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Spinnakers: hoist, trim and drop

By taking it one step at a time using a spinnaker will become a less daunting prospect.

Spinnakers: hoist, trim and drop

The extra sheets, guys, halyards and blocks required to use a spinnaker can make it seem a bit daunting to set up and use. But by taking it all one step at a time, hoisting, trimming and dropping a spinnaker will be a lot easier.

Basic set up

  1. Clip the turtle inside the leeward guard-rail, usually between the pulpit and first station.
  2. Clip the downhaul and up haul to the spinnaker pole and attach the pole to the mast, plunger side up.
  3. Lead the guy through a block attached on the windward toe rail at the beam. Run the guy through the pole end, around the front of the forestay and then clip it to the tack of the spinnaker (the closest corner to the bow).
  4. Lead the sheet through a block on the leeward quarter and clip it to the clew.
  5. Lead the halyard outside the forestay, to leeward of the headsail and clip it to the head of the spinnaker.

Note: all lines should run outside stanchions and sails.

Turtle is clipped inside the leeward guardrail, usually behind the headsail.

The hoist

The headsail remians up during the hoist so that it provides shelter for the spinnaker. Depowering the spinnaker like this allows it to be fully raised to the masthead. Once the spinnaker is up and set, the headsail is furled/dropped.

  1. Steer the boat onto a broad reach. This also shields the spinnaker with the mainsail and flattens the boat.
  2. Hoist the pole on the uphaul until it is at right angles to the mast and tighten the downhaul.
  3. Tension the guy until the spinnaker tack reaches the end of the pole; and then tension the guy until the pole is just off the forestay.
  4. Once the spinnaker is flying there is a lot of pressure on both guy and sheet, so ensure there are sufficient turns around the winches and the guy is made off.
  5. Hoist the spinnaker quickly. It needs to be raised fully to the masthead before it fills with wind or is sheeted.
  6. Pull in on the spinnaker sheet until the sail fills.

Hoist the spinnaker in the lee of the headsail. When hoisted, sheet in and drop/furl the headsail.


Using the guy, adjust the pole so that it is at right angles to the wind:

  • On a run the pole it’s near the shrouds.
  • On a beam reach, it’s near the forestay.

Major adjustments with the guy also require adjustments of the sheet.

Once the pole is positioned correctly, the spinnaker is trimmed using the sheet.

The luff is the windward edge of the spinnaker. If the spinnaker sheet is eased too far, it collapses. The first sign of collapse is a slight curling of the luff at the shoulder, where the straight sides round off towards the head.

To trim the spinnaker; ease the sheet and look for curling at the shoulder, when it starts to curl, sheet in until it stops.

Drop Preparation

In order to drop the spinnaker the guy and halyard are released. The sail is pulled in under the boom with the sheet and then by grabbing the sail itself.

There are two ways of releasing the guy:

  1. Manually activate the release trigger on the guy’s snap shackle, to let the tack fly free. Be careful not to stand behind the pole, as it may spring back.
  2. Let the guy run if it is long enough. The guy should be at least 2 times the length of the boat otherwise it might fly free through the pole end becoming an angry piece of rope on the flapping sail.

The halyard will be under a lot of tension, so take sufficient turns around a winch initially to control the line. Flake the halyard first to ensure it will run free.

The Drop

  1. Head onto a broad reach and set the headsail to depower the spinnaker.
  2. Ease the guy, moving the pole to the forestay and trim the sheet.
  3. Get hold of the sheet under the boom.
  4. Release the guy, lower the halyard and pull the sheet until you have the clew.
  5. Continue lowering the spinnaker under control whilst it is gathered and bundled straight down the companionway hatch.

Pull the sheet under the boom to gather the spinnaker as it’s lowered. It usually goes straight down the hatch. If the galley is below the hatch, ensure the stove is turned off.

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