On Festina Lente we have developed a technique that reduces the requirement for brute strength to a minimum. We use two sheet trimmers ( Sweeper and G/Trimmer) in the cockpit ,facing forwards ( looking at the spi) and each with a sheet led around a halyard winch. These two work together steering the kite round the front of the boat as we turn. They are aided by the trimmers mate who is in charge of the guys , the pianist who controls the spi uphaul  and vang and the spi trimmer who , having relinquished the sheet for the gybe , either acts as a tempory spi pole on the new windward side  , holding out the sheet until the pole is skied or , if it is blowing hard, comes aft to gybe the runners.

So as we prepare to gybe  the sheet is handed back into the cockpit , bow gathers up some slack of the lazy guy and stands in front of the forestay . Mast takes up position by the mast with the trip line in hand having first ensured the sheet is over the end of the pole. Main centres the traveller.

On the call  -“Stand by to gybe”  – main starts to  pull sheet in hand over hand ( in light airs this can be omitted – in heavy airs it has to come halfway in) Mast raises the inner end of the pole.

At “Guy back” the trimmers mate pulls the guy (and pole) as far aft as possible and helm starts to bear away. Spi sheet trimmers help by pulling  old windward sheet on at the same time and easing leeward sheet so the  spi traverses to windward.

As the wind crosses the stern Helm cries “Trip” , Mast pulls hard on tripping line , Pianist lowers uphaul to  pre-set mark, mast guides pole forward to Bow  (using genoa sheet looped over spi boom) who rams new guy into jaws , shouts “Made” and throws spi boom back to new weather side. Spi trimmers stare at spi and fly it using sheets – usually trimming it back to new windward side. Main pulls boom over SCREAMING “Heads” reminding everyone that gybing goes better if we end it with the same number  of heads on shoulders as when we started. In a blow , Spi – trimmer has been making up the new runner hard against the  boom as it  comes in , Helm holding the uncleated old runner in their hand . As soon as the boom starts to travel , the old runner is cast off   and the new runner taken up . The aim is to have this on hard  before the boom reaches the end of its travel.In light airs the runners are tied forward and spi trimmer struts the new windward sheet til the guy comes home.

As soon as the shout “Made” is heard , Mast pulls up the uphaul to its previous position and the Pianist takes up the slack. This upward movement of the pole is aided by the Trimmers mate, who pulls on the new guy until the pressure is taken off the new windward sheet. Pole position is adjusted with guy ,uphaul and downhaul, sheet is passed back to the Spi trimmer on the side deck , vang is tightened if appropriate and we go back into VMG mode.

In marginal conditions Pianist  releases some vang once the boom has been trimmed on ( at the call of “Pole Aft”)and Spi Trimmer flakes the mainsheet falls so they dont jam when let back out in a rush– Main does NOT let boom all the way out on the new gybe until it has been vanged back on. This is difficult and is worth practising in moderate weather – but if done properly , takes some power out of the main and allows you to gybe in strong winds . If the main runs out to the shrouds unvanged  after the gybe – it will all end in tears – or more specifically , a gybe broach! Somehow the sheet must be cleated with boom at 60 degrees from midline , then vanged and let out the last 20 degrees. Spi- trimmer gets forward and sweats up vang with pianist tailing , once boom is across and runner secure.

So what can go wrong?

Well its important that the Helm steers steadily thro the gybe and doesn’t hover dead downwind – that pretty much ensures a wrap.

The  sheet trimmers can achieve the same – usually by looking at what someone else is doing . Any trimmer not looking at the kite – or perhaps up at the masthead fly to keep it pointing at the centre of the kite – should be shot.

If the guy isn’t squared enough at the start , the clews stay close and unsupported , inviting a twist. Pulling it back at the start of the gybe flattens the spi and makes it easier to control.

Sometimes Mast ,in their haste , skies the pole after the gybe –  its important to look at what effect the rope you are pulling is having rather than  just heaving away blindly.

Bow may put the new guy in back to front. If they do , don’t worry – the Sheet trimmers fly the kite on the sheets , Spi trimmer stands with one hand holding the shroud and the other pushing out the windward sheet , the helm keeps the true wind 15 degrees from the stern and the kite should be as steady as a  rock whilst the pole is lowered and the rope reversed.

Frequently , the new guy isn’t pulled on enough, the windward sheet is released and the spi disappears round the forestay with an almost inevitable twist. Trimmers mate and Windward sheet trimmer must talk to each other and look at the kite.

A reach to reach gybe is just the same , but the 3 trimmers must co-ordinate more as the boat swings onto the reach . In effect the spi is swung to leeward as the boat comes up off the run and the windward sheet is eased to the guy  ONLY once the latter is pulling the pole off the forestay . The down haul must be pulled on early as soon as the boat comes up to the reach to prevent the pole skying, and the Helm must keep the boat downwind long enough for the crew to complete the manoeuvre . Tactically  the boat should have been put  in a position beforehand where she doesn’t HAVE to make a tight turn- usually by sailing high enough to sail the last 4 boat lengths into the mark on a run and gybing before the mark.

In a big blow we all tighten up – which is counterproductive . Its important we gybe  with boat and crew  fast and loose – preferably going  down a wave – and swung confidently through the wind. When the helm hesitates – it invites disaster. Sometimes the boom crashes over – the boat broaches and without a pole the kite  takes control. Releasing the vang before the gybe makes this less likely to happen . If it DOES , and the situation looks grim – call for a spi drop. To do this safely the kite must be tethered by 2 out of 3 corners . SO  –

1.      Helm calls “Emergency drop”

2.    Pianist  releases spi halyard ( I hope it was flaked!)

3.    BOTH spi sheets are pulled in AS HARD AS POSSIBLE. Preferably the leeward sheet is pulled on most, to bring sail round to the lee side – but once the halyard is blown  – don’t delay in getting that foot tight.

4.    The spi is stretched tight along its lower edge , the sail floats gently across the water , peace and harmony return and hopefully the boat comes upright – especially if  someone blows the vang (Pianist – this should be you)

5.    Mast ,Spi trimmer and Trimmers mate retrieve the sail.

6.    Sheet trimmers do not release until ¾ of sail is safely stowed.

7.    Sweeper pulls vang on and mops helms fevered brow, we turn downwind and rehoist kite or genoa depending on morale.

Failure to get both sheets on tight  ends in trawling the kite or flying it miles from the masthead. If this happens get 4 people on the leeward sheet , release the windward sheet and guy, hang on and hope the photographers are somewhere else.! If either the windward ropes  or the halyard are  jammed ( I guess it wasn’t flaked !) spend 30 secs trying to release it – then consider cutting it ( knife attached to steering pedestal).