By Josh Adams, SAIL
Though asymmetric spinnakers date as far back as 1865, credit Australian skiff sailor and designer Julian Bethwaite with the invention of the modern asymmetric, which he tested and developed on his Australian 18 designs during the 1980s. Bethwaite needed a spinnaker with a long luff and flat leech on either gybe. This would enable crews to sail the skiff’s tight apparent-wind angles without collapsing the chute or sacrificing the sail power they needed to reach high speeds off the wind. That the sail, with its fixed tack and single sheet, simplified downwind sailhandling was an added bonus. Twenty years on, the asymmetric spinnaker has developed into a versatile downwind sail for a wide variety of performance and cruising boats. Before boatbuilders could introduce the spinnaker on their racers, they had to devise a system for getting the sail away from the blanket of the mainsail while sailing on a low reaching course – not a problem on a skiff, which sails downwind at near-upwind angles. A common solution for this is tacking the sail on a retractable bowsprit; the Melges 24, in 1993, was the first to reach the masses with this configuration. To make the sail more versatile downwind, it is designed to be projected to windward of centerline, which helps a boat sail lower reaching angles. — Read on for trim and boathandling tips: