I have a drifter that came with our Sabre 28 that has hardly been used. Although it looks very similar to an asymetrical spinaker, there is a tack on the sail and only three or four hanks up near the head. We have roller furling on our boat so we cannot hank the sail on. I have flown it with the tack tied to the base of the forestay, but that didn't seem right. Do you know how this unsual sail should be attached?
Dan Dickison responds:
Thanks for your questions. You're exactly right, drifters are pretty unusual sails if you consider that we rarely get the opportunity to use them and the majority of boats don't have inventories ample enough to actually include drifters. However, if you use a drifter for the proper occasion (usually zero to six knots of wind), these sails can really be productive.
Drifters are usually fitted with their own luff wire, so you needn't worry about attaching it to the headstay. On your sail, it seems like whoever designed the sail meant for the upper luff of the sail to be attached to the headstay, but for the rest of it to be flown free. Have a look at the insignia at the tack of the sail to determine who built the sail, and if the loft is still in business, you can probably call the folks there or someone at one of that company's franchises to see what they advise regarding the hanks up near the head of the sail.
My advice would be to simply affix the tack to the deck on centerline near the bow, and hoist the sail with your boat's headsail halyard (or a spare halyard if that's already in service for the headsail). It will still set somewhat effectively even without attaching the hanks. After you do that you can determine the angle to lead the sheets, but an outboard lead is usually preferable because you want to keep the slot between this sail and the mainsail quite open in these light conditions.
The idea behind trimming a drifter is to wait for the wind to fill the sail and then gradually sheet the sail in as the boat develops some headway. You never want to oversheet a drifter because these sails can easily stall.
If you really want to understand the use of those four hanks, why not get a sailmaker to create four straps for you made out of nylon webbing with velcro affixed to the ends. Then you can use those to attach the luff of the drifter where the hanks are to the furled headsail. After that, hoist away and see how it sets.