Learn how to get out of trouble when something goes wrong on a race yacht
Learn how to get out of trouble when something goes wrong on a race yacht

Avoiding mistakes is the best way to stay out of trouble while yacht racing. However, we all know that sometimes, things will go wrong.

Being prepared to deal with gear failure and knowing how to fix issues onboard your yacht can help prevent a mistake from costing you the race or causing damage or injury to crew.

Here are a few common issues you might encounter while racing, and some tips on how to get out of trouble if these happen to you.

How to fix a spinnaker wrap

Spinnaker wraps are never fun, and certainly not fast!

Depending on how bad the wrap is, there are a few things you can do to get it out quickly and without damage.

How to fix a spinnaker wrap when launching the kite:

If you have a minor spinnaker wrap, start by bringing back the spinnaker pole (if you’re using a symmetrical spinnaker) and sheeting it on. Be careful not to rip the spinnaker on the forestay.

If this isn’t enough to pop out the wrap, a crew member can also pull down on the leech of the spinnaker – this extra tension may be enough pressure to fix the wrap.

For worse wraps, you can also try blowing the top few feet of spinnaker halyard to release some pressure out of the head of the sail, while following the steps above.

Your next option is to drop the spinnaker back down and have crew on the foredeck to collect it and pull out the wrap by running the leech and luff as it comes down.

What to do if the spinnaker wraps around the forestay while gybing:

If you wrap the spinnaker around the forestay during a gybe, try over sheeting the main or gybing the main back; this might be enough to reverse the airflow that caused the wrap and blow it back out.

If you are unlucky enough to have a significant spinnaker wrap around the forestay, you may have to send a crew member up the mast to spike the spinnaker from the top and untangle the mess. Before sending a crew up you should make sure it’s safe and the crew should always use two halyards. They can head up to the forestay level and drop down the forestay using a suitable carabiner or similar, until they reach the head of the kite to release the halyard and untangle it from the forestay.

This article from Quantum Sails has some useful tips on how to avoid and fix common spinnaker mishaps.

How to recover from a broach

If you broach while sailing under a symmetrical spinnaker, it’s important the crew does not blow the brace; this should not be released any further than to keep the spinnaker pole just off of the forestay.

To recover, you can ease the main, boom vang and spinnaker sheet to release power from the sails. Hopefully this will be enough to get the yacht upright and regain rudder control.

Once you’ve regained control, the spinnaker sheet, main sheet and boom vang can then be brought back on.

If you cannot regain control by releasing the sheets, partially drop the spinnaker by blowing a few feet of halyard in order to further de-power the spinnaker. The halyard should be dropped far enough to release power from the sail without it hitting the water. In a really bad broach you may need to drop the spinnaker entirely, then reset and hoist it after the yacht is upright and you have regained rudder control.

This article from Yachting World provides some tips on how to recover from a broach, and the video below covers avoidance techniques.

What to do if you lose a jib sheet

If you have clips on the end of your jib sheets, it’s possible for these to come off through a tack or gybe.

As always, avoidance is the best plan; double check these are correctly fastened before hoisting the sail and tape the clips or ends if this will help prevent them from accidentally releasing.

If you do lose a jib sheet, the easiest way to fix this is to put in a quick tack or gybe to bring in the sail on the other side. If you’re going downwind, this needs to be kept close enough into the boat for a crew member to then safely move to the bow and fix the detached sheet.

What do to if your headsail pulls out of the tuff luff

If you hoist your jib in a tuff luff, it’s possible for the bolt rope to pull out of its groove, either at the top or somewhere along the tuff luff.

If this happens consistently, it likely indicates an issue with some part of the sail, halyard or tuff luff set-up; you can discuss this with your sail maker to work out a long-term solution.

In the short term, you’ll need to be able to get the sail down and re-hoist it, either during a sail change or when hoisting or lowering the spinnaker.

It’s usually possible to pull down the sail, although it may be difficult due to the increased pressure caused by the bolt rope pulling through the tuff luff. Where it normally gets stuck is at the bottom where the metal feeder is attached. You should be able to loosen or remove the feeder with a screwdriver and pull the sail all of the way out of the tuff luff. You can then re-set everything, so the sail is ready to hoist when required.

How to manage ripped sails

You should be prepared to manage ripped sails while racing, especially over longer distances.

Before heading out, make sure you have a sail repair kit with different size sail repair tapes, patches, threads, needles, etc. that are appropriate to your sail wardrobe. This article from Yachting World and this one from Sailing Magazine describe how to manage a variety of sail repairs while at sea.

For most small rips are tears, the basic steps are as follows:

  1. Drop the sail and hoist another in its place to keep racing while the repair is being made;
  2. Clean and dry the area around the rip; methylated spirits are often good for this;
  3. Cut 2 pieces of sail repair tape or 2 sail repair patches to a size where they will extend about 2 inches from all sides of the tear – rounding the edges will help these stay in place;
  4. Lay the sail flat and fix the patch on one side, working from one end of the patch to the other to remove wrinkles and air bubbles;
  5. Repeat on the other side;
  6. Rub the patch to ensure it is securely fixed.

You can then re-hoist this sail if appropriate, otherwise it can be packed ready for the next time its required.

What to do if you get an override on a winch.

When sheeting in a sail, try using a maximum of 3 wraps on a winch (assuming this is enough for the wind strength) and keep constant pressure on the sheet while sheeting it in; this will help you avoid an override to begin with.

If you do get an override, in lighter conditions or with smaller sails you might be able to pull this out manually. If there is not too much pressure, pull the sheet up and back to pull out the override.

On some yachts sheets are run through a cleat before they reach the winch. If this is the case you’re in luck! Close the cleat to take the pressure off of the end of the sheet that’s on the winch, and you should be able to easily fix this.

Another option in strong conditions or for a really bad override is to run the sheet across to another winch and use this to grind out the override.

What to do if you snag something on the keel

Wrapping a crab pot or big piece of weed on your keel is never a fast way to sail.

Having a crew member keep a good look out for large patches of weed, pots or other debris is a good way to avoid this in the first place.

If you do get something wrapped on the keel towards the end of the race, it may not be worth trying to remove it. This is a judgement call the tactician will need to make; will you lose more time stopping to remove the debris, or will it slow you down enough that it’s worth the extra time to stop and fix it?

If you do decide it needs to be fixed, the easiest way is to significantly slow or stop the yacht to see if it will drop off. You can also push out your main to sail backwards which will help the weed or line drop off of your keel.

This article from Yachting World provides a number of helpful tips on how to remove debris from your keel.

In sailing, it’s best to plan for the unexpected. We hope you stay out of trouble on the water, but if you do experience one of the issues discussed above or something else, that you get out of trouble quickly and safely, so you can stay on the water and race fast.