Spinnaker Savvy

David von Fruke of Ssen, Minnesota, asks:

"Last year I purchased a 202 ft2 asymmetrical spinnaker for my Hunter 170 along with a sock for dousing the sail. My goal is to set the spinnaker singlehanded, and while I can manage it, I do have trouble raising and lowering the sail. I have been thinking about putting the spinnaker on a roller furler. What do you think?"

Win Fowler replies:

I don’t think you should convert this sail to roller furling. Rather you should set the boat up so you can leave the tiller for a few moments while you are raising or lowering it. This can be as simple as stretching a piece of shock cord across the cockpit, or you can get a tiller autopilot. Whatever system you use, it will make your singlehanding simpler, safer and more enjoyable.

Since the sail is not very large, you should be able to set and douse it easily in the lee of the mainsail. This will keep the spinnaker quiet when you are hoisting or lowering it. Rig a tack line and mount a block on the stem or sprit so you can pull the tack of the sail out to the block and also release it without leaving the cockpit.

To set the spinnaker, first head off onto a broad reach, ease the main and engage your tiller minder. Next attach the tack line, halyard and sheets to their respective corners of the spinnaker, which should be to leeward between the mast and shrouds. Pull the tack out to the block, hoist the halyard and secure it. With the spinnaker sheet in your hand, slowly head up until the sail fills and then roll up the jib. If you are using two sheets, make sure the lazy sheet (the one not in use on the weather side) is led between the sail and the headstay; to be sure always attach the halyard to the head of the sail in front of the sheets. When the lazy sheet is lead this way it can’t fall under the boat. To gybe pull the leech of the sail across the boat behind its luff. Just like a jib.

To lower the sail, bear off onto a deep reach and ease out the mainsail. Unroll the jib, sheet it in position and then pull in the spinnaker sheet until the leech is in tight against the leeward side of the mainsail. When it collapses, ease the tack line and gather the foot of the sail behind the main. Finally, release the halyard and collect the sail under the boom. If you are having trouble grabbing the foot, a retrieval line attached to the spinnaker tack will help you get it back in the boat. The only drawback to this arrangement is that you do have to lower the sail on the same gybe as you did when you set it. Practice these maneuvers in light air and before long you will be able to set and douse the sail easily and quickly.

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