I think you've got the right idea in general. I'm a cruiser who also has a fair of experience racing
yachts large and small. When I race
I'm the bowman.
I'd say it is not worthwhile getting a smaller sail than would be ideal for your boat in order to learn. Instead get the right-sized sail but practice first only in very light wind
Your luff lengths sound about right. There's more versatility with luff length with spinnakers than there is for a headsail. Unless you're racing
, a foot here or there doesn't make much difference.
The reasons for not getting a small chute:
Once you get above the size of about a j24 chute it doesn't make much difference how big your chute is. If it's breezy, you won't be able to manhandle it so you'd better have the right technique. Therefore, you might as well have the right one.
A small chute will fly further off the deck
than one that is appropriately-sized. Some people will say that you can compensate for this by not hoisting it all the way, but then you get terrible sail shape and a lot of chafe on the halyard
as it moves around from side to side. Having a sail that's further off the deck
means that it's harder to douse because you're straining to reach it. One that's properly-sized, although more powerful, is therefore often easier to handle.
Don't rely on that sock. The socks are great when they work but you need to know how to douse it conventionally as well so that when the thing tangles up and refuses to work you can still drop the chute safely. Even if you are single-handed, i would say get an old chute that's about the right size for you boat, with no sock and practice with that in order to learn. Start in air that is only just sufficient to actually set the chute (5 knots or so).
with 3 chutes - a cheap
(well, free actually!) ex-racing symmetric, a cheap
(free) ex-racing a-symmetric and an 'all purpose' asymmetric
designed for my boat with a sock. Even single-handed i find myself using the racing asymmetric the most. It's from a J105. If you can find a production racing boat that carries spinnakers similar in size to what you need, try to get your hands on one of those. The racing classes
usually replace their sails
while there's still plenty of life left in them and can be got really nice and cheaply. I've heard 'Bacon Associates' is a good place to look.