Top Menu

When you see photos of sailboats with their brightly colored spinnakers flying, the boats are typically sailing down wind. They may be heading directly down wind, on a run, or just a bit up from that on a broad reach. Racers, who are used to sailing laps around marks on a course, get a lot of practice on all points of sail, including these. So do those sailors heading west around the world. For cruisers like us though, who first had to battle their way south and east via The Thorny Path, and then have spent time moving up and down through the windwards and leewards, downwind sailing is a seldom used skill. In fact, the only time I remember having any real downwind sailing at all in the Caribbean is when we we’ve moved west along Grenada’s southern coast. That’s not a lot!

No, we will not be flying our spinnaker tonight.

Tonight’s passage from St. Martin to Virgin Gorda should finally allow us to get some more practice on our downwind sailing. The forecasted winds will blow, as they typically do, from the east and that’s also where the waves should be originating as well. We expect that the approximately 80 nm passage should be relatively fast and we’ll be leaving late this evening to complete it overnight. We’ve heard from a number of our friends that, when they completed this passage, the sailing was so fast that they had to work to slow down so as to not arrive too early, absent of good light. Let’s hope that we are neither too slow nor too fast.

Today we have little to do but say some goodbyes to our friends and complete the final passage preparations on our boat. By this time tomorrow, if all goes well, we”ll be back in the land of the Virgins. Wish us luck.


  1. What is the strongest wind You still feel comfortable with a spinnaker?

    Some like to use two foresails poled on different sides – called “psalm book sailing” here. Thought to be more stable.

  2. I’m sure you’ve read this; sounds like the perfect time to try wing-and-wing. The Chesapeake has a lot of windward/leeward sailing, so I’ve had to work it out.

    If I really want to get down wind fast, yes, the chute with the tack to windward is fastest, but if there is a good breeze, the weather is touchy or it is dark, and much of the time if I’m single-handed, this is my choice. On cruising cats like the PDQ 32 it is nearly as fast in terms of VMG, you go exactly where you are pointed, and the ride is smooth as glass if there is someone trying to sleep… or just the skipper taking it easy.

    Do rig a down haul on the genoa to the mid-ships block; otherwise the jibe will oscillate and collapse more often.. If you don’t have a spare block a carabiner will do just fine. Since the linked photo, I’ve rigged a block to about 10 feet of line; I thread it through the cleat and back to a winch.

    Do rig a preventer on the boom. I use a spin sheet, to the mid-ship cleat, and back to the boom end. Easy.

    It should work on autopilot, if it’s right. Sail just a few degrees by the lee.

    It is also very easy to make occasional course changes. A turn to the jib side? Release the down haul and jibe the jib across. To the main side? Jibe the main. Reef the jib? can be done without course change or you can pull it behind the main, where it collapses. All easily done by one person.


    I agree; chute up all alone at night is just too tense.


    There are no sure-fire tips for the grind back up-wind. Head south?

  3. A great snowy day to catch up on all your posts……I have decided NOT to purchase a spinnaker and after attending a seminar on it, I am glad I did not. I guess I try to KISS (keep it simple stupid) life now….Have a safe trip Mike & Rebecca…

  4. This is a big part of why I am such a fan of this blog. I learn a lot from posts like this and the comments. Thanks and safe passage.

  5. Have a nice sail. The wind forecast shows F3. With your boat speed (you did clean the bottom didn’t you?), it will feel like a complete calm.

    I hope you enjoy it.


  6. Pardon the ignorance, why not sail during the day?

  7. Would love to meet you guys if you come to St. Thomas please let me know. My wife and I are just minutes from Red Hook.

  8. Even if I never get to cruise, that is an awesome website:

    Look at that storm over Kamchatcka!

  9. With an assymetrical spinnaker like that you should be able to pull the apparent wind forward of the beam and really honk! Not just for of the wind.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.