I apologize that this is from an earlier post which I wrote for a different discussion so it does not acknowlege all of the good advice above.
I frequently use my spinnaker single-handed. When I bought my boat I hand planned for and set her up for single-handed racing and so have carried spinnaker on deep reaches and runs in true winds just below 20 knots (at least according to the gauges). I also use the spinnaker when cruising.
My views run a little counter to many of the currently popular views about short-handed spinnaker handling. I strongly believe that a single-hander has a much harder time dealing with a problem if something goes wrong than a fully crewed race boat. Therefore decisions need to be based on what works most reliably.
Because of this, I am not a fan of asymmetrical chutes for single-handing. Although an Asymmetrical chute allows a jibe from the cockpit, an asymmetric is more likely to get a wrap during a jibe or a take down. And once wrapped a single-hander does not have the crew to reliably clear up the mess. So I while I may believe that it may be reasonable to use an asymmetrical chute short-handed, I am opposed to them for single-handing.
Similarly, I am opposed to stuffers. My problem with stuffers for single-handing is the frequency with which I see them jammed in the half in/half out position and my own experience trying to deal with one. It is easy to get an undetected wrap in the chute while it is in the sock. In the best case this simply results in an hourglass. But the worst case is when the sock starts to open where the chute can partially fill making it very difficult to re-deploy the sock. As a single-hander you cannot afford to get stuck on the foredeck for long periods of time and clearing a partially open, jammed sock with a partially full chute requires more hands and more time that a single-hander can safely afford.
As a result I prefer symmetrical chutes for single-handing. That said, symmetrical chutes really need to be set up for flying a chute single-handed. Ideally the halyard, pole lift and downhaul (foreguy), Sheets, and twings should be led back to the cockpit. It is important to have a reliable self-steering method in order to jibe safely. It is important to be able to end for end jibe since it takes one extra person to dip-pole jibe. I also mark my sheets for the correct setting for the jibe.
To raise, I typically raise the sail with the turtle on he leeward rail forward and under the jib, (old school racing style). I preset the guy so that the pole is off the headstay about a foot. On the raise the jib partially blankets the chute so that it does not fill until fully hoisted. I then pole back, and sheet in. While set up time is longer, it is nearly as quick a raise as a racing set.
To jibe, I slightly lower the pole lift so I can reach the pole end and so the sail had a more stable flying shape. I then head the boat onto a deep broad reach with the wind on the tack that I started on and set the autopilot. I adjust the sheets so that they are even (by the marks) and in position to fly at a deep angle. I then twing down the old sheet/new guy and leave the old guy/new sheet twinged as well. This adjustment should allow the sail to fly pole-less. At that point I walk forward on the windward side and jibe the pole. At that point the sail is full but without a pole on the windward side.
I then return to the cockpit and jibe the mainsail as I turn onto the new tack. Once the mainsail is jibed, I release the twing on the old guy/ new sheet and head up to my course, adjusting sheet and guy as I go.
The drop is probably the hardest part. I typically make sure the halyard has a clear figure-8 coil rather than the typical round coil that most folk do. The figure-8 coil takes the hackles out of the line and more or less assures that it will run free. In light air, I release the guy and let it run, but in heavier air, I do an old fashion ‘flag drop’ in which the guy snap shackle is released and the sail flags out behind the mainsail. I typically put one wrap on the winch and sit to one side of the main companionway where I can release the stopper and “butt cleat” the halyard.
Like everyone else has said, it is easiest to drop the chute down the backside of the mainsail and into the companionway hatch. The key here is to walk the sheet over to the hatch, sit down and gather the foot of the chute so it is in a bundle before your release the halyard. Then hand over hand the sail, keeping it bundled as it drops. If at any point it seems to be getting away from you, lock the halyard, gather the sail back into a bundle and drop the rest of the way.
You can do a similar flag drop with an asymmetrical chute by either releasing the tackline or else releasing the snap shackle on the tack line. This is a surprisingly safe drop even in comparatively heavy air.
Other precautions and tips are:
• Practice is important. At first you may want to practice single-handing with crew on board to help if something goes wrong.
• Make sure the sheets are long enough to easily wrap around the boat and into the cockpit again. Since I can’t afford to jettison a sail, sheets and halyard, I personally put stoppers in my sheets and halyard, but I also wear a sharp knife on a lanyard. (Old school).
• It is important that there are no sharp spots on your boom, or on or near your companionway that could catch the sail and rip it or prevent it from dropping.
• I typically furl the jib after the raise and unfurl before the drop so the jib acts as a spinnaker net preventing a wrap.
• Practice is in moderate air is very important. Light air makes it hard to fill the chute and heavy air makes the douse harder.
• Rig good reliable jacklines on both sides of the boat and get a well made, comfortable, pressure-activated, inflatable harness, wear it and hank on religiously. I try to always hank on the windward side. I use old Kevlar halyards for jacklines since they have minimal stretch and so would keep me from reaching the leeward rail. There are negatives to using halyards in that they are round and so can slip under foot. I also have used flat webbing with a stainless steel wire-rope inside, but they don’t slide very easy.
• Check your pole end fittings and keep them lubed and working easily.
• Oh! And did I say that practice and prep is very important, but with both, you will find that tacking single-handed is harder than flying the chute.
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Curmudgeon at Large- and rhinestone in the rough, sailing my Farr 11.6 on the Chesapeake Bay and part-time purveyor of marine supplies