SPIN­NAKER MASTERCLASS

There’s more than one way to rig, hoist, set and drop your spin­naker. Choos­ing the right setup and skills is key to suc­cess with the kite, ex­plains James Stevens

Yachting Monthly - - CONTENTS -

Tai­lor how your spin­naker is set up and the skills you use to make down­wind sail­ing a dod­dle

There are, I sus­pect, a sur­pris­ing num­ber of cruis­ing yachts which have a spin­naker in their sail locker that has never come out of the bag. The kind of pic­tures loved by yacht­ing pho­tog­ra­phers of rac­ing boats on their ear with spin­nakers in the wa­ter and crew hang­ing on by their fin­ger­tips do lit­tle to en­cour­age cruis­ing yachts­men. On the other hand a spin­naker can take hours off a cross-chan­nel trip and it’s a real plea­sure to feel the boat pow­er­ing down­wind with the thought of an early ar­rival. It looks good too. But you have to know the ropes be­cause it can go spec­tac­u­larly wrong on a windy day.

Of­ten, cruis­ing sailors will have learned to use a spin­naker ei­ther in dinghies or on a rac­ing boat. If you try to repli­cate this on a cruis­ing boat, of­ten with a small crew and with a makeshift rig­ging setup, you’ll be sail­ing into troubled wa­ters. Get­ting the rig­ging right for your boat and choos­ing the skills that are go­ing to work best for your crew will help you keep con­trol of the sail and main­tain calm on board. The se­cret when start­ing out is to think it through and set the sail in light winds, when mak­ing a mis­take is eas­ily re­triev­able.

In dis­place­ment yachts, sym­met­ric spin­nakers tend to be the most ef­fec­tive way of sail­ing down­wind. With an asym­met­ric you’ll need to sail the an­gles and gybe, but a sym­met­ric lets you sail dead down­wind. They can, how­ever, be used when the wind an­gle from the bow is from about 80° to 180° so they’re very ver­sa­tile sails. The most com­fort­able point of sail is a broad reach at about 120° to the wind. Spin­nakers be­come harder to con­trol as the wind moves for­ward, the ap­par­ent wind in­creases and the boat heels more, or with the wind right aft as the boat slows and there’s a dan­ger of an ac­ci­den­tal gybe es­pe­cially if it’s rough.

The dif­fi­cult skills are rais­ing, low­er­ing and gy­bing. Sys­tems like snuffers can help with this, but we’ll look at the ba­sic skills, which can then be mod­i­fied.

Once the spin­naker is up it is rel­a­tively easy to trim and if the wind is sta­ble and if the helm can steer a straight course, you can en­joy fast, re­laxed cruis­ing.

James Stevens, au­thor of the Yacht­mas­ter Hand­book, spent 10 of his 23 years at the RYA as chief ex­am­iner Set prop­erly and us­ing the right tech­niques for your boat, noth­ing beats a good pas­sage un­der spin­naker

What if it all goes pear-shaped? Know­ing how to con­trol the sail, and what to do when it goes wrong is the key to mas­ter­ing the spin­naker

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