Tony Bull looks at the fine-tune controls used to fly a symmetrical spinnaker off a pole, first published on Australian Sailing.
When a complete novice first steps on board a racing yacht, invariably the first response is amazement at the number of sheets and lines that run along the deck and up the mast. They find it hard to comprehend that all these ropes have a role in the sailing of the boat. All top sailors will tell you the difference in the relative speeds of similar craft is the ability to constantly adjust the setup of the boat to counter the wind and wave variations as they are faced. This ability to change gears and keep your boat sailing well through the oscillating conditions is what sets the top boats apart.
All these various lines and sheets each have a role to play in these alterations. I see so many boats sail around the course with a very token approach to changing gears. I had a recent experience of doing some two-boat sailing with a couple of sister-ships who race against each other at club level and compete in the odd title for that class. One skipper made the comment before we even hit the water that the other boat always ran faster downwind despite using the same make spinnakers. Looking at the two boats sitting side by side on the hard stand, I pointed out that his boat had a substantial amount more rake in his mast and, looking closer, his spinnaker pole ring on the front of his mast was about half a metre higher than his rival’s. Both of these factors would have a significant bearing on the comparable speeds of the two boats. To be able to change gears, we need to have awareness of what can and should be adjusted to constantly maximise our speed.