By Adam Loory
Facebook sent me a reminder of this sequence of photos from a post many years ago. It was back in the day that I sailed my Express 37 in a very competitive PHRF group that included a handful of Express 37s and other closely-rated boats. Racing was always tight with boats commonly finishing races overlapped. To win, you had to push. These shots show my boat SOULMATES pushing a little too hard in 20-25 knots of wind. Not wanting to gybe in those conditions, I steered dead downwind with the spinnaker pole squared all the way back. When we got hit by a huge puff and shift, the unbalanced sail plan with the big spinnaker to windward pushed the bow down hard. Luckily the gybe happened in slow motion, because the force of the spinnaker trying to turn the boat was partially off-set by me turning the wheel hard over to trying to straighten out our course. Slowing the gybe gave everyone time to duck before the boom crashed over.
With the wind blowing so hard, the boat stayed on her side until my wife, our pit person, opened the spinnaker halyard clutch. Once the sail was halfway down, the boat got back on her feet. When I found that everyone ok, the spinnaker pole was unbroken and the chute was in one piece, we started racing again. The wet chute back up and we got back into the race. We had effectively completed a gybe once we got going again and now we were headed to the leeward mark.
My current SOULMATES has an asymmetrical spinnaker, which can’t be sailed deep enough to gybe broach. Asymmetrical boats can’t sail lower than 160 degrees true wind angle for any length of time. But if the trimmer doesn’t ease the sheet fast enough coming out of a gybe, the boat can round up and roll out onto its leeward side. The danger of a boom crashing across the boat has been greatly removed from the equation. So yes, yacht design is moving forward to make sailing safer! Now it’s just the sailors and their boat handling we have to keep moving forward!