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The Anatomy of a Takedown: Part IV – The Letterbox Drop

The Anatomy of a Takedown: Part IV – The Letterbox Drop

This is the takedown for when things are way out of control, like when there is so much wind that we don’t even want to put a jib up, we just need to get the chute down—fast. The letterbox drop works a lot like the leeward takedown, but without a jib up, we need to hide the spinnaker behind the main, so we run the lazy guy over the boom and down the companionway. The advantage is it keeps people off the foredeck and collapses the sail as it comes down. This works on either jibe, and the mark is probably irrelevant at this point, but we’ll assume that we are going downwind on port jibe and will not be putting up a jib (yet). The exact timing of all of these maneuvers will be soon—very soon—but only as soon as everyone is ready.

1. The Setup

Once we realize things are out of control:

  • Bow – Grab the lazy guy (hanging off the starboard side of the sail) and run it aft, over the boom, under the foot of the main and down the companionway.
  • Pit – Make sure spinnaker halyard is flaked, out of the bag and ready to run. (If you are worried about it, throw it overboard and let it stream out behind the boat. That should get any kinks or twists out.)
  • Sewer (and another free hand) – Grab the lazy guy from down below as it comes through the companionway.

2. Ready for the Douse

Pretty soon after the setup

  • Tactician – Call out time until the douse.
  • Guy trimmer – Ease the pole forward to the forestay. Stay on the guy, don’t let it run because it might get caught or hurt someone.
  • Spin sheet trimmer – Overtrim the sheet to stretch the foot out and get the clew close to the boom.
  • At least two other people – Get on the lazy guy and get ready to pull it in.

4. Time to Douse

As soon as everyone is ready

  • Tactician – call for the douse
  • Helmsman – Keep driving straight
  • Pit – Blow the halyard big time. We’re talking 40-50 feet or more. The idea is to collapse the sail from the top. It’s important to blow enough that the sail won’t fill away from the boat. The head of the sail will stream out away from the boat and will not land in the water. After the initial blow, while watching the sail and the people gathering it, lower it in a controlled manner. Note: you should have at least one turn around the winch before you open the clutch to avoid shredding your hands, but if a halyard is on the winch you need, it is fine to take a turn on top of the halyard.
  • Everyone on the lazy guy – start hauling it in over the boom, once you get to the sail start stuffing it down the companionway.
  • Guy trimmer – ease the guy in a controlled manner as the sail is being pulled down. Don’t fight the people gathering it, but don’t let it run.
  • Spin sheet trimmer – ease the sheet as the sail is being pulled in. Keep it on the winch and be ready in case it gets blown back out.
  • Sewer – Pull like crazy on the lazy guy until you can reach some part of the sail. Pull the entire sail below. Disconnect the gear and hand it back up. Start packing the sail.

5. Afterwards

Get the boat under control. Clean up the pole and spinnaker gear. Figure out what headsail you are going to put up. Go fast again.

Source: J/44