How to set and retrieve a Historical Skiff spinnaker

It’s more of a challenge than you may believe.  Let’s look at the scenario and why it’s a little different to hoisting the spinnaker on a modern boat.

The Spinnaker Pole

For starters, the spinnaker pole comes in 3 or 4 pieces, so you are assembling it as you pole out.  Also, there’s no topping lift, so you rely on the luff of the spinnaker to hold the pole up.  This can make it very interesting indeed when the call comes from the blunt end of the boat to hoist the spinnaker that’s actually longer on the luff than the gaff’s peak is above the water, but nevertheless any for’ard hand worth his salt will once again save the day.

Avro and Scamp battle tide and rain

Avro and Scamp battle tide and rain, 2009

Attaching all of the control lines

Being historical, there are no fancy beak ends on the pole – just some stopper blocks and tapered or shaped ends.  Depending on the boat, the braces may come with some form of loop, or the spinnaker tacks may have it.  Either way the loop is slipped over the outer end of the pole, while the inboard end will fit into a “snotter”, which is traditionally a rope with an eye spliced each end, wrapped around the mast and with one end passed through the other so it can grip itself onto the mast.


The magic word when hoisting or lowering the spinnaker.  Without a backstay you can get some pretty ugly moments, leading to some even uglier sounds!  On some of the historical 10s, a seperate wire or rope is used, but on some and on many of the historical 18s, the spinnaker halyard is passed back to the tuck to be belayed there and acts as the gaff backstay.

Mistake's mistake - 2008

Mistake's mistake - 2008

Marina playing with fire

Marina playing with fire

Joining the dots – the hoist

  1. Ensure the halyards are free (look up before you hook up).
  2. Ensure the sheet, kicker and brace aren’t tangled together (can lead to ugly moments when trying to crack the kite).
  3. Connect up the “agreed” spinnaker (i.e. whatever the call is from the blunt end)
  4. Hoist spinnaker.
  5. Pass back the backstay or halyard to the blunt end (out of the for’ard hands control!)
  6. Wait for the poles to be assembled and passed forward.

    Merle, 2008

    For'ard hand on Merle waits for the rest of the pole.

  7. Connect the outer end of the pole with the brace/kicker and push like blazes.
  8. Wait for remaining pole sections (usual for for’ard hands to have to wait for the rest of the crew to catch up) and push these out.
  9. Slot inner end of pole into snotter.
  10. Duck to leeward and grab sheet, hook into snatch block and break the wools.
  11. Hang on!

The drop!

  1. Reluctantly let go of the sheet.
  2. Try to get inner end of pole out of snotter.
  3. Wait for crew at blunt end to release brace and try again.
  4. Start slowly letting weight of spinnaker bring the pole back into the boat, pausing at each section for the bits to sections to be pulled apart.
  5. Pull in foot of spinnaker and call for halyard to be released.
  6. With flailing arms, drag spinnaker into the boat as fast as possible while ensuring jib sheets don’t get covered over.
  7. Secure backstay if applicable, as well as the halyard, brace, kicker and sheet (with any luck, the kicker hasn’t wrapped around the end of the bumpkin a half dozen times).
  8. Grab jib sheets and proceed upwind on next leg.

    Viola, 2008

    Luckily for crew of Viola, it's not blowing during this drop!

Note: in the 10 footers, steps 2-7 have to be completed about 2 feet further aft than practical when it’s blowing so you don’t go down the mine!

Good winds!