Spinning out to leeward or what is known as a crash gybe or Chinese gybe can often be avoided. Jonty Sherwill outlines the scenario while world champion TP52 sailor Tim Powell offers his five top tips to keep your boat under control

The wind is rising steadily and what has been an exhilarating sail on a perfect day for racing has turned into a battle for survival. As you are braced in the cockpit with the tiller in your hand, the boat is taking over command with an increasingly alarming rhythmic roll to windward. Glances aft from members of the crew indicate it’s not just the helmsman feeling anxious.

In your effort to squeeze down to the leeward mark without having to put in two extra and potentially risky gybes, you’ve pushed it close to the edge and in a sweaty split second you know it.

As the rudder loads up and the boat heels to windward a bit more than normal, you know you are millimetres away from a crash gybe.

1. Move weight aft

You can help the stability of the boat by moving crew weight aft away from the narrow, unstable bow and towards the more stable stern. Be careful though: if you bring the weight back too quickly you will drag the stern, which will slow you down.

Practice will determine when to start moving the weight aft. At times getting to the bottom mark in one piece is quicker than looking for that last tenth of a knot! Use your crew to help balance the boat. When it’s getting tippy we ask the crew to stay on their toes and be ready to move their body weight from side to side as and when required.

2. Pole forward – tweaker down

From a trimmer’s perspective, dropping the spinnaker pole forward a touch, maybe to 45° between headstay and shrouds, should give a more stable approach. This helps as the spinnaker is pushing a little to leeward rather than hard forward, which shifts the boat balance forward onto the narrow bow.

Bring the spinnaker tweaker on hard and keep the spinnaker slightly over-trimmed. This will help balance the boat. The trimmer can help by winding the sheet on when heeling to windward and easing if heeling to leeward.

3. Control mainsail twist

The mainsheet will probably be all the way out, but putting on more vang will help stop the boat from rolling. Make sure the cunningham is all the way off as both these have control over the leech.

If the mainsail is too open at the top then the side forces are working against you (ie to windward). Pull it in when the boat rolls to windward and let it out again when upright. Trimming the two sails in unison will have a good effect on keeping the boat tracking straight.

PW 5 tips Diagram

4. Smoke the brace (dump the guy)

The most effective tool for saving these wipeouts is to ‘smoke’ the guy to the headstay. It might create enough leeward side force to bring the boat back onto its feet, but the trimmer needs to be very aware. Good communication between helm and trimmer is critical as you don’t want to be winding the guy back when release was never needed!

If the worst does happen then make sure heads are down and everyone is hanging on and don’t ease the spinnaker sheets. If recovery requires dropping the spinnaker then keeping it close to the boat makes life a lot easier.

5. Emphasis on steering

For the helmsman it can be quite a good workout! Make sure you are in a good body position so that you can push and pull the tiller without having to adjust your stance each time as a split second delay could be a death knell.

If you are trying to run deep the key thing is to watch the spinnaker. If you allow it to get too far to one side of the boat it can be difficult to get it back. ‘Keep the boat under the spinnaker’ is obvious advice, but it can be harder than it sounds.

When the spinnaker is about to start its roll out to windward you should already have the tiller to leeward to counteract this movement, and vice versa. Don’t go too far though as this could result in spinning out the opposite way.

 Tim Powell is a veteran of four Whitbread and Volvo Ocean Races, was helmsman of the Mumm 36 Barlo Plastics (top boat in the 1999 Admiral’s Cup), Tour de France winner and is now team manager and mainsheet trimmer on Niklas Zennström’s TP52 Rán


This is an extract from a feature in Yachting World March 2014