Al's Spinnaker Routine
the "balls" system
improved spinnaker sheet control
This initially complicated but ultimately
very handy spinnaker sheeting system was first noted on some of the UK
boats in the ‘89 Worlds at Vallensbæk in Denmark where its heavy
air potential could be easily appreciated. A year later, it was outlined
in the Danish W-Nyt by Poul Ammentorp (W239), and I shall try to
summarize and update this system here.
The “balls” system
requires a barberhauler (henceforth referred to as BH) arrangement for
the spi sheet plus a pair of plastic balls threaded onto the spi sheet
which are kept in the forward ten feet or so of each sheet end by means
of a suitable blockage such as a whipping. For set-up details click here.
assumes a typical buoys-to-port, triangle-sausage-windward course:
before the start
carefully pack spi in port-side bag, ready to hoist without twists
cleat port spi sheet at its marked spi-reach position
stow pole on starboard side of boom
windward mark -
at end of
last port tack:
unhook spi halyard from storage hook on port side
make sure port BH is uncleated
feed one metre of starboard spi clew out of spi bag and onto foredeck while
tightening and cleating the starboard BH from the port side of the boat
at end of last
pole downhaul out of storage hook at forward end of boom (see Care
& Control of Your Pole)
if practical, helm presets pole to correct sailing height
adjust controls for upcoming reach (e.g. outhaul, cunningham, vang)
check that it is tactically desirable to hoist - i.e. make sure that you
will not be luffed or passed to windward during your hoist
when conditions are “go”, crew takes main and jib sheets and balances the
boat while helm hoists spi. This is especially important when the boat
is (or may be) overpowered. On SHADES, the crew regularly has to
briefly strap the jib in after the hoist in order to free the spi sheet
which catches under the jib foot. After this, the crew cleats the jib in
an effective reaching position.
once the halyard is carefully cleated, the helm takes over the mainsheet
and balancing duties while the crew sets the pole
once the pole is set, the spi should fill since its sheet was pre-cleated.
Crew then takes over the sheet and fine-tunes the spi
(d) at the
gybe mark -
as helm begins to bear away for
gybe, crew yanks pole well aft to bring (most of) spi to starboard side
while releasing leeward spi sheet, cleats in port BH, and uncleats jib
- helm waits til crew is done before completing the gybe
both helm and crew concentrate all energies on the gybe - the spi, with
both BHs cleated in should present no problem unless the gybe is badly
in windy weather, the crew helps the boom over by grabbing the vang.
Crew exerts some pull on vang without actually trying to force the boom
over until it indicates it wants to go when the pressure on the sail decreases
If a capsize
is feared, the helm must do an S-gybe (i.e. pull the tiller
briefly to port as the boom goes over) and the crew should help by trying
to stop the boom from crashing over by resisting its momentum (i.e. fighting
boom’s momentum by pulling on the vang once it has crossed the centre line).
This cushions the gybe and makes the boat easier to steer out of the gybe.
after the gybe:
helm & crew balance the boat and steer as tactics dictate (e.g. go
high to defend wind) while trimming main and jib to best effect
at word from helm, crew completes pole transfer while helm drives and balances
crew uncleats leeward BH and sheets in
end of second
the leeward mark:
helm and crew set sail controls and board for upcoming beat
at word from helm, crew stands in front of windward jib sheet and stows
the pole. Helm may adjust uphaul for storage parallel to boom, or
do it later, as the situation dictates
helm stands (briefly, if necessary!) to uncleat spi halyard and holds it
in a light grip over his head to anticipate (and prevent) tangles.
In a blow, the halyard can be thrown overboard to achieve the same effect.
crew quickly pulls spi down while helm exerts enough halyard pressure
to prevent the sail from coming down faster than the crew can handle. If
this is done quickly enough, there should be no risk of the leeward
spi sheet going under the boat (which is slow!). (To further
help us to keep from sailing over the sheet, we also have a little 4” stainless
steel wire loop sticking out from the bow at deck level.)
Crew pulls all
slack from spi halyard and stows it around the storage hook near the shrouds
before cleating halyard in small black clam cleat near mast. If
time permits, crew stuffs spi into bag .
at the mark:
Having the board full down, playing
the jib and keeping the boat flat as we round onto the beat are the priorities
- something which has to be stressed with crews who have a fetish for neatness.
Cleaning up can be done later, when you’re settled away on a tack that
you expect to hold for a while.
of second beat and start of run:
since the next leg will be a run, both BHs may want to be cleated in, but
the windward one for sure!
here the procedure differs in that helm and crew can both work on the spi
at the same time: helm hoists and then takes both sheets to fly the spi
while the crew adds the pole to the mix. If you have remained on
starboard tack, this will be difficult because the pole is wedged against
the shroud on the leeward side of the boom, and will require the helm to
sheet in a bit! The crew wants to add the pole carefully so that
the spi, being so masterfully flown by the helm, will not be made to collapse!
once the pole is attached, the helm can cleat the windward sheet in an
appropriate position while the crew takes over the sheet
coordinating their motions, helm sits/stands to leeward, crew to windward
in light airs, helm holds boom out and gives boat a windward heel to help
the spi set better
In true survival
conditions, I would cleat both BHs, and have helm and crew both
concentrate on the S-gybe with the crew on the vang with priority #1 being
In all other
the helm stands and steers with his knees while he grabs the leeward sheet
and waits for the crew to pass him the windward one. Both sheets
are held in the part that comes directly from the spi!!
helm steers through gybe with his knees (S-gybes require some practice
here!) and tries to keep the spi flying while avoiding the boom (again:
practice makes perfect!)
crew cleats jib on new tack, switches pole as quickly as possible because
the boat is
stern-heavy while helm steers with knees
under less than optimum control
helm now cleats windward sheet from where he’s standing, grabs the tiller
and moves forward to his usual position to get the transom back out of
the water. Meanwhile, the crew takes over the sheet.
end of the run:
The take-down can (usually) be quite
relaxed since it is often possible for the crew to stow the pole quite
early while the helm plays the sheets until the last dog is hung!
Thereafter, the take-down procedure is the same as before!