The critical aspect of that boat's last-minute success in the foregoing scenario is knowing how to jibe. For boats that jibe their spinnaker poles in the end-for-end fashion, there are three basic techniques to perfect. There is the light-air jibe, the moderate-air jibe, and the heavy-air jibe. Let's take a look at each of them in turn and hopefully won't have to suffer the above fate again.
The early trip of the pole, combined with a nice roll from the rest of the crew (we'll cover roll jibes in another article later on), facilitates the turn and the rotation of the sail, all of which combine to help keep the sail full. If you attempt a more conventional jibe, waiting to trip the pole until you are squared downwind, chances are the spinnaker is going to collapse and possibly wrap itself around the headstay. After that the bowman will become a nylon silhouette on the foredeck, unable to trip the pole away from the spinnaker because there is no pressure in the sail to help the new sheet out of the jaws at the end of the pole.
Bigger Breeze As the breeze continues to build, things always get more exciting and boat handling becomes a little more challenging, particularly downwind. Hopefully, you and your team will already have had a chance to iron out the basics in more manageable, lighter conditions. Essentially, the same techniques apply in heavy air, but it pays to be a little more careful about picking your spot to turn the boat. If it is windy, chances are there will be some waves accompanying the breeze. Ideally, the opportunity to make your maneuver will come when the apparent wind diminishes, in other words, when the boat and sails are less loaded because you're riding down a wave. If you can find a moment when the boat is surfing down a wave, this will decrease the load on the rudder, allowing the helmsman to turn the boat more easily. The load on the sails will also be reduced, which allows the boom to be thrown across boat and the spinnaker pole to be jibed more easily.
All of that sounds pretty simple just reading it, but the key to success is getting out on the water—before any big regatta—and practicing the boat handling. If you have to, get out there with your race crew during the Tuesday night series, but even better organize a couple of hours of practice after work or on a Saturday afternoon.
One thing I've learned is that practice works best when it's more difficult than the racing you do. If it isn't, try to make your practice sessions more challenging. Always go out to practice with a list of goals in mind, and discuss specific maneuvers that you want to improve on. Start out easy, picking or setting a couple of marks that are fairly far apart, as you complete each lap or two, pick a closer mark or move your marks closer together. Take breaks when there are mistakes and discuss what is happening. Take a moment to drink some water, eat some snacks, and then try it again. If you can, try to have someone in a motorboat watching, and later on making suggestions. And if possible, rotate crewmembers into the motorboat so that everyone has an opportunity to see the action from off the boat. Then end the session with a round of maneuvers in rapid succession or at least a very short windward-leeward series with at least six jibes on each downwind leg.
When race day finally rolls around, the team will be confident in its ability to execute the required maneuvers flawlessly, and this goes doubly so for jibes. You'll find that it will also be easier to anticipate the timing of each maneuver with other competitors around you. And practice like that will give your helmsman more confidence in certain situations, such as a tight mark roundings or a close port–starboard tack crossings. Before you know it, you'll be jibing like pros.
Technique and Timing
Timing is everything, goes the old maxim, and when it comes to end-for-end jibing, that wisdom applies in spades. On most boats, end-for-end jibing a spinnaker pole is a one-person job, which makes the timing—and technique—all the more important. Some foredeck crews prefer to release the inboard end of the pole before the outboard end, and some vice versa. It's all a matter of what works for you and what will keep the sail flying through the jibe.
Once the jibe has been called, the foredeck crew must spring into action, which ordinarily means bracing him or herself against the mast in order to keep both arms free for the procedure. The first step is to grab the old sheet (which will become the new guy) and then trip the outboard end of the pole to release the old guy. However, if it's windy, the pole is likely to be under a great deal of load and it might require two hands to safely detach it from the mast. If that's the case, grab the old sheet after the inboard end of the pole is free. Put the new guy into the outboard end of the pole as the boat moves through the jibe and then quickly thrust the pole outward and reattach it to the mast. If the boat is performing a reach-to-reach jibe, the bow person should have plenty of time to do the job, but avoid getting caught behind schedule because once the boat starts heading up on the new jibe, it will be increasingly difficult to reattach the pole.