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Dropping a Symmetric Spinnaker

Go To: Sailing - Techniques and Manoevres

Posted on Thursday, September 3, 2009 6:32 PM

So you’ve hoisted it, sailed it, and are nearing the end of the lake, or the mark to go around, so you need to drop that spinnaker. Easy – just let go of all the ropes! Or not – you need to drop it carefully, and pack it away so it’s ready for the next time you want to hoist it.

While it’s better and easier to hoist a symmetric spinnaker to leeward, so it is protected from the wind by the mainsail during the hoist, it’s easier to drop the spinnaker to windward. Why? The main reason is that while sailing the spinnaker the crew should be on the windward side in order to see it, so you should drop it on the side the crew is on. Secondly, the wind will keep the sail semi filled as you are dropping it – it’s important to avoid dropping it quicker than you can stow it away, as it will end up in the water, and not only will get wet but could easily tear with the weight of the water filling it under speed.

Most spinnakers will have a retrieval line, which you should have setup during the rigging phase. On most boats this is usually the other end of the long halyard. Before starting the drop, ensure all the sheets, guys and halyards are free to run, with no knots in them and they are not trapped around blocks (or feet!). When ready to drop, bear away towards a downwind course if possible, keeping the boat as flat as possible, while the crew unclips the pole off the mast and the guy. The pole is stowed aboard the dinghy, then the spinnaker sheet and guy should be eased out, the halyard released, and the retrieval line hauled in (you may find this easier if the helm takes the halyard and the crew the retrieval line). This should pull the spinnaker down by the middle first, killing the body of the sail and any wind in it immediately. As soon as you can, grab the spinnaker in the middle, and start stowing it into its bag or pouch.

As the spinnaker comes down, try not to twist it or entangle the lines coming from it – as a rule, the three corners of the sail should go into the bag last, at the top; this way they are the first parts to come out, and shouldn’t get tangled up.

You can drop a spinnaker to leeward; this is typically done on larger boats and yachts where the balance isn’t upset quite so easily, but it is possible on a dinghy in light winds, if you pay careful attention to balance, and move crew and helm positions back to their normal positions carefully before dropping. You can then drop to leeward, and stow the spinnaker, as with windward.

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