UK Sailmakers’ Encyclopedia of Sails

The Jib Top’s high clew allows the sail to be eased out for reaching without twisting off the top excessively.

A J/111 sailing with a Jib Top on a reach too close for a spinnaker or Code Zero.

4.9 – Jib Top

The Jib Topsail is a reaching genoa that is a must for distance racing. Its draft is noticeably greater than a genoa and is positioned forward since the sail is not used to go upwind. Jib tops are designed with more twist so that they work well with the main when the main is eased. JT’s have a high clew so that they can be trimmed with a spinnaker sheet, which gives it a wider sheeting angle than a genoa. The LP of a JT cannot be greater than the LP of the boat’s largest headsail and it is much smaller than a Code Zero, which allows it to be carried at tighter wind angles than a Code Zero.

On a typical overlapping genoa, the leech is twice as long as the foot. Jibs on boats with non-overlapping headsails, the ratio of the leech to the foot is closer to 4:1. When the genoa sheet is eased, the load on the longer side of the sail is affected more than on the shorter side. Therefore, when the sheet is eased the clew lifts and the top of the sail twists open. As the top twists open the upper part of the sail luffs and reduces the driving force of the sail.  

Excessive twist results in loss of power and distortion of the slot between the headsail and the main. Too much twist is typically cured by moving the jib lead forward, which in turn causes the whole back of the genoa to converge with the boat’s centerline, which increases heeling and causes backwinding of the mainsail. By raising the clew on the jib topsail, the foot gets longer and the leech gets shorter. The closer in length the foot and leach get to each other, when the sheet is eased there will be less twist, better retention of power and more optimized air flow between the jib topsail and the main. 

This image clearly shows the visibility you get with a high-clewed Jib Top.

There are some other advantages to the high clew:

1. Visibility
It’s a great sail for races with reaching or running starts because the helmsman can see everything that’s going on under the jib.

2. Not catching water
Once a genoa is eased enough so the foot is out over the water, catching waves as the boat pitches can be a big problem. Water is a lot heavier than air and if the sail catches a big enough wave, it can blow up. The high clew of the Jib Topsail usually eliminates this problem.

3. Room for a staysail
The big open area under the Jib Topsail is ideal for setting a genoa staysail, increasing effective sail area.

A less obvious but equally important feature of the Jib Topsail is its design shape. Because its purpose is to reach and not point, it has a very full, powerful luff. Think of the front edge of a spinnaker or a light No. 1. This powerful front end develops more forward thrust than a flatter “go-to-windward” sail.

The blue boat on the left is flying a Jib Top, while the similar sized red boat is on the same course with a No. 1 genoa eased out for reaching. These two pictures from the same distance race offer a great comparison of a Jib Top and No. 1 genoa. First you can see the high clew on the blue boat; notice how well the leech of the Jib Top follows the leach of the mainsail. The leech of the red boat’s No. 1 genoa is twisted open in the area above the sail numbers. Also, you can see that the mainsail on the red boat is trimmed tighter, which is because of the backwinding off the genoa.

The Jib Topsail is trimmed with a spinnaker sheet that is led to a block at the back corner of the boat. Most times, this lead is too far aft, which allows the top of of the Jib Top to luff from not being trimmed enough. In order to keep the top of the Jib Top from luffing, deflect the sheet down with a Twing or Tweaker (to names for the same device). Pictured on the left is a simple Twing set up made of a snatch block that floats on the Jib Top sheet. There is a line that goes from the floating block, to a block on the deck rail and then back to a winch. Other set ups can be made with a multi-purchase block and tackle with a dedicated cleat to keep a winch free for other uses. To see a video on using a Twing or Tweaker, click here.


Many of today’s new racing boats are designed with sail plans that have non-overlapping jibs. The J/122, First 40s, XP44s and TP52’s are good examples of this design concept, and they all run into problems jib reaching. The regular jibs on these boats are extremely high aspect sails and the twist problem described earlier gets even worse. In addition, the head angles of such sails are so narrow that they have very little area up high so the top of the sail is almost useless on a reach. 

Both sails have the same LP measurement, while the Jib Topsail overlaps the mast and the upwind jib does not.

A jib top with its higher clew, has a wider head angle. A wider head angle produces more area up high, which increases the power of the sail. See the diagram. Even though Jib Topsails for rigs with non-overlapping headsails are narrower than optimal, they are still a good sail to have in the boat’s distance racing inventory for conditions where a Code Zero would make the boat over powered or when the boat is sailing a reach too close for a Code Zero. 


Above and to the right are images of the J/122 Christopher Dragon whose sail plan utilizes non-overlapping jibs. Even so, the Jib Top, with the same LP as the upwind jib, can overlap the mast. The close-reaching staysail inside the jib top makes a powerful reaching set up.

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