Spinnaker Flying

If youre a sailor you may think this story is about sailing, but its not. (not yet) The spinnaker sail on a sailboat is sometimes called the fun sail because flying it sometimes is a lot of fun. But the spinnaker is also associated with a boat action known as the death roll which may be much less fun. The spinnaker is colorful and shaped like a parachute. I had read a magazine article about some sailors on a windy day had used their spinnaker sail to lift crew members high above their boat over the water, so I wanted to give it a try. First we anchored our 26 sailboat backwards in about three feet of water so that the stern was facing into the wind and the bow was facing down wind. Next we unfurled the spinnaker sail just like we were sailing except our anchor was firmly set, and the boat could not move. The huge sail billowed out stretching all the lines taut. The kids still didnt know what dad was up to when I asked for a volunteer but Quintin suspected the fun sail may not be much fun and declined to participate. Kailey on the other hand, being younger and more trusting eagerly stepped up to the challenge. We fashioned a bosuns chair from an old swing and attached my daughter to the tack (bottom corner) of the sail and let her fly. Immediately the gusting wind jerked her fifteen feet into the sky. The wind was gusting and her less than seventy five pounds was no match for a flying spinnaker. I was now having second thoughts because I know a spinnaker can collapse spilling all the wind which would suddenly drop my daughter into the water or possibly onto the boat. I quickly doused the sail, leaving Kailey in the water, flying was over for this day. Ok, this is about sailing after all, years later on another boat Kailey was manning the helm, her mother Linda was dealing with a sheet winch over ride and I was on deck with one arm securely wrapped around the mast and the other clamped on a shroud. Nothing was going to pull me from my chosen spot. We were quickly making our way upriver under our cruising spinnaker and had just changed course following the rivers bend. Our boat Wind song was now sailing directly downwind and the big spinnaker sail was not exactly solidly set on one side of the boat or the other. With just a little shift in wind the sail suddenly collapsed and immediately refills on the other side violently dragging the bow of the boat sideways. This of course causes the boat to heel so much that we are all hanging on for dear life. Kailey then counter steers trying to regain control and bring the boat back to an even keel, but now the sail once again jerks the bow over and we heel more than 25 degrees the other way. Kailey is in a panic because she is unable to control the boat. Linda is still fighting the overwrap and apparently has been voicing her opinions vehemently for some time. I am blissfully unaware of Lindas problem and have been laughing with every new accidental gybe, and having the time of my life riding my bucking bronco. I dont know how many death rolls we endured but I became aware that I was yelling (screaming if you ask them) at my crew and they were not receiving any useful guidance. Linda could not release the spinnaker sheet after I had said repeatedly to just wind it up not knowing it was jammed. Kailey was steering back and forth like a car on ice and her dad was screaming useless instructions while swinging from the mast. I fondly remember having a great time, but at some point during all this fun, I made my way forward to the bow and pulled the snap shackle lanyard that held the tack and instantly the fun sail ceased to control Wind Song. Snap shackles are designed to be releasable under load and are normally used to hold the bottom . (the tack) of spinnaker sails. Wind song in seconds went from utter pandemonium to peaceful relaxation. The spinnaker sail was sent flying high in the sky like a flag, Wind Song was riding flat with no heel, her speed had dropped to dead slow, the noise and my screaming ended. Lindas over wrap became loose and easily removed, Kailey no longer felt the urge to throw the ships wheel hard over from port to starboard to port. The action was over, so was my fun, so It seemed like a good time to pull the sock down over the spinnaker and lower the halyard holding it aloft. The spinnaker went back in it s bag to be stowed below, no more of the fun sail today. The remainder of the journey was under main sail and a working jib augmented by the iron jenny (diesel) This particular outing is remembered differently by all that were present. Unfortunately Kailey has quit sailing, and Linda has greatly reduced her time onboard.
excerpts from www.triptalkusa.com


Flying spinnaker at Shell Island, Panama City Florida from sailing vessel Terra Nova May 2009.
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