You’ve got a friend! Spinnaker Part 2, how to set and strike it

The Spinnaker is my friend– drawing A. Detzler

The spinnaker is my  friend? Okay, maybe it is not love on first sight, but for sure on second or third sight.

In Part 1 we dealt with the Basics. Here we will describe how to set and strike the spinnaker. We’re still going slow, because it takes some time to develop a friendship. We will practice in moderate winds or even on the jetty.

By the way: The hints in italics should be ignored by beginners.

Set the spinnaker

With or without jib?

It is a good idea for beginners, to furl the foresail or strike and tie it. Because it is easier to control the spinnaker when jib or genoa are down. Without foresail you also have a clear view of the spinnaker and of the traffic on the water. But: This should only be done in light winds or downwind, because otherwise the wind could fall violently into the large spinnaker and create stress onboard.

Leeward or windward?

On keelboats the spinnaker is normally set leeward, on dinghies windward. We set it leeward.

On a Sailhorse it works both ways, but each way requires a different handling.


Don’t get confused! Drawing, A. Detzler/SaF

With a jib, the spinnaker sheets are led above the jib sheets and beyond the shrouds. They are led into the cockpit on the lee side between mast and shrouds. The sheets are pulled out of the cockpit (and later pulled back into the cockpit) above the jib sheets between shrouds and forestay.

On a Sailhorse the spinnaker sheets can also be led beneath the jib sheets. Some Sailhorser prefer this version. 


With a genoa the spinnaker sheets are led beneath genoa sheets between stag and mast.

In this case the spinnaker sheets must be loosened and adjusted before setting or after striking.

Tacking on the spinnaker

First, if not already done, the spinnaker must be moved to the expected leeside.

Most (good) spinnakers have color-coded leeches (red and green come together at the sails head), which helps to tack on the leeches correctly. Both leeches should be put through one’s hand to ensure that nothing is twisted.
We recommend hooks made by “Brummel” for tacking, because the handling is safe and quick, even if sides have to be changed or twists need to be removed.

Putting up the spinnaker pole

 (During race: before you reach windward buoy)

  1. Adjust the pole uphaul to the first approximate height of the spinnaker pole or prepare it for the steers(wo)man.
  2. Hook in the spinnaker pole into the leeward sheet in front of the shrouds.
  3. Then hook in the spinnaker pole at the mast and adjust the desired angle using the pole uphaul (Sailhorse starting position: 90 degree angle to forestay)
  4. Especially with more wind, secure the height of the pole by using the pole downhaul.

For a start the spinnaker can be set without the pole when you practice in low winds or with aft winds.

Attach the sheets

Unless is has not been done (check it!)

  1. Attach leeward sheet (avoids twisting), put it into the clamp where you want it to be, when you sail an acute broad reach. (Put a mark on the sheet, for example a sewed in thread)
  2. Attach both barber hauler, for a start relatively tight.
  3. Pull tight the windward sheet, so that spinnaker clew and spinnaker pole meet at the forestay. Oftentimes the pole is drawn back to the windward shroud, then it must immediately be pushed back to the forestay.
  4. Pull tight the foresail (it prevents the spinnaker from twisting around the forestay) and open the mainsail (protects the spinnaker from incoming gusts).

Hoisting the spinnaker

(During race: just before you reach the mark)

  • During stronger winds steer the boat into a downwind position.
  • The bow(wo)man announces that the Spinnaker is ready and passes the sheets into the hands of the steer(wo)man.
  • The steer(wo)man gets up and steers with the tiller between the legs.
  • The steer(wo)man quickly pulls the spinnaker halyard until the spinnaker is about 20-30 cm beneath the halyard-turning-block in the mast. Because it is not easy to see when you reach the 20-30 cm limit, mark the halyard (use a sewed in thread).
  • The bow(wo)man ensures that the spinnaker runs fine without twists and (if necessary) pushes the spinnaker pole back into its right position so that windward clew and spinnaker-pole-latch come together.
  • The steer(wo)man ensures that the spinnaker is in the right position. When the spinnaker is hoisted and the spinnaker pole is up front, the first and most important action is: Pull in the windward sheet to move the pole to the right position.
Sailhorse mit gesetztem Spinnaker

A happy and satisfying moment! – Photo: M. Fohler

Only now is the right time: the spinnaker unfolds, fills with wind and here we go! A happy and satisfying moment.

The attentive reader might have noticed that the steer(wo)man needs four hands for pulling the sheets and halyard and the bow(wo)man needs artistic skills for handling all the actions properly and quickly. But it works. The bow(wo)man focusses on preparing everything correctly and elegantly – without falling overboard with the pole or getting entangled in all the lashing . And the steer(wo)man is happy with the correct process: 1. Stand up, tiller between legs, 2. attach spinnaker sheets, 3. hoist the spinnaker. 4. attach the spinnaker. 5. trimm it with the sheets.

The bow(wo)man could also work the sheets but then he/she cannot respond to other upcoming tasks.

Handing over the sheets, take up seating positions

So, all that you have to do now is hand the sheets over to the bow(wo)man and take up the sitting positions: Steer(wo)man on the leeward side, bow(wo)man on the windward side, with a clear view of the spinnaker.

Problems while hosting the spinnaker

Difficulties mostly arise

  • with light winds and / or if the wind falls in more astern than at the start of the manoeuvre.

When sailing downwind with light winds the following can happen: You sail a jibe without noticing. But when the wind comes back, the spinnaker pole behind the forestay is on the wrong side (leeward) and because of hectic reactions the spinnaker can get twisted around the forestay.

    • Furthermore, with light winds the spinnaker pole is drawn back, and a jibe is likely, because of the wind that falls in more astern.
Forward wind without spinnaker pole – a challenge even for experienced sailors. Photo: R. v. d. Sluis

Forward wind without spinnaker pole – a challenge even for experienced sailors. Photo: R. v. d. Sluis

Tip: The bow(wo)man pushes the pole to the forestay, the steer(wo)man corrects the course, then the spinnaker can only move from the forestay to the leeward side.

In both cases it helps to shift the mainsail. The main sail will guide the wind to the other side of the spinnaker.

By the way: Normally this is not a problem when the jib is up. But if it happens, it is really troublesome because then the spinnaker also gets entangled with the jib.

Tip: If you start sailing spinnaker, try to exercise to hoist the spinnaker with jib and spinnaker pole. Once the spinnaker is hoisted, the jib can be put down or furled if needed, especially during windward course.

  • Another problem is the entangled spinnaker (sandglass). If that happens it helps to loosen the spinnaker halyard, the spinnaker will come down a bit and thereby disentangles.

The process in a video

A nice video can be found here


Striking the spinnaker

Vor der Lee-Boje Spi bergen: Wie man sieht, es geht in Luv und in Lee –
Foto: R. v. d. Sluis

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