How to get out of a severe spit?



If your boat was about to board, what would you do? James Stevens answers your seamanship questions

How to get out of a severe spit?

James Stevens is answering your seamanship questions.


Dave sails from Port Edgar to the east coast of Scotland.

The boat is a 10m cruiser and the conditions are ideal; sunny with a Force 4 from west-southwest.

Dave is a good dinghy sailor but only recently started sailing. Her crew are passionate but have limited offshore experience.

The boat is over a wide span, and Dave decides it’s time to hoist the symmetrical spinnaker.

After a few false starts, with sheets across rather than on the rail, it goes up and their speed increases by 1 to 2 knots.

An hour or two later, Dave notices that the speed has increased another 1 to 2 knots, but the conditions are still good and the crew are sailing fast.

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The sea conditions became more choppy and the wind shifted further back.

The apparent wind is comfortable at 10 knots, but when Dave passes the instruments to true wind, it gusts to 18 knots.

The helm now becomes difficult, the sea lifting the stern and accelerating the boat in the wave ahead.

The crew are excited by the action, but Dave knows the spinnaker has to come down soon.

At this moment, a gust and an extra large wave appear and the boat accelerates.

The bar loses control and they round off into a spectacular spit.

The boat lists to starboard, pinned to the ground with the spinnaker and main boom in the water, the rudder useless and the crew hanging on as best they can.

What is Dave doing now?


The first action is to release the kicker and the mainsheet to allow the boom to rise and depower the mainsail.


James Stevens, author of the Yachtmaster Handbook, spent 10 of his 23 years at the RYA as the Yachtmaster Training Officer and Chief Examiner

This allows the boat to straighten up enough to give the helm.

If the sailboat is still sideways, the spinnaker halyard can be released about a third to a half, to take the wind out of the sail but not too far.

It is really important not to submerge the spinnaker so the sheet must be tight, allowing the wind to pass underneath.

The shroud or sheet must not be released at this point or the spinnaker will continue to pull the boat and be difficult to recover.

With the halyard released, the helm can regain control and straighten the boat while heading towards the spinnaker.

Once the heading is downwind, the spinnaker can be released.

Catching the sloth between the foot of the mainsail and the boom before releasing the guy brings the spinnaker safely downwind of the mainsail.

Dave needs to stay calm and the crew will need to concentrate. Finding the right rope is difficult when climbing the cockpit.

An early sail reduction would have been a good idea.

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