Lessons on Spinnaker Repair

This is a guest post by Andrew Evans, author of the book Singlehanded Sailing: Thoughts, Tips, Techniques & Tactics. For my review of Andy’s book, see Book Review: Thoughts, Tips, Techniques & Tactics for Singlehanded Sailing. The version of Andy’s book that I reviewed was an early version from before it was published under a different title by International Marine. The titles of the two versions are the reverse of each other, it’s not a typo.

Before we continue, a bit of legal housekeeping. This post contains affiliate links. That means I receive a small commission if you make a purchase using those links. Those commissions help to pay the costs associated with running this site so that it stays free for everyone to enjoy. For a complete explanation of why I’m telling you this and how you can support this blog without paying more, please read my full disclosure.

And now, lessons from Andy:

I’m a single-hander who loves – absolutely loves, to sail.  I’m not in it for the sightseeing, I abhor running my motor, and I detest boat repairs.  When something breaks on my boat, I leave it until the problem goes away by itself or I must repair it – with the sole purpose of getting back out into the wind.

On the other hand, I am a very aggressive single-hander.  For the past few years I’ve been waiting for those days when it’s blowing 25 with the sole purpose of beating my brains out for 3 hours just to have a 45 minute spinnaker run.  I’ve even figured out that with a true wind speed of 23.6 and sailing at 145 degrees apparent, my boat will pick up and plane at 13.5 knots.

[$tingy note: Look carefully at the picture above and you can see Andy’s patches and other repairs in his spinnaker. Also notice he has one reef in and two more possible.]

Single-handing a boat as twitchy as an Olson 30 at 13 knots takes time to learn.  This isn’t a Figaro or a Mini or a Class 40 with a planing hull shape and twin rudders designed to run on autopilot in the worst conditions.  The ultralight Olson 30 will flip over on its side in an instant at the slightest provocation.  It would be fair to guess that in the 1,000 times that I’ve flown the chute single-handed, I’ve broached the boat at least 50 times – probably more.  I’ve broached the boat so many times that I know exactly how far the water will come up my leg, and I know that even in the worst broach, the ocean will stay a good two inches below my main hatchway.  So I don’t even look anymore.  The moment a broach happens, my one and only goal is to get back up and sailing at top speed again.

But the problem with broaches is that they can be really tough on spinnakers.  If the wind gets up to 30 and the chute goes in the water, it is difficult to avoid ripping it from head to foot or leech to luff, and often both.  Chutes can be shredded just by them flapping in the high wind if I’ve had to ease the sheet to remove all pressure.  And on two occasions, I’ve popped my guy and had the whole thing, stopper knot and all, run through the turning block and fly in the wind for a good 5 minutes until I was able to retrieve the mess.  The 60 foot guy turned into a 1 cubic foot, tightly twisted tangle that took me a half hour to unscrew.

After things get interesting, more patches

So what is a sailor to do when his chute is shredded from stem to stern and all he wants is to get back out on the water?  The answer is his wife’s 50 year old Singer sewing machine.  It’s a good model with real metal gears that will run through several layers of Dacron on my main or jib.  And it does a great zig-zag stitch that is supposed to be better for sails that stretch.

I sometimes use spinnaker repair tape and then sew it in place, but more often I just overlap the nylon by a few inches and sew it up.  If the green or red leech tapes have ripped off I just put them back on with the sail a bit narrower.  And of course, every time it rips there is some part of the fabric that can’t be salvaged, so the sail gets smaller and smaller.

I could tell you a score of great tales about fantastic spinnaker adventures.  Feel free to grab me on the dock some time.  A picture is worth 10,000 words and these photos of my spinnaker after a dozen or more major repairs tell the story.  It gets a lot of laughs on the water and I’ve faced some nasty criticism in the forums.  But I’m the one out there – alone, when the wind is blowing 25, and all of the others are sipping their Bud Lights in the yacht club bar.

And just so you know, I do have chutes in better shape.  I save this one for the days when I’m really testing myself and my boat.

You can learn everything I know about single-handed sailing, including the many, many lessons I’ve learned on how to fly a spinnaker without broaching, in my book Singlehanded Sailing: Thoughts, Tips, Techniques & Tactics. It’s available on Amazon and from quality bookstores everywhere.

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