Learn to Sail – Spinnaker Chutes

Following an article I wrote on learning to sail with a spinnaker, I thought it may be worth introducing to the beginner and sailors that have not had the pleasure of using a spinnaker chute.

Designed in America for the Flying Dutchman class it has proven it worth in many sailing races that allow the use of a spinnaker chute. Its is fast to hoist and lowering the spinnaker so in a race with light airs it can be a major benefit on time when hoisting around the mark.

All sailing yachts are different in size therefore each spinnaker chute can be slightly different in setting, but generally the basic setup is as follows.

This description given is when the spinnaker is hoisted, if you can imagine a continuous loop from the spinnaker halyard to a mid point connection on the front side of the spinnaker sail, for a down haul connection. The down haul leads down to the spinnaker chute and then horizontal to the stern of the yacht on exiting the spinnaker chute to the stern there is a free board length that allows for pulling on the down haul rope. At the end of this is a roller block returning the down haul forwards, which in turn becomes the spinnaker halyard, going horizontally forward through a jammer to the mast base and then up the mast and connecting to the spinnaker sail head swivel.

The function to lower the spinnaker is to on skippers instruction; un-jam the spinnaker halyard and release the spinnaker sheets in a controlled manner, then pulling in on the down haul which will allow the spinnaker to collapse down into the spinnaker chute until fully stowed and jammed off.

To hoist the spinnaker un-jam the halyard and hoist the spinnaker at the same time pulling in on the spinnaker sheets and allowing the spinnaker to fill with wind, jam off the halyard and adjust the spinnaker sheets for optimum sailing.

If your sailing yacht has a jib furling system it is advantages to furl the jib away when learning to use the spinnaker, enabling the crew to concentrate on the spinnaker, especially when sailing a yacht with a large overlapping Genoa.

Spinnaker Stowage

Provisions should be made to stow the spinnaker to either port or starboard sides of the yacht. The spinnaker should be stowed clear of the floor of the yacht and kept as dry as possible. When initially fitting a spinnaker chute to a yacht is should firstly be positioned for free running of the spinnaker when hoisting and lowering, not applying extra load on the spinnaker in this operation. Then the deck fittings should be positioned and fixed in the correct places bearing in mind the crew’s position in the yacht. Care should be taken to reduce the friction in the sheeting system and the use of large diameter blocks is preferred. Bulls- eye deck fitting should be used where you have long runs of sheet to lift the sheet clear of the deck, especially when the sheets are wet.


After practice, it will be obvious that certain timings of the hoisting and lowering of the spinnaker can be considerably reduced and the crew becoming more efficient.

After initial training, each crew can develop their own version of these systems which will differ from yacht to yacht, but basically improve sailing technique and hopefully help win the race!

Learn to Sail Better – How to Retrieve a Lost Mainsail Or Genoa Halyard Fast!

You’ve just motored out to a clear spot in the river and get ready to raise the mainsail. You hoist the head of the mainsail up the mast–and the halyard breaks free!

Now you are in a mess, as the halyard flails back and forth, five feet out of reach. Learn to sail like a pro when you use a simple, little-known technique that will keep this from ruining your sailing day!

Before you get underway, rig a simple halyard retrieval line for your mainsail and headsail halyards. That will allow you to haul the halyard down if it parts, or breaks loose when hoisting any sailboat sail. Follow these three easy steps:

Measure Your Mast and Headstay

Use small diameter, three-strand nylon or Dacron line. For the mainsail halyard, make the line length equal to the sailboat mast, plus enough to reach the base of the mast to tie it off to a cleat. For the headsail, make the line length equal to the headstay, plus enough to reach back to the cockpit and tie off to a cockpit boat cleat.

Splice an Eye Above the Halyard Shackle

Form a tight, small eye in each halyard just above the halyard shackle. Avoid the temptation to splice to the shackle, because the eye could slip off of the shackle when retrieving. Cover the bitter ends of your splice with three or four tight wraps of riggers tape. This will prevent the ends from fraying in the high winds at the head of the mast.

Hook a Block to the Stem-head at the Bow

Shackle a fairlead block to the stemhead (the fitting that the bottom of the headstay attaches to). Use one of the holes aft of the hole used by the headstay.

Test Your Mainsail and Headsail Retrieval Lines

Raise your mainsail on a a calm day in the slip or at the pier. Slack the retrieval line as you hoist the head of the mainsail. Some sailing skippers like to attach a small block to the base of the mast to run the mainsail retrieval line aft to the cockpit. You can also use the line to help haul the mainsail down after sailing.

Raise your Genoa or jib to the top of the sailboat mast. Feed the line through the block and aft back to the cockpit. Your headstay retrieval line can pull double-duty as “haul-down” line to help you lower the Genoa or jib.

Mark Your Cleat Spots on Each Retrieval Line

Make sure to keep each line slack so that it does not interfere with sail shape. Use a marker to show the “cleat off” spot on each retrieval line. That way, you know that your lines are set to the correct spot and ready to use in an instant.

Use these five easy tips to learn to sail better and with less effort. Boost your sailing skipper skills to the next level with these time and effort saving sailing tips–wherever in the world you choose to go sailing.

Learn to Sail Like a Pro – How to Use a Sailboat Winch

Learn to sail with confidence when you know the safe, easy way to put sailboat winches to work. These mechanical devices save you time and effort and help you trim sails for power and speed. Read on to learn how to put these “sailing workhorses” to work aboard your sailboat.

Imagine that you need to trim your sail in a heavy breeze. You grab the line, pull hard, and find it almost impossible to hold because of the tension created by the wind. Enter the sailboat winch!

These mechanical helpers are shaped something like an hourglass. The middle part–called a drum–has gears inside. These gears, along with a winch handle (more on this later), multiply the mechanical advantage of the winch to save you a lot of back-breaking work!

The wide bottom mounts onto the deck of your sailboat. The wide top–or plate–has a hole in the middle. You insert the winch handle into this hole and turn the handle, which turns the gears and drum of the winch. Follow these five easy steps for safe sailing and sail trimming.

1. Lead the Line in Up to the Winch

Check to make sure that the line you want to take to the winch leads (points) up to the winch. You may find on some boats that the line leads down to a winch–and that can be dangerous.

You can change the lead of a line with a block. Sail sheets (control lines) pass through blocks first before they get to the winch. Blocks that help point the line in the correct direction to the winch are often called “lead blocks”, because the “lead” or “redirect” the line in the correct direction to the winch.

Position lead blocks between the sail clew and winch in such a way that the sail sheet will lead up to the winch at a slight angle. Keep the block just a bit lower than the drum of the winch. This will insure that the sail sheet always leads at an upward angle to the winch drum for safe sailing when you use your sailboat winch.

2. Wrap the Sheet Clockwise

Pull the sheet to the winch and make a full turn (circle) around the drum in a clockwise direction. Full turns on a winch are called “wraps”. Build wraps onto a winch drum by keeping each successive wrap parallel to the previous wrap, flat against the drum. Avoid stacking wraps on top of one another. This can lead to an “override” or jammed turns that will cause the wraps to freeze onto the drum. Keep the wraps next to one another for safe, smooth, easy sail trim.

3. Count the Wraps

On small boats make a single wrap around the winch drum to remove the slack from a loose sail sheet. Then wrap it one or two more times to hold the sheet in place. On larger boats, wrap the line three to four turns to hold it in place. More wraps creates more friction on the drum to keep the line from slipping. Increase the number of wraps for thinner line.

After you wrap the line two to four times, pull on the line with slight tension to hold the wraps in place. This action–called “tailing” places light tension on the wraps to keep them aligned on the drum. Some winches are self-tailing, which means they have two “clam-shell” plates on top to hold the line for you. After you complete the wraps around the drum, jam the line into the clam plates and make a full wrap.

4. Grind on the Winch

Trim your sail by turning the winch drum. This pulls in the sheet or halyard so that you can shape your sails for speed or power. Insert a winch handle into the center hole in the top plate of the winch drum. Stand up, hover over the winch and keep your back straight. Hold the sheet or line with your non-dominant hand and grind (turn the winch handle) with your dominant hand. When finished grinding (unless you use self-tailing winches), remove the winch handle. Cleat off the line. Make the cleat hitch without the final locking hitch. That way, you will be able to release the sheet fast and easy for trimming, tacking, or jibing.

5. Ease or Cast Off

Use your dominant hand to ease a sail sheet (let it out). First, remove the sheet from the cleat or remove the single wrap from inside the clam plates on a self-tailing winch. Hold the line with moderate tension to keep the wraps in place. Place the palm of your non-dominant hand against the wraps on the drum with moderate pressure. This will keep the wraps stacked without overrides as you ease the sheet. Use a smooth motion to ease the sheet an inch or two, then hold (brake”) the sheet with your palm. Ease and brake, ease and brake, in a smooth, easy motion.

You will cast off the line or sheet when you change tacks, jibe, or need to lower a sail. Wait until you have eased the line as described above. Pull straight up and out off the drum of the winch and let the turns spin off the winch. Allow the sheet or line to run through your hand. If tacking or jibing, drop the sheet and move to the sheet on the opposite side of the cockpit. Repeat the steps above to trim the opposite sheet. When finished, stow the winch handle, coil sheets or lines and get ready for the next tack or jibe.

Follow these easy sailing tips to use any sailboat winch fast and easy. Sail with confidence when you know how to sail in safety–wherever in the world your choose to cruise!

Learn to Sail With Magic Shroud Telltales

If you are anything like me, you are always on the lookout for sailing tips that make sailing easier with less effort. When you first learn to sail, it can be tough to “see the wind”. You can feel the wind on your cheek or the back of your neck. But how can you see it? Check out these three simple, non-electronic type wind indicators that are available for sailors:

Types of Apparent Wind Indicators

Sail Luff Telltales

Your Genoa or mainsail may carry telltales–small strips of yarn or ribbon–attached the luff (in the case of a headsail) or the leech (on a mainsail). These telltales show the flow of apparent wind across the sail. But sail telltales can be tough to see. You have to bend down, crane your neck to see the luff of your Genoa. And when you sail short-handed or by yourself, that can be a lot of work. Plus the fact that luff telltales just show the apparent wind flow across one sail.

Masthead Fly

If you have a wind “fly” at the masthead, this miniature wind-vane shows how the wind flows across the boat. It’s just about the perfect apparent wind indicator because it’s not obstructed or blocked by another sail, mast, rigging, or blocked by land nearby. But masthead flys can be tough to see way up at the top of your mast.

Shroud Telltales

Shroud telltales are an easier alternative to the masthead fly and still give you a great picture of how the apparent wind flows across your boat. They’re easier to use than luff telltales for shorthanded sailors because you don’t need to bend down and strain to see the luff of your Genoa or headsail. Best of all, they are cheap, easy to make, and super simple to use. Follow these three easy steps to make and mount your shroud telltales in just a few minutes:

1. Find the Right Material for Shroud Telltales

Go down to your local fabric and sewing store. Find the aisle that sells yarn. Buy a roll of Angora wool yarn. Dark colors are good for daytime sailing, while brighter colors stand out better at night. Angora wool makes the best telltale because it’s light and shows direction even in those super light morning zephyrs.

2. Make and Attach Your Shroud Telltales

Cut off two 6″ to 9″ strips of wool. Attach the yarn to the upper shroud on each side, as high off the deck as possible. You want the yarn in clear air so that it’s not blocked by your cabin roof, Bimini top, or spray dodger.

3. Match Your Telltale to the Point of Sail

Use a “sail and study” method to learn to read the shroud telltale. Sail onto each point of sail, get the boat steady, and watch the telltale. Observe how it points. After a few times of doing this, you will be able to recognize just how the telltale should look when beating, reaching, or running.

How to Use Your Shroud Telltales

Concentrate on three specific points of sail: beating (close hauled), beam reaching, and running. On each point of sail, observe the angle that your shroud telltales make. This takes a bit of practice and patience.

For beating, find that “razor’s edge” between luffing and sailing. Glance at the windward side shroud telltale. Note how it makes a slight angle off the bow. Hold your course and concentrate on that angle. Fall off a bit and note how your windward shroud telltale changes its angle. Head up back to a beat (close hauled course). Again, note the shroud telltale angle. Repeat this several times until this shroud telltale angle becomes second nature to you.

Follow this same sequence with a beam reach and running course. As you can see, shroud telltales will force you to first find the point of sail and then assist you to hold that point of sail. This will make you less reliant on luff telltales and take less effort because they will always be visible while you steer from your tiller or wheel.

Use these three fast, easy steps on your journey to learn to sail better than ever before. You will increase your speed, power, and performance on any point of sail–wherever in the world you choose to sail!