Early Season Practice Drills

Two effective elements to practice with a team early in the season relate to spinnaker jibes and free flying the spinnaker prior to the takedown.

We have all been on boats where the spinnaker collapses consistently on jibes and on takedowns when the spinnaker pole is taken down and it can make for a tricky day on the water for everyone.

Keeping the spinnaker filled through a jibe can be challenging, particularly on shifty days when the velocity is up and down. And it's also tricky in light air. With that in mind, here are some ideas that can help, particularly if you have a new trimmer or driver on your team.

Sail upwind and give yourself a good downwind runway, then hoist the spinnaker and free fly it all the way downwind with no pole. If there is enough breeze, try heeling the boat slightly to weather and easing off the windward twing line. Have the driver steer to the spinnaker and then do a series of jibes, rolling the boat with your weight and practice keeping the spinnaker rotated, guy aft, then ease the sheet until the spinnaker clew is at the forestay (no further, that is max rotation), then jibe. Make it a goal to minimize rudder application (and thus drag) and to keep the spinnaker perfectly filled. Jibe as many times as you can and then when you are satisfied that the spinnaker remains full consistently, do a regular spinnaker set with the pole and do the same run jibing the pole .

I remember racing with Tom Schock in the Santana 20 Eastern Regional championships in Sarasota, Florida (around 2002), before the start of the first race of a three race day. The spinnaker pole broke and was inoperable so we raced all day with no pole. We were fast! We kept the windward twing well eased and heeled the boat to windward about 8 to 10 degrees. The bow person we were sailing with enjoyed the day a lot as all he had to do was call the wind!

The point, though, is that the pole is an extra and the team wants to be perfectly comfortable flying the spinnaker without it.

Light Air Reach to Reach Jibes
One of the hardest things in sailing might be keeping the spinnaker filled on a light air reach to reach jibe. This can really be a challenge.

A lot of times the spinnaker collapses because either the rotation of the spinnaker is too fast (while the apparent wind is far forward), or becuase the boat is steered too quickly through the jibe.

One element I have found that can really help with this is a slightly delayed rotation of the spinnaker. Leave the pole forward for a second or two more than you normally would, then rotate it by easing the sheet and smoothly squaring the pole. Have the driver steer the boat smoothly though the jibe and then come up to the proper high angle once the jibe is completed.

The delayed rotation takes into account how far forward the apparent wind is. In fact, if I had a dollar for every collapsed spinnaker I have witnessed because of over aggressive steering or rotation of the sail... well, who knows!

This one takes practice, practice, and then more practice. You have to collapse the spinnaker a number of times to really focus in on the above key elements.

Spinnakers Free Flying Prior to the Takedown
The key elements here are:

  • If enough wind, as soon as the pole is stripped, pull the pole back to help stop the spinnaker going behind the mainsail.
  • If enough wind, heel the boat to weather slightly to stop the spinnaker rotating behind the mainsail.
  • If enough wind, the driver bears off to a run/almost by the lee to help the spinnaker fly from the mainsail.

The more confident the team is that the spinnaker is going to free fly effectively, the more confident they are going to be in orchestrating an effective take down and leeward mark rounding.

Have fun out there and best of luck in your next race.