J120 front copy

Asymmetrical Spinnakers With Cockpit Operated Snuffer

by Bob Johnstone

Once you learn how, the snuffer system is easy, allowing one or two people to safely control a spinnaker in strong winds - an otherwise impossible and dangerous task on a large boat (over 30 feet). Like anything really new, old knowledge must die first and a few critical new techniques practiced until mastered. It’s the pros who get frustrated the fastest and chalk the system off as "useless", because as "knowing it all", they are less ready to learn new. Bear with me and you’ll learn to love it.

In 1997, we won Gulf of Maine Class A with a J/120, most of the time having a different 5 person crew aboard. The big 165 sq. meter chute was kept in a snuffer, the smaller 120 sq. meter chute in the bag. We were able to peel spinnakers going downwind with another couple in their 60’s and only one token 35 year old gorilla, none of whom sailed on the boat before. The big chute lived in the snuffer all the time down the hatch with all the lines hooked up. When cruising, we’d put the small chute in the snuffer, so Mary and I could operate it on daysails.

Snuffer Design

A word of caution. There are a number of snuffer designs on the market. The ones we've found to be must effective have the following features: (a) a good, heavy-duty swivel shackle inside the sock for attaching the head of the spinnaker; (b) a second sleeve in a contrasting color that captures the up-and-down snuffer control line, outside of the main sleeve containing the spinnaker, which avoids the problem of control lines becoming snagged and also serves as a visible indicator of a twisted snuffer ; (c) a light-weight, Kevlar-reinforced plastic fairlead collar instead of a wire hoop at the bottom; and (d) 3/8" polypropylene braided line (similar to Marlow's Marstron) for the snuffer control that's light, won't absorb water to get heavy, and readily kink.. A plain gray plastic collar doesn’t work. One simply crumbled up on me last summer. The ATN-type collar seems best. The rope can’t have connecting splices in it. ATN keeps trying to splice clothes line type line to a more hand-friendly braid, but it doesn’t work, because the connecting splices get caught up in blocks and fairleads. The operating line should be one piece that is 2x the length from the wheel to the end of the sprit to the top of the mast. It’s really long!

Length of the Snuffer

  The length from the bearing point of the upper eye attached to the halyard and the attachment knot of the "snuffer down control line" at the bottom of the snuffer cone bridle, when pulled down hard: Should be about 6 inches shorter than the straight-line distance between the halyard shackle when fully hoisted and the control's block on the end of the sprit (or bow). This allows you to completely gobble up the spinnaker in an emergency while putting some tension on the sock to keep it from flopping in the wind. People will tell you (Including the maestro Etienne of ATN) that it shouldn’t be longer than the leech. What they are really saying is that it’s impossible to pull the cone up around the bunched-up clew buried in the sock. They’re right. But, that’s not the way we work it. Before the hoist, one pulls enough sail out the bottom of the cone to expose the sheets and clew.

Loading the Snuffer

  Attach the spinnaker halyard to the top of the snuffer (so you don't lose the end as its turned inside out), then reach in from the bottom, allowing the sock to accordion over your arm, to grab the swivel shackle for the sail's head inside the sock. Attach the head of the spinnaker, then draw it inside the sock, making sure that neither the sock nor the spinnaker is twisting in the process. It’s probably twisted. But all is not lost. On a calm morning, hoist it up the snuffer and go for a couple of trial up-and-downs with the snuffer to sort it all out.

Lower Control Block Set-up

  A cockpit-operated snuffer is a great safety feature. You don't want to be on the foredeck when there are only two people aboard, in conditions which make you want to get rid of the chute. On typical cruising rigs, the procedure is to bear off so the mainsail blankets the spinnaker, then go on the foredeck to operate the controls with the spinnaker still up (and boat rolling about). This is a bit dicey and assumes the spinnaker hasn't been jibed to wrap the control lines around the headstay. Standing near the base of the mast your are fighting the spinnaker in the process of trying to pull down the snuffer. The angles are all wrong. The J/system places snuffer control lines in line with the luff of the spinnaker making them easier to operate and keeping hem from being twisted if the spinnaker is jibed.

The best snuffer control block at the end of the pole, or on the upper pin of an anchor roller off the bow for boats under 35 feet, is a strong non-swiveling double with a becket (Harken 004 or similar) that is attached in such a way that the sheaves are lined up fore-and-aft and can't swivel. The spinnaker tack line is run through the becket, keeping the block upright & aligned with the sail. The two snuffer control lines are run, side-by-side, through the double sheave. Over 35 feet, it's best to use a very strong single block for the tack along with a double block mounted and taped side by side with the single for the tack.

Rigging the Snuffer

Detach the snuffer control line from the rope bridle on the snuffer cone, remembering how to re-tie the knot which secures it firmly in the center of the bridle. If it slips off to one side or the other, the snuffer cone cocks under load, creates friction and doesn't work well. With a J/Sprit, reeve the loose end forward over the pulpit, down and aft through the starboard sheave of the double block on the sprit, back under the pulpit and aft to pass through the UPPER pair of two Harken "snuffer control" bullseyes and camcleats installed on the starboard side of the cabin trunk.

Note: The best program is to have open Harken cams, without integral fairleads, on the aft starboard side of the cabin trunk, separated by about 8" from their respective bullseye fairleads. When you pull both lines out and start operating the snuffer, the lines are less likely to accidentally re-cleat.

Then, make a continuous loop, which stays in the cockpit, by reversing to reeve it forward through the LOWER cam/bullseye combo, along the deck, under the pulpit, forward through the (port if using a 004) sheave, back over the pulpit, re-tying it securely in the middle of the snuffer bridle. BOTH SNUFFER CONTROL LINES SHOULD BE ON THE STARBOARD SIDE & FORWARD OF THE TACK (and tack line).The colored stripe (outer sleeve of the snuffer) should be facing forward as you look up when the snuffer is hoisted. There's a proper order from bow to stern of the lines. In front are snuffer controls, then tack line then sheets, then headstay. Get these out of order and you’re in trouble. Need an acronym, try "SnuffeTaSH" and be all means avoid the deep SHTS.

Stowing the Snuffer System

There's a big advantage in not having to disconnect and then re-connect all the lines & snuffer each time one sets the spinnaker. In fact, I leave mine completely hooked up all season, including the snuffer control lines, tack line, sheets and halyard (when sailing with 100% LP jib). It's simple: Just drop it down the forward hatch and lock the hatch down (in the vent position) on top of the lines. If one needs to sleep in the V-berth, stow it all on deck in a waterproof, rectangular shaped spinnaker turtle.

Automatic Tack Line

Here’s a neat trick for those of you who aren’t into playing the tack on downwind legs, but who seek simplicity of operation. The automatic tack line needs to be about twice the "J" measurement in length. With a J/Sprit one can set up the tack so that spinnaker will be pulled out to the end of the J/Sprit as it is extended. Here's how to set up the tack line.

A length of 7/16 Dacron braid is tied to the tack of the sail exiting to port of the braided snuffer control lines, leading over the pulpit, to the LEFT AND UNDER snuffer control lines, back through the port single block (or plastic becket of a Harken 004), then under the pulpit and back to the bow cleat, where it is secured. The length of the tack line from the tack to the cleat equals the distance from the cleat to the end of the sprit when fully extended. Make a mark on the tack line where its inboard end is secured on the bow cleat.

On a J/105, the tack of the sail is even with the front of the bow cleat when the J/Sprit is fully retracted in the boat. That leaves a corner of the sail on deck when sailing to windward. It's OK. There's not enough sail between that point and the hatch, when its closed down on top of the control lines/corner of the sail/halyard/sheets, to create a problem. Or, one can simply take the extra step of pulling the tack out to the mark prior to hoisting the spinnaker, so the corner of the sail doesn't have to be on deck when not in use.

Halyard Feed

Assuming that one is sailing with the #3, 100% jib, the halyard goes out from under the hatch, AND UNDER & OUTBOARD OF THE JIB SHEETS. When the system is stored down the hatch, the halyard is held off to the base of the shrouds where it is held with a hook or snap shackle, then tensioned to keep from slapping around. Place a snap shackle on both port & starboard sides, so it doesn't matter which side of the headstay the snuffer is dropped on.

If sailing with 150% genoa, I use a snap shackle secured to the forward bight of the bow pulpit to hold the halyard away from the roller furler jib, then lead it back to where the sail is stowed. New J/120s, J/42s and J/32s have bow lockers designed to store the spinnaker in a snuffer without having to put it below through the forward cabin hatch.

Attach The Spinnaker Sheets

Spinnaker sheets lead from the clew, outside the lifelines to sheet turning blocks aft (flop them up over & inboard to avoid dragging them in the water) then forward to the midships turning blocks thence to a winch. It's a good idea to put tape completely around the shackle and base of the furler system, just above the drum where the genoa is attached and over the knot (or drill a second hole and run the furler line back inside the drum before tying the "dead-end" knot) on the top of the furler drum - to keep these projections from catching the spinnaker sheets or rolling them up with the genoa.

Also, if not installed already, locate a Harken cam cleat abutting just aft of the primary winches, leading from the deck mounted cheek turning blocks, to hold either the unused jib or spinnaker sheet to keep them from dragging overboard.

Snuffer Limitation When Hoisting

First you must realize that it's impossible to slide the snuffer sleeve up

over the spinnaker, without first exposing the clew and knots of the spinnaker sheets. Otherwise, the sock/sail combo bunches up and goes nowhere. The best way to do this is to pull it out of the cone when it is laying on deck prior to hoisting the snuffer. If the collar shows a tendency to get hung up later: (a) rolling up the jib and "over-sheeting" the spinnaker will put air into the bottom of the spinnaker and help pull out the loose cloth, or (b) simply have someone go up on deck and get it started up by pulling the excess cloth down, just under the cone or from the middle of the sail if the cone is out of reach.

Duties on the Hoist

Assume just two people on board, only one of which is experienced (X). It's best always to hoist and drop the snuffer on the windward side of the jib, so you don't risk dropping the entire system overboard which you will find takes a major effort to correct. See WARNING below. Here’s the process: X is owner/crew, Y is inexperienced friend who is helmsperson

1) X goes forward, frees the halyard from the shroud base on the way, opens the hatch, pulls the bottom of the spinnaker and cone on deck, then slides the cone above the clew, until the spinnaker sheets are exposed.

2) X returns to the cockpit and pulls out the J/Sprit, making sure the windward spinnaker sheet is free and the leeward sheet is secured in the "broad-reach" mode.

3) X then hands the tail of the spinnaker halyard to the inexperienced friend, helmsman Y), after insuring that the halyard stopper is down in the "lock" mode. X instructs Y to first bear off to a broad reach course (about 135 degree True Wind Angle), then take up the slack on the halyard, while keeping the boat on course - when X hoists the sock.

4) X returns to the mast to jump the halyard where it comes out of the mast. There's little load, because the spinnaker is still in the sock. X looks up to insure that the sock and lines are not twisted and that the sock is hoisted fully.

5) If necessary, X then goes forward and throws the hoisted tube around to the leeward side of the headstay.

        X returns to the cockpit to roll up the jib (helps fill foot of spinnaker and pull it out of sock) and operate the snuffer by releasing the DOWN and pulling the UP controls.

Note: If the cone is restricted from sliding up by such an inside build-up, X has two remedies.

(1) Pull the cone back down to the clew by releasing the UP and the DOWN. Then put some tension on the spinnaker leeward spinnaker sheet, so that this pressure will help the sail emerge and start to fill, automatically pulling more cloth out the bottom on the hoist. Or,

(2) X must go forward and grab the foot of the sail near the cone, forcefully yanking out as much sail as possible from the snuffer until the bunched up section above the cone is pulled out.

7) X double-checks that the cone of the snuffer continues to go up smoothly without a build up of sail inside above the cone.

8)When all the way up, X then applies lots of tension to the UP and moderate tension to the DOWN, cleating both lines to insure that these snuffer control lines aren't waving loosely - which can foul the spinnaker in a jibe.

        X adjusts spinnaker sheet to intended course.

Jibing

This is the easy part…again if you do it right. Key to a good jibe is making sure the old sheet runs free, that you’re not standing on it, etc. Then take no more than one turn around the winch with the new sheet coming in, because you don’t want to fight the friction of the winch. That sheet should be coming in as fast and as long as you can pull with elbows flying. In fact, just before the sail fills, you should have overtrimmed the sheet to the point where you quickly slip another turn on the winch and initiate a large 5-6 foot ease. BOOM, the chute fills and you’re off on the new jibe.

The helmsman can be helpful to time/delay turning the boat in the middle of the jibe with a slight hesitation until the mainsail can be thrown across to coincide with progress on the spinnaker.

The spinnaker should jibe between the snuffer control lines (Really helps, if the snuffer control lines are tight and not loose, fouling the spinnaker in the middle of the jibe.) and the headstay.

Note: If you muff the jibe and get a wrap, the quickest and sure way to straighten it out is to jibe back immediately and try it again before getting an impossible number of wraps around the headstay.

There are a couple of other things you can do to alleviate anxiety on the jibe: Unroll the jib several feet and secure both jib sheets. Or reef the chute, by pulling down the snuffer 1/3 the way before jibing.

Snuffer Take-Downs

1) X unrolls the jib then applies a loose trim and cleats it to take some air flow from the spinnaker. This helps blanket the chute.

2) X releases the spinnaker sheet then immediately releases snuffer UP and pulls the DOWN to snuff out the spinnaker all the way to the bottom.

3) X then hands the tail of the spinnaker halyard to H with one wrap around the cabin top winch, tells Y to, "Hold with tension, until I start pulling down the sock. Then ease the tail of the halyard as fast as I can pull it from you. But, no faster, because we don't want to drop it in the water."

4) X let's the pole retract about 3 feet, by uncleating then recleating the pole launcher line. This is so, he can reach the sock without letting go of the headstay. If it doesn't want to come back, yank the tack line when you get on the foredeck.

5) X , on the way forward, releases the spinnaker halyard stopper. It's OK. The chute's completely contained by the sock now.

6) .X goes forward on the windward side, (a) throws open the hatch, (b) THROWS THE WINDWARD JIB SHEET AFT AND TO LEEWARD OF THE HATCH (c) puts an arm around the sock from the windward side of the headstay and begins to drop back down in a crouch while pulling the middle of the sock toward the open foredeck hatch (FORWARD AND TO WINDWARD OF THE JIB SHEETS), as Y eases the halyard to X as fast as X can pull it down, but no faster. Note: If the snuffer program is shoved down the hatch between the jib sheets, you are in deep trouble when you next tack. Once set, all the spinnaker gear should be under the jib sheets.

WARNING

The most important lesson of snuffing!. ALWAYS TAKE THE SNUFFER TUBE IN ON THE WINDWARD SIDE OF THE HEADSTAY. By doing so, the system with tack line & control lines can be made to drop between the uprights of the bow pulpit and is captured by the jib and lifelines on the foredeck, so you don't risk dropping the tube over the side. If the tube goes over the side, cone facing forward, the water rushes in and tries to climb to the masthead, the boat stops. The water doesn't get to the masthead, but its weight pulls down hard, tearing the halyard out of Y’s hand. The Loch Ness monster comes alive alongside the boat and it's almost impossible to pull in.

7) X closes and secures the hatch (one knob will do), pulling the spinnaker halyard loop off to the base of the windward shrouds where it is attached. Y takes up slack in the halyard.. X flips the spinnaker sheets inside the lifelines and secures them in the camcleats near the primary winches.

Dropping Without Snuffer

If not using the snuffer, we've found the best way is to rig a supplementary "dousing" line from the tack, directly over the pulpit, to windward of the headstay and down the forward hatch. Then follow this

procedure: (1) unroll the jib and set a loose trim (2) release the spinnaker sheet and retract Sprit (3) have a "below-decks" person start hauling on the dousing line, with help from someone on deck, to pull the sail in around the headstay on the windward side of the jib (and forward/outboard of the jib sheets) Then stuff it down the forward hatch, leaving everything attached (except halyard. if using a genoa).

Helpful Hints

1) Tie a 1/8 inch cord horizontally between upper and intermediate shrouds about one foot above the lower spreader. The sock often gets blown aft through the opening and then gets wedged, cleat-like in the "V" when dropped.

2) Use more 1/8 inch Dacron cord to create netting between deck and lower lifeline forward of the mast. Instead of making holes in the toe rail, start your net by stringing a piece of the 1/8 Kevlar cord, very tightly between the base of the pulpit and the 1st and 2nd stanchions back. Then lace into that and the lower lifeline as you would with a series of three clove hitches or modified rolling hitches between upright stanchions.

Well, that’s about it except for some practice. Good luck. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.