Spinnaker Sails

Spinnaker sails are my favourite! I always want to be crew just to use them.

The spinnaker is a large circular and rectangular sail that is like a huge bag.

When wind blows from behind, the spinnaker catches it, which makes it move.

Since it is connected to the boat, boat speed begins to increase.

A spinnaker can be used from a dead run to a beam reach. It is most effective on a broad reach and it is very easy to plane.

Sailing the spinnaker is very hard and requires, time and patience to get it right.

Spinnaker Sails

It can take some season's experience to understand how it works and through experience compensate for changes in wind for and direction.

Putting it up and down can also be hard, as it needs to be attached to a pole that must be attached to the mast.

The speed at which a crew can put up the spinnaker determines how many boat lengths are gained or lost through the use of spinnaker sails.

You also need to throw it in the air in the front of the boat to get it flying or else it will back into the genoa or worse it will have twists

Races can be won or lost simply through the speed of putting one up so boat crews and helms practice this important part of sailing constantly until they can get it done very quickly.

Gybing with the spinnaker on can be a daunting task, especially as it looks impossible to do.

You need to change where the pole is to the other side and attach it to the rope on the other side all whilst the spinnaker is still flying and their are boats behind you trying to do it quicker and gain some boat lengths on you.

Just like putting spinnaker sails up and down, gybing with a spinnaker is hard and requires time and practice with a little brains and motivation.

Once you get into the hang of it spinnaker sailing can be extremely satisfying as it is a big sail that you get to control, which means no more listening to helm, it is now the crew's time to shine.

If a crew is not good at spinnaker sailing, the boat will not do well in a race and will probably end up capsizing.

It is very possible to capsize with spinnaker sails on and is probably the most common type of capsize.

It usually happens when a crew gets too cocky and starts looking elsewhere or sheets in tightly on a strong gust.

Or it can be that the weight distribution ratio in the boat is not set for spinnaker sailing (think of your five essentials).

I know that you will love spinnaker sailing, even if you haven't done it yet, because the sail itself even looks beautiful.

Mark's spinnaker is just a simple red, but if you have seen on some of the pictures on this site there are spinnakers with rows of colours and even one with a skull and cross bones!

Spinnakers can be used to identify boats as the boat number is placed on the spinnaker.

I would personally get into the sailing just to use a spinnaker, because for me it is the most exciting bit of sailing!

Launching the Spinnaker

To launch the spinnaker correctly requires time and effort as well as a lot of practice.

You will have to get used to the boat moving whilst hoisting the sail and then taking it down quickly.

My checklist for before launching the spinnaker is:

  • We are on a training run or a dead run
  • The sails are set and the centreboard is up
  • We are both ready to launch the spinnaker

The actual spinnaker launching goes like this:

  • Both stand up at the same time
  • For the crew:

    • The crew stands up and fits the pole on to the the spinnaker sheets closest to him/her
    • The crew then attaches the spinnaker downhaul to the pole
  • For the helm:

    • The helm moves towards the back of the boat and puts both legs either side of the tiller and uses their legs to control boat direction
    • The helm takes the spinnaker halyard rope and waits till the crew is ready
  • The helm asks the crew if they are ready
  • The helm then says go and the crew attaches the pole to the mast, whilst the helm pulls on the spinnaker halyard rope to pull the spinnaker to the top of the mast and then takes the spinnaker sheets and starts flying the kite
  • The crew sits on the windward side, whilst the helm sits on the leeward side and gives the crew the spinnaker sheets

The crew is also responsible for leaning out, but the helm is responsible for weight distribution.

You may have been told that you have to take the spinnaker into a bundle, then throw it, then attach the spinnaker to the pole, then hook on the spinnaker downhaul and finally attach it to the mast.

As you can see this takes a very long time and if you want to speed up the process using Mark and I's method you will be able to gain boat lengths.

This method has been proven by us to work really well and it is good to get into the practice of doing it.

We are always the first to put up our spinnaker and so are able to charge ahead!

Taking the spinnaker down is similar to how you put it up, but ordered differently.

  • Crew gives helm control of the spinnaker sheets
  • Crew takes off pole from mast, downhaul and sheet, then places it out of the way (on the mast) and attaches it to cunningham (so it doesn't come out)
  • At this point the spinnaker is still flying, but then the helm releases the spinnaker halyard and the crew tugs the spinnaker down into the spinnaker bag

This is also probably different to how you were taught, because in this case the helm is still controlling the spinnaker during the take down instead of it just being let go.

This means that you continue to have speed throughout the take down process, whilst others slow down considerably as the spinnaker flaps around.

So there you have how to launch the spinnaker and take it down, with a normal method and Mark and I's special method!

Gybing the Spinnaker

Spinnaker gybing is quite hard at first, but gets easier with practice and more practice.

Gybing the spinnaker incorporates elements from roll gybing and you will recognise this as you read through this page.

Before you gybe the spinnaker, make sure you have completed this checklist:

  • You are on a dead run
  • The helm has confirmed he wants to gybe
  • There are no boats close by
  • There is no gust behind you that will strike soon
  • The centreboard is up

If you have passed these check points than you should be able to gybe safely.

If you don't feel you can gybe safely (in a gust), take the spinnaker down and gybe normally or do a tack instead, so that you don't end up capsized.

This Mark and I's method of spinnaker gybing:

  • The crew gives the helm the spinnaker sheets and the helm continues flying the kite
  • The helm moves to the windward side of the boat, the crew unlatches the genoa and the boat heels then gybes
  • The helm straightens up and continues to fly the kite whilst the crew gets genoa hooked on the other side, stands up and takes of the pole from the other spinnaker sheet and the mast and swaps it around (the original mast latch goes on the spinnaker sheet and the original spinnaker sheet latch goes on the mast)
  • The helm and crew sit down at the same time and the helm gives the crew the spinnaker sheets

This may seem more complicated then putting it up and down 9and it is), but after lots of practice as well as brains and motivation you will be able to do this faster and faster.

The method is different to normal, because throughout the whole gybe the helm is controlling the spinnaker and keeping it flying, giving the boat a boost of speed through the gybe and directly after the gybe.

In other boats the spinnaker will flap and the boat will come out of the gybe slower than it went into it.

So that's how to spinnaker gybe well.

I hope you take my advice and do Mark and I's method instead of the normal method, because it is faster and it means the boat goes faster, but is more complicated.

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