be able to pick up points and experience.  Don't give up!! - Clinton Edwards

    Below I have given the halyard locations I use for standard and a Jens rig.  There are no exact specs since the Jens rig can be set up at any number of locations depending on how you feel comfortable. You can experiment but should remember 2 things.  One - It is a bad idea to go more than 20" below the standard halyard position.  This leaves a large portion of the gaff unsupported and dramatically increases the chance that you will break it. Two - You will need to move your gooseneck back to correspond with the addition of a Jens (See below.)

    Halyard positions - measured from the top down on the upper spar. (these measurements do not include the plastic end caps)

    Standard - 56"  Gooseneck adjustment range from 15" - 20" aft.

    Jens - 70" Gooseneck adjustment from 18" - 23" aft.

    You may want to experiment with a mid-way Jens at 63" gooseneck from 18"-22" aft.

    What conditions will warrant using a Jens will depend on several things.  Wind Speed - Your Weight - Physical Conditioning - Sailing Style.

    In general you should switch to a Jens as soon as you feel overpowered beyond your ability to correct the feel of the boat with simple adjustments to the outhaul, cunningham and gooseneck position.  I will give you some examples from my own experience, but yours will vary.  (I am 5'11" and 190 pounds.)

    In the early part of the season when I have the least boat time I will go to a Jens when the wind is at about 20 kts constant or higher.  By this time my gooseneck will already have been at about 19", my outhaul tight and my cunningham snug.  Late in the season, I will not switch to a Jens until 23kts of breeze.  I may switch a little earlier if one of the following situations occurs;  wind is expected to increase dramatically - In the early stages of a long series where it is expected to blow all week or in the late stages of a series where I am already experiencing significant fatigue.  In marginal conditions a Jens will not really hurt your performance as long as you have some practice with it.  If you are in conditions on the edge you may want to use a mid-way Jens.  You should definitely practice with a Jens on occasion so you are familiar with both it's mechanics and feel while sailing.  Practice putting it in and taking it out on the water so you will be able to do it in between races if you need to.

    Daniel Feldman, Wind Line Sails

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    How do I remove sail numbers?

    Although acetone works for number removal, and doesn't appear to harm the sail material (I'm a sailmaker) the stuff that works better is "3M general purpose adhesive cleaner" part # 051135-08984. I use the 3M adhesive cleaner. It is available at most auto part stores. It's used to take decals and stripes off auto paint.  It also works great to remove the "mold release wax" from a new hull.  Hopefully everyone with a shiny new boat is de-waxing her before racing. - Scott Fox The Boathouse

    An inorganic solvent such as Contact cement cleaner is what we use here at the shop. It doesn't flash off ie; evaporate as fast as Acetone and a bit less noxious. Remember, these are flammable chemicals - use in a ventilated spot and discard the rags when done. - Jim Koehler, The Dinghy Shop

    Sobstad Sails has step by step instructions for removing and applying sail numbers at

    If they're the stick-on type, just get your fingernail under and peel them off.  I've found "Goo Gone" removes the residue pretty well.  You'll have a shadow from where the numbers were, but it's not important. Your new numbers will go right over. If they were markered on, your only hope is to start with rubbing alcohol (put an old towel underneath and rub with another from above).  When you have as much out as you can get, let sail dry.  Then try
    again with fresh old towels all the while, using acetone.  Sailmakers may not think this is the best method, but that's all I've found for getting markered number off of the sail.  New numbers overwritten at this point (or stuck on) will overpower the shadow of the old ones. -  Gail M. Turluck

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    Should I install mainsheet cleats?

    I know that many top Sunfish sailors don't use cleats, but I always have.  It's important to play the sheet while racing, of course, but I find it invaluable to cleat it while making an adjustment (gooseneck, outhaul, etc.) or while getting a drink of water.

    I've had good results using the large black plastic Clam cleats, as long as they are mounted on spacers so they sit up above the deck about an inch.  Any lower than that, and it's difficult to drop the sheet into them.  I wouldn't recommend the lateral cleats.  I've seen them used on Sunfish before (they are certainly more comfortable to sit on) but I think they would be too difficult to get the line in and out of.

    Harken cam cleats (or Ronstan cam cleats, which are almost identical) would be a good option, but are much more expensive.  You would still need to have a spacer to raise them off the deck.

    On my current boat I have put the cleats far forward - enough that when I am sitting well forward, even with the midpoint of the daggerboard, I don't have to sit on the cleats.  This is working well. - Malcolm Dickinson

    For us with side clam cleats: I've found that normal rubber/plastic doorstop wedges from a hardware store work fine under the cleat. It gives just the right angle for Harken blocks. It's also a little more forgiving if you smash your butt into one. - Peter Czeisler

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    What knots should I use on sail ties?

    The Square Knot, or Reef Knot, is a good knot if you need to undo it quickly. You can "capsize" a reef knot by taking one "tail" and pull it away from the direction it is going.  This the intention of using the square knot  for reefing sails.  It quickly releases.

    A better knot for use when the goal is to have the loop of the line cinch up the line is the Surgeon's Knot.

    First-  Start by tying a square knot but make one more overhand knot, i.e., twice around.  Then finish the knot in the same fashion as a square knot (don't make it a "granny"!).  This knot is tightened by pulling the loop rather than the tails of the line.

    The thinner the line the better it works.  You may have to work it a bit to get the exact length you need, but the stronger the pull, the better the knot will hold. - Bruce Cattanach

    What I recommend for the foot ties, using spec 12, is to set up a jig on a piece of wood.  Tie an overhand knot in one end of all your ties.  Use your jig, and mark each tie the same.  Slide the tie through the foot grommets of your sail.  Tie an overknot against your mark.  Now tie a square knot so that it rests against your overhand knots.  This will not slip. The important part of this whole operation is to make sure that all ties are the same length.   - Jeff Linton

    I recommend using spec 12 for sail ties.  Tie an over hand knot (the first half of a square knot ) through the grommet and around the boom.  Place a pen or pencil between the line and the boom and finish the square knot - this helps you keep the sail tied at a consistent distance from the spar.  Sometimes, I've had square knots come loose, so I make sure that I've cut my ties long enough to use each end of the tie's leftovers to tie a half hitch around the sail tie. - Bishop Stieffel

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    How do I break in a new racing sail?

    Never use a brand new sail at a regatta. Try and use it 2 or 3 times in moderate wind. The sail will stretch slightly. Generally good sail makers take this into account when the sail is cut and adjust the panel templates. Thus, the sail will not be at its best shape until it has stretched slightly.

    Luff tension: This is one of the most common mistakes made when the sail is first bent on. For one thing the adjustment range is relatively small. Secondly, the correct tension looks terrible. Generally many sailors adjust the luff to tight. We recommend the following: On bare spars attach the tack and temporarily and tie the clew to the end of the boom. Do not attach the sail rings. With the spars laid out, lift the top of the gaff off the ground and using the up-haul line draw the head of the sail toward the end cap. You should continue to tighten the up-haul line until the luff of the sail is drawn up along the spar. The front edge of the sail should hang in a nice smooth curve. The luff tape will hang pretty much along the spar. If you start to see the curve flattening or a wrinkle forming parallel to the spar you are to tight. If the luff tape sags or curls under you are to loose. Tie the sail off and attach your rings and ties.

    You can test the set up by putting the sail up and sheeting in hard as if you were going to windward. (The sail should be full.) If you see a series of gentle scallops along the luff the setup is probably OK. If the scallops are sagging and opening a pocket between the boom and the sail you are too loose. If there is hardly a wrinkle or no wrinkle probably too tight. Adjust your up-haul. Just remember, a half inch on an up-haul can make quite a difference as you your setup gets close. If the sail is new you will probably need to tighten the up-haul after the first couple of times you sail due to the sail stretching.

    I adjust the tension from that point on via the cunningham. I am larger at 5'11" and 190 pounds so I don't tend to take anything on the cunningham until it blows around 17kts. When you reach for it will depend on your height, weight and conditioning. I don't touch the up-haul at all unless I am going out into survival conditions and the it is rare.

    The cunningham/up-haul act by flattening the sail and pulling the draft forward. This, in conjunction with he outhaul, will de-power the sail. I have found that with the racing sail that it is often better to leave the pocket on the foot at least partially open, minor wrinkles in the luff of the sail and feather it slightly if I have to, rather then over flatten the sail which tends to cause the boat to side slip more. - Daniel Feldman, Wind Line Sails

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    Where should I put telltales?

     I put telltales on my Sunfish sail this year, and if I had it to do over, I would put one pair about 8 to 10 inches below, and about 6 to 10 inches behind the Sunfish emblem on both sides of the sail. I would only put on one pair, although I frequently see two pair on a sail. The second pair is usually down towards the front of the sail. - Charles J Butchart

    - - -

    I use a similar placement of airflow tels on the sail. I use three pairs on my sail: each pair is located about 2-3 feet back from the upper spar, and the three pairs are spaced vertically about two feet apart. You can buy orange Airflow Tels™ in the boat store, or just use 8" lengths of video tape (it's about the same width) and apply them with squares of duct tape.

     I've been using a wind indicator made of audio tape strung from a coat hanger attached to the upper spar at about eye level, and it has worked quite well. The biggest disadvantage is that it was difficult to read on reaches and runs during sunny weather. The tell tales work quite well where the wind indicator does not.

    I also use the same eye-level indicator that you do: a straightened coat hanger taped to the upper spar so that it sticks out on either side. I first saw this in Larry Lewis's book Sail it Flat, which was out of print for a long time but has now been  reprinted in The Sunfish Bible. Per his design, I sometimes use a big clamp (instead of tape) to secure it to the spar. He recommends a metal electrical clamp, but all-plastic ones are now available at Home Depot (they are lighter and don't rust).  On each end of the wire hanger I have a taped a length (about 8") of reel-to-reel audio tape, which is about 1/4" wide.

    For downwind legs, you'll want a masthead indicator. Here I straightened another coat hanger, bent it in half, and taped it to the upper spar so it sticks straight up. A 10" length of videotape at the top makes a great "which gybe is favored" indicator when going downwind, and is easily seen from the deck because it's black and almost 1/2" wide.

    To keep the coat hanger from getting rust on your sail, you can use a plastic-coated one, or use a thin wooden dowel  instead, like those used for paper flags on Memorial Day. - Malcolm Dickinson

    - - -

    Although I do not use tell tales on a sunfish, I have used them on other boats and have helped a few of my friends set them up on their boats. Tell tales should be placed on the portion of the sail where the draft is at its deepest point. So the best thing to do is to grab a friend, rig the boat up on the beach or in your yard if the boat is at home, and do the following:

    Set the boat on a close reach, and trim the sail in until the luff is full. -Sight up from the boom or the leach and gently mark with a pencil the deepest portions of the draft. Note the deepest portion of the draft on each tack. -The telltales will generally be set even with the upper boom, and not with the mast. -You'll also want one near the leach so that you can tell when you're sailing by the lee on a run as the leeward telltale will stream forward.

    I think if I were to put tell tales on a sunfish, I might consider doing it the way PJ has his sail set up.....just a line of them from front to back and even with the boom. This may compensate for the irregularities of the lateen rig. - Ted Cremer 12502

    To position tell tales: I draw a mental line from the head of the sail to a point just about 45% of the way aft on the boom. I go up this line about 4 feet and set my tell tales there. Many people find a second set a few feet higher but on the same line useful. When the sail is in trim the leeward tell tale will be slightly stalled. I find that tell tales place further forward are adversely affected by the mast on port tack and prove unreliable. - Daniel Feldman

    I only use one set of telltales.  Here's a pretty good look at the location.  It's the only area of the sail that is symmetrical and unaffected by the mast. - Bishop Stieffel

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    What size line should I use for my mainsheet?

    Yale Light 1/4" - 5/16" for light air (0-10kts)  between 29 and 30 feet long
    Any softer line 3/8" for heavy conditions, between 27 and 28 feet

    The reason for the different lengths is for control downwind.  In light conditions, it's easy to sail by the lee with the sail well in front of 90º, but in heavy conditions, the shorter sheet won't allow the sail beyond 90º, thereby minimizing the chances of a death roll. - Bishop Stieffel

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    What are the PHRF numbers for a Sunfish?

    A PHRF of 245 seems a reasonable number for a Sunfish, which would be slightly slower than a Catalina 25, but a good bit faster than a Catalina 22. A J-24 rates around 175, a J-29 about 115, a J-40 rates a bit less than 100, a 12 meter rates about -30, so if you raced a 12 meter for one mile he would have to beat you by more than 275 seconds (4 min 35 sec) to win on handicap, in case you want to challenge Ted Turner or Dennis Connor on your lake. A list can be browsed at - Edward Wagman

    When a Sunfish competes against displacement hulls, there should be at least two different ratings:
    245 For conditions under 15 knots
    205 For conditions above 15 knots when there is at least one reach on the course
    220 For conditions above 15 knots when there are no reaches (Windward / Leeward Courses) - Bishop Stieffel

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    What is optimum skipper weight to race a Sunfish?

    I've heard that the Sunfish is more forgiving of weight variations than any other centerboard single handed boats. At Laser and Finn championships, the skippers fall within a much narrower weight and height range then the people you see at a Sunfish championship.

    A championship sailor is made by his experience, tactical mind, and his physical condition, not his height and weight; but it's still interesting to look at the trends over the years.

    It seems that the optimum Sunfish weight has gone up over time, probably due to the introduction of the larger sail daggerboard. It still varies depending on whether you'll be doing ocean sailing (in which case you'd like to be 6'2" and maybe 190 lbs) or lake sailing (in which case you're in luck if you weigh 120).

    Examples (I'm guessing at heights, weights, and years here, so take no offense if I get yours wrong):

    Paul Fendler won a worlds around 1980 at 5'7" and 130 lbs. He also placed at the '93 NA's in Illinois, in very light air conditions. Jean Bergman is even lighter and shorter, (maybe 5'5" and 100 lbs) and nearly won a light-air worlds in Orlando in 1990.

    More recent world champions have been heavier. The windiest regatta I saw was in Curacao in '91 and was won by Stephen Smeulders, who is well over 6 feet tall and weighs perhaps 200 lbs. Scott Kyle and Paul-Jon Patin placed close in.  A very heavy air worlds in Houston in '92 was won by Paul-Jon - he is big and I think I remember him saying he did weight training to prepare for those conditions.

    More recently (post-new daggerboard): Malcolm Smith of Bermuda, who is around 5'7" 170 lbs, weight-trains, and appears very strong, won at Bermuda in '94, and Eduardo Cordero, who I think is 5'9" and 165 lbs, won in the Bahamas in '95.

    So I'm not sure, but I think all our champions have weighed between 130 and 190. The closest other boat I can think of is Laser Radial, where all champions have been between 150 and 185.  -  Malcolm Dickinson (52943)

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    How do I start in large fleets?

    One thing I've been working on that has seemed to work well when starting in the middle of a long line is to aim your bow right at the pin then look back at the line flag on the RC boat. If you draw an imaginary line directly down the middle of your boat from bow to stern, and this line is aiming below the RC boat, you are below the line. If the line is aiming above the RC boat, you are over. Remember that if the imaginary line is pointing below the line flag on a shorter starting line, you will be closer to the starting line.

    As to which side is favored, you can either sail by the RC boat and peek at a flag (if it isn't too low and is undisturbed) if it points to the right (away from the pin end, the RC is favored and vice-versa) OR use the more common method of luffing somewhere on the line (usually near the middle) making sure there are no boats to weather of you to foul the wind direction. When you are pointing directly into the wind, look left - look right. Whichever side of the line is further towards the front of your boat, that side is favored. Be careful when using these techniques to remember to give yourself enough time to return to the favored end - especially when on a long line.

    All of this could be moot if there is a big shift coming down the first leg that you missed while trying to figure all of this out. If there's an obvious sheer, regardless of which side is favored, be on that side of the line to beat as many boats as possible to the shift.

    Dan Feldman made a very good point about recovery. In a large fleet of boats, clear air (or a good "lane") is HUGE. Keep your options open. If you get stuck under a bunch of boats, drive off, tack, scream, kick, pray, break out the checkbook, but GET OUT!   GET CLEAR AIR!!  You can lose almost 3-4 boat-lengths to the leaders for every 30 seconds that you don't clear your air. On a mile leg, that adds up very quickly!  -  Bishop Stieffel

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    Where do I sit in light air?

    In light air and flat water off the wind you want to move your weight forward. You should be sitting even with the front of the cockpit or even slightly forward of the front edge. The idea is to raise the stern of the boat up and out of the water to help clean up the water flow. You should also heel the boat to windward until the helm feels neutral. I slide my weight forward on the rail. To allow me to heel the boat to windward I curl my aft leg under the hiking strap and lean back. If the water is rough I may need to move my weight aft to lift the bow and keep the boat from nose diving. If you feel athletic the proper technique for rough water involves moving your weight forward as the boat noses down a wave and aft as it enters the trough. - Daniel Feldman, Wind Line Sails

    - - - 
    When I am sailing upwind in extremely light air, I try to move my weight as far forward as possible, in effect placing my center of gravity right even with the daggerboard. This can require some creative body positioning if you want to induce a bit of heel to the boat. With my knees just about touching the water on the leeward side, and the Harken block in my belly, I find that I have good boat speed even in nearly-nothing conditions. I think this is because by moving my weight forward I am getting much of the aft half of the hull out of the water (much of the rudder, too), thereby reducing overall wetted surface area.  - Malcolm Dickinson

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    What is the difference between the racing sail and the recreational sail?

    The racing sail has several differences and it is not always just white, many of the world's editions have colors and are equally as competitive.  The main difference is the race sail is cut fuller and slightly larger overall, has a window, cunningham and reinforcement patches on the leach.  If your just getting started, I would highly recommend you learn with the standard sail and have a window and cunningham grommet installed.  For the younger and lighter sailors (under 130), the standard sail is a much better performing and handling over 15 knots.

    For light to moderate winds, the race sail is a must for most sailors to be competitive. - Tom Whitehurst







    How can restore the color on my hull?

    Here are some ideas. First, clean the hull with a strong soap maybe even straight laundry bleach (wear rubber gloves when working with bleach and wear protective eye wear.) Next, get some automotive rubbing compound and follow directions on the can. The rubbing compound is mildly abrasive and will remove the old oxidized surface that makes the surface look cloudy and faded. Try a small area and see if it seems to work. If yes, compound the entire boat (2-3 hours of hard rubbing) and then finish with a project called 3M Marine Fiberglass Restorer and Wax. This is a liquid combination of rubbing compound and wax. Good stuff but a little pricey.

    If all of the above doesn't work, consider painting. Your choices are a true two-part epoxy which offers the longest life and best scuff resistance or a one part product designed for fiberglass hull refinishing. Be sure to sand carefully so the surface is roughed up enough to let the paint grip. Wipe the hull with acetone before paining to remove any dust or wax residue.

    Painting is a last resort as a painted surface is never as good as the molded-in gelcoat color.

    As for putty, most people I know swear by a product called Marine Tex. It is good stuff but hard to sand, but it does make a good, permanent repair to minor dings and hairline cracks. - Alan Glos







    How do I replace mast or boom end caps?

    This is one of the easier retrofits. Remove the old plastic end caps from the tops or bottom of the alum. mast. Buy new caps from a dealer or mail order source. Insert new caps and either:

    •  pop rivet from both sides
    • glue in with a little epoxy resin with a thickener (like powdered cotton or the like)
    • insert caps, drill small diameter holes in the metal and plastic, and lock into place with a little stainless steel or brass pin with a little epoxy to prevent movement. 

    The last option is the best, but the glue option works fine too. - Alan Glos

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    • Published
      Jun 6, 2011
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