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Old 04-28-2002
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Dean Brenner is on a distinguished road
Spinnaker Takedown Basics


The crew above is just about to take its spinnaker down to leeward and make the transition to upwind sailing as quickly as possible.
There are so many things you have to do well to be successful in sailboat racingósail fast, sail smart, and have good boat handling are three of the most significant groups of skills that quickly come to mind. One thing that distinguishes the best crews is their ability to get around the marks quickly and efficiently, minimizing distance, and quickly transitioning from one point of sail to another. In that realm, good spinnaker takedowns are critical, and they represent a skill that every competitive sailor needs in his or her on-the-water arsenal of skills.

No matter what type of spinnaker takedown you are doing, there are a few essentials to keep in mind:

Know your crewís skill level and plan accordingly. It makes no sense to delay the takedown right up to the leeward mark, if your crew cannot handle a last-second drop;
Make sure everyone knows his or her job. There are a lot of things that need to happen, so make sure you have a clear division of responsibilities among everyone on board;
No yelling. Some of the most memorable crew gaffes occur at leeward mark roundings. Weíve all seen the photos of crews with the spinnaker still up, jib still down, pole dangling in the air, the leeward mark disappearing astern. Donít compound an already bad situation by yelling at those around you.

Before taking a closer look at different types of takedowns, I should first explain that these comments apply to boats that sail with symmetrical spinnakers flown on mast-mounted poles. (We'll look at asymmetrical spinnaker takedowns in a future article.) Letís first look at smaller keelboats with only one set of spinnaker sheets, because life is a little easier and less complicated on these kinds of boats.

Small Boats    Whenever I am sailing with a new, inexperienced crew, I like to explain spinnaker takedowns as simply as possible. No matter which jibe you approach the mark on (and no matter if you need to take the spinnaker down to windward or to leeward), most things happen the same way. The following is a list of what should transpire and when on a properly executed takedown.


The two crews on the boats to the right in this shot have removed their poles early and are taking their spinnakers down on the weather side of the boat.

  1. Before anything else happens, the jib must go up.
  2. Next, take the pole down and stow it away. I usually like to have the bow person detach it from the mast and either clip it to the shrouds or (if your boat is set up for it) stow it on the boom. The jib sheets then should automatically be clear. (Note: Once the pole comes off and youíre still flying the spinnaker, keep the boat heeled a little to windward to rotate the kite out and keep it filled. If you are coming into the mark rounding on a relatively tight angle, you will probably need to have someone hold the guy out to keep the kite full.)
  3. Assuming you are rounding marks to port, take the kite down on the port side of the boatóalways! By taking the spinnaker down to port you are then prepared for a bear- away set, or if necessary a pole-less jibe-set at the next windward mark.
  4. Right away clean up any lines that may be dragging in the water.
  5. Focus on heeling the boat around the mark in light air, or get ready to hike the boat flat once you round if youíre sailing in heavy air.
  6. Most importantly, turn the boat around the mark with big mainsail trim, and make sure the jib trim is slightly slower. Over-trimming the main and under-trimming the jib will help you to steer the boat more with the sails and less with the rudder, which is fast.
  7. Red light! As soon as you round, only do enough clean up to allow you to go upwind and keep racing. Most of the small things can wait until the boat is up to speed, and it can be very distracting to have too many heads "in the boat" for the first part of the windward leg. So clean up just enough and get your heads outside of the boat and keep racing!

Thatís it. Jib down. Pole off. Kite down to port. I donít even focus on whether it is a windward takedown or a leeward takedown. On a small boat, such thinking only makes things more complicated. It really pays to keep it simple.

"Because the gear on big boats is so much larger and operating under larger loads, more coordination and more time is needed to perform the same tasks."
Big Boats   
On bigger boats things get a little more complicated. There are usually two sets of sheets and guys, more people to coordinate, and more sail areaóin other words more moving parts. Because all of the gear on big boats is so much larger, itís almost always operating under larger loads and thus more coordination and a little more time is needed to perform the same tasks. And because of those additional loads, different take down techniques are often necessary. Nonetheless, if you break the maneuvers down into pieces, things get easier. Letís break this part down into windward takedowns and leeward takedowns.

Letís start with windward takedowns and assume that you are approaching the mark on port jibe, rounding the leeward mark to port. Hereís how things should happen, and when:

  1. As you approach the mark, as always, the first move is to hoist the jib. As the jib is going up, take the lazy guy (the starboard guy) off the primary winch and loosely wrap the jib sheet around the winch. Thereís no need to over trim it because you are going to want the jib slightly eased as you round the mark. (Of course the pit person has already ensured that the spinnaker halyard is loose and ready to run.)
  2. Three to four boat lengths from the mark, trip the pole off the guy, drop the topping lift, and stow the pole. You will almost always need one of your crew to hold the guy out until you begin the take down. On most big boats, the bowman will then disconnect the topping lift from the pole, and stow it so that the headsail is clear to tack if necessary.


    The boat in the foreground is executing a weather takedown, while the crew on the boat astern is taking its kite down to leeward. The first boat will lose this rounding, but will be better ready for the spinnaker set at the top mark because the kite will be on the correct side of the boat.

  3. Once the pole has been tripped, it usually makes sense for the spinnaker trimmer to fly the kite off both sheets, just like on a small boat. If it is breezy, pull down on the twings. This will help you control the kite a bit more.
  4. Send someone light, quick, and capable down below to gather the spinnaker as it is dropped. (Some boats refer to this position as the sewerman.) If the preferred technique is to takedown through the forward hatch, once down below, the sewerman opens the hatch and the bow person gives him or her the loose end of the lazy sheet, or whichever weatherside spinnaker gear (sheet or guy) that isnít being used at the moment.
  5. With the pit person standing by to release the spinnaker halyard, at least two crew (depending on how big a boat you are on) move forward of the shrouds to help collect kite, starting with their hands on the lazy weatherside spin gear.
  6. Blow the halyard! One person should coordinate the maneuver by making the call; thatís usually someone aft who has a view of the boatís position and the distance to the mark.
  7. The sewerman and the two crew on the foredeck begin hauling like mad, working their way from the gear to the kite and getting that down below. With a weather take down, itís almost always a good idea to have the pit person wait until the people on deck have gathered the entire foot of the sail before releasing the bulk of the spinnaker halyard. That will help ensure that the spinnaker doesnít come down too fast and go in the water, with the boat subsequently running it over. If thereís time, the sewerman should follow the port leech of the spinnaker as it comes down. Doing this will allow him or her to quickly run the tapes of the spinnaker to make sure that it is not twisted and ready for the next set.
  8. As the takedown call is made, the spinnaker trimmer lets the starboard sheet run so that thereís as little resistance as possible. Both that person and the person who was trimming the guy should make sure there is enough slack in the spinnaker gear to allow it to run all the way down the hatch.
  9. In the cockpit, the mainsail trimmer should start bringing the mainsail in as the boat closes on the mark. If it is double-ended mainsheet, be prepared to have someone tailing at both ends to get the main in quickly.
  10. Again, the jib trim should be slower, with the jib coming in throughout the turn of the boat, just barely luffing the whole time. Over-trimming the jib will hold the bow down and make the helmsman use more rudder to get the boat to a close-hauled course, and that is slow! In light air, keep the boat heeled; in heavy air, hike!
  11. Load the lazy jibsheet on the port primary winch so you are ready to tack, and pull out most of the slack out to make for a good, quick tack.

    "Below deck, the sewerman should have the kite into the boat as the boat starts upwind, and if time allows, he should quickly run the tapes so the kite wonít wrap on the next set."
    12.  Below deck, the sewerman should have the kite fully into the boat as the boat starts upwind, and if time allows, he or she should quickly run the tapes to make sure the kite wonít wrap on the next set. Most big boat crews leave the spinnaker hooked up full time, rather than disconnect it every time and repack it. However, on boats where there are more spinnaker options, sometimes it does make sense to disconnect the gear and repack the kite in case the afterguard calls for a different spinnaker the next time. No matter what, the sewerman should spend as little time as possible below decks when it is windy enough for everyone to be hiking.
    13. Red light! Getting the boat moving upwind at optimum speed is the first priority. Most of the clean up can take place later during the upwind leg. The only clutter to worry about right then is whether or not the foredeck is clear for tacking, and if there are any lines dragging. That should only require one personís attention. Everyone else should get their heads out of the boat, hike, and keep racing!

Now letís say that the skipper calls for a leeward takedown. As in the scenario above, youíre still on port jibe, approaching the mark for a port rounding, but now youíve got a few different options. If your approach to the mark puts the boat on a tight angle, youíre better off with a float drop, but if itís pretty broad, itís likely that fid drop will work best. Either way, as in small boats, there are several essential steps in the takedown processóthe jib goes up first, the upwind sail controls are attended to (outhaul, cunningham, etc.), the pit person makes sure that the spin halyard is ready to run, and the sewerman heads down below to aggressively gather the spinnaker in when the call comes.


Because this boat is approaching the mark on a fairly tight angle (note the relatively tight trim of the jib), its crew has opted to perform a float drop by releasing the spinnaker halyard first.
If the boatís approach to the mark is a tight angle and thereís more than a fair amount of breeze, youíll most likely have to leave the pole up until after the spinnaker is released and is coming down. On this angle, itís best to execute a float drop, or one in which the halyard is released before the tack. The reason for this is that itís the best way to keep the spinnker blanketed by the mainsail, thereby allowing the crew to rapidly attain control over the loose and fluttering mounds of cloth and get all of it below. If itís moderate or light air and youíre still coming in on a tight angle, chances are you can execute the takedown the way you would on a smaller boat by tripping the pole off the guy and stowing the pole just before the kite comes down.

If the angle of approach to the mark is broad or more downwind, a fid takedown is best. (A fid takedown is where the tack is released firstóeither by tripping the guy loose at the tack with a fid or simply releasing the guy itself so that the tack flutters to leeward blanketed mostly by the mainsail.) Regardless of the kind of drop youíre going to execute, the following steps have to take place:

  1. The sewerman goes below to gather the kite.
  2. The spinnaker trimmer flies the kite using the sheets the sheets.
  3. The pit person makes sure that the spinnaker halyard is ready to run, and one person (preferably in the back of the boat) makes the call to blow the halyard!
  4. The sewerman pulls the kite below as the crew on deck assist him by gathering it rapidly.
  5. The spinnaker trimmers (both sheet and guy) let their gear run as the kite comes under control, making sure there is slack in the sheets and guys so that those crew gathering encounter minimal friction and resistance.

After that point, all of the rounding steps are similar to what takes place on a smaller boat. The only wrinkle occurs with a takedown that involves a jibe. If youíre approaching the mark on starboard jibe, say, but the skipper intends to jibe at the last moment and round the mark to port, the crew must do a few things differently. With a jibe takedown, you can either execute a windward takedown (on what will be the new windward sideóport) or a leeward takedown, but itís best to clearly identify which one youíll do well in advance. The tactician is likely to be the one to determine which side of the boat the spinnaker will come down on due to proximity to the mark and any surrounding traffic. Regardless of which side of the boat the kite comes down on, the pole needs to be removed before the jibe and stowed, and itís always best to have a crew member standing by at the shrouds to act as the human pole for just a moment before the takedown.

The object here is to have the whole crew time the maneuver so that as the helmsman steers through the jibe and the mainsail and headsail trimmers jibe their sails, the spinnaker is released and rapidly gathered down below. The jibe takedown can appear to be a frenzied, chaotic maneuver from afar, but done properly itís actually the height of crew choreography on a racing sailboat. During the 1992 Americaís Cup competition in San Diego, the jibe takedown maneuver grew to acquire the name "Mexican," because the boats would end up turning toward the south during the maneuver, subsequently pointing at Mexico.

Coming out of the jibe and around the mark, the crew trims the sails in as they would on a normal leeward mark rounding and everything takes place just as described above in the section on smaller boats. The emphasis is immediately on upwind sailing and specifically on achieving the optimum boatspeed. After that, one or two crew (depending on the size of the boat) can attend to the remaining clean up. Thatís it. Of course the takedowns prescriptions offered here are primarily for boats that fly symmetrical spinnakers, so we'll touch on a-sail takedowns in a future article.

So, no matter what kind of boat you sail on, no matter how big it is or how many people make up the crew, the principles regarding a takedown are always the sameóplan ahead, know your job, and break the maneuver down into its basic components. The jib always has to go up (or be unrolled), the pole always has to get stowed so that the jibsheets are free to work properly, and the spinnaker always has to come down. Beyond that, it is all in the details.

Good luck and sail fast!


Suggested Reading:

Asymmetrical vs. Symmetrical Spinnakers by Dobbs Davis

Surviving in Light Air by Dan Neri

The Winning Mindset by Dan Dickison


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