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Downwind Sailing: Asymmetrical Spinnakers

The evolution of the downwind sailing in the past 2 decades has caused designers, racers, and cruisers to bring new thought to the spinnaker. As sail design began incorporating new ideas and thoughts, one immediate question arose, what type of spinnaker, asymmetrical or symmetrical would be the best? Each design essentially operates on two principles. Traditionally, the goal of the symmetrical spinnaker design was to push the boat directly downwind. On the other hand, the asymmetrical spinnaker was ideally designed to accommodate faster hull designs, which set on broad reaching downwind as a quicker approach to a leeward point. This thought of downwind sailing relies on the belief that it is more efficient to have wind flowing on both sides of the sail rather than wind pushing the sail.

When the Aussie 18ft Skiffs hit the water for the first time in the 1980’s, the sailing world was surprised at the amazing speeds downwind on an asymmetrical spinnaker. With small displacement and a large sail area, the 18ft skiff would reach significant speeds downwind. The asymmetrical spinnaker was prescribed to this type of boat because of the increase in apparent wind angle. As the speed of the boat increases, the apparent wind angle becomes smaller and smaller. To help accommodate for this change in wind angle, the asymmetrical spinnaker is crucial. When the skiff is sailing downwind, it’s main, jib, and spinnaker are sheeted in as if it was sailing 90 degrees off the wind on a beam reach, yet it is sailing on broad reach at 120 degrees of true wind angle.


Since the introduction of the skiff in the sailing world, designers have answered the people’s request to incorporate more asymmetrical spinnakers into new classes of boats. Though asymmetrical spinnakers are quite popular among the racing crowd, plenty of cruising vessels have began incorporating it into their sail inventory due to the ease of handling. It allows short-handed cruisers to hoist, fly, and dowse the spinnaker easily. Life becomes even simpler when you add a spinnaker furler to the mix (which can be found on our site at here). Racing or cruising, the asymmetrical spinnaker will continue to play a significant role in sail design for a long time to come.


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