Not every spinnaker drop will go according to plan – no matter how meticulous your preparations sometimes the gremlins take over and things just go wrong. Here are some tips for drops that aren’t pretty, but will get the sail down

Emergency drop, small crew

For hurried drops of asymmetric spinnakers, particularly with a small crew, I consider the gybe drop – otherwise known as a ‘Kiwi’ drop – to be a good option. If you haven’t got time to set up for a letterbox or leeward drop, the major benefit of this manoeuvre is the spinnaker will be blown into the jib and not over the side of the boat, leaving more time for recovery and requiring less halyard control.

Unfurl the jib and sheet on with the windward sheet, then gybe: but leave the spinnaker sheeted on the wrong side. The spinnaker will fall into the jib. Release the halyard and tack line, pulling the sail down on the windward side of the jib. Chuck the spinnaker down below afterwards. I have performed this spinnaker drop single-handed and just let the halyard run out unhindered, knowing that the spinnaker will only fall into the jib. It works.

Kite under the bow

This is normally a symmetrical spinnaker problem, caused by either a late release from the guy, or a snag in the guy or lazy sheet causing the spinnaker to still be to windward and filling when the halyard is released. The spinnaker will carry on pulling as the halyard drops, before falling under the bow of the boat where it can be easily ripped on bow rollers or driven over.


Once the spinnaker has dropped over the bow it can be easily driven over. Halting the halyard can stop the foot being stretched. Photo: Tom Gruitt

If a snag in the guy is communicated before the spinnaker reaches the water, immediately stop the halyard and ease the sheet to avoid stretching the sail foot around sharp bits on the bow. If the pole is within reach the bowman should blow the windward clew from its snap shackle — you can drop the pole height to help but remember this may put the spinnaker into the water.

Once the windward clew is free, gather the foot of the sail to leeward of the mainsail before easing the halyard. If the guy is jammed and the pole end out of reach consider winding the halyard back up to get the spinnaker out of the danger zone, or steering downwind, tripping the pole and recovering the spinnaker to windward.

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Dropping after a Chinese gybe

There is no textbook method for this and crew will really need to think on their feet to minimise damage. Normally the boat will be pinned over with the spinnaker pole on the leeward side and the full spinnaker holding the boat down. A leeward drop will be difficult because the pole is holding the spinnaker outside the boat.

Start by dropping the head of the spinnaker, swiftly, by around a quarter of the mast height. This can momentarily depower the sail, allowing the boat to pop back upright, and the helmsman to regain control and gybe back. A regular leeward drop can then be made.

If this does not work, do not let the halyard out any more. Assuming it is not possible to release sheets or guys from the pole, the last option is to lead the lazy guy around the forestay and back down the deck, inside the shrouds. Set up like this you should be able to pull the windward clew of the spinnaker behind the main, then ease the halyard once the sail is under control.

To knot or not?

I am a knot girl through and through as I believe it’s common for a trailing lazy guy or sheet to be dragged over the side unnoticed and end up out of reach for a quick take down: a knot will prevent this and can be cut in an emergency, if needs be. I knot my spinnaker halyard so a mistake will not be punished with it coming out of the mast.

Tack lines I leave unknotted, preferring to know they will run freely to ensure the kite can completely collapse on the drop. I would happily re-lead the tack line after every drop if it ensured a smooth drop. A snuffer on a winch can recover almost any difficult spinnaker scenario, including with all sheets let go and the sail flying from the masthead. Just remember to make off your snuffer line at deck level.

Always flake your spinnaker halyard and have it ready for the drop immediately after the hoist. I throw tack lines and halyards out behind the boat when short-handed as this removes any kinks and the drag from the water slows down the fall of the halyard if nobody is controlling it. Allow extra length on tack lines and halyards so if the spinnaker does end up in the water it will not automatically fill like a fishing net.

First published in the December 2017 edition of Yachting World.