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.
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.