Snipe Sailing: How To Install Spreader Pins

Connie Commette and I have exchanged crewing ideas since the late 1900s, even after I defected from the crew union and moved to the (much roomier) skipper position. Recently I asked her to share the technique she and Peter have developed to install spreader pins while on the water. “It’s definitely something we have worked on,” she says, “especially since I am short!” Here are the steps she recommends, which have proved successful even in big ocean waves off their home waters of Fort Lauderdale.

Connie says:

team commette sailing upwind
Even in big waves, Team Commette manages to install/remove pins safely. Photo: Tom Rogers

1. Decide on the best tack, depending on if you are left or right handed or what is most comfortable. For me, it’s starboard tack.

2. Ease the outhaul way out so you have a little shelf to stand on, and secure the vang at a semi-tight setting.

3. Put the pins in your mouth so you have both hands free.

4. Skipper heels the boat to leeward during the whole procedure. That way gravity helps hold you against the mast and mainsail, since you need both hands to change pins. There’s nothing worse than being up there and holding on for dear life as you roll to windward.

5. Step on the vang, then up to the boom.

6. Put in windward pin first while holding on to leeward spreader. Then install the leeward pin, which is a little harder to line up with the hole. This is when skipper’s focus on heeling to leeward is most critical.

7. Climb back down same way and with just as much care.

8. Pull on outhaul and go sailing!

Peter adds a few tips for the skipper.

“This maneuver is not for the faint of heart, and it requires your complete focus. You want to maintain as constant an angle of heel to leeward as possible, without going vertical on the mast and without tipping over. Keep the bow about 45-50 degrees off the wind, loosely backwinding the jib with the corner of the clew just aft of the mast. Don’t tighten the vang too much. The combination will maximize your steering groove for a given heel angle.”

Again, this is a varsity move that can be a great way to adjust to changing conditions. Good luck and be safe!

For more, read Snipe Spreader Pins: What the Experts Do

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