Ken Read, president of the North Sails Group and skipper of Comanche, explains what’s happening in the featured image of a wayward spinnaker and offers advice

This is a highly precarious position, and one that you should never find yourself in because it can be avoided.

My first impression/guess would lead me to suggest the crew encountered a broach in the lead up. The reason I feel this is because the boat is still pointing quite high into the wind and the crew is unable to get the bow back down again. Thankfully the sails still seem to be all in one piece.

It is fairly breezy and it looks as though the crew chose the right sail for the conditions. Interestingly though, there is a reasonable-sized jib still up and trimmed, so the question I would ask is: did the size of the jib and a possible over trim make it difficult to trim the spinnaker and hence make the boat hard to control, and ultimately lead to a broach?

If a large jib like this stays up the rule of thumb is to ease it until it is luffing about 50 per cent so it doesn’t interfere with the flow of the spinnaker.

What often happens in a situation like this is there is a tendency to panic and let everything go, but the last thing you should ever do is to let go of the guy, and that is what seems to have happened here.

If the boat is pinned to the wind and you can’t steer it down, if you want to let go of anything, let go of the halyard. Keep the guy to the end of the pole and then trim on the sheet. The sail will float out over the water until you can steer away from the wind and get some bodies to drag it back aboard.

Could have been worse

On a positive note, the boat is clear of others. Had there been other boats close by, the situation might have been much worse with the sail and lines potentially wrapping round rigging and causing all sorts of problems.

The key is to get the boat under control as quickly as possible. With the kite flying high and away from the boat there is very little control on the helm, which is a dangerous position for the crew to be in.

Quite frankly, once you’ve reached this horrendous situation you may just want to let the guy go completely, but there is no easy method because the chances are there is a knot at the end of all three of these lines [guy, sheet, spinnaker halyard].

My best advice to help regain steering control therefore is to cut the guy (if there is a knot, and if not just let it run free). By cutting one of the lines the boat can be gently coaxed downwind. Once the spinnaker is in a sheltered position behind the main and jib, close to the hull, it can be hauled back on board.

I think this situation also highlights the importance of having sailing knives on board readily available. Most boats have a knife in a sheath taped on a boom vang or on a pedestal or somewhere easily accessible, but in my opinion, every crewmember should carry a knife in their pocket.

In the Volvo Ocean Race crewmembers are trained always to carry a knife that is fully accessible and sharp enough to cut through anything because you never know when you might encounter a limb entwined in a sheet under full load.

… and how to avoid the situation in the first place

To avoid this happening is simple. Do not let the guy go. If you get into a broach situation that you can’t steer out of and you can’t get control you need to smoke the halyard, let it go completely, but keep the guy pinned to the end of the pole.

If you do chose to leave the jib up on a windy run, it should be 50 per cent luffing. You have to ease it well out in order to allow a proper flow over the spinnaker to balance the boat. If it is a furling jib then one possibility is to furl it halfway.

In the event of a wayward spinnaker

  1. Let the guy run free, or in the case of a knot stopping it from running, locate a knife to cut free the guy as soon as possible but beware of the pressure on the line and keep hands/face clear to avoid injury.
  1. The helmsman should be prepared to bear off immediately once the line is released.
  1. Foredeck crew to haul in the spinnaker once it is in a suitable position in the bow area, behind the jib.
  1. Pitman to pack away spinnaker below and check for damage.

North Sails, North America 2012


Ken Read (54) has twice won the Rolex US Yachtsman of the Year and has nine world championship titles to his name. He is currently skipper of Comanche, which took line honours in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race 2015. Read was in three America’s Cups, twice as skipper of Dennis Conner’s Stars and Stripes, and he twice skippered PUMA Ocean Racing in the Volvo Ocean Race