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IC24 Column: To Fly a Spinnaker or Not

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One of the main ideas behind the development of the IC24 is that it would be a vessel that’s easy to sail – both for beginners to the boat and newbies to the sport sailing. So, when the talk of flying spinnakers started, a move that introduces a layer of complexity to sailing these boats, the bar stool debate began.

The desire to fly a spinnaker aboard an IC24 in regular racing competition got its initial impetus in the BVI.

“It’s good for the sport because the whole crew can get involved. Racing then becomes a team effort,” says Michael Hirst, who often sails with his brother and former Olympic sailor, Robbie, and each of their wives. “When you’re racing just jib and main, then you really only need one or two good people aboard. With a spinnaker, you’re almost short-handed with four crewmembers. More technique is needed.”

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Some dissenters to the use of spinnakers say that the usual winners will just win by more and the beginners are more apt to suffer a dismal finish because there aren’t that many good sailors to go around. However, says Hirst, “We’ve found that with just a few hours of practice, more novice sailors can get down the mechanics of sailing with a spinnaker.”

BVI sailors aren’t proposing the use of spinnakers as an all or nothing. “When it’s over 15 knots or the boats are shorthanded for crew, we don’t use spinnakers,” Hirst says.

Although the IC24s have traditionally been raced without spinnakers, the more general trend in the world of sailing is for one-design boats to indeed fly kites.

California ’s Brian Angel, who skippered the winning men’s team at the TAG-Heuer Nation’s Cup Regional Final in St. Thomas aboard an IC24 and whose team is internationally ranked on the world match racing circuit, says, “The event would have been a lot less exciting without a spinnaker. There would have been fewer opportunities for mistakes and therefore more boring.”

What is an IC24?

Bermuda ’s Paula Lewin, whose team won the women’s slot at the Nation’s Cup and whose team ranked 25 th in the world, concurs with Angel. “Match racing isn’t interesting without kites.”

St. Lucia’s Mike Green, an avid match racer and former Olympian, agrees. “Top ranked teams do need spinnakers for match racing.”

Canadian skipper, Erik Koppernaes, who has many dinghy and keelboat national championships to his credit, adds, “All match racing has to include spinnaker work. It tests the skipper’s strength and makes it a team effort. The whole team has to contribute to the boat handling. I actually find it easier sailing with a spinnaker than just a jib. It’s easier to jibe and keep the sail full with a spinnaker. The only thing is, hoisting and dousing can be a complication. So, less experienced sailors can have a problem with it. And, you do need a young guy, or at least a fit guy, on the bow.”

Koppernaes adds, “As for me personally, I do both. I own a Niagara 24 and race it without a spinnaker. Our club in Nova Scotia does a lot of events with all white sails, no spinnakers. What’s really important is that there should be opportunity to do both, sail with and sail without a spinnaker.”

St. Thomas’ Verian Aguilar shares a similar sentiment. “The use of spinnakers isn’t so much advantages and disadvantages, it’s really about what type of sailing you’re doing. If you want to interest young people or those who are seasoned sailors, then sail with spinnakers. If you want to interest novices, sail without spinnakers. Boat designs like the IC24 can easily accommodate both types of sailors.”

Fellow islander and IC24 builder, Morgan Avery agrees. “Using spinnakers is only good if the crew understands what needs to happen. Closeness is what counts. You don’t want anyone at a huge disadvantage.”

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Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.

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