Cruisers Can Fly Spinnakers Too!

So are you sick of your jib flogging around when you turn the boat down wind? Do you dread heading down wind because you know the boat’s performance will drastically suffer?

Gennaker On Furler
Gennaker (Asymmetrical Spinnaker) On Furler

Somehow the thought of the spinnaker is always nice, but when it really comes down to it, MAN that’s a lot of work! Not to mention things can really get pretty hairy, pretty quickly, especially if you are short handed. So instead, if it is windy enough, ¬†you could just furl the head sail in and sail main only, or just head-up and sail the longer tacks in exchange for boat speed.


Well, have a look at these options for downwind sailing¬†that are making their way into the cruising world. For most wind conditions moderately heavy to light, a cruising¬†asymmetrical¬†spinnaker (gennaker) or code sail, flown from a fixed, retractable or¬†removable¬†sprit can make a¬†tremendous¬†difference on the boat’s overall performance. These sails can handle many points of¬†sail from the close¬†reach to just above dead down. You may say this isn’t for cruisers, but I beg to differ. Just because you cruise a sailboat¬†doesn’t¬†mean you¬†don’t¬†want to get there in the fastest¬†way possible….it is sailing after all.

Code Zero Furler
Code Zero on a Furler

Thus far the only feasible way for a cruiser to fly a spinnaker has been by use of a Snuffer.¬†Snuffers have traditionally been the choice of most in hoisting, setting, and dowsing the spinnaker with more ease. These snuffers however, can be clunky, heavy, and difficult to manage in a big blow from the bow. Besides¬†that, who really wants that giant bucket and all of that fabric aloft, resting on the head of their spinnaker? Enter…the¬†other options;¬†the¬†Code Zero¬†furler, a tried and true system that has been used successfully not just by racers but also by many cruisers. Then there is¬†the Top-down Furler system, which was, from what I understand, a system initially developed to allow mega yacht owners a manageable spinnaker deployment solution. After many years of success in the big boat and racing world, Top-down furlers and Code Zero Furler’s have entered the mid level cruising boat market.

Selden Top Down Furler and Removable Sprit, Installed by The Rigging Company!
Selden Top Down Furler and Removable Sprit, Installed by The Rigging Company!

The¬†Top-down furler¬†system allows you to furl and unfurl your asymmetrical spinnaker with ease. From what I’ve been told, typically the boat’s existing asymm. can be easily modified by a sailmaker to adapt to this furling system. The main¬†difference¬†between the Code Zero furler and the Top-down Furler is that the Top-down furler’s¬†torsional¬†rope is independent of the sail, vs. the Code Zero which has the torsional cable (or rope) sewn into the sail’s luff. A Code Zero Furler is more sensitive in regards to halyard tension when furling, whereas the Top-down Furler has much more of a “a set it and forget it” method in order for it to furl properly. Both¬†Furlers’ torsional¬†ropes are¬†rigged between the system’s head-swivel and the tack-drum. Besides the furling action being more halyard sensitive, when using a Code Zero Furler the¬†sail can be a bit more¬†difficult to furl (especially when the wind pipes up) as the whole sail is being furled at once. Another major difference between the two systems is that, in the case of¬†the Top-down Furler the tack is set up to independently swivel from the drum. This swiveling tack allows the sail to furl from the Top-down, collapsing¬†the luff and to de-powering the sail quickly, making setting and dousing an easy operation. As of recently many manufacturers of both Top-down and Code Zero systems have made them interchangeable amongst each-other. Meaning that you can utilize the same furling drum and head swivel interchangeably with all of your downwind sail inventory. Each sail just needs to be rigged with their respective torsional ropes. Then each sail, along with its rope can just be plugged into the same furling drum and head swivel, allowing an endless inventory of downwind sails that can be flown via furler. Pretty nifty, eh?

Turns out, to be able to sail downwind with big sails isn’t just for heavily crewed race boats anymore!

Asymmetrical Spinnaker
Asymmetrical Spinnaker On a Top-Down Furler

Some General Notes on Code Zero Sails vs Asymmetrical Spinnakers: The Code sail and asymmetrical spinnaker offer two entirely different sailing angles. The Code sail will typically be flown on a beam reach or thereabouts. With the code sail, the sewn-in torsional rope offers a more rigid luff, which can be useful for generating power when working upwind to a close reach in light airs. The asymmetrical spinnaker is typically cut to have a nice full and loose luff, offering optimum downwind performance from just below the beam reach to just above dead-down.

Both Code Zero and Top-down furlers utilize continuous furling lines, as the sails may require more or less furling depending on the wind strength. Both designs will also require the drum to be extended out in front of the foremost stay or furler. This allows the sail to be well projected out in front of the boat when sailing downwind. It also mitigates the risk of the furler getting wrapped up in the other bow-gear, stays, masthead gear or other foresail furlers. The best way to achieve this forward attachment point is by way of sprit, removable sprit or possibly, depending on design, the anchor roller (see links above).

PLEASE NOTE: Although we recommend this as a precaution regardless of sail choice, when using a sprit the use of a Bob-stay  is highly recommend to counter the immense upward loading of the sail and the halyard.

Want to learn about some more downwind options? For sailing ‘dead down’ (or there about), from light to¬†moderately¬†heavy conditions, you may want¬†check¬†this out.

Leave us a comment below¬† we’d love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading.


2 thoughts on “Cruisers Can Fly Spinnakers Too!

  1. I have a clearance problem at the top, with the geny furled sail. There is to much bulk at the head of the spinnaker to allow it to start the top down furling I do not want to modify the mast head if that can be avoided. Would a short pennant to the spinnaker head be practical ?

    1. Hi Hal. Thanks for taking the time. Yes, this is a common occurrence with the new top down systems. I have seen people mount extenders atop of their masts, but usually they are poorly done and tend to bend and break from the large halyard loads. Although a properly reinforced masthead extender may not be a bad idea…if done right. A pendant at the top I don’t think would be very effective, as I think it will cause the sail to fly awkwardly and I don’t think this will resolve your problem. Sometimes affecting the systems length overall allows it to stay clear of the other furling gear, so that may be an option. Where is the boat located? Is there a way that you can take a picture of how it looks when it is up? Maybe we can come up with a solution together.


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