Editor’s Note: USA 8830 has subsequently been upgraded to double spinnaker poles, but it maintains the under-deck pole launcher cleat system.
The traditional pole launcher system for the 505 includes a jam of some sort mounted on the mast or on top of the deck by the mast gate. The pole launcher line runs through the spiro unit, down to a turning block, and through the jam. To launch the pole, the crew pulls the pole launcher line and makes certain it jams. To release, the crew grabs the pole launcher line and releases it from the jam. This system suffers from two major flaws in my mind.
The first is that when pulling the pole out during a spinnaker set, or after a jibe, the crew must make sure the pole launcher line is fully set in the jam. If this does not happen, a wave of puff of wind will create pressure on the pole and cause it to release itself ruining a good offwind leg. Or even worse, the pole will snap back in the boat destroying any chance of a killer jibe. To solve this, the crew must learn to pull the pole launcher line at a certain angle to make sure the line sets in the jam. Of course, the crew is not always in the correct position to pull at the right angle, and in these cases, time is lost.
The second issue is when the crew goes to release the pole. Many problems that occur during a jibe or spinnaker douse have to do with the pole not coming back correctly. Either not snapping back against the boom and hence getting caught in the trap lines, or having the spinnaker sheet not releasing from the fork end. In my experience, these two issues occur more frequently when the pole is slow to return to it resting spot against the boom. In my mind, the snap of a pole when released is super critical for a good maneuver. Unfortunately, with the traditional pole launcher system, when the crew holds the launcher line to take it out of the jam, friction during from holding the line in your hand slows the initial snap. That first few inches of retraction is when the shock cord is at its most stretched position and has the most pull. The friction from the crew’s hand causes much of this pull to be lost.
To solve these problems, I recommend changing how the pole launcher system is rigged. As far as I know, the idea came from Australia and found its way to the East Coast on “The Pump”. In short, it involves one line to pull the pole out, and another to trip the pole and release it.
Taking a look at the first picture, you can see how the launcher line come off the spiro and down through the top of the deck. Once under the deck, it turns on a stand-up block, runs through the jam, and finally exits the sidewall. The jam is lined up with the turning block and the exit block so that the crew pulling on the pole launcher line automatically jams the line. (see pic 2) This allows the crew to pull the pole from any angle and without having to worry about setting the line in the jam. Just pull as hard and fast as you can! To release the pole, there is a small loop that is between the upside down block and the jam. This loop is attached to the trip line seen in pic 1. By pulling the trip line, the loop pulls the launcher line out of the jam, and the pole instantly snaps back into the boat. Watch your head!! The key to the trip line is that the launcher line is not set too firmly in the jam. A bit of tweaking is needed to get it just right, which involves putting some washers under the jam to adjust the height. You want the launcher line in the jam just enough to make it solid, but light enough that it will release easily.
One knock against the system is that some crews have trouble adjusting the pole in and out after missing the sheet in the fork. You know those jibes when everything has gone great, you crank the pole out and grab the trap handle, only to hear the skipper “politely” say “The f’in guy fell out of the fork!” The crew has to jump back in the boat, retract the pole enough to get the guy back in the fork, then pull the pole back out, usually while getting rolled by the boat you spent all last beat trying to pass. With the system described above, some crews find it difficult to release the pole halfway. When tripped, the pole releases all the way to the boom since you aren’t holding the launcher line. I think this problem goes away after you learn how to use the system. When I have to release the pole halfway, I always grab the launcher line in the same hand I am going to trip the pole, that way I can control the amount of retraction after the trip. Once everything is set up correctly, jibing the boat will not only be faster, but more reliable as the pole snaps back against the boom when tripped, and the crew does not have to worry about setting the launcher line in the jam.