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Ask Sail: To Snuff or Furl

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David Erasmus of Savannah, Georgia, asks:

I just purchased a 1983 Bristol 38.8 with a large sail inventory, including a nice big cruising spinnaker that hasn’t been used much. Apparently the old owner flew it out of the bag, which isn’t something I’m anxious to try. What would you recommend to make the sail easier to handle? I’ve heard mixed reviews about snuffers—some of my friends swear by them, others hate them. I’ve also read about furling systems for spinnakers. Which works better? Is there some other system I should think about?

Win Fowler replies:

The simplest solution is a snuffer. I recommend those built by ATN Inc. Snuffers work best when your spinnaker has been treated with a dry sail lubricant such as McLube Sailkote. A good snuffer will turn setting and dousing your spinnaker into a one-person job. The only real drawbacks are the weight and windage of the snuffer aloft and a slight reduction in hoist height.

The spinnaker furlers that have recently appeared on the market have some advantages over snuffers. They generally weigh less, create less windage aloft, and require less reduction in hoist height. Another plus is that a furled spinnaker can remain hoisted while sailing upwind or while anchored for lunch, which is not feasible with a spinnaker in a snuffer.

Furlers, however, are substantially more expensive than snuffers, and furling a spinnaker can be quite a workout in windy conditions. Spinnaker furlers also require substantial clearance from the headstay to work well. For you this would probably mean adding a bowsprit and possibly extending your spinnaker halyard crane.

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