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Getting Headsails Down Easily

Posted by on February 7, 2011

We were racing on board a beautiful classic 51 footer last weekend in Nelson on New Zealand’s South Island. After a wonderful fast reach across Golden Bay, the winds increased to almost 25 knots. We had a huge asymmetrical spinnaker set, we were moving at a soul satisfying 9 knots. Soon we’d need the spinnaker down, the jib up so we could beat the last half-mile to the finish line. The helmsman showed his skills by saying, “I’m going to work to windward and when we get near the mark, we’ll turn and run off so the mainsail blankets the spinnaker and gives you a lee. Get ready to pull the sail up quickly and drop the chute.” Several of the crew were surprised at the idea of running off for a sail drop. But when we actually did what the skipper called a “Dip drop” they were delighted with the ease of pulling up a docile feeling jib and lowering a spinnaker that held almost now wind at all. The whole maneuver took less than two minutes and we lost only a bit of ground.

Larry and I have used this maneuver time and again during our cruising life. With just a bit of careful helmsmanship the drifter or spinnaker will float right down onto the foredeck without ever getting wet. Because we use this technique, combined with a jib downhaul (see Self Sufficient Sailor for more on jib downhauls) we have rarely felt we needed roller furling headsails or socks for the big nylon sails we use [Click here for more on light air headsails]. But we find many cruising sailors have not heard of the maneuver we call “blanketing the headsails.”

By turning almost dead downwind, the mainsail will steal the power from your headsails and slow the boat down. This could come in very handy for other uses such as taking the power out of a jammed roller furling jib so you can fair up the furling line, or slowing down and steadying out the boat if you want to go onto the foredeck to adjust gear or to lash the anchor if it is rattling in its chocks.

click for a larger image

Photo by Will Carver, Ocean photography

2 Responses to Getting Headsails Down Easily

  1. cercole

    We learned to do this on our first boat which had hank on head sails. Now we use it all the time even with roller furling. It makes rolling up the jib or stowing the spinnaker effortless.

  2. jol

    we are enjoying reading your articles and watching your videos thx.

    relatively new to sailing, (we have a wee open boat drascombe on a lake, but are preparing to get a small cabin gaffer to learn the sea and estuaries)i was wondering whether this technique might be a little fraught with the danger of gybing, but maybe this has to to do with the ever changing winds on the mountainous sided lake we sail on, which can often ensure that if we are not on a definite training type run, the following wind will often change from moment to moment causing gybing. I expect perhaps, that at sea with more room, one can keep a more definite bearing and the wind will be often constant unless you are near the coastline

    thx again for your time and efforts

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