Why sail 2 handed ??
Ask this question in the bar and you will probably get a light hearted answers like “nobody steals my bunk”. Get people to seriously think about it and there may well be a deeper set of reasons.
On a personal level it is challenging and exhilarating. In the bay its just the two of you, working together trying to do the work of many. Tacking, gybing, getting a kite up and down they need a serious amount of sailing skill, especially if you want to do well in a race. Off shore you ramp it up a notch as most of those activities you end up doing by yourself. Think about a typical 40 footer and mull over how you would tack by yourself, let alone gybe. Its quite an exercise. Waking up your co skipper sometimes isn’t an option as they need their sleep. Yes you have an autohelm, but ask most short handed sailors and they hand steer the majority of the time to get the best out of the boat, they are racing after all.
Exhilarating, you bet. Picture yourself at night, in a big following wind, surfing the yacht down some monster waves, by yourself !! You cant get it wrong, not for a moment.
On a practical level it does solve some of the problems about getting enough crew, but be warned it can create problems with losing a crew if you regularly race fully crewed. Downstairs there isn’t all the usual personal gear kicking around and yes you do tend to have your own bunk. With only the two of you, chores need to get done however so you tend to do more with cooking, navigating, radio etc. Sleep, well there is an interesting challenge. Managing the boat alone in shifts is very tiring so its typically 2 or 3 hours on, rotating on and off watch for as long as it takes. Preparing and packing up from racing takes longer too when there are only the two of you. Did we mention parking the boat in a marina ?
So what do you need to do to go double handed racing ? Well you need a decent co skipper, there isn’t a concept of me skipper you crew. You both have to be able to do everything, and yes we mean everything. Bow, trimming, steering, nav, the lot. Your boat needs to be set up for it too. A couple of the mandatory items for two handed off shore are; a decent autohelm, mast track and cars if slab reefing plus led back reefing lines and ideally lazy jacks, hanked headsails or a roller furler, spinnakers in socks or on a furler, instruments and controls accessible from the helm. Finally practice, lots of it.
Why do we do it ? Lots of reasons, did we mention “nobody sees your mistakes” ?