Setting and Striking a Spinnaker Made Easy and Safe

What it's all about. Bound for Bermuda under spinnaker with dolphins playing around the bow. Without a spinnaker in this breeze we would have been motoring and the dolphins would not have stayed as long as they did.

Some of the most fun and satisfying sailing we can do is under spinnaker, particularly since the invention of the asymmetric spinnaker freed us cruisers from the complications of poles, downhauls, topping lifts, lazy guys and all the rest of the paraphernalia associated with traditional symmetrical spinnakers.

Just tack the asymmetric down at the bow, tie on a sheet, clip on a halyard, hoist, and blast off downwind fast and stable while everyone else is rolling their guts out and probably motoring. What's not to like?

Yeah, right. There are only two of us on the boat, the sail is huge and only attached at three points, and one mistake will see the whole thing in the water.

Happens to even full-on race crews. The difference is they make disaster sound cool by swaggering around—swagger is part of basic race crew training—while saying shit like "yeah, we went shrimping".

Whatever you call it, an asymmetric spinnaker screwup can both total a very expensive sail and put the crew at risk, and the chances of that happening go up a bunch when we are shorthanded.

Enter the spinnaker sock that makes hoisting and striking easy and safe...right?

Well, kind of, but even with a sock screwups happen, and not just to newbies. Our friend Andy Schell and his crew just totalled a brand new and expensive branded spinnaker while striking it offshore on his Swan 59 IceBear. Here's what happened in Andy's words:

After a perfect start, as the sock was about halfway down the collapsed sail, the boat rolled to windward and the sail filled with wind again. Kevin, who was on the sock downline, immediately let it fly — just like I told him to, to avoid rope burn — and the sail filled again, this time with the tack line super eased, but crucially still attached, so the sail was flying well to leeward and very high, completely out of control. I couldn’t see what was still attached from back at the helm, and to make a long story short, when we tried to lower the halyard, the sail wound up in the drink, ripped, then pulled the halyard and the tack line over the side with it.

Andy Schell on his blog (requires membership in The Quarterdeck to read full post).

So now I have convinced you never to even consider an asymmetric spinnaker. After all, if this can happen to Andy Schell, one of the most experienced and smartest offshore sailors out there...

A Simple Hack That Makes it Easy

But it does not have to be that way. Here is one simple hack that Phyllis and I came up with on our 56-foot McCurdy and Rhodes cutter years ago that makes setting and striking a spinnaker with a sock easy and safe, even with just the two of us aboard.

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  1. Six Reasons To Leave The Cockpit Often
  2. Don’t Forget About The Sails
  3. Your Mainsail Is Your Friend
  4. Hoisting the Mainsail Made Easy—Simplicity in Action
  5. Reefs: How Many and How Deep
  6. Reefing Made Easy
  7. Reefing From The Cockpit 2.0—Thinking Things Through
  8. Reefing Questions and Answers
  9. A Dangerous Myth about Reefing
  10. Mainsail Handling Made Easy with Lazyjacks
  11. Topping Lift Tips and a Hack
  12. 12 Reasons The Cutter Is A Great Offshore Voyaging Rig
  13. Cutter Rig—Should You Buy or Convert?
  14. Cutter Rig—Optimizing and/or Converting
  15. Cruising Rigs—Sloop, Cutter, or Solent?
  16. Sailboat Deck Layouts
  17. The Case For Roller-Furling Headsails
  18. UV Protection For Roller Furling Sails
  19. The Case For Hank On Headsails
  20. Making Life Easier—Roller Reefing/Furling
  21. Making Life Easier—Storm Jib
  22. Gennaker Furlers Come Of Age
  23. Swept-Back Spreaders—We Just Don’t Get It!
  24. Q&A: Staysail Stay: Roller Furling And Fixed Vs Hanks And Removable
  25. Rigid Vangs
  26. Rigging a Proper Preventer, Part 1
  27. Rigging a Proper Preventer—Part 2
  28. Amidships “Preventers”—A Bad Idea That Can Kill
  29. Keeping The Boom Under Control—Boom Brakes
  30. Downwind Sailing, Tips and Tricks
  31. Downwind Sailing—Poling Out The Jib
  32. Setting and Striking a Spinnaker Made Easy and Safe
  33. Ten Tips To Fix Weather Helm
  34. Running Rigging Recommendations—Part 1
  35. Running Rigging Recommendations—Part 2
  36. Two Dangerous Rigging Mistakes
  37. Rig Tuning, Part 1—Preparation
  38. Rig Tuning, Part 2—Understanding Rake and Bend
  39. Rig Tuning, Part 3—6 Steps to a Great Tune
  40. Rig Tuning, Part 4—Mast Blocking, Stay Tension, and Spreaders
  41. Rig Tuning, Part 5—Sailing Tune
  42. 12 Great Rigging Hacks

John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 18 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

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