Published on Sailing Magazine by Bob Pingel on 1st January 2019
I like mainsail stacking systems and have used one for years. A lot of people know these by one sailmaker’s product name Stack Pack, but generally these are open-top mainsail covers that are supported by lazy jacks. The covers have pros and cons, but they fit well in my world.
These covers attach to the boom and are supported by lazy jacks. The cover zips along the top, with long and usually impressively large zipper. You’ll sometimes see a bungee cord “bustle” right behind the mast or a zip on panel that wraps the mast. Look at a photo of any charter catamaran in this magazine for an example.
I like the convenience of a stacking system because I don’t have to mess with a sail cover, ever. And, with a cover in place all the time, my sail is protected at anchor even when I am too lazy to cover it. Even with the top zipper open I get 90% protection from the sun. On my Stevens 47, the top of the mainsail stack is 8 feet off the deck, and a majority of the space under boom is topped with my bimini and dodger, so it hard to reach the boom. When I reef my main, the bulk of sail just drops right into the cover.
The covers are bulky, I have heard them referred to as the “fourth reef” since they do present a bit of sail area, and they do flop around a bit when the sail is hoisted. They certainly don’t help the flow on the lower 3 feet of the sail either. A stacking system also means that you have permanent lazy jacks, and it takes a bit of finesse to hoist a full- batten main without snagging a batten.
Despite those drawbacks, I think they are super convenient, and a cheap alternative to a furling main.
First a bit of history, the Stack Pack was developed by Doyle Sails to support the Caribbean charter industry. Charter companies didn’t want the mainsails baking in the hot sun, but the charterers found it more fun to head to the beach bar and worry about the mainsail cover later. The cover was sewn to the mainsail, the benefit is that the cover was pulled tight to the main, so it didn’t flop around in the wind when the sail was up.
Of course, a cover sewn to a mainsail is a bit unwieldy, and if you need to service one or the other you need to pull the whole structure off the boat. The next incarnation was the Doyle Cradle Cover, which is a totally standalone cover that just slips under a loose-footed main. It came at a direct request from the Moorings, which wanted an independent cover to ease mainsail maintenance. There are now thousands of sail stacking systems floating all over the Caribbean, being baked the sun, flogged in the trades and neglected by every charterer.
I built my own stacking system a number of years ago. It served me well and saved a bit of cash, but it was worn out. I considered building another, but I never forgot the work of stitching 16-foot seams along the cover. I also had the opportunity to use a real Doyle Cradle Cover, it was beautiful and bulletproof.
Stacking systems seem to be made by everyone these days, but I worked with Peter Grimm of Doyle Sails Fort Lauderdale. Doyle knows these covers well and builds a lot of them at its facility in Barbados.
Peter built my mainsail a few years back, so he knew most of the dimensions, but these covers are pretty easy to specify. You need to know the basic dimensions, the length of the boom and the height of the main “stack” when the sail is down. The reef lines pass through the cover, so you’ll need those dimensions as well. The half circumference of the mast (and any allowances for winches or clutches) is required to get the zip-on panel to fit. The hardest part is likely picking the color of the Sunbrella fabric.
Peter charged me $1,800 for the cover (it’s a big cover), but I supplied my own lazy jacks. Being a rigger I am a little picky on lazy jacks and like to craft mine from very small Dyneema to keep the windage and cosmetics to a minimum.
Source: Doyle Sails Fort Lauderdale
More information on the StackPack here