Spinnaker sailing

The hoist

Run almost square, and pull the halyard. The faster it goes up the better - any delays give it time to flap around, get snagged or drop in the water. You don't want any of these to happen :(
Once the spinnaker is up set it and head up a little to gain some speed. Now get the main traveller centred (or a few inches off so it doesn't get in the way of the tiller exptension) and pull in most of the mainsheet. If the wind is light enough you can leave the main set there for the whole hoist.

Now head up more, pull in the spinnaker sheet, jump on the wire (if you feel like it!) and go (like crazy!).

The drop

Run almost square again (with practice it becomes possible to lower the spinnaker while reaching).


Pull in the slack from the retrieval line, let the sheet and halyard go, and pull in the retrieval line as fast as possible. Speed is everything - this should not take more than 1 or 2 seconds.

Any delays (eg. a knot in the halyard) will give the spinnaker time to drop in the water and this is fatal. It stops the boat, can rip the spinnaker, and definitely spoils your placing in the race.

This photo shows a couple of interesting things (click on it for a closer look). The skipper can still steer while he lowers the spinnaker by rocking on his toes. There is no slack in the retrieval line as the spinnaker comes down.

The gybe

This used to be more difficult but with the smaller spinnakers in use now the handling through gybes is much easier. It is only necessary to let go of the sheet and start pulling in the opposite one as soon as you go into the gybe.
In all cases go into the gybe fast, because there will be less pressure in the sails.

Getting the right angle to the wind as you come out of the gybe is something that just comes with practice.

Under way

Start off in light breezes as you will be surprised how much power is in the spinnaker - even in just a few knots of wind.
Don't be too eager to get on trapeze to start with. Learn the feel of the boat with the spinnaker up by sitting on the side to start with (gain some confidence).

With the spinnaker up the boat can sail anywhere in an arc of about 45-55 degrees, from pulled in tight to sailing very broad, but there is only a very narrow range which is fast. This is where practice counts.

You should be able to push the boat up toward the wind until the windward hull lifts. The boat is quite stable under spinnaker and you should be able to keep a hull flying for long periods just by steering.

Always remember to just keep the boat under the rig. That is, in a gust bear away (the boat will want to do this anyway - just let it), and in a lull head up.

To minimize lee-helm keep the centreboards down. If you find you still have a lot of lee helm (expect some) then try raking the mast further back.

Remember you are sailing in apparent wind so to get the boat moving you have to head up first to get speed on and then sail down as the apparent wind bends and you accelerate. This takes practice but sloop sailors are probably already doing this. If you do the opposite, sail up gradually from a broad reach to the same angle you will not be going as fast because you don't have the apparent wind working for you.

Never try to flog the spinnaker when you are overpowered by a gust. This just doesn't work. When the spinnaker flogs the sideways forces increase and you are very likely to end up swimming. The only thing to do when the windward hull is rising dangerously, is to bear away. This is hard sometimes when you are trying to lay a mark, but sometimes you just have to go where the wind takes you and wait for an opportunity to head up again after the gust has passed. If you really are being taken too low from your course (or the mark is getting close) take the spinnaker down. That's why we have the chute - so the spinnaker can be removed in seconds when necessary.