Snipe Sailing Technique: How To Keep Your Pole Dry
Even after watching the video clip below several times, I still cringe at the critical moment. Anyone who’s ever felt that boat-stopping moment when the whisker pole digs into a wave and everything else—mast, crew, hull—tries to keep going forward, digging it in even deeper… well, let’s just say, it’s not something I recommend as a sleep-aid.
(Believe it or not, both pole and mast are completely fine.)
After seven days of sailing in the ocean off Fort Lauderdale, I now understand a little better why pole-burying happens—and thus how to avoid it. First, let’s start with flat water sailing, since that drastically reduces the variables. Sailing downwind heeled to windward is fast, but burying the pole is slow. There’s only about a foot of vertical to play with, so riding the hairy edge requires full concentration by both crew and skipper.
Add in a juicy swell topped by wind chop, and it’s easy to understand why so many poles are bent while sailing in the ocean. If the hull drops into a trough just as a wave crests to windward, or the boat rolls to windward only a few extra inches—well, watch the video again if you think this is something that happens slowly (even in slow motion).
Wave sailing is fun, so how do we maximize the odds of keeping our poles dry? First and most importantly, both skipper and crew should be able to quickly move body weight to leeward when they see wave top converging with pole end. A well-timed pop to the leeward rail (for the crew) or into the middle of the boat (for the skipper) can make all the difference between skimming and burying.
There are several additional actions you can take to lessen the odds of burying the pole:
- Ease off the jib cloth downwind to raise the entire sail as much as possible.
- Skippers, give a quick, timely, pump on the mainsheet.
- Crews, uncleat the pole line and let it retract (though that action requires split-second reaction time, which may be better spent on moving weight to leeward).
Even without video evidence, I will always remember the boat-parking, gut-wrenching, lurch that ended a great sailing day. I will also remember the fantastic rides on the many waves where we kept the pole dry. We learn best from mistakes, and wave sailing is fun, so here’s your chance to learn from my error. See you on the race course!
PS Thanks to Coach Paul for capturing this. For more video clips of our training in Fort Lauderdale (as well as many great photos of boats, waves, and seascapes), visit PaulCroninStudios.