Spinnaker sailing – without the pole

Many sailors, myself including, are so used to the “normal” way of working with the pole and spinnaker together that the thought of sometimes working the spinnaker without the pole hasn’t really occurred to us. We keep doing the same setup; first putting the pole up before hoisting the spinnaker, foredeck working frantically on getting the pole reconnected after a gybe, and pole staying up until the spinnaker is safely stored under deck at a drop.

This article is challenging this routine and suggests that in some instances there are better and faster ways of working with the spinnaker.

Purpose of the pole

There are two key reasons we use a pole when sailing with a symmetrical spinnaker:

  1. Increasing the exposure of the spinnaker to the wind, pushing it out to windward and hence avoiding the disturbed wind behind the main sail.
  2. Controlling the trim of the spinnaker, being able to adjust the height of the clew with the lift (uphaul) and kicker (downhaul).

It’s important to understand that the pole is boosting the performance of the spinnaker, it’s not absolutely necessary in order for the spinnaker to work and hence when there is a situation where the pole is not quite ready to go it’s often better to get the Spinnaker hoisted and flying first and then sort out the pole later. The Spinnaker on its own will still give the boat a significant speed increase compared to sailing on white sails only.

Situations when it may be better to get rid of the pole

  • Material failures, something’s broken and you need to get the pole down to fix it, while still sailing with the spinnaker up.
  • Gybe set after a rounding. I.e. tactician has decided to gybe at the windward mark and then set spinnaker as soon as possible afterwards. In this situation it’s quicker to get the spinnaker hoisted first and then set up the pole afterward.
  • Coming down to a leeward mark with the intention of gybing at the mark and then dropping the spinnaker quickly afterward. Taking the pole away shortly before the Gybe and rounding can make the maneuver simpler & safer.
  • Heading towards leeward mark and knowing that we need to tack just after the rounding, at the mark. Dropping the kite and then getting the pole down in order to be able to tack may take too long time so the alternative is to drop and stow the pole away early, hence enabling a tack as soon as the kite is down. Again, we need to simplify!
  • Inexperienced foredeck/mast/pit crew who needs more time to “get it right”. In a gybe, hoist or drop situation taking the pressure off – allowing for the crew to have the pole organised in their own time with minimum impact to boat speed gives the tactician more options in terms of tacking and gybing decisions.
  • Shorthanded sailing. As above, simplifying and reducing the stress in the maneuvers will make life easier and sailing faster 🙂

When it may not be a great idea to take the pole down

Sailing dead downwind in breezier conditions when there is a risk for “death rolls” we really want to keep the Spinnaker under control and only “trip” the spinnaker pole just when going into a gybe. The Spinnaker flying freely here will be too much of a risk and likely to cause the rolling from side to side. See also the article on Chinese gybes and how to avoid them.

What to bear in mind when taking the pole down

For a Spinnaker system using both sheet and brace, you need to bring on the lazy sheet in order to be able to release the brace and drop the pole.

Make sure the spinnaker clew doesn’t get stuck on the forestay, sheet on until the clew clears the forestay to windward.

Windward sheet can be fixed on a winch while the spinnaker trimmer keeps trimming the normal Leeward sheet.

2 thoughts on “Spinnaker sailing – without the pole

  1. When marking these positions on the sheets, the sailing dinghy is set on land, stern-to-wind, and then the spinnaker is hoisted. With the sail set square across the bow of the sailing dinghy, without the pole and neither sheet under a reaching hook, cleat the sheets.

  2. Pingback: Spinnaker Sailing - without the pole • Island Sailing

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