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Hanks or a Headfoil? What’s Right for an Express 27?

Latitude 38 reader and Lake Tahoe Express 27 owner Greg Felton wrote in with some appreciative comments, and a question for Max Ebb and Lee Helm about whether he should have hanks or a foil for his new jib. We have a reply from Max and Lee, but thought readers could share their thoughts in the Comments. Greg wrote:

#1: A belated “Thank You!” for taking on Latitude 38 and keeping this gem alive and flourishing for our wonderful sailing community. (It’s our pleasure, Greg. Thanks for your feedback.)

#2: I hope “Max and Lee” can help me with a quandary. I recently purchased an Express 27 (by the way, one of the best designs ever … big enough to handle coastal and transpacific races; small enough to fit on a trailer and keep costs down; light enough to launch with most local hoists; simple enough to easily doublehand; comfortable enough to cruise; agile, fast, and plentiful enough to make racing a gas; and designed by an absolute gem of a person who left us far too early, Carl Schumacher). Most decisions have been easy. One is vexing me — should I go with hanked-on jibs or a headfoil? Turns out there’s a split in the fleet, even among boats finishing at the top. My former headfoil disintegrated during the move of the boat from its former home, so I’m either going to have to buy a new foil or pay to have my jibs converted to hanks. Either way there will be some expense, so let’s just set that entirely aside and weigh the other pros and cons of the options:

Why hanks: 1) Handling when not changing is easier (around the weather mark, or when out with my honey or shorthanding: Just let the halyard go and the jib will drop and remain on deck with no need to go to the bow); 2) Reliability (will never pull out of the feeder or the track).
Why a headfoil: 1) With the exception of time on classic boats (e.g. Shields, ICs, Birds) and the new IC37, that’s what I’m accustomed to; 2) Changes while racing should be faster; 3) Less likely to snag and tear the kite; 4) It must be more aerodynamic, right?

GetHappy-Express27-SlackwaterSF
Brendan Busch’s Get Happy!! was the first Express 27 to finish in 2021. Looks like hanks on the bow.
© 2022 Slackwater SF

Aerodynamics is turning out to be the swing factor. How much will I be giving up if I opt for hanks?

Express 27
Looks like a foil here.
© 2022 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Chris

Thanks again for your wonderful rag!

Avid reader,
Greg “Radar” Felton
Stateline, NV (Lake Tahoe)

Max and Lee replied:

Go with the foil for reasons #3 and #3a: Less likely to snag the kite, and also makes a spinnaker wrap around the forestay a little looser and easier to pull out.

But Lee likes foils for reason #4, the aerodynamics: “Gets the effective luff of the jib just a little ahead of the forestay, and fairs in the entry.” Although she can’t come up with any data that prove this is worth the extra weight of the foil.

We both agree that in that size boat you will almost never do a peel change. On the Bay, the legs are short enough to let you change jibs on a downwind leg. On the ocean, the extra minute for a bald-headed change is not a big deal. Second day of Vallejo Race sometimes calls for a jib change, but even then, the time spent with crew weight on the bow is as bad as a bald-headed change — and also reason #2: With a foil, the bald-headed change can be much quicker than if you have to deal with all those hanks.

Moore 24s
Moore 24s Gruntled, with hanks, in the foreground and Nobody’s Girl, with a foil, in the background.
© 2022 Lyn Hines

The good news is that with a fractional rig, you can get a lot more range out of each size jib. It’s why a fractional rig should be a high priority in choosing a cruising boat, especially if you insist on roller furling.

The product we both want, and no one seems to make, is a single-luff lightweight headfoil optimized for aerodynamics.

max ebb

What do you think? Let us know in the Comments below.

11 Comments

  1. Steve Rienhart 4 months ago

    Hanks. Going upwind is not the time to change jibs on a ULDB, so you wait until off the breeze anyway. If the aerodynamics of the jib luff are all that are standing between 2nd and 1st overall for you, congrats, though somehow I doubt it… Hanks make jib handling easier.

  2. Nick Gibbens 4 months ago

    Always used hanks on Shenanigans. Easier on the bow person and prefer the simplicity of hanks vs a vinyl foil that can crack or have a feed jam etc. I agree with Steve that hanks are the least of my worries if I am slower upwind. Pretty sure Greg (Radar) already asked for my opinion… 🙂

  3. Beau Vrolyk 4 months ago

    Hanks. The reason is really simple: The Sail Stays On The Boat. Yes, I know a foil has better aerodynamics. Yes, I have done peals aboard our Moore-24, SCARLETT. (Exactly 3 times in 15 years) But, keeping the sail on the boat when on your way to the Farallon or when you’re rocketing downwind past Pt. Blunt swamps the tiny advantages of a foil. Simply put: Dragging a jib through the water is very very very slow.

  4. Joseph Hansen 4 months ago

    Would a Harken Roller Furling Foil be worth discussing? Asking for a friend.

  5. Mike DeVries 4 months ago

    Hanks. Do you really want someone on the bow pulling the jib down when everyone around you is blasting off?

  6. Dave Gruver 4 months ago

    Hanks on small boats. Even more so if you sail shorthanded events. If you are concerned about snags, go with snaps or buckles vs bronze hanks.

  7. Christine Weaver 4 months ago

    Joseph, I loooove roller furling. So much easier for shorthanded or casual sailing. However, the Express 27 racers need to be able to change gears between the #1 and #3. This is especially important for racing in the Bay Area, where the first race can be sailed in 5-8 knots of breeze and the third race can get gusts into the 20s. If you want to race one-design, you’ll want to consider what the best teams in your fleet are doing, and you’ll have to consider the class rules. Find the Express 27 class rules at http://express27.org/articles/rules.

  8. Lori Tewksbury 4 months ago

    I have hanks because I do a lot of short handed sailing as well as fleet racing. There have been a few times when I’ve had to do a bald headed jib change upwind but the fact that I can drop the jib from the cockpit if it gets rough and not go to the bow is super important for short handing offshore. And, knock on wood, I’ve not had a kite rip from the hanks.

  9. David Wilhite 4 months ago

    Hanks are clearly better on small boats.
    A headfoil, scaled down, may not be as aerodynamically clean as one might think as it’s thicker than the luff/headstay combo, and since they have two slots, one side always presents some sort of disturbed flow. Add to that, a #5 luff tape used on a 9 meter headstay isn’t significantly skinnier than a #7 luff tape used on a 14 meter headstay so the larger boat benefits through economy of scale. Given only empirical aerodynamic evidence has been provided my bet is that on small boats flow efficiency and weight aloft is a push.
    That and hanks are way safer on small foredecks in the extreme conditions found around SFBay as the jib luff is always aboard and the ability of the relationally larger human to stay with the boat is harder and requires more physical and mental energy to stay aboard.
    Viewed as a percentage game which asks how often do you get caught with the wrong sail up, contrasted with, how much time does someone spend on the bow during simple sets and douses, I’m pretty sure good old hanks gain potential advantage while on short courses and short handed in any situation.
    And then there is the issue of maintenance; how much energy is spent on jib tape/pre-feeder/foil maintenance not to mention flags and or the wrapping topping lifts to eliminate foil chatter?
    However, Lee/Max make a good point about inside asymmetric jibes as they note that a foiled jib is definitely a cleaner surface to pull the kite over in a sloppy jibe, but I’m not sure any wrapped kite is ever truly easy to untangle especially if the back of the boat is unwilling to jibe the mainsail to get the wrap out.
    Yes hanks require a little lubrication from time to time and sail changes do typically consume more time, but with careful management these negatives are easily mitigated.
    And then there’s furling which isn’t really an option on boats with multiple jibs.

  10. Marceline 4 months ago

    Hanks or snaps. Especially if you plan to do any shorthanded racing. Jib goes up and down easier and you don’t have to send someone all the way to the pointy end just to raise & lower the sail. If class rules permit (not sure about Express 27) you can have two sets of snaps for two different luff curves. (Hi Radar!)

  11. Greg Felton 4 months ago

    Thanks to all who have responded! Extremely helpful. The resounding “go with hanks” message and the reasons are clear. As an aside, Lee’s and Max’s knowledge and presentation have educated many about so many dimensions of our sport. This is the first time I can recall that their arguments failed to persuade even a single respondent!

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