Feel the Power of Simplicity
Spinnakers provide an enormous performance boost in light to moderate air when sailing downwind—and well they should, considering the trouble they can cause! We’ll take a look here at how to handle and trim both cruising spinnakers
—also called Gennakers, which fly without a pole—and conventional spinnakers with poles.
Setting a Gennaker
A cruising spinnaker or Gennaker is set with a tack line from the bow, a halyard, and a sheet led to the aft quarter. For shorthanded sailing, a spinnaker Snuffer is recommended.
The sail is hoisted within a protective sock, and once up, the Snuffer line is pulled to retract the sock and free the sail. To prevent twisting, the tack line should be tightened prior to the hoist.
Do you need a tack strap?
Depending on the luff length of the Gennaker, it may also be advantageous to rig a tack strap. Rigged around the rolled jib, the tack strap prevents the tack from wandering. If your sail has a long luff and a low tack—just above the bow pulpit—then a tack strap is not required. For a sail with a short luff and a high tack, a tack strap adds control.
The Gennaker sheets can be lead inside or outside the Gennaker luff. There are advantages to each set up, and both work.... you’ll have to experiment to see which works better on your boat, and the best option may vary with the wind strength.
Setting a Spinnaker
Conventional spinnakers with spinnaker poles offer more control over spinnaker trim and sail shape, which can increase performance—but it comes at the price of additional complexity.
For shorthanded sailing, a Snuffer is recommended, though the setup and hoist steps are the same with or without it. First, rig the pole with a topping lift—to hold the pole up—and a foreguy—to pull the pole forward. Some skippers also rig an afterguy directly to the pole to hold the pole back. Others allow the spinnaker guy to handle this function. You can sail safely and successfully either way, though before and after the spinnaker is deployed, the pole will not move around as much if a separate afterguy is rigged. Either way, the windward spinnaker sheet—called the guy —is rigged to run through the end of the pole.
Once the sail is rigged and ready, trim the guy to pull the tack of the spinnaker to the end of the pole, and then hoist. As you reach full hoist, take slack out of the sheet to prevent twists, and then raise the Snuffer. When the Snuffer tops up, tie off the Snuffer lines loosely near the mast base, and trim the spinnaker sheet.
To take the sail down, turn to a very broad reach to hide the Gennaker behind the mainsail, ease the sheet until the sail carries a big curl, and pull the Snuffer down over the sail. Once the sail is snuffed, lower the halyard and stuff the sail into its bag on deck, or pass it down the forward hatch to be bagged below.
One important safety detail when shorthanded and working on the foredeck: Sit down while you pull the sail down. If you sit, you can’t fall. When gathering a sail on a rolling boat, lurching around and stepping on slippery sail cloth, it is easy to fall down—or even overboard. Feel free to take a seat!
Dousing the Spinnaker
To douse the spinnaker, reverse the hoist sequence: turn to a broad reach, ease the sheet, pull down the Snuffer, ease the guy, and lower the halyard.
In stronger winds, hiding the spinnaker behind the main will make the snuffing process easier. Once again, the process starts on a broad reach. Rather than ease the sheet, though, put a loop of line around the sheet, and use this “choker” to pull the clew of the spinnaker in close behind the mast. Ease the guy to luff the spinnaker, and pull down on the Snuffer. By pulling the leech of the spinnaker in close behind the main this technique assures that the spinnaker will be blanketed behind the main. As always, sit down on deck while pulling down the Snuffer.
📸 Amory Ross