February 4, 2006 - Dave Franzel

Our resident moviemaker (DC) was in the Caribbean last week so this will have to be an old fashioned written recap.  In reviewing the videos throughout the season it is apparent that big gains and losses occur while turning – particularly rounding the weather mark and the leeward mark.  These gains and losses are magnified (often quite dramatically) when spinnakers are being used.  Here are some thoughts on mark rounding techniques.

Weather mark rounding:  Several things have to happen before arriving at the mark to provide a high probability of an excellent set:

  1. The pole has to be up and horizontal with the topping lift and downhaul tight.
  2. The jib (or genoa) has to be all the way in and cleated.
  3. The guy should be pre-fed so the tack is at least half way to the pole.
  4. The hoist should begin just as the boat begins to turn around the mark so the chute can get up and around before the main gets out far enough to trap it against the spreaders.
  5. The guy should continue to come back as the halyard goes up, and it should be precision trimmed as the boat continues to head down.
  6. Accurate sheet trim should commence the moment the luff of the spinnaker clears the forestay.
  7. The jib (which is still trimmed in and cleated) should be dropped as soon as the luff of the spinnaker appears to windward of the forestay (and therefore can no longer get stuck under the jib). Later, the sheet can be uncleated and the sail pulled forward.

So how do you make this happen, perfectly, each time?  Well every member of the team has a job to perfect.  Let’s call the five team members bow, mast, pit, trimmer and skipper.

While sailing upwind the pole lives on the deck with the topping lift and downhaul attached.  Its aft end is clipped onto the inboard side of the starboard turnbuckle with the topping lift running through it.  With genoas, the pole and topping lift are under the “V” of the sheets; with small jibs, everything is to starboard of the jib sheets.

The action begins when you become convinced that you are on your final starboard tack approach to the mark.  This is a good time for mast person to help assess whether an immediate jibe is called for after the rounding, because everyone else is busy.

1. Setting the pole requires the coordination of the bow and pit.  The pole set works best if the pole stays horizontal at all times.  When the bow person unclips the pole from the shroud the pit person must immediately take up the slack in the topping lift and continue to pull until the pole is in the ring and horizontal.  Then the downhaul gets cleated.  It is worth it to pre-set the pole before the first race and magic mark the topping lift at the correct position.  That way, pit person can pull to that mark and cleat.  As always, one should never pull a line without being aware of what it is attached to.  Pit person should be watching bow person throughout this operation.  With practice, this can happen quickly enough so you can tack to starboard one or two lengths from the mark and be ready to hoist at the mark.
2. and 3.  Meanwhile, trimmer cleats the jib and goes for the spinnaker guy to begin to pre-feed. Ideally, pit person will be done with their pole set duties in time to help feed the guy out of the cabin, but if not, trimmer can do that while pulling on the guy.
4. and 5.  If the pole is set in plenty of time, then bow person hoists and mast person helps pull the guy back.  If he is still working on the pole then mast person hoists.  In either case trimmer pulls guy back as the boat bears off.
6. and 7.  As soon as the spinnaker has successfully gotten past the forestay, mast person releases the jib halyard.  Bow person pulls the jib down, then calls for the sheet to be released so he can pull the sail forward.  As skipper, I like to take the guy as soon as we’re heading downwind so trimmer can focus on sheet trim and pit person can be looking aft for wind.  Once mast person is free to take over wind calling duties pit person could take the guy.  On some boats trimmer works both lines, but I think it is difficult to perfect trim on guy and sheet at the same time and they are equally important.

Leeward mark rounding:  The biggest key to success here is to do everything early.  A minor gain made by keeping your spinnaker up until the last possible moment is more than negated if you are not ready to go upwind or tack right away when you round.

Mast person hoists the jib on the skipper’s call or on his own discretion if the skipper forgets.  It is very useful to magic mark the jib halyard too so it can easily be returned to the fast setting. As soon as jib is up, mast person gets ready to act as human spinnaker pole until it’s time to douse.  Pit person hands the guy to trimmer or skipper, and then releases topping lift as bow person unclips both ends of the pole.  When using a genoa, forward end of pole gets slid under the jib sheets and aft end gets clipped into topping lift and back to starboard turnbuckle.  With a jib, the pole and topping lift get clipped to the turnbuckle to starboard of the jib sheets. 

This can all be done early if the wind is aft as you can free fly the spinnaker with almost no loss of speed—you can even do last minute poleless jibes if you need to.  A port takedown leaves you set up for the next set, but a starboard takedown may be called for if you are approaching on a port tack reach or in light air when you need everyone to leeward to help head up around the mark.  If you do a port takedown then bow person can put the guy back in the pole when you are next on starboard tack.

If you have any questions or comments, please email or use the racing forum.