Gybing the Spinnaker

Article written by Pat Dolan appearing in LSC's Crew Notes May 23, 2003.

Gybing a Lightning spinnaker while keeping it full and the boat going full speed is always a challenge to the entire crew. Everyone needs to work together. Here is a suggestion on how to get the coordination necessary for a smooth gybe.

After alerting crew members to the coming gybe by saying "prepare to gybe," the skipper gets things going by saying "rotate":

Step Skipper Forward Crew Middle Crew
Rotate Turn the boat smoothly and gradually to head almost directly downwind. Coordinate with the spinnaker trim to keep the spinnaker full. Adjust twings so the sheet and guy are about 15 inches above the deck just behind the shrouds - then get ready to trip the spinnaker pole by grabbing the line underneath the spinnaker pole with the fist of one hand while hold the pole with your other hand. Rotate the spinnaker around the boat so the pole is back almost to the shrouds and the leeward clew is about 24 inches in front of the shrouds. When fully rotated, and forward crew is in position, say "TRIP" to initiate the next step.
Trip Keep the boat headed almost directly downwind. Turn your fist so that both ends of the spinnaker pole are released at the same time. Push the pole up with the other hand. If both ends of the pole don't release, get the pole off the mast ring first - then off the guy. Keep the spinnaker full and drawing. This should be possible without moving either the sheet or guy very much.
Gybe Turn the boat very slightly to gybe (to almost directly downwind on the other gybe) while pulling the mainsail across the boat. Duck. Duck under the boom. Duck under the boom. Keep the spinnaker full and drawing with small trim adjustments - however, keep the new guy forward of the shrouds at least 24 inches.
Pole Keep the boat steady almost directly downwind. Attach the pole to the new guy - then push that end of the pole forward so the corner of the sail. Attach the other end to the mast ring. Say "MADE" when everything is attached. Keep the spinnaker full and drawing. Since the boat is headed almost downwind, this should be possible - even without a spinnaker pole. In heavier air, it may be necessary to coordinate an ease of the guy with the forward crew's effort to attach the pole at the mast ring.
Twing Keep the boat steady - don't be impatient. Smoothly release the leeward twing. Then adjust the windward twing to the desired height in coordination with the spinnaker trimmer. Trim in coordination with twing handling by the forward crew..


A couple of key points are worth emphasizing.

  1. Rotating the spinnaker is critical. The pole must be all the way back before the trip. This makes it easier to release the pole from the guy.
  2. The leeward clew of the spinnaker must be forward of the leeward shrouds before the trip. This enables the spinnaker to stay full during the gybe - and it makes it easy for the forward crew to set the pole on the new guy.
  3. Getting the twings in position helps control the new guy so that the forward crew can easily get the pole set.
  4. Heading the boat almost directly downwind is essential to bringing the pole all the way back before the trip while keeping the spinnaker full.
  5. Holding the boat almost directly downwind before the gybe gives the forward crew time to complete the trip and be ready to duck under the boom.
  6. During the gybe, turn the boat very little. Keep the boat headed almost directly downwind - but on the new gybe. This enables the middle crew to keep the spinnaker full and the boat under control while the pole is being set on the new gybe. If the skipper changes course to a reach too early, getting the pole on the mast ring will be a problem in higher winds.
  7. Coordination between the forward crew and middle crew on twing adjustment - particularly after the gybe - will help keep the spinnaker well trimmed. For exampled, pulling the windward twing down without an adjustment in the guy will pull the pole back. Work together on this - and make the adjustment smoothly, particularly in light air.
Copyright © 2003 by the Lansing Sailing Club, 6039 East Lake Drive, PO Box 51, Haslett, Michigan 48840.
Prepared by the LSC Crew Coordinator. More information can be obtained by contacting the LSC Crew Coordinator using the Contact Us page of the Lansing Sailing Club Web Site.