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How do I keep my A-sail under control?

2024 June 1

Dear Boat Doctor,

I bought an asymmetrical spinnaker this season. We are figuring out the sail but continue to struggle with one aspect. We fly the sail from a block mounted on the anchor roller. This setup is working pretty well, but we have torn the bow light off the pulpit twice. The sail can get away from us, and then the tack line whips around and snags on the bow light. How do we fix this?

Frank Davis

Newport News, Virginia

Dear Frank,

I have been there! Sometimes you are happily sailing along, but a shift results in chaos. Even worse, you hoist in a light breeze and find things building to “let God take it down” conditions. Flying the sail inside your pulpit when you don’t have 100% control can get messy. I have two ideas for you.

The best answer is a gennaker sprit, which allows you to tack the sail a bit forward of the pulpit, clear of most everything. Your sail will fly in cleaner air, and you’ll have room to jibe it “inside.” It takes some work to fit a sprit, but is very doable. Both Selden and Sparcraft/Facnor make kits to retrofit onto many boats. The systems typically integrate into the anchor roller. A collar supports the sprit at the anchor roller, and the sprint affixes to the deck on the aft end. They are removable and typically don’t require a bobstay or supporting rigging.

An easier but less functional option is to fix the spinnaker’s tack to (or near) the furled jib. This is traditionally done with parrel beads, a set of wood or plastic beads strung on a piece of wire or cordage. The string of beads is looped around the furled headsail, and the free ends are attached to the spinnaker’s tack. The beads allow the tack to float up and down, but prevents it from whipping around when things get dicey.

There are modern options to parrel beads, the most popular is the ATN Tacker (www.atninc.com). The Tacker performs the same job as parrel beads, but its wide, slippery cuff slides more easily on the furled sail.

Fixing the tack limits the agility of the sail. It doesn’t affect reaching, but it limits the rotation of the sail when going downwind. The beads can’t be installed until the sail is furled, and the sail can’t be unfurled until the beads are removed. For a typical cruising sailor, these limits are acceptable, but racers would likely balk.