Frank's Corner: The Spinnaker

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    I have been asked to write a bit on spinnakers. First, realize I am not an expert on spinnakers, but I have used them and been a crew member in a racing situations. That said, let's move on.

    As I know it, there two types of spinnakers - a tri-radial cruising and a tri-radial racing spinnaker. A spinnaker is a light, triangular sail, used primarily in racing when running before the wind. It is rigged on a boom extending over the side of a boat opposite the main boom. It is an exceptionally large sail that exceeds the main and jib combined size. Because running with the wind is a slow point of sail, these sails were developed to aid in running. They lift the bow of the boat and make up for the diminishing wind.

    The cruising spinnakers are sometimes called gennakers, asymmetrical, flashers, etc., and are powerful and colorful sails. They are easier to use than the standard symmetrical sail as the asymmetrical shape allows them to be flown without the use of a pole (boom). They are flown like a very large genoa and can reach within 50 degrees of the wind. A spinnaker halyard is used to hoist them with the tack attached to the boat’s bow. This sail is sheeted similar to a genoa except the lazy sheet is led forward around the forestay. When tacking, this sail is jibed around the front of the forestay, then sheeted to the leeward side. A sock may be used to launch and retrieve this sail. A cruising spinnaker package may be purchased that may include the sail, dousing sock, halyard, halyard block, snapshackle sheet blocks, spinnaker sheets, etc.

    The tri-radial racing spinnaker is also a large powerful and colorful sail. They use a spinnaker pole (boom) that is attached to the mast and near the tack of the sail. (Actually it is hooked to the windward sheet, called the guy). The pole has a topping lift attached to it to keep it horizontal and aids in tacking. Some boats use a downhaul also attached to the center of the pole. Adjustments to the pole are made to keep the tack and clew at the same height. The guy controls the fore and aft pole position, so it is as close to perpendicular to the wind as possible. The sheet is played so the luff has a minimum shoulder curl. The sheet may be eased until there is a curl, then trimmed. This sail is hoisted from a bag. It is carefully folded with the clews and head sticking out of the bag. The sheets should be run outside all rigging.

    Now for thoughts on using a spinnaker. Number one - have adequate crew. Number two - practice in light winds. Number three practice, practice and practice.

    Picture a bucket near the bow with the two clews and head of the sail sticking out. The halyard is attached to the head and the sheets are attached to the clews. The pole with the topping lift attached is attached to the mast and to the guy (this is the windward sheet). The helm person should have the boat on a broad reach. The sail is launched from the bucket with the pole set horizontal. When the sail is up, the guy is used to position the pole perpendicular to the wind as the sheet is eased. If the jib is up, it is lowered and the spinnaker leeward sheet is use to adjust the sail.

    Remember, the spinnaker pole is set opposite the main boom and all sheets are outside the standing rigging. The spinnaker will be forward of the bow and forestay. Depending on the boats set up, the sheets are usually led to blocks attached near the stern on the port and starboard sides, then led to the jib/genoa winches.

    This sail is jibed by removing the pole from the mast ring and attaching it to the other sheet. Then jibe the main sail and remove the now leeward sheet from the pole and attach that end of the pole to the mast ring.

    When dousing this spinnaker, put up the jib and steer to a broad reach. As this process is started all the running spinnaker running rigging should be free to run (halyard, sheet and guy). The sheet is hauled on the leeward side until the clew can be grabbed. Then free the guy so it can run through the end of the pole. With the sail blanketed behind the main, gather in the sail on the leeward side of the boat and ease the halyard as the sail is pulled down. Make sure the sail is free of all standing rigging. The final move is to bring in the pole by unhooking it from the mast and releasing the topping lift (also the downhaul if used).

    The sail should be refolded and placed back into its bag for its next use.

    Remember to practice in light winds before using either of these sails in a race or strong wind situation. Keep in mind that things can happen so be prepared to take the necessary actions to having a safe and enjoyable sail.

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    If you would like to add your thoughts on this or on any sailing topics, please Email Alison at and I will post your sailing experiences on this website.

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