Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Mastering the Spinnaker: Part I

Whether you are new to Club 420 sailing or you have enjoyed the boats for a few years, learning to sail with a spinnaker is an art form that you can always improve on.  Sailing with a spinnaker adds new dimensions to sailing downwind that you don’t typically see in singlehanded dinghy sailing.  There are a lot of little adjustments that many sailors miss, that can make you a superstar off wind.

Basic Setup and Trim:

The basic setup for your spinnaker is to trim the guy until the pole is perpendicular to your apparent wind, and ease the sheet until the outer edge of the spinnaker’s luff start to fold over about two inches.  Trim in the sheet from there, and ease to this point again.  Continue to do this the entire downwind leg.

Remember, when your boat is moving fast, the sails see a different wind direction than where the wind is actually coming from.  This is known as apparent wind, and all of your sails need to adjust to that wind direction.  To match your pole to the apparent wind, it is helpful to put a tell-tale on the side stays, or on the pole itself.  The faster you go, the further forward you will have to set your pole to compensate for the apparent wind.  This will happen in both puffs and waves.  Apparent wind is always changing, so the crew should have both the sheet and the guy in his or her hands at all times downwind.

Setting Up the Other Sails:

Getting your other two sails in the proper position is often the most overlooked detail downwind amongst Club 420 sailors.  It is important that the flow off of all three sails does not interfere with the other sails, or you will move slowly.  The biggest mistake that most sailors make is letting the mainsail out too far.  Whenever the spinnaker is raised, a good general rule of thumb is to trim it to the point that the boom is parallel to the spinnaker pole.  In other words, the two should continuously make a straight line.  Once your main is trimmed to this point, control the leech of the sail with the vang, so that that top batten is parallel to the boom and spin pole (tell tale disappears 50% of the time, and flies 50% of the time).  To sum up the main’s trim downwind, the mainsheet controls the position of the sail to the wind, while the vang controls the tension on the leech.

The jib is often more difficult to figure out downwind.  When you sail most sloops or keelboats, the sailors will take down the jib when hoisting a spinnaker.  This is done to create more space between the main and spinnaker, so that the flow off of each does not interfere with another sail.  In a Club 420, this is not possible, as the tension on the jib keeps your mast from falling aft.  Since there is nothing else that you can do about this, it is important to get the spinnaker and mainsail into the perfect position, and then move the jib to where it is as far away as possible from interfering with either of the other sails.

Pole Height:

The pole height controls the shape of the spinnaker, and how much wind it is capable of allowing into it at once.  The higher you lift the pole, the deeper and fuller you are able to make the sail.  However, it takes more wind to fill the sail completely.  The lower your pole angle, the flatter you make the sail.  With a lower pole, it takes less wind to fill the sail.  In light air, you will want a lower pole height, making it easier to fill the spinnaker.  On the other hand, in heavy air, you will want a higher pole to increase the amount of breeze you can get into the sail.  A good way to ensure that your pole is at the correct height is to make sure that the two lower corners are even, when the sail is trimmed properly off wind.  If the tack is higher than the clew, you should lower the pole to even them out.  If the clew is higher than the tack, you need to raise the height of the pole.

Using a spinnaker is not an easy thing to do, and takes years to perfect.  Sailing downwind with a spinnaker adds depth, technique, teamwork, strategy, and tactics that are different than that seen in one-sail boats.  However, everything discussed above is always under your control, no matter what your sailing experience is.  Making sure all of these things are perfect is the first step to going fast downwind!

See you on the water,

Zim Coach

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