Powering Up

two spinnakers from aft

We’ve been looking for the edge of the short-handed cruising envelope for a lot of years. Improvements in sail handling gear, materials, and our own experience have allowed us to push the horizon further and further. And even though BEOWULF looks pretty aggressive for a couple of grandparents, she is not yet at the edge of what the two of us can handle.

So we’ve been working on our sail wardrobe over the past couple of years-looking for ways of powering up the rig in a context that we could handle offshore. Our new main and mizzen in the fall of 2000 was a step in that direction.

A year ago we started working with Dan Neri at North on a new approach to our spinnakers. The two sails which Dan originally designed for BEOWULF were very efficient reaching, but smaller and harder to keep filled at broad reaching angles than we would have liked. They were based on our specifications for what we thought we would be needing. But the development of the cruising code zeroes changed all of this.

The standard reaching spinnaker “molds” in use at North were too flat for our needs and the shapes used for asymmetric runners were much to full and tricky to handle. What we were looking for was a design between the two, optimized for deeper angles-ideally apparent wind angles of 105 to 120 degrees-that was stable enough to sail with sheets eased while the pilot did the steering (all our previous spinnakers required oversheeting when steered by the pilot).

We’ve reported briefly on the new design before. Suffice it to say it is larger (about 20% bigger) than the old sail-with a much rounder entry shape to make it more forgiving. The old asymmetric spinnaker has been cut down slightly so that it now flies from the head of the mizzen. Compared to the old mizzen spinnaker, this sail is huge, and much more full.

2 spinnakers-forward shape from lee

To really show you the beautiful shape of these sails we’d need a helicopter photo-which we’ve not yet gotten. So our onboard angles will have to suffice. This photo (above left), taken from the leeward shrouds, gives you an idea of the leading edge shape. It is nice and round, making it more forgiving than our old close-reaching design.

two spinnakers-head of sail

Above: Here’s a view of the head of the sail. As you can see, the head angle is less than a full running chute. So it is going to be a little smaller. But with this trade-off the sail is a lot easier to fly, and since we never run but jibe downwind, this is a better compromise for us (and will be for you if you are using your pilot of vane to steer).

The total area of these two sails is around 4300 square feet. Add this to our main and mizzen and you’ve got a total in excess of 6000 square feet. What’s it like to sail with this much horsepower?


When we first set the new forward spinnaker it looked huge. But lately it has shrunk, at least in our perception. The mizzen spinnaker is humongous compared to the old sail (its a full 50% larger). But we’ve even got used to it. And after a few hours with both set we’ve found that there isn’t that much difference in the handling. Sure, we’ll have to be a little more careful with the squalls-but otherwise, the major difference is the boat speed. In light winds, 12 to 13 knots, sailing at 145 to 150 degrees off the wind (30 to 35 degrees up from dead down wind) we can average an easy 10 knots-that’s close to 10% faster than before. If the breeze comes up to 16 to 18, that speed climbs to 12 to 12.5-maybe more if the waves are right.

Most surprising to us is how much easier it is to keep the mizzen spinnaker filled-and how far eased we can keep its sheets and those of the forward spinnaker compared to what used to be the case. Bottom line-these two new sails are not only faster, but yet easier to handle.


Are we at the edge of what grandparents can handle when cruising? As you can tell by the photo above we’re getting pretty close! Any more power and we might have to give up reading when sailing down wind.

Posted by Steve Dashew  (December 21, 2001)

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