By Steve Colgate
The Spinnaker – The Douse
Part 6 of the Spinnaker Series
When lowering the spinnaker to leeward, the only major problem comes from letting it get out from behind the mainsail into strong wind. The crew gathering in the chute gains control of the sail by bringing the sheet forward to a spot just behind the shrouds. The guy is then eased and the halyard lowered, and the sail is pulled in behind the mainsail. However, it is essential that the sheet be in hand and under control before the sail is freed from the guy. Otherwise, the chute will go flying aft and be extremely difficult to capture. On larger sailboats, we first hoist the jib so that the spinnaker is blanketed. Then we lead the lazy sheet to a block well forward near the leeward shrouds and to a winch. We winch the clew of the spinnaker close to the boat before dousing. Then, instead of releasing the guy to run through the pole, the pole is eased to the headstay and lowered to within reach of a crew member who trips the guy. Unlike a jibe when the jaws of the pole are open, release the guy. “Tripping the guy” means to release the tack of the sail by opening the tack shackle. The sheet is released and the lazy sheet on the leeward side of the boat is winched in so the clew is right near the deck behind the mainsail. With it in that position, the crew gathers in the spinnaker as the halyard is lowered quickly, but not so fast that the spinnaker falls in the water.
There is a tendency at this point for the lazy sheet to be forgotten or even detached from the corner of the sail. This can be a disastrous mistake. Until the spinnaker is completely on board it can fill with wind or water and be ripped out of the hands of the crew pulling it in. With the lazy sheet attached and cleated, the worst that can happen is that the spinnaker trails in the water along side the boat. But with the lazy sheet taken off, the spinnaker can go out behind the boat held only by the halyard and the sheet (if it, too, hasn’t been taken off). This means that the head of the spinnaker will be up in the air filling with wind because the halyard will never be long enough to trail in the water when the spinnaker is out at the end of its sheet. Frankly, the scene produces nightmares, and all because some crew members thought the chute was under control and the lazy sheet could be detached.
There may be times when a windward douse is in order. If you are racing and are about to round a mark leaving it to port, but are on the starboard jibe, consider taking the chute down over the windward side. When you jibe to round the mark the spinnaker will be coming down to leeward. Or, if you know you must set the spinnaker again and the next set is on the opposite tack, a windward takedown will prepare you properly for the next set. For example, you are sailing a triangle course with a 90 degree reaching mark turn. You are on the second reach, heading for the leeward mark on the port jibe. The first reach was very tight and the second reach is broad, which indicates the wind has backed (counterclockwise).
This means that (after beating back to the weather mark) the run will be on the starboard tack. To be ready for a starboard-tack run, the spinnaker on most boats must be set from the port side of the boat. A normal leeward douse on the second reach will leave the spinnaker on the wrong side for the next set. A memory aid: When the second reach is tight, making it difficult to pull the spinnaker around the jibstay to windward, take down to leeward; when the second reach is more of a run, making it easy to pull the spinnaker to windward, douse to windward.
When dousing to windward, take the pole off and stow it just before you intend to douse. Fly the spinnaker without a pole for a short time. Then, as the halyard is lowered, pull the spinnaker around to windward with the guy. In some larger class boats it’s hard to do on a reach, but it can be done quite easily on a run. Many smaller boats set and douse the spinnaker to windward as a matter of course. It avoids having a crew member go to the leeward side of the boat to reach for the sheet. The weight to leeward can produce a broach.
Two other takedowns are fairly similar: the “forward” takedown and the “string” takedown. For the “forward” takedown, the genoa must be up to create the suction of airflow behind it. The pole is let forward to the headstay and lowered; the sheet is trimmed in tight so the foot of the spinnaker is stretched along the leeward side of the boat and, as the boat rounds the leeward racing mark to go upwind, the spinnaker halyard is thrown off completely. I recommend trailing the spinnaker halyard over the side of the boat so it can’t kink as it zings out. Crew stands ready along the foot to gather the spinnaker in and stuff it down the forward hatch. When it’s under control, the sheet is released, but the guy is not released or unsnapped until the chute is well aboard and mostly belowdecks. The only difference with the “string” takedown is a retrieving line attached to a patch in the center of the spinnaker that leads under the foot of the genoa to a crew member who pulls it in when the halyard is released. Pulling from the middle of the sail effectively halves the time needed to gather the sail in.
Reprinted from “Steve Colgate on Sailing.”
By Steve Colgate, Published by W.W. Norton & Co.
Steve Colgate is the founder of Colgate Sailing Schools, with locations in Tortola BVI, Captiva Island FL, Duck Key FL, St. Petersburg FL, Chelsea Piers NY, Liberty Landing NJU and Newport RI.
Offshore Sailing Schools
16731 McGregor Blvd.
Fort Myers, Florida 33908