Cruising

Unwrapping a Spinnaker

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When racing or cruising while flying a spinnaker close to or dead downwind—especially offshore, where a boat tends to roll more—there is a real risk the spinnaker will collapse, wrap itself around the headstay, and then refill with wind above and below the wrap. The wrap may start at just one or two turns, but often will increase to five turns or more.

Here’s a trick I learned from a Capt. Walters, who used to skipper all of John Watson’s Palawans during the 1960s. To unwrap a spinnaker, all you need do is sail slightly by the lee. The wrapped chute will then magically unwind itself. When sailing by the lee, of course, it’s a good idea to have a preventer rigged from the end of the main boom as far forward as possible so there is no danger of gybing. If a preventer is not rigged, be sure to put your best helmsperson behind the wheel.

I swear this system works. Over the years I’ve seen spinnakers unwrapped this way about half a dozen times. In every case it was a complete eye-opener for the entire crew.

Photo by Billy Black

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