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HURRICANES: Don's stories, experience and advice

Spinnaker Poles on Cruising Boats

The majority of modern cruising boats do not carry spinnaker poles as cruising on the east and west coasts of the states and Canada there is seldom a dead down wind run of hundreds of miles. The cruising man feels that with the modern asymmetric spinnaker he can sail deep enough that he does not need a spinnaker pole. For short dead down wind runs, the smart skipper rigs a strong main boom fore guy/preventer. Then he takes the windward genoa sheet out of its normal lead and runs it as far aft as possible. He then sails slightly by the lee and genoa, or asymmetric sheeted the same way will fill on the opposite side from the main.

This system will work, but it requires a good helmsman or woman, and continual attention.Thus this rig not a practical rig for long passages.

The asymmetric will allow a boat to sail deep but the jibing angle will be about 90 degrees. Though the speed thru the water may be fast and impressive, the VMG course made good, is not very good. This was brought home to me on my last, my fourteenth transatlantic. I was sailing on Sincerity, a very nice 92’ cruising ketch that sailed very well. We had a huge asymmetric but no pole. The last 1200 miles from the Cape Verdes to Antigua was dead down wind. With the asymmetric we were doing 10/11 kts but jibing angle was about 90 degrees so our VMG speed made good to Antigua was only 6 kts!!!!!

Had we had a pole we would probably have been making 9 kts on course!!!!!!

When cruising off shore the genoa wung out on the spinnaker pole is often used more frequently than the spinnaker. The flatter is the headsail sheeted thru the pole end, the less the boat will roll. Thus the pole should be about 20% longer than the base of the fore triangle. To stow on deck a pole of this length is difficult. One solution buy a telescoping pole. My recommendation, what ever size pole they recommend, buy on one size larger in diameter. Many firms make telescoping spinnaker poles. Forespar has been doing it for well over 30 years. They seem to make the best telescoping poles.

The best solution to stowing long spinnaker poles is to stow it vertically on the forward face of the mast. I have sailed with a number of boats that used this method. It works but when lowering or hoisting the end of the pole when it is half way stowed, it is in a very unstable position and difficult to control.

However Christmas 2015, my good friend and shipmate Geoff Curtain lent myself, my wife Trich , our daughter Dory and family, husband Scott Vogel, their son Dylan and daughter Emma Kate his Olynpic 48 Ariel. Scott and Dory are both very experienced America Cup sailors starting in 84 and continuing until the swiss won the America’s cup. It has been all down hill since then!!!! Dylan is a very experience bow man on hot racing boats, Emma Kate good small boat sailor.

When time came to sail dead down wind from Virgin Gorda to Joast Van Dyke we discovered what was to all of us a new interesting efficient and easily handled spinnaker pole rig. The pole was stowed vertically against the mast, but the butt end was on a carriage mounted on a track on the face of the mast. /sThe butt end of the pole was on a carriage on a long track. The butt end of the mast was up by the lower spreaders, the end that is attached to the genoa/spinnaker sheet was down on deck. Scott disconnected the end of the pole that takes the spinnaker/genoa sheet from the base of the mast, swung it out where it just cleared the life line. Duylan snapped it on to the windward genoa sheet, Scott pulled the butt end of the pole down until the pole became level. The cocpit crew threw off the leeward sheet, trimmed in on the windward sheet, genoa came a cross filled and we were off dead down wind, wing and wing. As the old maine coast gaff rigged coastal cargo carrying schooner skippers would say “sailing down wind reading both pages of the book”.

Taking the pole in the process was reversed. We felt the rig was unique, but on investigation it seem the late Bill Stevens of Stevens yacht bare boats, had this rig on the Stevens 47 back in the early 80’s

Then going thru my Ocean Sailing Yacht vol 1 published 1974, 140,000 copies sold and is still available via amazon I discovered a photo of Laurie Le Gays boat with two poles rigged in the same fashion. Laurie was an australian fashion photographer who had stopped in Grenada on his round the world passage. His crew were two of the best looking women in the world. They were his daughter and god daughter. Unattached males flocked to his boat like bear cubs to a honey pot!!!

If you are planning any long off shore passages rig you pole against the mast, butt end up on a track Selden the Swedish spar maker sells all the bitts and pieces to do this rig. Make the pole 20% longer than the base of the fore triangle and it will minimize rool.

Main boom on one side, vanged down tight, well secured with a main boom preventer/foreguy running from end of boom to block on or near stem, thence back to a winch and set up tight making it impossible to have an inadvertent jibe, genoa on the pole to windward, a fast and safe trade wind passage rig.

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