This article was originally published on SailNet in January, 2001.
In my previous article The Basics of Doing the Bow
In this article, I'll concentrate on boats with symmetrical spinnakers and conventional spinnaker poles, and I'll save the intricacies of dip-pole jibing as well as asymmetrical spinnaker jibes for a later article. Thankfully, the confusion created by last-minute changes in headsail selection is normally not a factor because most boats that use the end-for-end approach ordinarily carry only one headsail for each specific wind range. In many cases, however, the bow person will do the work of the pit crew, which can make for a few action-packed moments up front.
The tricky part of doing the bow comes with the actual sail handling. Of course the maneuvers involving the headsail are easy. On most boats you just have to be sure that all of the hanks are on (or the luff tape is run through the prefeeder and into the luff groove), and that the headsail sheets are led correctly. If the boat you are sailing is set up with the bow crew in charge of the genoa halyard, make sure you have a good gauge for the halyard tension with settings marked for the various conditions and for the different headsails. Prior to the start and before each leeward mark rounding, you'll have a firm idea of the tension needed and you can get the halyard set at least to ballpark accuracy.
For the bow person on almost any size boat, there aren't really that many maneuvers to master. You'll need to know how to pack a spinnaker, how to run the spinnaker gear (sheets and guys), how to skirt a headsail, how to douse a spinnaker, and how to jibe a spinnaker pole, among other skills. The last maneuver listed, the jibe, is often the one most critical to your boat's performance. The goal for each kind of jibe is the same, but the technique will vary depending upon the conditions. The idea is to rotate the spinnaker around the bow and get the pole attached to the new guy and then back on the mast without having the spinnaker collapse. Simple, right? Here's a quick overview of the different kinds of end-for-end jibes you'll need to master, along with a few pointers.
While all of this is happening, you'll have to attach the spinnaker pole to the new guy, then push the pole outboard and forward and finally attach the inboard end to the mast. It is important to push the pole forward, toward the headstay, on the new windward side. Pushing perpendicular to the boat, or anywhere other than forward, will be the equivalent of pulling the guy aft. Doing that while the boat is heading up to a reaching angle will cause the sail to collapse or become over-trimmed.
Heavy-Air Jibes in heavy air are usually the most difficult jibes to pull off, and they can also be the most photogenic. The boat barely needs to turn and the spinnaker barely rotates, but the boom and the spinnaker pole need to switch sides, both of which can happen almost effortlessly or with great difficulty. Often, all of this can occur at once, setting up a domino effect where bad things happen one after the other.
The secret here is to perform the maneuver while the boat is moving fast, which often means while surfing down a wave. When the boat is going fast in this fashion, the apparent wind is reduced, which in turn reduces the loads on the boat, sails, and equipment. It's ultimately up to the helmsman to pick the spot, and call for the jibe, but this is a maneuver where the bow person truly earns his or her keep. As the boom gets thrown across, the spinnaker pole should be unloaded and therefore easily detached from the mast, snapped onto the new guy, and then back on the mast.
In the next article on doing the bow, I'll cover the remaining maneuvers that face those game enough to spend their racing hours up at the pointy end.
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