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Remember in the movie back to the Future when Michael J. Fox hated being called “Chicken”. But eventually, he smartened up – didn’t take the dare and changed his future for the good. Well … sometimes in sailing it’s equally as smart to not take the dare.
The safe maneuver is called the chicken jibe.
It’s mostly done when the skipper is uncomfortable about the conditions for the gybe and most likely if the winds are high. High winds in a gybing maneuver can cause damage to the vessel rigging by the boom SLAMMING across too fast. In a normal gybe maneuver, the boom slam effect can be reduced by pulling in the main sheet and letting it out as the boom comes over to the other side. However, in high winds – 15 knts plus, if the boom is not let out fast enough, the wind on the mainsail will round the boat up in to the wind and heel the boat way way over. This is a very uncomfortable situation.
Here’s an animation. Note I’ve included the apparent wind direction and notice how it changes direction through the maneuver – it’s just a little extra to keep you thinking. And I also included some batman cartoon stuff from the old days – sorry it’s just my sense of humor. The little man getting tossed off is no joke however – I included this as a reminder to how dangerous gybing can be – especially if you don’t prepare your crew. That boom comes across fast (not in a chicken gybe however).
So many choose the chicken gybe. The end result is the same. You are merely tacking the boat from a broad reach on one side over to a broad reach on the other side. Simple, easy, effective and safe. The only thing to watch out for is that the jib sheets will whip back and around quite violently. So it’s a good idea not to have anyone near the jib sheets i.e. on foredeck.