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Nature vs Spinnaker

Race Details

  • Wind: 15g25 SW
  • Course: 6S-1-6-1-6-1F
  • Temperature: 30C°C
  • RaceQs Link: Visit
  • Results Link: Visit
Course Map


  1. Bowman: Squirrel
  2. Mastman: null
  3. Understudy: null
  4. Pit: Afterguy
  5. Foresail Trimmer: Fourhands
  6. Mainsail Trimmer: Skootch
  7. Helm: StarPort

Well, I think you know by the title who won that battle! Yes, today, nature decided to teach the confident lads of the Thursday crew a few lessons, which culminated in our spinnaker laying in the water and the boat stopped on the second downwind leg.  Some people learn from other’s mistakes.  Us?  We gotta make ’em ourselves!  So, we will learn:  we will learn how to avoid a death roll; we will learn how to sense a broach developing and counter it early; we will learn how to break 10 knots of boat speed!

But we didn’t do too badly:  no one got hurt, nothing got broken.  Oh, well, one thing got broken tonight:  OUR SEASON’s SPEED RECORD!!!!!

It was a very blustery day with 25 knots on our nose in the lulls before the start, so we set up with the #3 jib and a reefed main.  Even with that big reduction in sail area, we had water over the rail, big gusts to manage and an average upwind boat-speed of 6.4 knots.  We could feel the wind strength fading down to something slightly below a roar, so we shook out the reef after the first windward mark.  In the final analysis, this is the fastest race we have done (even faster than Tuesday):

Leg 1 (upwind):  average 6.4 knots, max 7.7 knots

Leg 2 (downwind): average 7.5 knots, max 9.5 knots

Leg 3 (upwind): average 6.4 knots, max 7.7 knots

Leg 4 (downwind): average 7.5 knots, MAX 9.9 knots!

Leg 5 (upwind): average 6.3 knots, max 7.7 knots

and our average for the whole race was 6.4 knots.  Just a hair faster than Tuesday, mostly because the wind didn’t drop nearly as much.

But the story tonight is not about speed.  It is about nature’s power, and what can go wrong in high wind with a symmetrical spinnaker.  We had the infamous death roll beginning on the boat twice.  The first time, we were near enough the leeward mark that we doused — four hands got that chute down lickety split!  The second time, we had barely begun to react when the the boat began to round up into a broach.  Everyone responded so quickly, blowing sheets and halyard that we got the boat under control and then hauled in the spinnaker (sopping wet) without incident.  Great crew, and aweome reactions — you’ve got to watch that video clip.

Are we daunted?  Absolutely not!  This is a great chance to learn how to avoid these high wind spinnaker challenges, and how to recognize them developing early enough that we can react to keep things settled down.  A quick chat with the old salts back at the dock had advice with great words like “barberhauler”, “tweaker”, and “vang”.  In plain English, I think that means it’s time to drill a few more holes in the deck so we can install another padeye at the chubbiest part of the boat, shift the guy turning block forward, and add an extra line to force the spinnaker sheet to stay low, instead of riding sky high.

(I can hear Gadget and Squirrel rummaging through their tool boxes already — have I mentioned we have an awesome crew?)

Oh, hey, I almost forgot to mention WE GOT THE GUN!!!

(Do I have to admit that we were the only ones in our fleet brave/dumb enough to sail tonight? :-))

12 thoughts to “Nature vs Spinnaker”

  1. Lesson number one:

    In high winds, we should work with sheets and guys, even if we do end to end jibes with the pole. The reason is that the guy attaches to the boat further forward, giving more downward control over the part of the spinnaker that is attached to the pole. This keeps the spinnaker much flatter, reducing power and gaining control.

  2. Lesson number two:

    The turning block for the guy should be further forward (at the widest part of the boat).

    Note: when using sheets and guys, tweakers are not needed. When using sheets only, the tweaker is applied to the sheet that is functioning as a guy. So, we will install a padeye forward for the guy turning block, and not install tweakers.

  3. Hypothesis number one:

    We had trouble filling the spinnaker on hoist 2 because the mainsail was all the way out and the pole was somewhat forward. In other words, the mainsail was blanketing the spinnaker, and it couldn’t power up. Once we pulled the pole aft, the spinnaker filled, no problem. But see hypothesis number two.

  4. Hypothesis number two:

    Since the death roll comes from an interaction between the two sails (mainsail and spinnaker), I think it is maximized when the pole is aft and the boom is out far — more force away from the centreline of the boat. So, when the spinnaker didn’t fill, we should have pulled in the mainsail (with vang off) instead of bringing the pole aft. This would reduce the blanketing of the spinnaker so that it could fill, but keep the forces closer to the centerline of the boat where they have less torque.

    I’m not sure this is right, but as far as I understand things, this seems to make sense.

  5. Nice recovery guys, normally the only boom I ever see touch the water is on my Nonsuch when I have the boom at 90 degrees but I have no stays in the way! Exciting to watch the video. Rob, you are correct on an extra block more forward on the guy as it will keep the chute lower and give more control to the pole. In the video it seemed the chute was extremely high up the forestry which will cause the rolling as well. A lower position in that wind is more controllable. We have a block forward of the cabin on Shaula that helps us. We did get in a death role as well last night but managed to save it after about 6 roles, very exciting. Winds were more than Tuesday and just crazy however the old girl performs in heavy air extremely well and we crossed first even ahead of Wreckless! Race committee missed giving us the gun as we crossed with Sonic Boom.

    Great night and a work out for all on board. Very happy nobody got hurt on any of the boats in the high winds.


  6. From Doug Folsetter:

    It’s always fun to be on the edge a little!!

    The first near wipeout was caused by the spinnaker getting too far from the boat. When it gets away like that, it starts pulling the bow around and that makes it hard to steer. When the boat starts to get out of control this way, the guy (especially) and the sheet need to be pulled in. You also need to head up to prevent the roll to windward. Generally speaking, it’s best to have the spinnaker choked down a bit when it’s really windy so it doesn’t waft around.

    I see that you’ve gone to single sheets and guys which I think makes sense for a boat your size. I would suggest adding a tweeker so that you can change the angle of the lead for the guy. It will make it much easier to trim and will help to prevent it from skying the way it did.

    See below for a good article on spinnaker trim.

    1. Thanks Doug,

      A good read, and I agree: great to be on the edge a little – that drives the learning! If we had sat on the dock last night, or kept the kite below decks, we wouldn’t be learning this now. Today, I ordered a pair of pad eyes to install further forward for the guy turning block. That will help, especially if we take the advice in the article to “trim off the lazy guy” in high wind.

      Looking back, I definitely fell into the cycle of raising the pole – easing the sheet – raising the pole – until the spinnaker itself was so far in front of the boat it began to oscillate.



  7. Initially trying to fill the spinnaker, can see the blanketing effect of the mainsail pretty well; though not obvious at the time. I guess video, like hindsight, is 20/20. Lessons learned.

    1. Yeah, the camera is awesome for learning from situations like this — it doesn’t lie, and it notices everything! (everything in the frame at least)

  8. From Kiwi:

    Looks like you guys have been having a lot of fun this past week! My only thought on the near broach was to depower the spinnaker (let sheet right out immediately and pole back ) and head more downwind. Not sure if you had the helm to do this?

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