Making Friends with the Spinnaker

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Postby Guest » Thu Nov 15, 2001 12:31 pm

As I'm brand new to sailing, I'm trying to learn the spinnaker and overcome my fears! Any help you all can provide would be appreciated.

I'm an average-sized woman with average-woman strength.

1. In what size wind would I be able to jibe and work the spin sheets without fear of being overpowered?

2. If the wind were to shift, for example, and I did become overpowered, can the driver change his course to quickly release some of the pressure on the spin sheets?

3. How many people/how much weight should there be on the boat to work the spinnaker and in what type of wind?

4. Are the winches normally used for the jib ever used with the spin sheets for extra strength/support and/or to cleat the sheets if I need free hands for a moment?

5. When approaching a mark, if its realized the spinnaker is set to be released on the wrong side of the boat, what/when is the best/fastest way to rework the sheets for a launch on the other side?

6. When is it best to rework the lines to the other side vs. go ahead and set on the wrong side and jibe as soon as possible?

7. Right now, we're leaving the jib up while we launch the spinnaker, and then putting it down after the spinnaker is stabilized. And conversely, we're rolling the jib back out prior to dousing the spinnaker. Is this the preferred method?

Again, I apologize up front for the elementary questions and appreciate any comments you may have!

Postby Guest » Thu Nov 15, 2001 1:59 pm

Hi Corey. Great questions...let me take a shot at them.
1. You should be able to jibe and work the sheets in just about any wind short of a gale. When flying the chute, the spin trimmer should constantly talk to the driver about the pressure in the sheets. When the pressure builds, the driver should bear off and when the pressure drops, the driver should head up. In other words...Up in the lulls, down in the puffs. When jibing, release the sheet so that the clew flies forward of the headstay, then pull like crazy on the new sheet. The driver has to time his turn so that he doesn't get ahead of the chute...this comes with practice. Overtrim the sheet so the chute fills and then ease the sheet big time so the driver maintains control. Gybing is actually easier in heavier air as opposed to light.
2. In most cases, yes. He may need to ease the main while you ease the chute. In heavy wind, always have a crewmember on the vang. If you get hit with a big puff, the boat won't turn down with the vang on.
3. The number of crew is more critical for upwind sailing. More wind = more crew. You can fly the chute with only two people onboard. 3 or 4 is ideal.
4. You can use the winches if you need them.
5. I don't know, we usually set on port. We take down the chute so that it is on the port side using leeward or windward takedowns as necessary. If we find ourselves with the chute on the "wrong" side, we set, then gybe.
6. See above. In light air, you can set on the "wrong side" and walk the chute around the forestay. Probably not allowed in one-design as no one allowed forward of the mast.
7. Yep. Furl the jib ASAP after (or during)the hoist so the chute will fill quickly.

By the way, if anything goes wrong, it's usually the driver's fault. Hope this helps.

Postby Guest » Fri Nov 16, 2001 9:33 am

Mark's answers were pretty much on the money. I believe the restriction on people forward of the mast has been removed from the class rules, however. If you have ratchet blocks on your spin sheets, you are unlikely to need the winches except in winds over about 25 knots (when flying the chute is getting a bit hairy anyway). In general I find it best to set on the "wrong" side and then gybe. Having weight on the bow while approaching the mark is detrimental and moving the lines always risks making an error and screwing up the set.
Except in light air, setting or dousing the chute without a jib up (out) is asking for trouble. You are doing it right. Mark is also right about drivers - it is usually our fault!

Postby Guest » Fri Nov 16, 2001 10:28 am

To reiterate and/or paraphrase Jay Lutz,
I have found the absolute two essentials of
jibing the chute are #1-make certain the
active(leward) sheet is released, free to run
and helped along. #2 the trimmer must "pull
like a horse(speed not strength)on the new sheet.
I often sail solo and in winds less than 10K
I can set, douse and jibe the chute with no
I agree with Mark that it is easier to jibe
in stronger wind than in light.
Enjoy the boat. What a wonderful choice
for someone new to the sport.

Postby Guest » Sun Nov 18, 2001 9:56 am

I can give you a more direct answer. My wife and I own J/80 #340. Before that we owned a J/105 for 3 years. She's 5'5", average build & strength. She jibed the a-sail on both in up to 22 kts with NO assistance many times. You should have no trouble with the J/80 up to conditions where you shouldn't set the a-sail anyway. Like the others have said, the trick is getting it around fast so you can't let the lazy sheet hang up anywhere, that's critical. And a good helmsperson will time the turn so you don't get overwhelmed. I always turn downwind slowly and watch the clew, once it's around the headstay I will head up more quickly. If the helm turns too fast, a big strapping man can't handle it, you'll probably end up with the a-sail blown through the foretriangle - in which case you have to jibe back. If you're concerned about losing it, in heavy winds ONLY, put ONE wrap of the a-sail sheet on a winch and haul it in the rest of the way - but don't go to the winch until the clew is already well past the headstay and you know the sail is coming around. And remember the winch will slow you down so don't rely on it when yo can avoid using it. Good luck, you'll do fine - and if you don't all you have to do is go downwind deep to take the load off and give yourself a chance to straighten everything out OR jibe back and straighten things out.

Postby Guest » Mon Nov 19, 2001 4:27 pm


regarding handling the spin solo:

Could you outline a procedure for the launch, jibe and takedown....

specifically, what do you do with the sheet when you are hoisting? and how difficult is the douse?

I am going to modify your procedure to try it with just 2 people....

thanks in advance,


Postby Guest » Tue Nov 20, 2001 9:52 am

Here is my technique for solo spinnaker handling.
I have only tried it when winds were light. I furl the jib first, then head down wind with the main loose. Since the wind is lite I don't worry about accidental jibe(just pay attention and duck).
Pull out the pole, pull out the tack, make last second steering adjustment so spinnaker is to leward and haul away. I just leave the sheet loose with a stopper knot. Come back to tiller, haul in spinnaker sheet and sail away.
Jibing is similar to jibing with crew. Let the leward sheet free, put your weight to windward to steer the boat through the jibe while hauling the new sheet like crazy.
Take down is the hardest part, but basically the same as with crew. Head downwind with loose main.
Grab the active sheet to control the foot. If the boat jibes, release the halyard and gather. If it does not, you can release the halyard or tack first. Once it is all in I unfurl the jib.
Again, this works well in lite air <10Kts and I have done it only while daysailing. I have not had the guts to try it in a race. I have been out in 20-25Kts with just one other person and we have flown the chute. Of course in strong wind you must leave the jib up during launch and dousing. Only problem was occasional broach and not enough crew weight to keep bow up. Otherwise was a hell of a good time and hit 13.5K on the speedo.
I had to learn to sail the boat solo because I rarely have competent crew and would rather sail alone than with crew who don't have a clew.

Postby Guest » Wed Nov 21, 2001 8:30 pm

I've done a lot of solo J80 sailing and almost always set the asymetrical for the ride back. My technique is different from Ken's so I'll just explain it and you and you can take the best of both.

First off - I NEVER try to launch or douse the kite with the jib furled. My reasoning is that the best way to keep the spin from wrapping around the headstay is to have the jib out. Furling and unfurling can be done while driving if the furling line is long enough so its no extra trick.

While setting and dousing I always head deep, let the main out all the way, and fix the tiller with the backstay lines. The boat should track fine for quite a while while you do your "crew" thing.

To set:

0. head deep, let the main out all the way, fix the tiller with the backstay lines.

1. Check that the sheets are uncleated and free to run to the stopper knot.

2. Extend the pole and prefeed the tack all the way.

3. check and correct course if neccessary.

4. Hoist the kite.

5. Furl the jub.

6. head up and trim the sheet.

To douse (leeward):

0: Head deep (kite should collapse), let the main out all the way, fix the tiller with the backstay lines, UNFURL THE JIB.

1: Grab the clew, release the tack line and quickly gather the foot of the sail. Be sure to do this quickly so it doesn't go in the water. When the foot is gathered, the kite is a harmless column of cloth hanging in the lee of the mainsail.

2: Uncleat the halyard (which is led to the starboard cabin top) and drop the column of cloth into the bag/companionway.

3: Retract the pole.

To Jibe:

1: Head up to build speed for the jibe.

2: Stand with the tiller between your legs and slowly steer down as you release the old sheet and pull like crazy on the new one. A word of caution here: You need to consider Jay Lutz's imperatives about making sure the old sheet runs free and that the clew passes in front of the headstay before you pass through the wind. If the spinnaker looks like it might wrap on the headstay, or if anything else seems wrong, simply head back up on the old jibe and refill the kite.

3. After the kite is completely on the new side, throw the main over if it hasn't already done so by itself.

I found out the hard way that wrapping the spinnaker around the headstay when you're alone can be a disaster. For that reason I always try to have a lot of water to lee wen its breezy and I'm alone. That gives enough time to deal with a problem.

One last thing: Fixing the tiller with the backstay lines works really well going upwind, even in big breeze. The boat balances very nicely and will usually sail by itself, sometimes indefinitely, while you go about rigging/derigging the chute, adjusting, eating your lunch....

Best of luck, let us know what works for you.


Postby Guest » Thu Nov 22, 2001 8:40 pm

Up to what wind speed can you handle the chute solo? I like your idea of fixing the tiller with
the backstay lines. Maybe that will allow me to
do it at greater wind strength at which point I
would definitely leave the jib up while hoisting
and unfurl the jib before dousing.

Postby Guest » Fri Nov 23, 2001 5:11 am

Thank you you Solo Sailor,

Up to what wind speed can you perform this act. I learned a hell a lot from the discussion.

I can now encourage my crew to make friends with the kite. Good stuff. Keep the discussion up

Bob von Felten

Postby Guest » Fri Nov 23, 2001 11:30 am

By the way,
I removed my furler and keep my jib up all the time, even with the kite up, we set it to a "reaching shape" and cleat it off. All the smaller sportsboats and highperformance dinghies do it and we can not see anything wrong with it.

We rather concentrate on getting the boat up to plaining speed then worrying about furling or taking the jib down, of course we sail short legs.
I am sure the purist from the old school will tell me that this may not be quite correct, I however can see nothing wrong with it.

Whatever moves fast on the water does not remove the jib when going downwind. (Of course that only the a-kite boats anyway)

Interested to hear some comments

Bob vonFelten

Postby Guest » Mon Dec 03, 2001 7:09 pm


I will do the spin solo up to about 10 or 12 knots. If the lake were bigger and I had farther to go, I'd probably set in higher winds. I can recall an article in one of the early J80 newsletters where Bob Johnstone talks about his trip back from Block Island to Newport - solo. He had his kite up and was planning almost the whole way.

On several occasions I have done it in higher winds when making the 8 mile return trip from Thursday night races.

After seven years with the boat, my advice would be to do what you feel comfortable with.

Postby Guest » Mon Dec 03, 2001 7:20 pm


I respect that Bob doesn't use the furler racing (phrf?) in breeze, but as a freequent single handed sailor I wouldn't be without it. First off there's the convenience of a furled jib and main on slugs to make it quick and easy to handle the working sails. But beyond that, the ability to quickly set and/or douse the jib increases my options in tight quarters. For example: I keep my motor down below and am loathe to use it. Sailing into my mooring close to shore its always easier to slow down and pick up the mooring without the jib.


Postby Guest » Mon Dec 03, 2001 7:37 pm

Of course it goes without saying that SOLO the furler is a must.
I am talking about racing in heavy air with a crew of 4 or five and short legs.



Postby Guest » Mon Dec 03, 2001 11:05 pm

I have only braved the chute solo in winds less than 10Kt. Having read of your experience, I will try to push the envelope, especially if using the backstay lines over the tiller dramatically improves control. I sail in NC and go out all winter. Where I sail is wide open (where Neuse River empties into Pamlico Sound) so I have lots of room to mess up.
I will give a progress report soon I hope.


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