What can you do when it all goes horribly wrong with the spinnaker? In the final part of our series Pip Hare says that there’s no need to panic and offers advice on sorting the problems.
I have encountered more than my fair share of problems with the spinnaker when single-handed and it can be a total nightmare. The size and power of the sail that drags you through the water at such great speed work against you when you have a problem. This can make a solution seem almost impossible.
Getting the sail back under control or into the boat is a job for the head before the hands and here are a few of the techniques I use to sort things out when it all goes wrong.
See our video of SAIL FASTER SAIL SAFER Part 12
Spinnaker in water
The two crucial initial actions are to slow the boat down and to stop the spinnaker from taking a net shape and filling with water, but to get it to stream out as one long piece.
To slow the boat down, turn towards the wind just enough to make the mainsail depower, leaving the spinnaker on the leeward side of the boat. Hold the boat on this angle if you can.
Try to get the spinnaker to stream out; I normally let go one of the clews immediately by releasing the sheets from the sail, first making sure the other is secure.
Next try to get the head of the spinnaker to lie flat on the water – as long as it is up in the air it will be powered up and the sail will be close to impossible to pull in.
There are a couple of ways to do this, but you need to think on your feet. Often there will be a moment when the head of the sail is within reach; there would be no point in pulling it in as there is too much pressure in the sail, but if you can act quickly and release the halyard from the head of the sail this could be a major step as the sail will stream out on top of the water and with a bit of perseverance you can pull it in.
On smaller boats it is a good idea to have halyards long enough to allow the head of the spinnaker to lie flat on the water momentarily should you have a mishap. Obviously this technique would not work on larger boats; however, if you regularly sail short-handed I would recommend a long halyard with a knot in the very end.
Once you have the sail flat on the water, it is time to pull it in. Start from a corner, bunch the sail into a sausage and pull it in small sections. If you are struggling, use ropes and winches; tie a rolling hitch around a section of sail, lead the tail of the rope under the guardrails and into the cockpit, then wind the sail in, lock it off and tie another one further down the sail. Time and doggedness will get the job done.
Allow spinnaker to stream:
Tie rolling hitch and winch in:
Pull in steadily:
This normally occurs when the spinnaker has been packed incorrectly or the two bottom corners are too close together during the hoist.
Prevention first: take your time to pack the spinnaker away properly each time and, as mentioned in the hoisting feature in Part 10 [LINK], make sure your tackline or guy is pulled on before you hoist, even if you are using a snuffer.
If the sail ‘wine glasses’ during a hoist, don’t drop the jib immediately as this will be acting as a good windbreak for you to work behind. Bring the guy back about halfway to expose the leading edge of the spinnaker to the wind while sailing deep, but not dead downwind.
If the twist is high up close to the head of the sail, try sheeting on, easing the spinnaker halyard about a metre.
These actions together should open the foot of the sail, encouraging wind to funnel in, while allowing the head to fly slightly away from the mast, giving the halyard shackle a chance to swivel.
With luck the wind in the foot of the sail will force the twist upwards and it will spin out at the head.
If the wine glass is larger or further down the sail, this method may not work, so ease the guy forward and allow the body of the spinnaker to rotate behind the jib. Then grab the leech of the sail and pull down on it (make sure you let go if it starts filling), slowly work your way up the leech as far as you can go, pulling the twist out.
If all else fails, drop the spinnaker, sort it out and rehoist. If you end up with a mega-twist inside a snuffer, this will mean you will have to drop the sail, then lift the bucket and sort it out.
Wine glass in the asymmetric
With an asymmetric spinnaker and inside gybing this usually happens because the clew of the sail has not been pulled through the forestay quickly enough and the body of the sail has been allowed to rotate well forward of the luff and twist up.
A light wrap close to the head of the sail can sometimes be forced out by pulling on the new sheet and heading up into the wind to force air into the foot and the twist up and out – again a small ease on the halyard can help the head rotate.
With larger wraps keep the boat further downwind to reduce the force in the sail and pull like crazy on the new sheet to try to stretch the leech out and force the sail to unwrap itself.
If this fails, trying gybing back again, this will often untwist the spinnaker, reversing the action it has just made.
Wrap around the forestay
When making longer passages and at night the spinnaker can float into the boat if momentarily deflated and wrap itself around the forestay. This generally happens on downwind courses and in lighter breeze.
A couple of tricks I use to guard against this are to hoist my smallest headsail and sheet it into the middle of the boat while sailing downwind. If the jib is sheeted in hard it has minimum effect on the spinnaker and it becomes impossible for the sail to wrap.
The other method is to make a Belgian jib. This works very well if you have a babystay. Take the jib halyard and wrap it from the forestay around the babystay and back a couple of times, making a net so the spinnaker cannot pass through.
If you do not have a babystay, but do have a second jib or spinnaker halyard, then try taking this down to the toerail on the leeward side and do the same thing.
Single-handed ocean sailor Pip Hare has clocked up thousands of miles racing and cruising. Among her achievements are five solo transatlantics, including the OSTAR and two Mini Transat races. She also works full-time for the RNLI on sea safety and is Consulting Editor on Yachting World. See also her series on short-handed sailing
12 part series in association with Pantaenius
See also our Bluewater Sailing Techniques series and Skip Novak’s Storm Sailing Techniques series