Notes from the foredeck
Updated 07 Feb 2011
(photo by Ian Roman)
Think of tying a necktie
…onto someone else
…while they are unconscious
…lying face down, wrapped in a tarp
…on your garage roof
…in the rain
…with an audience.
Sound like fun? Get on up here!
Sailing at the front is tough, tricky, and your mistakes are very public. I really
enjoy it. So here are some of the things I try to pay attention to… hopefully
they could help you if you’re learning the bow.
Before the start
- set up the spin gear, double check everything.
- check the sail inventory, make sure you can get at the most likely sails
- check that the spinnakers are all packed correctly, corners accessible.
- check the pole jaws to make sure nothing is sticking.
- check that all your halyards are clear and arranged where you want them.
- hoist the jib in the left track, so your first headsail change can be done on
a starboard tack. If you’re in a longer-distance race, consider if you’re going
to be on one tack for a long time, and set the jib in the appropriate track for
an easy (inside) change.
- you remembered your watch, right?
- try to get a sight on the line from both ends.
- have the Mast help the jib around the shrouds, so you can stay at the bow.
- help the tacks and gybes by pulling the headsail forward along the foot.
- call traffic for the skipper.
- call distance to the line: use number of fingers to indicate lengths,
closed-fist to indicate right on the line, wave madly if you’re over early.
Don’t try to drive the boat – just call the distance.
- call crab pots, puffs, big waves.
- help the jib around the shrouds on tacks, stay low-side to skirt as needed.
- anticipate the favoured downwind course and confirm with the skipper what
kind of spinnaker set you’re going to do.
- if you have to change sides for the spinnaker, clip the spin gear together
and have it hauled around so you can keep weight off the bow. If you already
have the spinnaker hooked up, leave it connected and lift the bag and all the
gear around the forestay.
- Golden Rule: spin gear outside and on top of everything else.
- set up the spin gear, attach the sheets and guys to the clews.
- put both the guy and the sheet in the jaws of the pole for the set – this
makes the sheet less likely to catch the pole tip on the first gybe.
- on the last port tack, hook up the halyard to the spin head, then pull enough
slack to flip the halyard behind the spreaders and lock it off. If your jib
sheets run inside the shrouds, you can hook up the head at any time in
advance, and lightly tape the halyard to the base of the shrouds so it can
pull free when you hoist.
- on final approach: double, triple check that you’ve got clews and head rigged
correctly and all shackles are closed.
- when it’s clear you’re going to make the mark: pole up, open the bag or hatch
fully, help pre-guy the spinnaker, pulling both the guy and sheet through the
- skirt the jib foot in and help the spinnaker out of the bag.
- jib down on deck, remove the head completely from the luff track and the
pre-feeder to avoid it interfering with the gybe (on dip-pole boats). If you
fasten the jib down with bungees, be careful not to trap the lazy spin sheet
- leave the jib halyard at the bow so it can’t get trapped on the wrong side of
the pole when you’re ready to re-hoist the jib. If you shackle it to the tack
bar, you have the option to grind the rig forward (“fraculate”) if needed.
- remove the jib sheet that’s going over the pole, and shackle it to the
shrouds. Now you don’t have it getting in the way while gybing (dip-pole).
- make sure there’s enough slack in the lazy guy before you start – it’s a
bummer to come up short when you’re in a hurry.
- remember: grab the guy with your thumb pointing towards the shackle, flip it
over when putting it in the jaws so your thumb points toward the center of
the boat (into the boat).
- call “Made!” so the crew can finish the gybe.
- after the gybe, flip the lazy sheet on top of the jaws and spin a few wraps
around the guy (“cowboy it”) to keep everything clean for the next gybe.
- pull enough slack in the lazy guy to be ready for your next gybe.
- take the lazy guy and jib sheet (if still connected) to the mast, keep them
over your shoulder or in the crook of your arm. Stand on the same side as the
pole, facing forward, aft of the pole; some people feel more comfortable
facing back toward the mast, but it’s hard to see what you’re doing with the
- when the pressure comes off the pole, release the mast end and drop in the
new guy, threading the pole under the jib sheet.
- in medium air, it’s fine to keep the old guy in the jaws while you hook up
the new one – it will help keep the spinnaker under control.
- in light air, trip the old guy before you release from the mast – this helps
to keep shape in the spinnaker and keep it flying.
- push the pole forward, not out, as you go to re-attach at the mast. Step
through to the other side, still facing forward so you can watch the pole and
- call “Made!” so the crew can finish the gybe.
- reset the jib to the leeward side, remember you might need to reattach the
tack on the other side of the foreguy.
- reattach both jib sheets. If you have a topping lift that can be split, you
can lead the lazy sheet over the pole at the mast and free it from under the
topping lift after the pole comes down.
- watch out for the pole! It has a mean right-hook.
- call “Clear to tack!” for the back of the boat.
- easiest with a changing sheet – why mess around with swapping all the gear
- if the new halyard is the windward halyard (at the mast), your new sail needs
to go to windward of the old one. This will be an inside set (an “innie”).
- if the new halyard is the leeward halyard, your new sail needs to go to
leeward of the old one. This will be an outside set (an “outie”).
- For example: the spinnaker is up on the port halyard while you are sailing on
a starboard gybe. The new (starboard) halyard is on the windward side, so
your new sail will go up to windward, inside the old one – this will be an
inside set, outside drop.
If you want to know more, check out the excellent book, Racing Crew,
which covers all the basics, in detail and with humour.