Spinnakers—Not Getting In A Twist

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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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Colin and Louise spent ten years living aboard their OVNI 435, Pèlerin, built for them in France and so they bring a European perspective to our site. They now own the She 36, Sherpa which they sail from their home on the west coast of Scotland. You can read more about Colin and Louise and their business at their website.

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Neil McCubbin

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?


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 Harries

Hi Frank,

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

Pat James

I have an OVNI 445 evolution – hull # 15
Appreciate your comments on an interesting article that I just read.
Looks like a novel approach.

Currently, we have an asymmetrical spinnaker that we are sorting out in preparation for its first (for us) use.
For downwind runs we fly two headsails, Genoa and staysail. We have two spinnaker poles, one is stored on the mast, I’ll call this pole A, the other pole is telescopic and it is stored on the deck, – pole B. What is your preference for attaching the telescopic pole – B to the mast, I am currently considering adding a mast bracket to pole A and attaching pole B to this bracket.
Appreciate your comments

John Harries

Hi Pat,

I really don’t have much to contribute on this one since I’m not a fan of this level of complication and added gear—added leads, poles, lifts, downhauls, etc. (See Bill’s cats cradle comment.)

I also really don’t like the idea of having to change jibs on a foil to go downwind and then again when going up wind.

My experience is that a high cut jib on a pole working with the main is great once the wind gets over about 15 knots true and below that the best option is either motor or an asymmetric spinnaker, which will have far more area than the twin jibs and work better when tacking downwind. An asymmetric set in a good quality (ATN type) sleeve is easy to set or douse by two people, even on a larger boat like ours.

If it were me, I would ditch the second pole and buy a good asymmetric or code 0 type sail.

Bill Attwood

Hi Pat
We have the same 2 poles, one one mast, the other on deck. The deck mounted pole has its own “sled” with socket for the pole end already mounted on the mast track, below the sled for the mast-mounted pole. This means that the mast mounted pole must be deployed first, then the deck mounted pole can be deployed. This does mean an absolute cats cradle of lines, for each pole: sled up- and downhaul, pole uphaul, fore- and after guys, and of course halyard. But once they are up, things are relatively easy to control.
Yours aye,

Bill Attwood

Hi Pat and John
A small addition to my comment. We set 2 small(er) high cut, just overlapping foresails rather than a spinnaker/gennaker etc. One is on a furler, the other hanked on to a demountable inner forestay, parallel to and about 40 cm behind. Well balanced, and easily reduced. It takes me about 20 minutes to get everything up and running satisfactorily, and although I guess that this will reduce with practice, it’s really a setup for tradewind sailing. The main is dropped under this rig, but a friend has suggested setting the main dead amidships with 3 reefs can help with rolling.
Yours aye

John Harries

Hi Bill,

Sounds much like the twin spinnakers that were so popular for trade wind sailing back in the day after world war II. A lot to like about the rig once you get it set.

That said, a lot of the reason that people like the Smeatons and the Pyes (who I sailed with as a boy) favoured twins was because it was the only way at the time to get a break from manual steering.

These days, with good vane gear and autopilots available, I prefer the simplicity and fast deployment of main and poled jib. Also quicker to get rid of in an emergency like a POB. And then for light air, where twin jibs will suffer due to lack of area, I find an asymmetric better—there are few things more uncomfortable than being under canvased when sailing downwind in swell.

As to a centered mainsail. I have heard that suggested a lot, but can you imagine the slatting back and forth with the roll on each wave? Hard on the sail and the nerves!

Bill Attwood

Hi John
Last word from me on this. ?
Kinsa is tiller steered, and the only halfway effective autopilot is the biggest Raymarine. This cannot cope with following seas of any size, and our preventer has saved us from some nasty gybes when trying it out. The Windpilot is equally not so good direct down wind. Stowing the main and using twin foresails has solved the problem for us. I agree with your comment that the slatting of a deep-reefed main set as an anti-roll measure would drive me insane. A possible alternative would be the trysail set, with both sheets hard to the toerail. What do you think?
Yours aye,

John Harries

Hi Bill,

Makes sense.

As to the trysail, no matter how flat, it’s still going to be subjected to a wind load that oscillates from one side to the other on every roll, which will be hard on the gear, particularly the luff slides and their attachments. Also, I have just never found rolling while sailing downwind that much of a problem to live with. Sure it’s a bit of a disconcerting at first, but after a while we always get used to it.

Given that, I simply would not bother with any of these anti roll measures.