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Dousing the Spinnaker




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Get in, Get Out

No maneuver has more potential to scuttle a good result than dousing the spinnaker and rounding the leeward mark. Here are a few tips to make your team's next visit to the bottom of the course trouble-free.

With the race committee typically running four-leg races, there's normally just one racing douse per race. But it's both the most difficult maneuver for the crews in the Invitational Cup, and the one that carries the biggest penalty when it goes awry: remember that any distance sailed beyond the leeward mark is multiplied times two when determining how much ground was given up to the competition. With that in mind, here are a few points on getting a New York YC/Club Swan 42 around the bottom mark in an orderly fashion.

Most teams will handle the boat like a small keelboat when it comes to the spinnaker, which means a hatch launch, leaving the spinnaker gear hooked up, and minimal repacking of the kite on the upwind leg. Traditionally, this requires always dousing the sail on the left side of the boat so it's ready for a starboard-tack hoist at the windward mark.

Since the Invitational Cup sails do not have retrieval lines (ed.'s note: this will change for 2015), getting the foot into the hands of the foredeck crew (1) is the first step to a successful takedown. A leeward or Mexican takedown (which starts as a leeward takedown, but the boat jibes during the douse) requires timing an aggressive turn down (almost to dead downwind) by the helmsman with a grinding in of the spinnaker sheet. For a windward takedown, an aggressive turn down is combined with releasing the loaded spinnaker sheet and then overhauling the lazy spinnaker sheet (2) to bring the clew around the headstay and aft (3) of the shrouds on the windward side.

During a windward or Mexican takedown, the helmsman (4) must delay the turn up until the spinnaker is under control. One rule of thumb is to make sure the head of the spinnaker is below the hounds and inside the foretriangle before turning the bow up. When in doubt, however, wait a few seconds. The potential for disaster, should the head of the spinnaker come down the leeward side of the forestay, is very high.

The other danger is the tack (5) or foot of the spinnaker touching the water. This can lead to the entire sail being sucked over the side of the boat. This generally happens when the tack line and/or the pole-out line are released prematurely. The jammers holding these two lines shouldn't be released (6) until 75 percent of the spinnaker is either on or below deck and the foot is completely under control. Or when the bowman demands them, which given the chaos of a leeward mark rounding, is usually the safest way.

Having a crew down below repacking, or simply untangling, a twisted spinnaker for much of the second upwind leg is slow, especially in heavy air when weight on the rail is so crucial. During the douse, have one crewmember (7) haul the spinnaker down by working up the leech tape to the head of the sail. Keeping this clean during the douse will all but ensure the spinnaker hoists correctly at the next weather mark. A quick rundown the leech tape by the sewerman will provide an extra measure of security and shouldn't take much time.

If a right-side takedown is the only option, a windward hoist is usually faster, and less mistake prone, than moving the gear around during the beat. The key to a windward hoist is to make sure to sail the boat artificially low coming out of the windward mark and, once the spinnaker is halfway up, to aggressively trim the sheet to pull the sail around the head stay. Once the clew has reached the leeward shrouds, and the spinnaker is at least most of the way up, it's safe to turn up to the optimum VMG angle.

Swan 42 Speed Tips:

1) The Invitational cup spinnaker is a hybrid design. In moderate and breezy conditions, it sails best with one to two feet of ease on the tackline. In very light conditions, or in a very bumpy seaway, snug the tackline to keep the sail from falling off to leeward when sheeted.

2) Use an extra shackle to raise the jib tack by an inch or two in light air. The jib responds well to a softer halyard in light conditions and aggressively moving the jib cars. As with the spinnaker, it's a hybrid design that's often outside its optimal range; effectively switching gears is paramount.

3) In moderate and heavy breeze, the boat will not bear away without the vang and mainsheet eased, and sometimes eased a lot. The high-aspect rudder is prone to stalling when overloaded, so make sure someone has a hand on the vang and the mainsheet is ready to run when going into a duck, or rounding the windward mark, in more than 10 knots of wind.

By Stuart Streuli