A run through the gear and preparation required for spinnakers.
Spinnakers often stay buried in the forecabin of cruising boats; eyed with distrust and sometimes fear. However, they can bring a light wind passage to life and often save you from resorting to the engine.
Contrary to popular opinion spinnakers are pretty straightforward and they get easier to handle the more you use them.
As with many things the key to using spinnakers lies in preparation - setting up the gear correctly in the first place will result in a more pleasant spinnaker experience.
Types of spinnaker
There are two types of spinnaker: asymmetric and symmetric.
Asymmetric spinnakers are flown from a bowsprit fitted to the bow of the boat, whereas symmetric spinnakers use a pole fitted to the front of the mast and the symmetry refers to their shape.
Similar to a conventional sail, a spinnaker has three corners and three sides. The corners are often labelled with ‘head’ and ‘clew’ or colour coded such as red on the port side and green on the starboard side.
Turtles – spinnaker bags
Spinnakers are stored in and hoisted from a turtle or spinnaker bag which has a tubular hoop sewn into the opening to keep it fully open, allowing the sail to fly free during the hoist. Snap hooks or ties on the outside of the turtle are used to secure it to the guard rail, preventing it from being lost overboard as the spinnaker is hoisted.
Check how the spinnaker has been packed before using it for the first time. The spinnaker should be packed free of twists otherwise it will resemble the famous ‘wine glass’ when hoisted. Spinnaker packing is best done down below out of the wind.
Packing the spinnaker
To pack the spinnaker, run your hand along the foot, leech and luff to separate the corners and to ensure no twists. Tuck the head, clew and tack through the handhold on the cabin top and then, starting from the middle of the spinnaker, tuck it away into the turtle ensuring the edges and corners stay separate. The turtle should have the spinnaker inside, with head, tack and clew poking out.
A spinnaker pole is required to hold and position the windward edge of the spinnaker. There are two different pole systems named according to how the spinnaker is gybed. Each differs in the way they operate.
The spinnaker pole is connected to the mast and its weight is supported by an uphaul and a downhaul connected to the pole.
End-for-end poles have two bridles running from each end. The pole uphaul attaches to the middle of the top bridle and the pole downhaul attaches to the middle of the bottom bridle.
On dip-poles, the uphaul and downhaul are connected to the outer end of the pole.
The pole is usually set at right angles to the mast and is adjusted so that it is at right angles to the wind.
Key to lines in illustration:
spinnaker pole downhaul
spinnaker pole uphaul
*On larger yachts there are often two sheets and two guys, one of which is in use at a time. They are called the ‘working’ or ‘lazy’ sheet or guy and make gybing the spinnaker easier because the pole can be clipped into the lazy lines that or not under tension.
The ‘working guy passes through the jaws of the pole. Jaws face upwards on the spinnaker pole so that the guy can be released and fly free when required.
Halyards, sheets and guys
A halyard hoists the spinnaker and the sheet and guy control the sail.
The sheet trims the sail and is connected to the clew on the leeward side. The guy adjusts the angle of attack of the spinnaker pole and is connected to the tack after running through the pole end.
Extra blocks are attached to the toerail near the quarter to provide a good lead for the spinnaker sheets and another block is attached near the beam for the spinnaker guy.
Ideally you will also have extra winches for the spinnaker sheets and guys because initially the spinnaker is hoisted and set with the jib still set.
Simon Jinks, RYA Yachtmaster™ Instructor and Journalist.
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