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Here is a question… how do you like to secure the jib or genoa sheets to the sail?

I suppose the classic method is to use a couple of bowlines, and I’m not sure there’s anything wrong with that. On ZTC, when we replaced the original sheets with nice new Dyneema, we opted to use one long piece of line instead of two shorter ones, and we attached the middle of that line to the clew with a constrictor hitch. I believe that some people do a similar thing but use a cow hitch instead. While that would be much easier to tie, I had heard reports of that knot slipping when used in that application though which is why I opted for one that is known to be more secure.

On Frost, when we picked up the boat, we found that the genoa sheet was also one long piece of line. There was a sewn eye in the middle, and that loop was attached to the sail with a beautifully-spliced soft shackle made of 3-strand nylon. But speaking of slipping, I wrote about how, during our passage to Trinidad, the sewn eye in the middle of the genoa sheet broke, and the line ended up slipping when under load. As you might guess, that caused us a bit of drama, and it happened in the dark, of course. I managed to fix it while still underway by tying a figure eight on a bight in the middle. I re-secured that knot to the clew with the same soft shackle. The only modification I have made since that time is to swap the original soft shackle for one constructed of Amsteel that I put together myself.

So, what’s your preference, and why? Curious minds want to know.


  1. I use a cow hitch because it the least bulk on the tack. Never had one slip even when using a polypropylene covered line like FlightLine. If it does slip a few inches that isn’t an big issue. Using FlightLine I have had bowline knots fail on the spin sheets, that was a first (of course is was at the worst possible time). Started putting a figure 8 knot on the tail of the bowline after that.

  2. Two seperate sheets attached to the genoa with a bowline.
    Never come undone in nearly 15 years – no intention of changing.

    • The argument against bowlines is not so much that they come undone (in normal line). Rather it is that the bulk of the knots sometimes get hung up on shrouds when tacking. It’s never happened to me but others report that it has to them.

  3. Separate sheets and a bowline in each directly to the clew. Easy to replace one or the other. No single point of failure (except the clew of course).

  4. We use a cow hitch on a single long line. It slips past the inner forestay and the shrouds much more easily than the twin bowlines that were originally on the sail.

    Hasn’t slipped yet…


  5. Cow hitch – has not slipped in 4 years but my boat is much smaller than yours.

  6. I used cow hitch when I had one long sheet. Reliable.

    When I added an inside track to allow better sheeting angles, I had 2 sets of sheets and wanted them to be removeable. Soft shackles are the ticket, whether Amsteel or some other material. (metal is a VERY bad idea). Never a problem.

    I also went to continuous sheets (easier single handed tacking, for me at least, and what I had or prior boats). I also wanted to reduce snagging on stays, so I switched to spliced ends. Since it was old line, I sewed the splices, which are just as strong as conventional splices and last fine if protected from chafe. I’ve done this on boats for 20 years and never had a failure.

  7. From my rope knowledge wouldn’t the alpine butterfly knot ( be more appropriate for making a loop in the middle of the line to retain all the strength of the line. Can be loaded 3 ways without slipping. The one “disadvantage” I would see is that you would still need to use a shackle/soft-shackle to attach it but then if you switch headsails you dont have to run the line through the fairleads and back the winches again.

  8. I sail a large variety of boats every year. Most of them use two separate lines for the jib or genoa sheets. The benefit of separate sheets is that if one chafes or breaks, or needs to be swapped end for end, or cut at the clew to relieve a badly jammed override on a winch, then you only have to work with one sheet. In that case two bowlines work well. The tend not to slip, and when tied properly, the short tail is inside the loop, where it will snot snag on things like the mast or shrouds.

    Using one continuous line for both sheets is an elegant solution, and I like the simplicity of a cow hitch. It has minimal protrusions, so it is the least likely knot to snag on anything during a tack. This is especially useful on a light displacement catamaran that needs the job/genoa backwinded when tacking, to help push the bows through the wind.

    If you don’t want to use a Cow Hitch, then I agree with David R (not the same sailor as me) that the Alpine Butterly would be ideal. It’s symmetry allows it to take a load in all three directions, and it unties pretty easily. However, that’s a lot of mass at the clew, so it could snag on shrouds, mast etc when doing backwinded tacks. I would also be concerned about chafe between the loop (Alpine Butterfly or any other) and the line used to secure the sheet to the clew, as your photo shows.

  9. I now use two bowlines, with sufficiently long tails. This seems to work well.

    I used to use one long line with an overhand knot in the middle and shackle this to the clew. It always gave trouble catching on anything it could, eg shrouds. Then when the wind was too strong, and I should have reefed, the line ran through the knot and I ended up with one short sheet and one long one. That was a bad experience, the weather was awful.

    Two bowlines please!


  10. Any knot can and will fail, and it will do so at the worst possible time and place and weather! I’m still using two separate sheets, but the one sheet sounds like a good idea.

  11. Note: A cow hitch weakens the line just as much as any other knot, and I did have a sheet fail at the cow hitch. Just sayin’.

    As for backing the jib to tack, I’ve sailed cats my whole life, and that is generally the result of doing something wrong (it was for me). All that backing the jib does is stop the boat. Better, dump the genoa as soon as it breaks, and dump the main traveler all the way as soon as the wind is on the nose. Much faster.

    The problem with backing the genoa is that you will damage or stretch the leach on the spreaders every time. Very bad practice. With small jibs this is not a problem.

  12. On my beach cat, I used two bowlines tied to a shackle on the clew for a single line that looped through the cleats on either side and then back to the sail, but if I were to use a single line on a bigger boat with free bitter ends, I would use a figure-8 and tie a fishing-knot loop to go through a shackle at the clew. I would use the figure-8, not because I think it’s the best knot for the job, but because it’s one that I know well and I think it would do the job.

    I like your idea of using a soft shackle to secure the sheet to the clew. It saves on flying mass and would hurt a lot less if a flogging sail hit you in the face.

    – Dave

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