Uncle Al's Spinnaker Routine
using the "balls" system
for improved spinnaker sheet control

This initially complicated but ultimately very handy spinnaker sheeting system was first noted on some of the UK boats in the ‘89 Worlds at Vallensbæk in Denmark where its heavy air potential could be easily appreciated.  A year later, it was outlined in the Danish W-Nyt by Poul Ammentorp (W239), and I shall try to summarize and update this system here.
    The “balls” system requires a barberhauler (henceforth referred to as BH) arrangement for the spi sheet plus a pair of plastic balls threaded onto the spi sheet which are kept in the forward ten feet or so of each sheet end by means of a suitable blockage such as a whipping. For set-up details click here.
Our routine assumes a typical buoys-to-port, triangle-sausage-windward course:

(a)  before the start
1. carefully pack spi in port-side bag, ready to hoist without twists
2. cleat port spi sheet at its marked spi-reach position
3. stow pole on starboard side of boom

(b) near windward mark -
at end of last port tack:
1. unhook spi halyard from storage hook on port side
2. make sure port BH is uncleated
3. feed one metre of starboard spi clew out of spi bag and onto foredeck while tightening and cleating the starboard BH from the port side of the boat

at end of last starboard tack:
1. pole downhaul out of storage hook at forward end of boom (see Care & Control of Your Pole)
2. if practical, helm presets pole to correct sailing height
3. adjust controls for upcoming reach (e.g. outhaul, cunningham, vang)

(c) after rounding:
1. check that it is tactically desirable to hoist - i.e. make sure that you will not be luffed or passed to windward during your hoist
2. when conditions are “go”, crew takes main and jib sheets and balances the boat while helm hoists spi. This is especially important when the boat is (or may be) overpowered.  On SHADES, the crew regularly has to briefly strap the jib in after the hoist in order to free the spi sheet which catches under the jib foot. After this, the crew cleats the jib in an effective reaching position.
3. once the halyard is carefully cleated, the helm takes over the mainsheet and balancing duties while the crew sets the pole
4. once the pole is set, the spi should fill since its sheet was pre-cleated.  Crew then takes over the sheet and fine-tunes the spi

(d) at the gybe mark -
the approach:
as helm begins to bear away for gybe, crew yanks pole well aft to bring (most of) spi to starboard side while releasing leeward spi sheet, cleats in port BH, and uncleats jib - helm waits til crew is done before completing the gybe
the gybe:
1. both helm and crew concentrate all energies on the gybe - the spi, with both BHs cleated in should present no problem unless the gybe is badly mishandled!
2. in windy weather, the crew helps the boom over by grabbing the vang.  Crew exerts some pull on vang without actually trying to force the boom over until it indicates it wants to go when the pressure on the sail decreases significantly.
    If a capsize is feared, the helm must do an S-gybe (i.e. pull the tiller briefly to port as the boom goes over) and the crew should help by trying to stop the boom from crashing over by resisting its momentum (i.e. fighting boom’s momentum by pulling on the vang once it has crossed the centre line). This cushions the gybe and makes the boat easier to steer out of the gybe.

after the gybe:
1. helm & crew balance the boat and steer as tactics dictate (e.g. go high to defend wind) while trimming main and jib to best effect
2. at word from helm, crew completes pole transfer while helm drives and balances the boat
3. crew uncleats leeward BH and sheets in

end of second reach -
approaching the leeward mark:
1. helm and crew set sail controls and board for upcoming beat
2. at word from helm, crew stands in front of windward jib sheet and stows the pole.  Helm may adjust uphaul for storage parallel to boom, or do it later, as the situation dictates
3. helm stands (briefly, if necessary!) to uncleat spi halyard and holds it in a light grip over his head to anticipate (and prevent) tangles.  In a blow, the halyard can be thrown overboard to achieve the same effect.
4. crew quickly pulls spi down while helm exerts enough halyard pressure to prevent the sail from coming down faster than the crew can handle. If this is done quickly enough, there should be no risk of the leeward spi sheet going under the boat (which is slow!).  (To further help us to keep from sailing over the sheet, we also have a little 4” stainless steel wire loop sticking out from the bow at deck level.)
    Crew pulls all slack from spi halyard and stows it around the storage hook near the shrouds before cleating halyard in small black clam cleat near mast. If time permits, crew stuffs spi into bag .

at the mark:
Having the board full down, playing the jib and keeping the boat flat as we round onto the beat are the priorities - something which has to be stressed with crews who have a fetish for neatness.  Cleaning up can be done later, when you’re settled away on a tack that you expect to hold for a while.

(f) end of second beat and start of run:
1. since the next leg will be a run, both BHs may want to be cleated in, but the windward one for sure!
2. here the procedure differs in that helm and crew can both work on the spi at the same time: helm hoists and then takes both sheets to fly the spi while the crew adds the pole to the mix.  If you have remained on starboard tack, this will be difficult because the pole is wedged against the shroud on the leeward side of the boom, and will require the helm to sheet in a bit!  The crew wants to add the pole carefully so that the spi, being so masterfully flown by the helm, will not be made to collapse!
3. once the pole is attached, the helm can cleat the windward sheet in an appropriate position while the crew takes over the sheet
4. coordinating their motions, helm sits/stands to leeward, crew to windward
5. in light airs, helm holds boom out and gives boat a windward heel to help the spi set better

(g) run-to-run gybe:
In true survival conditions, I would cleat both BHs, and have helm and crew both concentrate on the S-gybe with the crew on the vang with priority #1 being capsize avoidance.
In all other cases,
1. the helm stands and steers with his knees while he grabs the leeward sheet and waits for the crew to pass him the windward one.  Both sheets are held in the part that comes directly from the spi!!
2. helm steers through gybe with his knees (S-gybes require some practice here!) and tries to keep the spi flying while avoiding the boom (again: practice makes perfect!)
3. crew cleats jib on new tack, switches pole as quickly as possible because the boat is
    a) stern-heavy while helm steers with knees
    b) under less than optimum control
4. helm now cleats windward sheet from where he’s standing, grabs the tiller and moves forward to his usual position to get the transom back out of the water.  Meanwhile, the crew takes over the sheet.

(h) the end of the run:
The take-down can (usually) be quite relaxed since it is often possible for the crew to stow the pole quite early while the helm plays the sheets until the last dog is hung!  Thereafter, the take-down procedure is the same as before!