What To Do If Your Spinnaker Wraps Around The Forestay

Watch how Parlay Revival recovers from a wrapped spinnaker

Sailing With A Spinnaker

Navigating the open waters while sailing downwind is the perfect time to fly your spinnaker, which is an experience that we believe every sailor should have the opportunity to enjoy. With that said, the great experience of flying a spinnaker can quickly turnaround if the spinnaker wraps around your forestay.

What Causes A Spinnaker To Wrap?

Before we get into how to recover from your spinnaker being wrapped around the forestay, let’s first dive into why you may run into this issue.

There are a few factors that can work in combination to cause this issue. These factors include:

  • Sudden shifts to the wind direction or pressure.
  • Improper trimming of your sails, including the mainsail.
  • An insufficiency in the coordination of the crew.

Today, we will be focusing on sudden shifts to the wind direction or pressure and how that can cause your spinnaker to begin wrapping around your forestay.

Sudden Shifts to the Wind Direction or Pressure

When flying your spinnaker, you want to keep a close eye on the wind direction as a sudden shift in direction can easily and quickly alter the air flow and pressure blowing into the spinnaker.

Changes to Wind Direction

As a spinnaker is traditionally used when sailing downwind, catching the air like a balloon or parachute, a sudden change in wind direction can cause the sail to depower and begin falling towards the mast. Another possibility with sudden changes in direction is if the wind angle shifts far enough, the wind could actually push the spinnaker towards the mast, catching on the forestay. If this happens, the spinnaker can begin to wrap very quickly and tightly, making it difficult to recover quickly.

Changes to Wind Pressure

Along with any changes in wind angle, sudden pressure changes can occur. The most likely scenario that will cause your spinnaker to wrap around the forestay, has to do with your mast and mainsail. As the wind angle changes, your mainsail will need to be adjusted to remain in an optimal position. If the mainsail is positioned where it blocks some of the air flowing into the spinnaker, it can create a low-pressure zone. This is what happened to Parlay Revival in the video above.

This low-pressure zone is in front of the mast with high-pressure zones on each side of the mast flowing into the spinnaker. This creates a suction of turbulent air that will pull the spinnaker towards the forestay! If this suction effect is strong enough, the spinnaker will begin to wrap around the forestay.

What To Do If Your Spinnaker Wraps Around The Forestay

If your spinnaker gets wrapped around the forestay, it can be a scary experience if you aren’t in open waters, as you are now stuck without a headsail. The key is knowing which direction the spinnaker wrapped around your forestay and what your options are for unwrapping it.

Many sailors will start off by attempting to unwrap by hand, but this will be extremely difficult and time consuming as the wind will have done a great job of tightly wrapping up the sail.

Our Recommendation:

  1. Depower your mainsail and seek open water or shelter in a marina as safety is the main priority.
  2. Determine the direction and how tightly the spinnaker is wrapped.
  3. Release the spinnaker sheets to alleviate tension.
  4. If you are in open water, steer the boat upwind to decrease pressure on the sail.
  5. If possible, release the spinnaker halyard to reduce tension further.
  6. Carefully unwind the spinnaker from the forestay, being sure it doesn’t snag on anything and rip.

Optional Solution For Furling Headsails:

If your headsail is on a furler, you can release the headsail sheets and use the furling system to easily and quickly unwrap the spinnaker. This is the solution that Parlay Revival used!

The Above Solutions Didn’t Work?

If the wrap is severe and you are unable to clear it with the above methods, don’t worry, you aren’t out of options yet! Here are a few of our recommended next steps you can take.

  1. Complete a controlled drop of the spinnaker. Lower the spinnaker halyard fully and gather the sail on the deck. Make sure the sail is clear of the water and safely stowed.
  2. Raising the headsail. In some scenarios raising the headsail can help push the spinnaker away from the forestay, making it a bit easier to unwrap.
  3. If all else fails and you are entering a dangerous situation, cutting away the spinnaker might be the only safe option as a last resort.

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