Rigging a spinnaker

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The spinnaker is a powerful sail that provides plenty of downwind sailing fun. The asymmetric spinnaker shown here is the spinnaker of choice for all modern dinghy classes, having taken over from the traditional and more complex symmetrical spinnaker.


When not in use, a modern spinnaker is stowed, ready rigged, in a chute that runs the length of the foredeck and back toward the cockpit. The spinnaker halyard is a continuous loop of rope led through the spinnaker chute to the bow of the dinghy, diagonally up to a fixed block on the mast, down the mast, and back around a turning block inside the cockpit. Pulling the halyard backward hoists the spinnaker up the mast; pulling the halyard forward pulls the spinnaker back inside its chute.

Choose a quiet day for rigging, put the boat where there is plenty of space, and lay the spinnaker out flat beside it. First of all, look carefully at the shape of the sail to identify the three corners.

The tack (bottom forward corner) is secured to the forward end of the spinnaker pole; the head (top corner), is attached to the uphaul end of the halyard; the clew, or outer corner, is attached to sheets. There are patches supporting rings on the vertical mid-line of the sail, through which the downhaul is led. These help to gather the sail into the chute when it is lowered.

after rigging, do a test hoist before you go on the water. Face the boat into the wind and pull up the halyard slowly to ensure that there are no twists in the sail or sheets, and that you have the three corners of the sail the right way round. Then retrieve it carefully into the chute, keeping it well clear of anything that might snag the sail.

Spinnaker Rigging Sailboat

RIGGING A spinnaker

3 Tie the two free ends of the spinnaker sheets together in the cockpit. When the crew grabs the sheet, it can be pulled either way.

4 The downhaul end of the halyard passes through a tack ring to a patch further up the sail. This helps gather the sail when you pull it down.

5 Check that the downhaul pulls the whole sail inside the chute, with just the head and clew protruding. The spinnaker is now ready for hoisting.


To hoist, drop, or jibe the spinnaker, the helmsman must bear off downwind until sideways force on the rig is reduced to a minimum. This ensures that both crew can work safely from the center of the boat, with the mainsail blanketing the spinnaker area.

1T0 hoist the spinnaker, pull the halyard hand over hand as fast as possible to ensure that the sail does not catch on the bow.

As the crew continues to hoist the spinnaker, the helmsman maintains a steady downwind course to prevent the spinnaker filling too soon.

3 With the spinnaker fully hoisted and the halyard cleated, the crew sheets in as the helmsman luffs on to a broad reach to power the sail.


The powerful spinnaker quickly lifts the dinghy on to a plane


The powerful spinnaker quickly lifts the dinghy on to a plane

Spiniker Dinghy Sailing

Sailing with a spinnaker

The popular asymmetric spinnaker shown here is easy to use and provides boost when sailing downwind on a broad reach and responds to the slightest of breezes.


The technique for sailing with an asymmetric spinnaker relies on sailing the boat flat at full speed on a broad reach, bearing away when a gust hits so that the boat stays level with less sideways pressure on the sails, then luffing as the gust passes to keep the boat flat with increased sideways pressure. This means that unless the wind is absolutely steady, you will never sail perfectly straight line toward your target. Instead, you will keep steering in a series of smooth curves to port or starboard to ensure the boat stays flat and fully powered.

Never sail low and go slow with a spinnaker. Always head up and sail fast, then bear away on the apparent wind.


Bear right away for the drop, so that the spinnaker is blanketed and the crew can work from the center of the boat. To control the drop, the crew can stand on the sheet or pass it to the helmsman, then take up all slack on the retrieval line before uncleating the halyard. Pull the spinnaker back into its chute as quickly as possible.

Upwind "no spinnaker" zone


Helmsman and crew should work together to keep the boat as level as possible on the water for maximum speed. The crew constantly trims the spinnaker to make the most of the wind.



Zone to raise spinnaker


There is least pressure on the spinnaker when the wind is directly astern of the dinghy. As soon as the boat luffs on to a broad reach, you move into a "power zone" where the spinnaker will catch the wind, power up, and make hoisting or dropping the spinnaker less safe.


Power zone sailing with a spinnaker


Dinghies with asymmetric spinnakers sail a direct downwind course by jibing from side to side on a series of broad reaches. When jibing with a spinnaker, the helm should steer a gentle curve from broad reach to broad reach, matching the speed of the turn to the ability of the crew to cross the boat and sheet in the spinnaker on the new side. The boat should stay flat and keep moving at speed throughout the jibe, rather than slowing right down and getting knocked over by the apparent wind.

While concentrating on the spinnaker, don't forget that the mainsail is also jibing, with the boom swinging across the cockpit.


Keep speed up throughout the jibe. Sailing fast reduces load on the rig as the mainsail comes across and the crew sheets in on the new side.

The crew gets ready for the jibe by moving into the cockpit and taking up slack on the new sheet.

2 Bearing off downwind, the crew pulls on the old sheet to flatten the spinnaker in mid-jibe.

4 The helmsman straightens the boat out on the new course.

The crew trims the spinnaker so the luff is just starting to curl, which provides maximum power.

3 The crew pulls in the new sheet and lets the old sheet run free, while moving onto the side deck.

Seaward Fox Sailboat

"a good helmsman... uses all his senses—even his sense of smell!'

Arthur Knapp

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