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General Tips for Spinnakers

Go To: Sailing - Techniques and Manoevres

Posted on 27 November 2009 16:33

In the previous articles in this series, we’ve covered a number of topics, including rigging, hoisting, flying and dropping, both for asymmetric and symmetric spinnakers. Now we’re going to cover a few other important issues that haven’t cropped up along the way.


It’s quite possible you may capsize while flying the spinnaker - it’s a slightly trickier way of sailing with more to consider; if a gust hits you can become very quickly overpowered, and capsize to leeward (the boat capsizes away from you), or if the wind drops while you’re on the trapeze or hiking hard, you can overbalance the boat and capsize to windward.

Capsizing with a spinnaker flying gives you one main problem – you need to get that spinnaker down before you right the boat. If you don’t, then firstly there’s a whole lot of sail area which will catch the wind while you’re getting it back up (making it harder) and when you get the boat upright (which could take it over again). Also, when you do right the boat, and climb back in, since the spinnaker is wet it will typically be wrapped around the jib, and difficult (if not impossible) to get back down at that point. If it’s very wet, it may not even catch the wind so you can get it flying again to drop it.

Therefore, after capsizing with the spinnaker up, you first need to get it back into the chute. The crew should make sure all the lines are uncleated, then pull on the retrieval line to drop the spinnaker. It may be more difficult in the water, but keep at it and take your time – hard yanks are likely to rip it which won’t make the situation any better!

If your boat totally inverts and turns turtle, then first off, get it back upright to a regular capsize position and hold it there. The helm may need to be on the other side of the boat, away from the crew, to do this. Then, they can hold the boat in the capsize position, as the crew drops the spinnaker, and pulls it into the chute.

Problems afloat

We’ve covered many of the problems you’ll face with spinnakers in the individual articles as we’ve gone along – if you pay attention to rigging them correctly, and the setup compared to the boat, you shouldn’t experience too many problems.

If there are any specific questions you have, please direct them to the usual address.


Spinnaker sails can undergo a lot of punishment – unlike a mainsail or a jib sail which you carefully roll away and store flat, spinnakers tend to be mushed and shoved into bags quickly and relatively carelessly, or pulled into chutes; also they tend to be made of thinner sail material than main or jib sails!

Due to these factors, spinnakers can quite easily rip and tear, and it’s important to repair them as quickly as possible. A small, easy to repair tear in a spinnaker can easily become a much bigger one requiring professional attention, but if you pay it the attention it requires, a small piece of spinnaker repair tape, available from all good chandleries, might do the job. If you’re making small patches and want it to look better however, it’s better getting a small area of material and sowing it on, either by hand or by machine.

The biggest tip we can give for spinnakers is practise as much as you can! As it’s not something you may be able to practise or use every time you go sailing, its important to keep your skills sharp. Include it in your training program if you have one (if you don’t, start one), or take half an hour in a session every few weeks to practise.

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