With the right preparation and practice it should be possible for any crew, big or small, to perform a spinnaker drop safely and successfully.
Dropping the kite double-handed may seem a daunting challenge, but provided you take adequate steps to ensure the spinnaker is deflated, a drop can be successfully achieved by any size of crew. In most situations a conventional leeward drop down the main companionway will offer security and shelter to get the spinnaker safely away.
Halyards, guys, lazy sheets and tacklines should be flaked, ready to run. Hoist the jib and sheet it in – at this stage the headsail is just being used as a windbreak to drop the spinnaker behind; sheeting in will keep it on the right side of the boat. Steer a course as far downwind as conditions will allow without involuntarily gybing; decreasing the apparent wind in this way should help deflate the spinnaker in light and medium conditions.
Quick preparation tips
- Be prepared for a drop from the minute the spinnaker hoist has finished.
- Throwing halyards and tacklines over the back of the boat before a drop will ensure they are not tangled and may provide enough drag through the water to control the speed of the drop.
- Allow enough length in your halyards for your sail to lie flat on top of the water and still be gathered in.
- Forgotten lazy sheets on symmetric kites are often the cause of troublesome drops, so don’t forget they need to run free as well as the guy.
Once on course allow the spinnaker to rotate behind the jib and mainsail by letting off the guy or tackline. Once blanketed by the sails start gathering the foot under the boom – short-handed this is best done from inside the cockpit, minimising the risk of crew being pulled over the side and allowing easy access to halyard jammers. Ease the halyard at the pace of the person gathering the sail.
In bigger breeze or with physically less strong crews, consider dropping through the ‘letter box’ – the gap between a loose-footed main and the boom. This can be achieved by leading the lazy guy or sheet through the letter box when preparing for the drop then carrying out the manoeuvre in the same way – pulling the sail through this gap will squeeze any air out of the spinnaker and also give some leverage to the crew gathering in the sail.
It can be quite a mission gathering the foot of a large asymmetric so a drop/retrieval line can help pull the sail into shelter more quickly. A sailmaker-fitted drop line is usually a soft rope, attached to the centre of the sail then passing through one or two loops sewn in the bottom section.
Pulling on the drop line once the tack has been released will ‘fold’ the spinnaker, collapsing it and allowing you to gather the bulk starting at the middle rather than a corner.
An alternative method is to attach a spare rope to the tack of the sail; once the tackline has been released, this will allow you to pull the windward corner quickly round to the leeward side of the boat. Both drop lines should be long enough to come back to the cockpit for short-handed dropping.
When using a snuffer do not let the guy or tackline fly, just ease out enough for the windward corner to reach mid-foredeck or mast depending on where you are pulling the snuffer down. Dropping bareheaded gives better vision of the top of the sail and will allow crew to pull from the middle or windward side of the boat, offering greater security.
Put a snatch block (ideally with a ratchet) on your snuffer line, clip it onto the deck and pull up rather than down.
This will give a greater purchase and in extreme conditions it may also be possible to lead the snuffer line back to a cockpit winch and wind the sock down from there.
Once the sock is down, if conditions allow, the whole spinnaker can be lowered straight through the forehatch.
Big breeze tip
If caught out in a big breeze be prepared to let the guy or tackline fly out to ensure the spinnaker does not refill mid-drop. Remove knots from the end of these lines and let them run. The result will be noisy flapping and a line or two to re-rig, but allows you to focus all your attention on gathering in the sail.