I keep hearing about spinnaker peels, but I don't know what one is. Can you define this and tell me how to perform a spinnaker peel?
Dan Dickison responds:
Thanks for your question about spinnaker peels. A peel in the case of a spinnaker is a sail change. Unlike a bare-headed change where you would take one kite down before hoisting the other, a peel involves keeping at least one spinnaker up and drawing so that the speed of the boat never suffers. Some folks also refer to this procedure as "skinning."
Performing a spinnaker peel is actually not that difficult a maneuver, but it does have a reputation as the most complex sail change you can conduct on a boat, and considering that you have to use duplicate sail controls to make it happen, and some fairly well orchestrated crew work, that reputation is somewhat well deserved.
You have to first decide if you're going to hoist the new spinnaker inside or outside the old one. I favor hoisting the new kite inside, and this turns out to be the most common practice, but it really depends upon the halyard arrangement your boat has.
To do a spinnaker peel properly, you'll need on piece of additional gear besides your new spinnaker. You'll need what some sailors call a tag line, it's somewhat akin to a short sheet for changing headsails. You'll want the tag line to be about 10 feet long, fit with a snap shackle at one end. Tie the tag line around your headstay at about shoulder or head height using a clove hitch, and leave about a foot or so of the snap shackle end of it suspended there. Then lead the other end of the line down to a bow cleat or fitting on deck and make it fast. This will keep the tack of the new spinnaker from sliding up the headstay once it's drawing and under load.
Now pull the new spinnaker on deck (if it's in a bag) or pull the tack of it out of the forward hatch and attach the snap shackle of the tag line to the new spinnaker. Then attach your spare spinnaker halyard to the head of the sail and prepare to hoist it inside the chute that's currently flying. Part of that preparation is to make sure that you've already led a new spinnaker sheet, or if you intend to use the lazy guy temporarily to trim the kite, you've got that attached to the other clew of the new spinnaker.
Now hoist the new spinnaker quickly but carefully, and then get it trimmed. Now you can trip the shackle attaching the afterguy on the old chute and the kite will fold away from the new spinnaker and flutter out to leeward, attached only at the head and at the old sheet. Before you gather the old kite into the boat, ease the topping lift and the afterguy so that the guy can be attached to clew of the new sail where the tag line is also attached. Then trim the afterguy and the topping lift and you can then trip the snap shackle on the tag line. Get the new kite trimmed properly, and you can then douse the old kite and get it below. The only thing remaining after that will be to make sure that your halyards are straight up top.
Here's hoping that this information helps lead you through the maneuver.
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