Cruising with an
One of the most popular sails in a cruising sailor's inventory is the
asymmetrical cruising spinnaker. It's also known by a variety of sailmaker trade names:
Genmaker, Flasher, MPS, and Spanker. Unlike the conventional spinnaker, which is
symmetrical on either side of its centerline, the asymmetrical spinnaker has a definite
luff and leech, with the luff being the bit longer of the two. In general, the total sail
area of a cruising spinnaker is about 25 percent less than that of a standard spinnaker, but
it's still about twice as big as a 150 percent genoa. The apparent-wind speeds and optimum
sailing angles for those different wind speeds are shown below:
A cruising spinnaker's best angles generated by
varying apparent-wind direction and strength
While the cruising spinnaker is designed to enhance a boat's
downwind performance, it also makes downwind sailing safe and easy, especially when sailing
shorthanded. Because the tack of an asymmetrical remains attached to the forestay regardless
of which tack the boat is on, the cruising spinnaker does not need a pole. Gybing a
conventional spinnaker with a spinnaker pole requires moving the pole's outboard end from one
clew to the other; this is the moment at which most spinnaker-handling problems occur. It's
also what discourages many cruising sailors from using a conventional spinnaker - they
don't like to handle it unless they are sailing with an experienced crew. Gybing a cruising
spinnaker, much like gybing a genoa, is an easily controlled maneuver.
You can hoist the sail with either a spinnaker halyard or a genoa
halyard, depending on how your boat is set up. While there are different attachment
procedures and sheet leads for each halyard system, the key element is the location of the
block that supports the halyard.
A spinnaker halyard is one that exits the mast above the point
where the headstay is attached. The halyard passes through a free-swiveling block that
allows the halyard to pull from any direction without chafing. To set the spinnaker using
this type of halyard, first attach the halyard to the head ring of the sail. If your boat
has a roller-furling genoa, it is best to wrap a set of parrel beads around the furled
genoa and snap-shackle them to the spinnaker tack. Parrel beads are solid nylon balls
with holes drilled through them, through which a wire cable passes. Stainless steel
thimbles at either end of the cable are shackled to the tack. The beads will roll over
the furled genoa, allowing the tack of the cruising spinnaker to be raised and lowered
with ease and keeping the tack of the spinnaker near the boat's centerline.
Next, tie the tack downhaul line to the tack ring of the spinnaker.
Run the tack downhaul line through a turning block on the deck near the bow, then aft to the
cockpit. Set the downhaul line so the tack will be about 5 feet above the deck the sail
is hoisted. Finally, attach the spinnaker sheet to the spinnaker's clew ring, and run the
line aft outside the lifelines to a turning block located on the toerail just forward of the
stern pulpit. Then run the line from the turning block forward to a winch.
Tie the sheet that is not being used, called the lazy sheet, to the
clew of the spinnaker, and lead it forward in front of the headstay, then back on the other
side of the boat - outside shrouds and lifelines - to another turning block positioned forward
of the stern pulpit. Lead the seet to a winch.
To hoist the spinnaker, head off to a square run. Leave the mainsail
fully eased to blanket the spinnaker and keep it from filling until your are ready
to trim it. Put the spinnaker bag on the leeward side just forward of the boom.
Once the spinnaker is fully hoisted, slowly head up to your
desired course and pull in the sheet until the sail is set. Be sure to take at least
three turns of the spinnaker sheet around the winch.
Ease the spinnaker sheet unti the sail collapses in front of the
boat, being careful not to lose the end of the sheet. Bear away to a dead run, and pull
the main to the boat's centerline. To complete the gybe, ese the mainsail onto the new
gybe and head up to your new course. Trim the new sheet (the lazy sheet from the
previous tack) until the sail is set correctly for the new course.
Lowering the Spinnaker
Bear away onto a dead run, and keep the mainsail eased. Do not
east the spinnaker sheet, the sail will collapse once the mainsail blankets it. If you
are not using a snuffer or dousing sock, have one person ease the halyard while another
lowers the spinnaker by pulling on the leech. Ideally, whoever is lowering the sail
should be positioned to leeward just in front of the boom. This position will ensure the
spinnaker remains blanketed by the mainsail until it is completely lowered to the deck.
Using the Genoa Halyard
A genoa halyard exits the mast through a sheave below the point at
which the headstay is attached. Because the genoa halyard is restricted in its motion, the
load must pull in an essentially forward direction to avoid being chafed by the edge of the
Attach the genoa halyard to the head ring on the sail. Tie the tack
downhaul line to the tack ring, lead it through a turning block on the deck near the bow, and
run it aft to the cock;it. As with the spinnaker halyard, set up the tack downhaul so tha tack
is about 5 feet above the deck when the sail is hoisted.
Tie the spinnaker sheet to the clew ring, and lead it outside the
lifelines aft to the turning block on the toerail, then forward to a winch. The lazy
sheet should also be tied to the clew and led forward outside the shrouds. But with this
arrangement lead the lazy sheet between the mast and forestay, not in front of the forestay
as you would with the spinnaker-halyard arrangement. Run the lazy sheet aft on the other
side of the boat, outside the shrouds and lifelines, to a turning block, then forward to a
Hoisting the cruising spinnaker with a genoa halyard is exactly
the same as it is with the spinnaker halyard, but gybing is a bit different. Bear away
to a dead run, and leave the mainsail eased out; the main will blanket the spinnaker and
cause it to collapse. Pull in the lazy sheet with at least three turns on the winch.
Simultaneously ease out the old sheet. This procedure, which pulls the sail through
the space between the head stay and mast, is different from having the sail pass in front
of the forestay during the gybe. Gybe the mainsail, and head up to your new course,
trimming the sails as you come closer to the wind.
There are two basic adjustments - the height of the tack above the
deck and the amount of shet trim. Good trim for a cruising spinnaker is just enough
to keep the luff from curling. As a general, when you are on a close reach (with the wind at
about 60 degrees apparent), the tack should be pulled down so the luff of the sail is nearly
straight. On a broad reach or run (120 to 155 degrees apparent), ease the tack off -
approximately 3 feet on a 35 foot boat, 4 feet on a 45 footer, and 5 feet on a 55 footer.
The tack should be as high as possible but not so high that the sail starts to
oscillate. Oscillation makes the sail, and the boat, unstable. On a beam reach (90
degrees apparent), set the tack height so it is between the high and low positions.
Adjust the tack height so the middle of the luff curls first. If the
upper part of the luff curls first, the tack is to high and must be lowered. If the lower
part of the luff curls first, the tack is too low and must be raised.
The purpose of the sock is to keep the spinnaker confined during
both hoisting and lowering. It is a good idea to use a dousing sock if you boat is over
30 feet long. When you hoist the spinnaker, it will be inside the sock and will not fill
until you are ready for it to do so. Once you are ready to set the spinnaker, raise
the sock to the top of the spinnaker by pulling the sock-control line.
When it is time to drop the spinnaker, bear away onto a square run
sto the spinnaker collapses behind the mainmail. Pull the sock-control line so the sock
comes down over the collapsed spinnaker. Ease the spinnaker or genoa halyard so the
sock and spinnaker are on the deck.
Never store a wet spinnaker inside the dousing sock, as the colors
may bleed. To dry the sail, hoist it in light winds and let it air-dry or spread it out
on a lawn or flat surface.