I frequently sail my J/111 solo and with winds over 15 knots the letterbox is absolutely the safest way to douse the gennaker. Under 15 knots there are other alternatives like a luff drop into the forward hatch or just douce it under the boom into the companionway.
A few things I do for the letterbox drop:
- You can walk the lazy sheet around the headstay and then in between the foot of the mainsail and the boom. Then use this lazy sheet to pull the gennaker towards you until you can grab the foot. I don't prefer this method as first of all it is less safe to walk the sheet around when it is windy and second: you need to re-rig the lazy sheet after the gennaker is douced. Instead I use a spare rope that I fix with a knot in the companionway, then run this rope between boom and mainsail, around the active gennaker sheet and then back between boom and mainsail to the companionway. Once the tackline is blown, I use this rope to pull the 'active' gennaker sheet towatrds the letterbox until I can grab the foot of the gennaker. No need to re-rig the lazy sheet afterwards and much safer (imho).
- Once I have rigged the spare rope as described above, I stream the tackline and the gennaker halyard in the water behind the boat. This not only ensures the lines don't get tangled, but is also creates just the amount of friction for a controlled douce. In the end of the halyard is afigur eof 8 knot. The tackline does not contain an end knot as the last thing you want is the tack to get stuck and the foot of the gennaker to catch water.
- Once the above is done, I drive down to TWA 165 on the autopilot.
- Blow the tackline completely by opening the jammer. As the tackline is streaming in the water the gennaker will fly to leeward in a very controlled way.
- Pull the spare rope between mainsail and boom until you can grab the foot of the gennaker. Then start collecting the entire foot. (most of the time I do this sitting on the rood just in fron of the companionway)
- Open the jammer of the gennaker halyard. With the halyard streaming n the water with a figure 8 knot at the end there is just the right amount of friction to now start pulling the gennaker down is a very controlled manner.
- Once the gennaker is safe down in the companionway you can start removng the sheets, halyard and tackline and re-pack the gennaker in its bag for the next hoist.