Go Fly a Kite! Page 2

Recent years have seen a minor revolution in downwind sailing. We have witnessed not only the rebirth of the a symmetrical spinnaker (A-sail), better-designed and stronger-built symmetrical spinnakers (S-sails), but even more recently, the Parasailor2, a sail that might lead many long-distance cruisers to rethink their off-the-wind inventories.We tested these these
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Standard symmetrical spinnakers (S-sails) are flown off spinnaker poles. Gybing an S-sail can therefore be intimidating, especially when it’s blowing, but the sail’s ability to remain full when sailing sail dead-down-wind (DDW) allows a skilled helmsman to “slow gybe” the boat by daintily coaxing the stern through the breeze. Having a good bowman is also important, and given enough practice, flying an S-sail is no different than sailing with any other sail: you’ve got to learn to control it in all circumstances.

Asymmetrical spinnakers don’t require spinnaker poles and are instead best flown from a bowsprit or a retractable sprit pole. In the absence of a sprit, an A-sail’s tack line is usually flown from a block attached to the vessel’s anchor roller. A spinnaker pole can be used, but it is typically set much lower and farther forward than it would be with an S-sail.

During gybes, an A-sail can simply rotate on its tack line, with the sheet passing either outside of the sail’s luff, or inside between the luff and the headstay, without the crew having to perform any spinnaker-pole heroics. (The exception is a boat that uses a pole to fly an A-sail; in this case, the pole itself also needs to be tacked to the other side of the headstay). Provided you gybe the sail through the slot between the A-sail’s luff and the forestay (known as an “inside gybe”), gybing an A-sail is fairly similar to tacking a regular upwind headsail. Outside gybes are a bit trickier, but they are still easy compared to gybing an S-sail.

Unlike S-sails, A-sails are designed to sail at higher angles. This makes for fast reaching, but A-sails struggle at sailing deep angles without collapsing.

The Parasailor2, meanwhile, is cut much like an S-sail, with broad symmetrical shoulders, but the similarity stops there. In the sail’s middle section there is a large aperture that houses a second “sail” that, once inflated, flies perpendicular to the rest of the kite. This smaller, foil-shaped parasail is made up of a series of baffles and is connected to the rest of the sail with an elaborate array of parachute cord.

This interesting design accomplishes several important goals. The large aperture works as a pressure-release valve for unexpected puffs of wind. Instead of you having to quickly ease the sheet or bear off substantially with each successive puff, the Parasailor2’s aperture allows excess wind to simply blow through the sail without taxing the crew. The sail’s foil-like secondary sail also creates lift, allowing a boat to sail more bow-up compared to traditional S-sails, which have a tendency to drive a boat’s bow down. Also, the Parasailor2 works over a wide range of angles. Flown from a bowsprit it can sail angles as high as an A-sail (but not as efficiently); flown free or off a pole it can sail deep angles.

Interestingly, the Parasailor2 can be sailed efficiently without a mainsail or a pole. You can lead the sheet and guy down to rail-mounted blocks fitted with cam cleats. Ideally, these blocks should be positioned at the boat’s maximum beam, which is likely near the shrouds. When it’s time to gybe, the helmsman gently brings the stern of the boat through the wind. The Parasailor 2 is so stable that it will float happily while the guy and sheet are trimmed on the new gybe. Of all the sails in this review, the Parasailor2 was the easiest to gybe, especially when the guys are led through blocks on deck rather than to a pole.

Veteran bluewater sailor Mike Harker used a Parasailor2 for much of his recent circumnavigation and reports that the key is to let the halyard “breathe” more than you would on a conventional S-sail or A-sail, as this extra slack allows the sail to float ahead of the boat and self-adjust to puffs or windshifts, thus requiring less trimming.

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