Trapeze Tactics

by Andrew Hamilton

Before the Nationals last fall I wrote down a few notes for Tim because he hadn't sailed a wabbit before (or any trapeze boat for that matter). He read them carefully and it was a big help that we didn't have to be explaining the plan as we went around the course.  I found those notes recently and thought they might be useful for others with a new trapeze person aboard.  They are included below.  Incidentally, the list led to a moment of levity when I rolled the boat in during the last course race of the nationals.  With Jonathan overboard, water pouring below, and the boom way way overhead, Tim looked over at me and calmly asked "What now? this wasn't on the list" It made me laugh at the time.

In General:

The trapeze man's role while racing is largely boat balance, with a few additional duties thrown in at mark roundings and during reaching legs. Additionally, the extended position provides a good view of the race course and other boats. Particularly, a boat to leeward and ahead is visible for the trap man but out of sight behind the jib for the crewman and helmsman.

Around the race course

Start and Windward Leg

Here weight on the wire is the job. At the start the trap-man is often in a good position to judge the distance to the line. Tacking requires the trap-man to pass through the 'cabin' of the boat. The cooler is well secured and the best place to step/stand as the turn is made. Hooking/Unhooking from the wire is a matter of personal preference although weight out on the new side in a timely manner is important so hooking in after extending out probably speeds the process, at the expense of security.

Windward Mark

Most of the time we will probably be doing a bear away set in which we can set the pole up before arriving at the windward mark. The crewman sets the pole on the mast, allowing the trap-man to stay out on the wire.

In the case of a downwind leg, the trap-man comes into the cabin and hoists the chute, the halyard is located directly behind the mast. Usually the middle guy can get the guy back and sheet under control with no problem.

Occasionally there is difficulty getting the pole back so this is a good thing for the trap-man to check and help with after hoisting. For a downwind leg the trap-man can remain in the cabin, sitting on the cooler. Bailing and flaking out the spinnaker halyard and spinnaker guy for the take-down are good things to do also.

In the case of a reaching leg, if it's windy it is helpful to keep the trap-man out during the turn and during the set. In this case, it seems to work best to have the trap-man pull the spinnaker halyard up from the trapeze position. A nearly squatting position in the trapeze harness seems quite stable for this procedure. When this is done, the crewman is free to concentrate on getting the pole guy back, and then trim the spinnaker sheet in after all of that is set. The down side to this is that the spinnaker halyard invariably ends up dragging in the water behind the boat.

During a reach leg

While reaching in wind, things get pretty fast. It's best for the trap-man to trim the spinnaker, freeing the crewman to keep a hand on the boom-vang. Also, pulling on the spinnaker sheet adds stability to the wire guy. If it gets fast, the weight needs to move aft a bit, so the trap-man traps right ahead of the middle guy. During a tight reach, the chance of a spin-out is present so the spinnaker may need to be eased quickly at times.


Jibes always start the same way with a squaring back and the trap-man coming off the wire. It works best if both twings get set about 2-3 feet off the deck, choking the spinnaker down a bit. There are two options for the division of labor and usually both get used at some point.

  1. Crew man jibes pole - In this case, the trap-man needs to switch places with the crew-man before the jibe and take over the spin sheet and guy, and the twings. The crew-man goes forward, steps up ahead of the mast and switches the pole as the boat jibes. A certain amount of ease is needed in the new guy to allow the pole to be re-attached. Also, improper twing settings immediately after the jibe can lead to pre-mature helmsman freak out if it's windy. The new leeward twing needs to be released before the boat can be turned back to a reach and the new windward twing needs to come on hard to keep the pole from skying up (there is no downhaul on the pole).
  2. Trap man jibes pole - The other option is that the trap-man jibes the pole, either by stepping up ahead of the mast or by standing inside the cabin and reaching up if tall enough. Either way, it's best if the pole is never connected to both corners of the spinnaker at the same time. i.e.. the order is, release pole from mast ring, let go of the pole and duck under the boom vang as the main jibes if standing in the cabin, release pole from spinnaker, connect pole to new side of spinnaker, re-attach pole to mast. Done.

Leeward Mark

  1. Leeward take down - The take down is best taken care of by the middle crew, leaving the trap-man free to go out on the wire as the rounding is made. If the trap guy takes care of the jib sheet, this frees the crewman to douse the kite, stow the spinnaker pole, etc. The helmsman and trap-guy need to be careful about sitting/stepping on the guy as this slows the spinnaker douse.
  2. Windward take down - Windward take down is accomplished by approaching the mark at a run, stripping the pole off a few boatlengths before the mark, then dragging the kite down to windward. Again this is done by the middle guy, freeing the trapeze man to balance the boat.