Top Eight Misconceptions About Code Zero Sails

What exactly is a code zero? Code zeros are only used on racing boats, right? Aren't they pretty expensive and difficult to get up and down? If you've pondered any of these questions, you are not alone. There are many misconceptions about these downwind reaching sails, so it's time to get familiar and comfortable with them – code zeros might just be the perfect addition to your downwind sail inventory. Read on as we clear up some of the most common myths and misunderstandings about code zeros.

The code zero has only been around for about 25 years. It was born in the Volvo Ocean Race, back when it was still called the Whitbread-Around-the-World Race. They are often referred to as a gennaker or a code sail. Code zeros have characteristics of an upwind sail but are classified as a downwind sail. Some are built of nylon, while others use heavier, stronger composite materials. There are a lot of things we think we know about a code zero, many of which aren’t true, or, at least, not always true.

We sat down with Quantum’s VP of Product Integration and sail designer Doug Stewart to educate us on the code zero.

1. Code zero is another name for a gennaker.
Not necessarily. The term gennaker can cover a code zero, screecher, or reaching spinnaker. Gennaker is just a general term for a potential downwind sail, a cross between a Genoa and an asymmetrical spinnaker. It’s a marketing term.

2. A screecher and a code zero are the same thing.
Nope. A screecher is specifically a multihull term for a very large, very flat sail for going upwind or just cracked off. Catamarans and trimarans have notoriously small jibs, making them grossly underpowered in light breeze. A screecher is larger, higher clewed, and fuller than a genoa but flatter than a typical code zero.

3. A code zero is strictly a racing sail.
Cruisers of all ilks have taken to the sail for its range and ease of use. True downwind spinnakers can be unruly and intimidating for a shorthanded or novice crew, but the range and furling ability of the code zero make it a fantastic sail for a weekend outing. We find that once introduced to the code zero, cruisers will use this sail more than any other on the boat. Quantum has even created a whole new line of reaching and running downwind sails geared towards cruisers to help make the decision clear and simple when considering adding a specialty sail to your inventory.

4. All code zeros are created equal.
A code zero is a code zero is a code zero, right? Not so. While the code zero for racing monohulls is often restricted by rule to a mid-girth of at least 75 percent of the foot length and a leech that is no more than 95 percent of luff length, code zeros for cruising boats and multihulls can be significantly larger and have a lot more variety in their design, from very deep to very flat. There are no rules or restrictions for cruisers! Quantum’s racing code zeros and some cruising code zeros are made with specially developed composites for higher load applications (bigger boats and more close-winded capable sails), while sails for smaller boats and broader angles can be made with heavy nylon.

The most important question to ask yourself as a boat owner is “What do I want to do with this sail?” Are you a racer or a cruiser? Do you want to use it to sail in very light air to sail relatively close to the wind, or will you use it on a broader reach? The answers to those questions will help your sailmaker determine the design of the sail that’s right for you. We’ve renamed our reaching code sails based on the potential apparent wind angle and optimum wind range of each sail, making it even easier to pinpoint the best one for you. Take a look at the AWA 40, AWA 60, and AWA 80 downwind reaching sails.

5. A code zero is strictly a downwind sail.
A code zero is often classified as a spinnaker in terms of racing, hence the restriction on the length of the mid-girth, but it’s not a true downwind sail. If you’re going downwind, you’ll use either a symmetrical or asymmetrical spinnaker. While it does depend on the wind speed, especially for boats without a 155-percent genoa, there’s a lot of range between the jib and the first true spinnaker. As soon as you crack off even 5 degrees from the range of the jib, you could be into code zero territory. The whole range of sizing between a Genoa and a 75-percent girth code zero is just opening up as racing rules are now beginning to address and rate this range in the middle.

In light air up to eight knots, a code zero designed with a longer leech and lower clew can be sheeted inboard and used at a higher angle. A higher clew with the sail sheeted to the back of the boat is a reaching code zero and can be used in slightly higher breeze. In an ideal world, we’d sell every boat two code zeros−one for upwind and one for reaching, but we know most boats can only carry one. Whether you’re a racer or a cruiser, it comes back to that question from the sailmaker: What do you want to do with this sail?

6. A code zero is a beast to get down.
Okay, so the early code zeros did require an experienced crew to get them back onto the deck safely and cleanly. But today, the majority of code zeros are designed on a furler, making it possible for even a novice crew to go from the jib to the code zero in a matter of seconds. If you are concerned about the slight weight increase of a no-torsion cable, there are even cableless code zero options now!

7. A code zero is really expensive.
Early top-down furling systems required a custom-made torsional rope. Really good systems with a quality torsional rope were sometimes as expensive as the sail. However, with more and more manufacturers offering top-down furling systems and torsional rope now available pre-made on a drum (at least for mid-sized boats), the overall cost of the sail and the system has come down significantly.

8. A code zero can do anything.
I just said that the code zero is appropriate over a huge range, especially in light wind conditions, and being situated on a top-down furler makes it hugely convenient, even for novice sailors. However, a code zero cannot in fact “do anything.” We see code zeros fail most often when they’re pushed too high in high breeze; this is a particular problem on multihulls because the boats are so stable. A code zero also can’t live indefinitely tacked to the bow of your boat. While cruising code zeros have a thin strip of UV protective material, if left indefinitely in the sun they are sure to shrivel up into a brittle, moldy end.

To maximize a code zero when racing, it’s important to know your crossovers. Be diligent about going out and recording wind speed and wind angle as you switch between your jib, code zero, and spinnaker, and then stick to those numbers.

So there you have it. A code zero will take you through more wind angles than any other headsail on your boat. Add a modern top-down furler and it’s easier to get up and down than a spinnaker. Racing in light, shifty conditions, it might just be the sail that helps you eke out precious tenths, which turn into minutes or even hours on a long distance race. And code zeros are a whole lot less expensive than they used to be. So the final question: What are you waiting for?



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