How to fly a spinnaker

We made a very easy to understand guide on how to fly a spinnaker with some pretty useful tips that experience gave us.

How to fly a spinnaker
Photo by Daniel Stenholm / Unsplash

We've all seen a boat with a spinnaker. Let's face it, it looks much better, and so it sails.

Maybe you are taking your first steps using this sail, or you never sailed it, but you are coaching a boat that has one.

Either way, don't worry, we made a very easy to understand guide on how to fly a spinnaker with some pretty useful tips that experience gave us.

red and white sail boat on sea under cloudy sky during daytime
Photo by Alina Pkhakadze / Unsplash

Symmetrical spinnakers

Symmetrical spinnakers have both sides of the sail evenly rounded. In order to fly a symmetrical spinnaker you need:

  • a spinnaker pole
  • spinnaker sheet: adjusts the spinnaker (trim in/ease)
  • spinnaker guy: adjusts the spinnaker pole position
  • blocks for the spinnaker sheet and guy
  • topping lift: adjusts the heigh of the clews. Try to keep the clews at the same height.

The spinnaker pole should go perdendicular to the apparent wind of the boat. As a guide, you can tie tell-tales to the shrouds of the boat (a little bit higher than you) and use them as a reference to adjust the pole. The pole goes prependicular to the tell-tales.

Super tip: tie some tell-tales to the shrouds. They will work as wind indicators. You can use them as a reference to adjust the spinnaker pole.

Keep in mind that if the spinnaker goes behind the mainsail it will start luffing because main blocks the wind, and as a result the spinnaker can't inflate.

The air flows freely around the sail when it is set away from the mast and mainsail.

white sailboat on body of water during daytime
Photo by Alexander Andrews / Unsplash

Asymmetrical spinnakers

Asymmetrical spinnakers are in tendence since they are easy to fly and rig, and make the boat sail really nice.

The asymmetrical shape has a different curvature in the luff compared with the leech.

Boats that use asymmetrical spinnakers sail a higher course (compared with symmetrical spinnakers). This is what makes sailboats that use asymmetrical spinnakers usually go faster.

A boat with an a.s will jibe through a higher angle. This is the trickiest part of this sail, but it's totally worth it, since the boat sails faster on downwind.

Good and precise steering is important when jibing. Pick a point on land to head toward, or note the new compass course you will be steering before starting your turn. Trim in the mainsail as it swings across to control it.

In light winds, we suggest loosing a bit the tack line to help the spinnaker fly better.

Try to keep the sail from collapsing because it stresses the fabric, slows the boat, and makes the crew uncomfortable. 

Trimming the spinnaker

It's crucial that the skipper and the spinnaker trimmer communicate.

When the trimmer feels more pressure on the sail (you can feel it by the tension of the sheet) he/she should tell the person that is steering to bear off and sail a lower course.

However, when the trimmer feels the pressure drop, ask the skipper to point a bit higher.

A very common mistake is to have the spinnaker too trimed in. You always have to look at the luff of the spinnaker: you can ease it until the luff curls a little bit. Then slightly trim in. Repeat.

With these tips you only have to have fun practicing. Feel the boat and feel the sail.

❓ If you have more tips leave them in the comments! :)
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