Getting Our Money's Worth -April 10, 2003
Eileen calculating how much the cruising spinnaker has cost us for each time it's been flown over the past 10 years
When we bought "Little Gidding" in 1992 she was five years old and the sails were in pretty good shape. We decided to refit the main with full battens. The furling genoa and hank-on staysail didn't need any work. There was a storm jib in a bag. We dumped it out on the deck. It didn't look like it had ever been used. "That's a good sign," David said.
David decided we should buy some more sails. "We'll need a cruising spinnaker for sure," he claimed. "We'll be doing a lot of downwind sailing. And we should probably have a storm trysail for any really heavy weather."
When the price quote came back from the sailmaker, Eileen exclaimed, "Wow, they sure want a lot of money for that cruising spinnaker!" David responded, "But the trysail won't cost nearly as much, so we might as well get both." David never claimed to be good at financial matters.
We ordered the sails and David installed an external sail track on the mast for the trysail so it could be raised without removing the mainsail. When the new sails were delivered we found we had a problem. The trysail came in a small bag, but the spinnaker filled a very large bag. "Where are we going to put it!" Eileen cried. We briefly considered sacrificing either the forward berth or main salon to accommodate the spinnaker when it dawned on us that the sail bag would never fit through the companionway anyway. Problem solved. We strapped the bag on the deck at the base of the mast, where it has remained ever since.
A decade later, it turns out we haven't used either the spinnaker or the trysail very often - in fact, hardly ever. We don't regret buying the trysail - on the rare occasions we've used it, we've been very glad we had it. Like when we were surfing down 20 foot waves in 40 knots of wind off the coast of Colombia. "Little Gidding" has never moved so fast and, with any luck, never will again. The spinnaker is a different story. It seems that David's visions of blissful downwind sailing were a bit unfounded. The sailing conditions we've encountered in the Caribbean, as far as spinnaker flying is concerned, have yielded: (1) too much wind; or (2) not enough wind; or (3) wind in the wrong direction.
As a matter of principle, we aim to fly the spinnaker at least once a year. Quite often, we do this when we have friends visiting. This way we get to impress them ("We do this all the time," David lies) plus we have assistance in handling all the extra lines. The only problem is that it's typically been so long since we last flew the spinnaker that we can't remember where all the lines and blocks go. There's usually at least one hour of head scratching for every hour of spinnaker flying. Since it takes us so long to untangle everything and get the monster up, we're often reluctant to douse it right away. Sometimes this is not a good thing. Like when we were speeding along in the Bay of Honduras with the wind steadily increasing to 20 knots plus and the halyard broke. A spinnaker in the water makes a very effective sea anchor. Our boat speed went from eight to zero knots in a matter of seconds.
When we left Royal Island in the Bahamas a few days ago we had perfect spinnaker conditions. The wind was on our port quarter at about 10 knots. Our destination, Florida, was over 200 miles away - leaving plenty of time to relearn how to raise the sail. After the better part of an hour, but with an amazing lack of foul ups and no loss of life, the spinnaker was billowing nicely off the bow. "Sure is a good thing we bought that sail," David said proudly. "The way I figure it, that sail has now cost us only $200 for every time we've used it," Eileen remarked drily.
For a couple of minutes David stared at the sail, the clear blue sky and the gentle ocean swells. "Yeah, but as long as we've flown the spinnaker more often than the trysail we're doing okay."