This week two-time International Lightning Champion Bill Cox discusses the question of getting downwind with maximum speed. Primarily, this means sailing much of the time with a spinnaker billowing out over the bow (below). It also means extra watchfulness by the crew. The spinnaker is a tricky, powerful sail that must be handled with respect. But it can also be a lot of fun. Properly set in a good wind, the spinnaker can provide the most exciting ride of the day. However, proper setting requires skill, coordination and fast action. On the following pages the two most difficult maneuvers with a spinnaker—hoisting and jibing—are described step by step.
Getting the spinnaker up
The spinnaker is not fastened along one of its edges to a stay or to the mast as are other sails. Instead, it floats free in the breeze, a spherical triangle held only at the corners. The head or upper corner is held aloft by the spinnaker halyard, which serves to raise the spinnaker. The tack (lower corner next to the spinnaker pole) is attached to one end of the spinnaker guy. The clew (the other lower corner) is held by one end of the spinnaker sheet. In hoisting, the preferred method consists of a series of actions performed in rapid succession in such a way that no one has to leave the cockpit. (Putting a man on the foredeck makes the boat easy to tip.) The division of duties among the men depends on the ability of each. The first phase, getting ready (left), is completed before reaching the mark that begins leeward leg. Hoisting the spinnaker in the lee of the mainsail where there is relatively little wind (middle drawing) starts as the boat rounds the mark. Then, as the spinnaker fills, the jib is dropped (bottom drawing). A well-drilled crew will have spinnaker flying 10 seconds after mark is turned.
Spinnaker ready to hoist (in blue) is prepared first by leading guy (1) through lead block (2) and attaching to spinnaker tack (3); second, by snapping pole fitting (4) onto guy, raising the pole with topping lift (5) and attaching pole to fitting (6) on mast; third, by leading sheet (7) through lead block (8) and attaching sheet to spinnaker clew (9); and last, by running halyard (10) outside jib and attaching halyard to head of spinnaker (11).
Fittings at each end of spinnaker pole are hooked to mast and around spinnaker guy (above). The guy runs freely, so sail can be raised or lowered in lee of mainsail without anyone having to go on the deck.
Box used is heavy cardboard (carry a spare) notched with three narrow V-shaped slots. Lower corners of sail are first wedged into notches and sail is then folded into box from foot of sail up, without twisting. Head is put in last notch.
Hoisting spinnaker, halyard pulls sail up mast while sail hangs limp in lee of the mainsail. Sheet pulls the clew aft momentarily to prevent the sail from twisting. Guy is pulled through pole fitting to bring tack toward the end of pole.
Spinnaker filling, guy has pulled tack to end of pole, drawn the pole astern, been hooked on deck and cleated. The jib is dropped onto deck as spinnaker fills. Spinnaker will set properly when sheet is eased and the lower corners made level.
Jibing: the modern, safe technique
Sailing to leeward, the skipper must always steer so that the wind (arrow, below) comes from the corner of the stern opposite the mainsail. If the skipper wishes to set a new downwind course which shifts wind to the other corner of the stern, then the position of the mainsail must be reversed (or jibed). Since the spinnaker pole must always be kept on the side opposite the mainsail, the spinnaker must be jibed simultaneously. Jibing is the most difficult and dangerous maneuver in sailing. Close attention to the method described below, which until now has been perfected only by a few expert sailors, will make safe jibing relatively easy. This method keeps all the men in the cockpit so that the stability of the boat, always precarious in jibing, will be kept at maximum throughout the maneuver. In general, the helmsman handles the mainsail, the middle crewman is responsible for keeping the spinnaker at right angles to the wind while the boat turns beneath the sail, and the forward crewman or spinnaker man is responsible for shifting the spinnaker pole (and with it the spinnaker) from one side across to the other side.