Crew Work

Crew Work on the Farr 1020

by Mike Ure - updated by Cameron Thorpe


Spinnaker Handling


The rapid growth of light displacement yachts and the ever increasing competition has necessitated a new look at spinnaker handling techniques. No more down below for a repack, a swig of rum and as long out of the cold as the skipper will allow. The boats whose crews don't have their butts firmly affixed to the windward rail virtually 100% of the time will find the bar already full when they reach it.

In the 1020 the crew contributes more than 33% of the boats ballast (almost 50% for those lucky to have a plump crew) and must be used as such (if it blows harder fill your sea boots with water and hold your legs out straight) to obtain good performance.

Fore and aft positioning of the crew weight has almost as significant an effect on performance as does athwartship positioning.

Launching the spinnaker form a turtle bag set at the leeward side stay is the most efficient method. A good size bag with self opening lid and two hooks that allow it to be clipped to the lifeline.

As your crew experience builds along with confidence all spinnaker hoists and drops will be from the front hatch. This totally eliminates the need for crew off the rail to repack the spinnaker. This starts a whole new ball game with such things as "windward hoists" and "Kiwi drops

The First Set

Preparation for the First Set (turtle bag)

Anticipation of when and on which side the spinnaker will be set will result in faster sets with less disturbance of the helmspersons concentration. This is normally very easily done requiring just a little thought, (Yes, even your thick bowman can work it out) the use of compass and possibly a chart if it is a coastal race.

The spinnaker is checked to ensure it is not twisted (Bowman watch out if there are twists you face the dire consequences of either swimming or shouting the crew the 1st, 2nd and 3rd round of drinks after the race, assuming you live) and then packed into the bag before the race starts so everything is ready. Assuming the first spinnaker leg is on starboard, on the final approach to the mark set it up with the sheet and guy coming in the port side and attached to the appropriate spinnaker corners, the halyard can be attached to the head. All sheets and the halyard must be free to run and lead over and outside, stanchions, stays, genoa sheets etc. The pole should be laid out on the starboard side with the guy running through the forward parrot beak. The downhaul should be attached and the topping lift attached but lead though the other parrot beak which also clips around the inner side stay.

Genoa sheets should be lead over the pole and outside (forward) of the topper:

With this set up, the inboard end of the pole can be attached to the mast even before the last tack before a mark, as the genoa will tack over the pole. As the mark is rounded the pole is topped and is prepared for the spinnaker hoist.

The Hoist

Even as the mark is still being rounded the crewman working the guy should start tailing to get the clew out to the pole end as fast as possible. The halyard is hoisted at the same time as the guy is going round, with the sheet left free until the halyard is fully up. If the sheet is trimmed too quickly the spinnaker will fill, making it difficult to get the halyard up, possibly requiring winching. Because the sail is going up to the lee of the main and genoa, there is no wind in the sail and a rapid hoist is possible.

Once the spinnaker is set the topper and downhaul can be trimmed and your off. It pays to tie a knot in the downhaul so that the pole should never sky should the downhaul be accidentally released.

Lets look at the steps to hoisting in sequence:

  1. Preparation: Foredeck hand confers with skipper as to which gybe the first spinnaker leg will be on, and then set everything up.
  1. Approach to the Mark: Foredeck hand puts inner end of pole on mast and frees the topper so that it is ready to hoist.
  1. Rounding: Pole topped. Spinnaker hoisted while guy is pulled round. Sheet trimmed then genoa dropped.


Gybing light displacement boats is actually easier than in heavier boats (believe it or not!). Heavier air gybes should be executed at the point the boat is travelling the fastest as this reduces the apparent wind speed to the minimum. The barber hauler on the new guy (or brace, depending on your terminology) should be pulled hard on before the gybe and the topper or downhaul eased to make it easier for the bowman to handle the pole. The pole is disconnected from both the mast and the old guy so that the spinnaker is "floating". It is now up to the trimmers to keep the spinnaker full while the boat is gybed. The bowman, remembering to pass the new windward genoa sheet over the pole and removing the new leeward sheet from the other end of the pole, attaches the pole to the new guy, and pushing the pole both forward and outboard, attaches the pole back onto the mast as the boat completes the gybe. By placing the windward genoa sheet over the pole means that the outboard end of the pole only needs to be dropped before you can tack. The inboard end can remain on the mast and the genoa passes over the pole and forward of the topping lift during the tack. This is extremely handy when on rounding a mark you wish to tack straight away while not having to wait for the foredeck to be cleared.

Take Down

Take Down: (leeward drop)

The essence of the take down is to have most of the crew to windward throughout the operation, and all the crew to windward as soon as possible immediately after the spinnaker is in. It is vitally important that the boat is free to tack without any gear fouls.

The secret again is to have the boat well set up. If the genoa sheets are lead over the pole and in front of the topping lift, the boat is free to tack as soon as the topping lift has been released.

As the bow nears the mark the spinnaker halyard is released as soon as the guy is eased forward to the forestay. Providing both the guy and the halyard have been checked to ensure they are free to run the spinnaker will blow off to leeward, clear of the working sails and can be rapidly gathered in by one crewman straight into the forward hatch. If dropping the kite on a tight reach it is advisable to have a second person to help gather the spinnaker due to the extra pressure generated by not being able to drop the spinnaker completely in the lee of the main.

The sheets and halyard are left attached to the sail and the hatch is pulled closed to keep the sail in. The crewman who has retrieved the sail joins the others on the windward deck, the compass is checked, and the boat trimmed for the leg. At no time, need more than one person leave the windward rail, and nobody need go to the foredeck.

Lets look at the drop sequence:

1 Guy Forward to Forstay

2 Halyard Off

3 Retrieve Kite by Clew as fast as Possible

4 Guy and Sheet released

5 Topper Off

(If rounding the mark requires a gybe it is advisable to drop the spinnaker early and clear away the pole. This makes it easier on the trimmers and also means the foredeck crew can be on the rail by the time the boat starts to round the mark.) 

Only after the boat is properly trimmed for the beat and the best course and trim established should the tidying up be done. The kite pole needs to be properly stored, preferably on the side you will next use it, and any trailing sheets and guys tidied up. Normally there should be no need to take off the sheet, guy or halyard from the spinnaker, they can trail out of the hatch. Disconnecting them only means that they have to be reconnected again - another operation and more distraction for the helmsman.

If however, the next leg requires the spinnaker to be set on the opposite gybe, the crewman on the rail nearest the hatch can lean back, unclip the sheets, attach them together, attach the halyard to them. The whole lot can then be pulled around the forestay and reattached to the spinnaker.

Since the spinnaker was pulled in via one clew and dropped straight into the hatch, it should not be twisted and can be rehoisted without repacking. The hoist is the same sequence as for a turtle bag, but the guy may have to be pulled further to bring the clew of the spinnaker around the bow. If the sheets have to be changed to the other gybe, care should be taken not to twist the sail when changing - the old sheet must become the new guy. Providing the change is done properly, the sail can be hoisted straight from the hatch and be twist free. If you have a twist proceed with the hoist as normal, often when the genoa is dropped the sail untwists. If this fails try releasing the halyard suddenly approximately 1/3. If this fails the sail will have to be dropped.

If it is necessary to revert to the turtle bag launch, the bag should be attached to the leeward lifeline amidship, not the bow. The bag is packed conventionally and then set up on the appropriate side before the mark is reached. The leg must be planned so that the spinnaker can be set up on the windward rail before the last tack for the mark.

All of the above hoists and drops are possible in all wind strengths. They should be practiced until the crew is totally competent before progression to the next stage. This is the exotic hoists and drops, designed mainly for windward/leeward courses in light to moderate conditions. The advantages are that any hoist can be carried out (bear away or gybe set) regardless of which side the spinnaker is on, and the drop can leave the spinnaker on the side you wish, ready for the next set and finally the helmsman can decide later what sort of rounding is required, giving more tactical freedom and the ability to make a last second decision. This means that the kite never is unclipped, so the crew can stay on the rail longer. Disadvantages are the boat must be close to flat off (suits windward leeward courses) and the risk of a stuff up greater. If the conditions are to strong it is highly recommended to revert back to safe, conventional hoists and drops.

Exotic Hoists

The Exotic Hoists and Drops

On Windward/Leeward courses you have probably noticed on the best sailed boats that the spinnaker work all happens smoothly and effectively, yet no one is ever seen to go below decks to repack the spinnaker and seldom are the sheets run around the bow in preparation of a leeward hoist. You may also notice the spinnaker sometimes goes up on the apparently wrong side, yes the windward side, yet is still set very quickly and often without using a spinnaker pole. "What" you say, "can't be", but yes it's true, what you have witnessed is known as a windward hoist.

The advantages are numerous. Firstly no one leaves the rail, secondly because the pole isn't being used there are more tactical options. Gybes can be made at whim as the bowman only has to drop the old brace, swap sides of the boat and then hold out the new brace as far as possible. Finally the spinnaker often sets faster.

"How's it done" your probably asking. First it's worth mentioning a few key points:

1.) It is vital that the boat is sailing near flat off.

2.) When things go wrong it can turn very "ugly"

3.) Only the very experienced, brave and the stupid crews try to windward hoist in much over 15 knots of wind.

Before using this technique on the race course and stuffing things up, It is best to spend several hours practicing. It is a fine line between being a lemon and a legend.

Here's how it's done. On approaching the windward mark the bowman (who already has the spinnaker clipped on and set up ready to go) opens the hatch and feeds out the sheet and the attached clew of the spinnaker so that the clew goes around the forestay. When the boat rounds the mark the mastman waits until the boat is near flat off before pulling up the spinnaker. The bowmans job is to ensure the spinnaker goes up in front of the forestay, not inside it. The bowman then takes the brace and holds it out as far as possible while the mastman pulls down the genoa and then sets up the spinnaker pole. All this time the trimmers "float" the spinnaker trimming to keep it set. In between the time the spinnaker goes up and when the pole is attached several gybes may take place. All the bowman does is swap sides and hold out the new brace. There is no urgency in attaching the pole as the spinnaker is set at all times.

Sometimes a windward drop is required (e.g to set up the spinnaker on the right side for the next hoist)

A windward drop requires caution as there is a risk of running over the spinnaker as its dropped.

For a windward drop the genoa is hoisted then the bowman holds out the brace while the mastman removes and stores the pole. The sheet and halyard are released simultaneously and the bowman rapidly gathers in the spinnaker. It is important that the foot is gathered first as this prevents the spinnaker going under the bow. For a leeward, poleless drop the mastman and bowman swap jobs, ie the mastman holds out the brace while the bowman removes and stores the pole. The bowman then grabs the sheet, the mastman drops the brace. The brace is then let go followed quickly by the halyard while the bowman gathers in the spinnaker.

Further exotic moves can see the kite dropped while gybing round a mark in a classic "kiwi drop". The one thing in common is that the pole is not attached. Familiarity with these new systems will lead to you inventing your own hoists and drops as Prime Suspect have with a "Dougie Hoist" which is a windward hoist with the pole set!

With these systems it doesn't matter which side the spinnaker is set up on. This is one less worry for the crew and enabling them to concentrate on more important things.

Once you get used to these systems you'll wonder how you ever put up with heavy footed crew clumping around the foredeck and the apparent eternity it used to take before and after each mark before the sails were organised, set and the boat properly trimmed.

When the race is close it is won and lost at the corners, so make sure everyone knows which jobs they have to perform, and how and when they have to perform them, you'll enjoy your racing more and your trophy shelf will start to groan.