the Spinnaker Gybe with Mike Mac

As a heavy-air gybe approaches, both helm and crew will usually start to worry about whether they will survive. Their best chance of doing so, will depend upon how adept they are at doing the various jobs and how well they have them organized.

It is essential to have a routine that is practised beforehand and is always adhered to. Think for a moment about what is involved: we want to alter the boat’s course, to get all three sails from one side to the other and we want to change sides ourselves. All this without having to swim. If each job is given a number, then a proper sequence emerges:

1. Approach the mark well to windward. Give it a wide berth.
2. Look for suitable waves to gybe on, at the same time as looking for gusts. Do not attempt to gybe while decelerating in a wave or as the wind increases. Both slow the boat down relative to the wind and increase pressure on the sails. Arrange to gybe while accelerating or when the
wind pressure on the sails is dropping.
3. As you approach the gybe point, the crew stands. He eases the leeward sheet and cleats it at the ‘reach’ mark for the other side. As he does so, the boat is borne away on to a dead run and the helm stands.
4. At this point the crew pulls the spinnaker around by pulling on the old windward sheet.
5. The main boom is sheeted in a bit, and, on order, the gybe is started, and the boom is flicked across by the helm (helped by the crew perhaps). (Uncle Al’s note: I don’t think anyone I know really “flicks the boom across” except in light air. It is usually necessary to bear away well past straight downwind until the boom ‘wants’ to come over. See also the article on the S-gybe in Efficient Sailing!)
6. As the crew goes over with the helm, he uncleats the jib, and takes the sheet from the other side with him.
7. Crew balances the boat, forgetting the sails until the boat is stable again.
8. Crew cleats the jib. On the order “NOW”, from the helm, he goes forward to unclip the pole from the mast.
9. The leeward sheet is pulled out of the plunger.
10. The uphaul rope is reorganised in its pole fitting if necessary.
11. The new windward sheet is fed through the pole end and that end is pushed forwards.
12. If the crew has cleated it right, before the gybe, the new windward sheet will stop the pole just short of the forestay, while the new leeward sheet, if pre-cleated correctly, should just enable the sail to set.
13. All this time, the helmsman should be refraining from such unhelpful comments as “Hurry up!”, etc. He should be standing, balancing the boat for the straining, un-balanced crew. He should be keeping the boat as upright as possible, without swaying to windward, which will un-balance the crew even further.
14. Be careful about feeding the windward sheet through the lead near the shroud, or about tensioning the windward barberhauler. This will bring the pole aft by tightening the windward sheet, and may cause the spinnaker to collapse.
15. The crew sits down, sheeting the jib in properly - easing or tensioning as necessary. Then he picks up the leeward spinnaker sheet.
16. The helmsman sheets in and off they go.

Gybing on the run uses very similar techniques except that the crew should hand the sheets to the helm after gybing the main. The helm can then keep the spinnaker flying whilst steering with the tiller between his legs.