Spinnakers—Not Getting In A Twist

Whilst the rest of Northern Europe has been enduring yet another ghastly summer with high winds and inundations, the Western Isles of Scotland have had a memorably warm and sunny season, with long spells of light winds. And as a result we’ve used our new asymmetric spinnaker on a regular basis.

You either love or hate spinnakers. After years of racing I’m as familiar as most sailors with them, and have endured my fair share of wild broaches whilst under them, so I’m under no illusions that they can bite back when used in the wrong circumstances. But when conditions are right, they are invaluable, and some of the most memorable days I’ve enjoyed out on the water have been under spinnaker.

When we were planning Pèlerin I was very much in favour of carrying a standard symmetrical spinnaker for running, plus an asymmetrical for reaching. On our old boat we carried a narrow shouldered radial head cruising spinnaker, which I loved for its stability and ease of handling, especially once we replaced the original snuffer with an excellent Hood one. Once it was up it could be sheeted off and pretty much left at that, which made it ideal for short handed cruising. But Lou viewed the thing with apprehension, balking at the paraphernalia of spinnaker handling—uphauls, guys, poles and so on—and ultimately believed that the act of hoisting a spinnaker brought either unexpected wind shifts or expected expletives! And whilst snuffers are a huge improvement over what went before them, they can still snarl up when most needed, which didn’t endear them to her either.

We looked at the German made Parasailor, about which we’d heard many good things, but were put off by a very high price tag, so we eventually agreed upon an asymmetrical chute as a starting point. We ordered a standard factory made removable bowsprit to get the kite out into clear air ahead of the boat. Like all things OVNI, it’s simple, strong and effective.

At the last London Boat Show we went shopping for a suitable sail, and finally opted for an asymmetrical cruising chute from a well-established British firm, Crusader Sails, mounted on one of their own furling gears. This simple unit is based on the Code 0 type furlers used on racing yachts, with a top swivel, Spectra luff rope and an endless line furling drum at deck level. The sail is hoisted wrapped around the luff rope, and then unfurled by pulling on the line in one direction, preferably with assistance from the sheet. To assist in making a neat furl, a light line is attached between the central point of the luff of the sail and the luff rope to start the furl from the middle of the sail, and to furl the furling line is pulled in the other direction as the sail is blanketed and the sheet is eased.

The furling line can be led all the way aft if preferred, but we opted to have ours shorter so that the sail can be set from the foredeck. In my view this has two advantages when two-handed sailing: The first being that the whole furling/unfurling process can be watched from deck to masthead as it happens, so that any snags can easily be observed, and the risk of a snarl-up reduced. The second is that tension needs to be kept on the furling line, especially when furling the sail, to stop the line slipping, and this seems more easily achieved when you are close to the drum. It does take a little getting used to, but once you’ve got the knack of it, it’s by far the easiest way of handling a sail like this that I’ve yet encountered, at least for an asymmetrical sail. An additional advantage is that the sail and the furling gear can be stowed in a tight coil that takes up very little space.

The sail itself is a beauty, remarkably stable, and sets over a wider effective wind angle than expected—a true cruising sail in that it can be sheeted home and doesn’t need endless trimming. As a result it has seen plenty of use whenever the wind has been favourable.

We still only use spinnakers in light to moderate winds, which greatly reduces the risk of getting into a mess with one. But this new system certainly fits in with our sailing philosophy that “if a job’s easy—you’ll do it”, and has added another dimension to our cruising. And, if further evidence were needed as to why it might be worthwhile reconsidering your current setup, consider that now it is more likely to be Lou suggesting we hoist the chute.

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Meet the Author

Colin Speedie

Colin, European Correspondent here at AAC, is a deeply experienced offshore sailor who holds a Yachtmaster licence, and a gifted photographer and talented writer who has added a whole new dimension to Attainable Adventure Cruising. In addition, since Colin and Louise are from England and had their OVNI 435, Pèlerin built in France, they bring a European perspective to our site. You can read more about Colin and Louise and their business at their website.

3 comments… add one
  • Neil McCubbin Oct 11, 2014, 10:56 pm

    Interesting idea to add a “furling helper” from the mid-point.
    In the aps couple of years, the idea of top-down furling had emerged, and at the Annapolis boat show this week I noted that virtually all sailmakers now promote it.
    We have a Karver furler for our code zero, that could easily be adapted for this alternative duty too.
    What do readers think?

  • Frank Apr 15, 2018, 2:47 pm

    Colin,
    We have an Ovni 435 and use the same system. It worked brilliantly until we got to Cape Verde and the high modulus line broke, just below the bottom Delrin “swivel”. The outer polyester sheath held up, so we didn’t loose anything. Crusader supplied us with a repair kit (a bit of a joke as it needed a 1m length of heat shrink and reduced the flexibility for packing). A year later, with little use, it happened again. I’m convinced that the sharp bend in the line combined with friction between the Delrin ”swivel” (just a cylinder of Delrin with a hole for the rope) and the rope could easily produce temperatures of 150c which could melt/weaken the HMPE core. Check your rope closely. The design is flawed and should have proper metal swivels top and bottom to prevent any friction and eliminate sharp angle rope bends. (We only used in <15kn app, furled by hand and never under load).

    • John Apr 16, 2018, 7:42 am

      Hi Frank,

      Thanks for the heads up on that. As you say, sounds like a flawed product.

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