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CRUISING SPINNAKER PRIMER
by Andy Denmark, BankSails associate
Most of the boats on the sounds and rivers of North Carolina are diehard cruisers. While racers are in the minority, tales of their spinnaker nightmares -- wraps, jammed halyards, traumatic takedowns, etc., have made their way to the ears of the cruising skippers. Often, the cruising skipper has these disasters imprinted on his mind when he goes looking for information about cruising spinnakers. When he talks with his fellow cruisers, some invariably point out, incorrectly, that all spinnakers act alike and all are a pain! Our confused skipper cries for a way to improve his offwind performance but wants none of these horror stories happening on his boat. To try and dispel this notion that "a spinnaker is a spinnaker," I felt the simplest approach might be a brief "How To" primer about using cruising spinnakers. Not only would this be a useful tool for our cruising spinnaker customers but would spell out just how easy using a cruising 'chute can be.
Whichever panel layout you choose, the cruising spinnaker fills a void for the cruising skipper who wants enhanced performance from his boat on reaches and runs. Combined with a sleeve-type device for launching and retrieving, such as a Chutescoop (TM) or ATN (TM), the ease of using a cruising 'chute makes it a practical and aesthetically attractive sail which adds knots to your boatspeed off the wind without the need for poles, guys, topping lifts, extra winches, etc. Shorthanded or even singlehanded sailing with a cruising spinnaker is easily accomplished, retaining most the performance of the full-shouldered, symmetrical spinnaker but with a minimum of equipment and associated hassle.
The cruising spinnaker is normally set on a spinnaker halyard with sheets attached to the clew and leading aft, outside all standing rigging and lifelines, to blocks on the stern of the boat. The tack of the sail is secured with a downhaul line which passes through a small block at the stem and runs aft to a convenient cleat at the cockpit. The sail tack is loosely secured either to the forestay with a caribiner or snap shackle, or, with roller furling genoas, the tack can be held with a sail tie loosely tied around the furled sail. Whichever method is used, the tack should be restrained but free enough to adjust up and down. This is all the hardware needed for your cruising spinnaker and every bit stows in the sail bag!
To set the sail, attach and lead the sheets and downhaul to their appropriate points. Lead the leeward sheet to a cockpit winch (genoa winches work fine), make sure the weather sheet is lead outside the headstay and then aft, and adjust the downhaul line to set the tack about 3 feet off the deck. Leave the sheet eased but ready to trim in. Hold a broad reaching course and hoist the halyard to the top. Trim the sheet just as you would any other sail, easing until the luff just starts to break. You will probably have to trim more as your boatspeed increases.
Your cruising spinnaker is good for reaching up to about 50 degrees, apparent wind. The sail sets best on reaching courses with the tack pulled further downward as you sail closer to the wind. For running or broad reaching, ease the downhaul until the tack is 4 to 5 feet off the deck and trim the sail as usual.
If you must sail dead downwind, this is usually done wing and wing. A whisker pole can be used to hold the clew out. The easiest way to set the pole is to put it up on the same side as the boom then jibe the main over. On long downwind courses another excellent option is to fly the cruising spinnaker alone, with the main down and furled. This makes jibing unnecessary and does away with the need for constant trimming. This is pure downwind cruising!
While you can't tack a cruising spinnaker, jibing is simple. Sail dead downwind and ease out both sheets until the sail is clear of the forestay, jibe the main over, and pull in the new sheet. Compared to jibing a traditional spinnaker, this maneuver is a piece of cake!
To take down your cruising spinnaker, sail on a broad reach, release the sheet and ease the halyard slowly while gathering in the sail on the foredeck or stuffing it through the forward hatch. In heavier air, sail on a broad reach and pull the sheet in until you can grab the sail. Then free the downhaul and let it run while easing the halyard, pulling the sail under the boom by the leech and foot, gathering it into the cockpit or stuffing it through the companionway hatch.
Using one of the sleeve-type launching/retrieving devices makes hoisting and dousing your cruising spinnaker even easier. To hoist, one simply raises the sail, stowed in its sleeve, to the masthead. Then, with the small continuous halyard, which is an integral part of the sleeve, the lower end of the "sock" is raised, freeing up the spinnaker. The sleeve, which is made of lightweight material, bunches into a compact, barely noticeable "ball" above the head of the spinnaker which doesn't affect the set of the sail. When it's time to strike the 'chute, one simply eases the sheet, heads downwind to ease the pressure in the sail, and pulls the "down" side of the continuous halyard. As it is pulled down, the sleeve effectively recaptures the 'chute. In heavier winds, easing the downhaul and trimming the sheet allows the spinnaker go behind the mainsail, blanketing the 'chute and reducing the pressure in the sail before pulling down the sleeve. Whichever method you use, the stowed spinnaker is secure inside the sleeve and one simply lowers the sleeve, with the sail inside, by releasing the spinnaker halyard and gathering in the whole bundle.
I suggest you pick a relatively calm day and go through the launching and retrieving drill several times, then do a jibe or two. If you are using a sleeve device then this excercise also makes sure everything is led and loaded properly. The mechanics are easy to understand and a little hands-on practice will bear this out.
The cruising spinnaker is a popular sail with our customers. Most are avid cruisers and have never used a spinnaker before. They are pleased with the increased speed off the wind and when they follow the guidelines spelled out above, are gratified that the improved performance comes without the horror stories they've heard about spinnakers.
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