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Hoisting an Asymmetric Spinnaker

Go To: Sailing - Techniques and Manoevres

Posted on Saturday, July 11, 2009 5:54 PM

Asymmetric spinnakers are easy to hoist, and require little messing around with poles - it's usually just a one or two line job to hoist!

Depending on the boat, the hoisting systems and procedures for asymmetric spinnakers can be different; they are usually known as one line or two line.

Boats such as the Laser 2000 or RS200 have a one line launching system – in a one line launching system, one line (rope) in the boat, when pulled, pulls the bowsprit out of the front of the boat, and hoists the spinnaker up.

Other boats, including the RS400, have a two line launching system – one line is pulled first to launch the pole, and then a second line is used to hoist the spinnaker. One line systems are easier, as only one action is needed to hoist the spinnaker.

Asymmetric spinnakers require a bowsprit – this is a length of aluminium or carbon fibre which usually sits inside the cockpit or front of the boat, and when you need it, you pull on some lines, and launch it through a hole in the front of the boat. The tack (front corner) of the spinnaker is tied to it.

At what point should you launch the bowsprit? Not too long before you need the spinnaker up – if you’re rounding a mark and are ready to hoist, and provided you have room and are not in the middle of a pack of boats, then if the crew is not too busy during the mark rounding they should launch the bowsprit/pole at this point, ready for the downwind leg. If you have a one line launching system however, wait until you are ready to hoist the spinnaker.

Some boats have adjustment lines for the bowsprit, which can be used to angle it from side to side – our instructor in Greece called these wing-wams, although we can’t find any other sites calling them this. If you know them as this, please let us know! We’ll talk more about these in the flying an asymmetric spinnaker article.

To hoist an asymmetric spinnaker, first pay attention to what side of the boat the spinnaker chute comes out of – on the RS200 for example, it comes out of very slightly to the left hand side of the front of the boat, but on other boats like the RS400, it comes out of the middle of the front of the boat, so has no side.

If your asymmetric spinnaker comes out of the port side of the front of the boat, then to launch it, you ideally need to be on starboard tack, so the main sail and jib are both over the port (left-hand) side of the boat. Why? This means that the spinnaker you are hoisting will be “blanketed” or protected by the main, and you can hoist it fully before it fills with wind, which will make it harder to hoist. If your spinnaker comes out of the middle like the RS400, then it doesn’t matter which tack you are on to do this.

Hoist/Drop Zone and Power Zone

Diagram 1: Hoist/Drop Zone and Power Zone

To launch an asymmetric spinnaker, you should bear away into what is called the hoist/drop zone (see Diagram 1 above). The point of sail that an asymmetric spinnaker flies best on is a reach; the hoist/drop zone is a downwind training run – this means that as the sail fills it will not fill with much power, and if you get the tack correct, you can protect the spinnaker with the main sail. This requires good communication from helm and crew – once you are in the hoist/drop zone, pull up the spinnaker as quickly as possible; be careful doing this, as many asymmetrics have a continuous halyard/retrieval line, so as you are pulling on the halyard to hoist the sail, the retrieval line will be coming back through blocks inside the cockpit, and you can easily stand on a rope and make it harder to pull your spinnaker up!

Once you have hoisted your spinnaker, then you should luff up (head up wind) into what is called the power zone, which is from a beam reach to a broad reach.

Most importantly, pick your moment. Asymmetric spinnakers are pretty easy to use, and give a tremendous power boost, but you do have to get it right. While learning in Greece, we had a couple of “incidents”. In the first of our adventures we were racing in an RS200, against an RS400. We had just rounded the windward (top) mark, and turned for a downwind leg, and were busy hoisting the spinnaker, when the RS400, doing the same thing, came alongside us as windward boat. At that moment, the wind gusted up, they didn’t give us any room (as they should have done), and two nice shiny RS boats nearly needed new paint jobs. We had to luff up almost head to wind to avoid hitting them, and as a result came last. We weren’t pleased!

In the second incident we were racing a Laser Stratos or as everyone else called it, a Stratus-Bus (BIG mistake, nice boats for cruising but absolute dogs for racing!). We were already in last position on the last lap, and on a downwind leg. We were nearing the gybe mark, and decided a little late to hoist the spinnaker (we had nothing left to lose). What we failed to properly take into account was that there was a wee-Irish Neilson instructor lass who’d capsized a Laser about 30 feet away from the gybe mark, and as we were hoisting our spinnaker, and aiming between the gybe mark and her capsized boat, the wind gusted rather strong. Stratus’s are pretty big boats, high sided... and I don’t think I’ve ever been as high in the air on a dinghy as I was as that thing nearly dropped over on top of her – but fortunately we managed to keep it upright.

If you learn nothing else from this article, just remember Timing is everything.

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