Importance of planning ahead

Last summer I sailed a 100-mile doublehanded race. The course was to a mark 50 miles to the east and back. On the way out, thunderstorms were moving to the east with us. We adjusted our course to sail away from storms that were at times north of us and at other times south of us. We tracked their progress with internet weather radar programs and by watching the towering clouds. As the storms got closer, we got prepared for a fast spinnaker take down by setting up for a letter box spinnaker take down. We did this by un-reaving the lazy spinnaker sheet and then setting it up as the take-down line by taking the sheet from the clew of the spinnaker, through the slot between the top of the boom and the foot of the main to a block on the windward rail and then back to a cockpit winch. Because of wind shifts, we jibed twice, and each time we had to re-lead the spinnaker sheet and set up the new take-down line. It’s a lot of work with a sheet that is 100 feet long and there are just two people sailing the boat.  

Once the skies cleared, we stopped rigging the take-down line every time we jibed. A few hours later, instead of needing to douse the spinnaker quickly because of a storm, the wind massively shifted from the west to the north meaning we could no longer carry the big chute. While raising the jib to set up for the take down, I had to bear off perpendicular to the course. For the take down, I had to bear off more to blanket the spinnaker, at which point we were heading backwards. 

If the letter box take-down line had been rigged, the chute would have come down much quicker and we would have lost a lot less ground. Luckily we had enough of a lead that the slow take down did not cost us the race. Later in the race, when the wind picked up, we were able to reef the main quickly because we had practiced that maneuver and our reef line was run before the race started. As a result, we got to enjoy a great jib-reach in 16-20 knots of wind on smooth water under a full moon. Lesson re-learned: plan ahead, keep to your plan and don’t get lazy.

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