Dec 23, 2021
Do you really need a spinnaker for your cruising sailboat? Probably not, unless you are prepared to put it up some of the time. Half of cruising customers will never sail with a spinnaker, and that is fine.
Spinnakers haven’t really been around nearly as long as mainsails and jibs, and really good asymmetric spinnaker designs have only been around for the last 25 years. Many older cruising boats have relatively large genoa headsails and easy to drive hull designs that happily broad reach at hull speed in normal conditions.
A low aspect ratio (short and squat – Fig 4) sail can work really well when reaching by moving the sheet lead forward and going to an outboard track if you have one. Using a genoa isn’t going to replace the performance boost of an asymmetric spinnaker, however. The asymmetric spinnaker will move your centre of effort forward and give better downwind sailing balance, it will be faster, and your autopilot will wander less with the stability and dampening that the deep shape of the spinnaker gives to the movement of the boat.
Many of the newer design cruising boats have smaller headsails. These headsails also tend to sheet forward of the spreaders and have a higher aspect ratio.
These tall and skinny sails (Fig.5 and 5a) don’t work very well reaching or running compared to the low aspect genoa sails of more traditional cruising boats. These tall sails get unstable off the wind unless you rig up a whisker pole, but it is nearly as easy to set a nice asymmetric spinnaker. The positive performance boost is even greater than compared to the rigs with genoas. For this reason, we have seen significantly more cruisers equip their boats with spinnakers recently. Take a look at Fig 6, and you can see that the very wide stable hull forms of the new breed of cruiser can really perform with the big sail area increase from the spinnaker.
Next time I’ll delve into some specific reaching sails that work well on cruising boats.
Keven Piper, two-time Shark 24 World Champion, founded Hamilton, ON-based Bay Sails in 1998.