Learning to sail

Moderator: GreenLake

Postby K.C. Walker » Thu Jun 07, 2012 9:08 pm

Well done Scott! Returning to the dock unscathed, your first time out solo is great. It's always an adventure and hopefully a learning experience.

I like to motor away from the dock. The higher the risk, the better I like motoring. My own docks are not conducive to sailing out of or into. They are surrounded by rocks and are not very long, fairly shallow, and have other boats tied up to them. The last time I went out was from a state boat ramp. The wind was blowing 15+ straight in on the dock, it was low tide and you could see the rocks all around the narrow channel. Needless to say, I motored out quite a ways away from the rocks before raising sail, and waited for a lull!

I usually furl my sails on the boom and fore deck. I use a topping lift to hold the boom and a shock cord system to hold the sail to the boom. That's reasonably quick. I drop the jib and use a ball bungee around it. That means a quick trip to the fore deck. I try to give myself plenty of time so that I don't have to do this quickly upon my return. At the public boat ramp there sometimes is a line of boats waiting to dock and then pull their boats out. Fortunately, most of them are fishermen and much quicker and more maneuverable than I am. They can usually get docked and pull out pretty quickly. I figure sailing into a congested dock that's downwind and has little maneuvering room to be inconsiderate at best.

As I said, last time I was out it was blowing 15+ and we were getting really soaked as we didn't think to put on our foul weather gear before leaving the dock. It was time to find a place to heave to out of the wind and chop. I scooted up the Pawcatuck River about as far as Frank Hall's boat yard. I pulled the maneuver and was moving really fast. I thought to myself maybe I'm doing something wrong, so I went around and tried again and then realized the tide was running and I was in about a 3 1/2 knot current. So we quickly changed into dry clothes got a snack and off-again.

I'm glad you're getting out there and having fun!
KC Walker, DS 1 #7002
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Postby GreenLake » Thu Jun 07, 2012 10:05 pm

Nicely done, Scott!

Chris has covered most of the points. Let me add just a bit from my observations.

Heaving to takes a bit of practice. I still don't get it on first try, sometimes, esp. if the wind is a bit stronger. If you try to get there by tacking, it's easy to get to a point where the wind just grabs that jib and "completes the tack" for you. You'll want to take out most, but not all of the boat speed, without the residual speed the rudder wouldn't have any function. And as Chris writes, some main is needed to give balance.

When docking downwind it's a good idea to have something to "brake" the boat. I find that having a paddle that I can stick down the transom with the blade at right angles works well.

Trolling motors are great for situations where they replace short bouts of paddling, but, as you discovered, there'll be limits to what you can do when facing winds (or current). The cuddy of the DS is so tall that with winds even a bit higher than you reported, you can be blown off-course, esp. if you have to get somewhere at an angle to the wind.

I've actually "motor-sailed" in those conditions with a jib up and the motor pointed essentially sideways (making the motor provide the counter-torque). Jib, because mainsail was packed away, and I would be turning downwind to get to my dock.

If launching upwind from a dock, make sure you give a good push forward, so you get water flowing over your CB and rudder - otherwise they stall and no matter what you do with sheet and tiller, you'll drift sideways at best. Works well, even in a narrow channel, but I don't usually try that in more than 5kt wind speed at the dock (the dock being sheltered).

For wind speed, get yourself one of those little hand-held little wind instruments (Skymate). They are really great, because they give you a reading right where you are (unlike temperature, wind speed and direction near ground are very local, so getting large-scale data off the web tells you, well, a theory). Soon you'll learn to reliably associate wind speed with the state of the water.
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Re: Learning to sail

Postby hectoretc » Thu Jun 07, 2012 10:53 pm

kokko wrote:And you still have not responded to my offer!

Sorry Kent, if my ineptness hasn't scared you off, I've sent you an email to set up a get together.

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Postby GreenLake » Fri Jun 08, 2012 3:18 am

The DS is pretty maneuverable, and it doesn't take too much room for a U turn. If your dock allows that, it can turn downwind docking into upwind docking. Best practiced in moderate to light conditions (and when there's little or no other traffic).

I tend to sail to from our dock here whenever I can at all. Most of the time we go out it''s to join the local beer-can race, we rather don't rig the motor. And paddling all the way out to the lake is no fun in the DS. But, our dock being sheltered, it's always possible to switch to paddle power for the actual docking, for example when hanging around to wait for a slot at the dock.
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Postby Skippa » Fri Jun 08, 2012 7:41 am

A good way to practice and gain experience in sailing to a fixed position (dock or bouy) is to attach a weight and line to a fender, drop it in an open section of the lake and make several approaches, concentrate on bringing the the boat to a halt as you sail up to your target. If you over shoot, no damage done, shoot another approach.
The skills aquired are the same you will need for your M.O.B (man overboard) drills also.
Keep your sheets neat so they run out freely when you release them.
It's a fun little exercise and I love when I make a clean approach to dock full of full of "observers".
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Postby jdubes » Fri Jun 08, 2012 8:57 am

Nice job Scott!

Do you have a tiller tamer?


I highly recommend this to anyone starting out. The extra hand it provides can definitely alleviate some of the issues with sail handing going out and in.
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Postby hectoretc » Fri Jun 08, 2012 10:25 am

jdubes wrote:Do you have a tiller tamer?

I didn't when I left the dock, but did when I came back in. I found (as many here have commented) that it was possible to reach the sheets (main and jib) while managing the rudder, but anything at all beyond that was impossible, and being new, I was moving way to slowly getting things set up or adjusted while under way.
Recalling postings here (thanks daysailer.org and those who post), I just took a line tied off to a stern side cleat wrapped the line lightly snug around the tiller and then tied it off to the other side cleat. At that point I could move the tiller with a mild drag but nothing that would encumber me. When I need to increase the grab, I just slid the loops toward me and they frictioned down nicely holding the tiller in place. I will definitely buy/build one this weekend, but the quick and dirty tamer worked as advertised.

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Postby Scott Mulford » Fri Jun 08, 2012 11:40 am

My latest tiller tamer:

I tied 2 separate lines from the stern cleats to the tiller with taut-line hitchs at the handle. It lets you lock the tiller where you want and the loops can be slipped off easily when you realize you want the tiller back NOW!.
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Postby GreenLake » Fri Jun 08, 2012 2:23 pm

Here's another variety DIY tamer. It consists of two parts:
  1. A single bungee, tied across, under some tension, and a bit forward of the stern cleats, so that it passes below the tiller about 9" from the tip.
  2. A wrap around both bungee and tiller with three turns of thin bungee cord, not too tight.

The wraps forming the connection between bungee and tiller will hold the tiller in normal condition, but if you push or pull at the tiller hard enough, they will slide along the bungee.

Result: no need to manually adjust anything and the tiller is always ready for manual operation. You can steer normally, and the stretch in the bungee will accommodate you. To "set" a new course, just pull a bit harder and the wraps will slide along the bungee to a new position, holding the tiller there.

You can even tack without undoing this setup.

I usually rig this setup whenever I sail single-handed and leave it in place even when I'm steering manually. Then, at any time, if something else requires both hands I can simply let go of the tiller, and it's usually set to where it needs to be, or at least close enough so that the boat doesn't get away from me immediately. If needed, a simple tug or push would adjust the setting more perfectly.

I started out with just hooking the bungee under the edge of my coamings, but later, after the system proved itself, I added some hooks there.
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Postby hectoretc » Sun Jun 17, 2012 10:08 pm

GreenLake wrote:Here's another variety DIY tamer. It consists of two parts:
  1. A single bungee, tied across, under some tension, and a bit forward of the stern cleats, so that it passes below the tiller about 9" from the tip.
  2. A wrap around both bungee and tiller with three turns of thin bungee cord, not too tight.
The wraps forming the connection between bungee and tiller will hold the tiller in normal condition, but if you push or pull at the tiller hard enough, they will slide along the bungee..

Hi GL, while shopping at my local Home Depot for some other parts, I found myself staring at their bungee cords and found a couple gems.

[thumb=1309] [thumb=1310]

Remembering your suggestion, I picked up the flat bungee cord and a jar of these really slick canopy/tarp ties. Using this pair for a tiller tamer works fantastic, and I tossed the rest of the tarp ties in my cooler/toolbox for misc use. Used three of them today when I dropped the main to quick tie it to the boom to keep it up and out of the way. They remind me a great deal of the soft attachment you all were discussing for the jib sheet quick attach/detach on another thread.

Thanks again for the suggestion, this works great!
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Postby GreenLake » Mon Jun 18, 2012 1:56 am

Those tarp ties work great.
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Postby hectoretc » Sat Jun 23, 2012 10:36 pm

OK... Made three mistakes today, the first was to go out in some fairly high winds (slight white caps on the lake) and the second was to invite my wife to go with. (I was being polite... Given her somewhat clear and frequent comments that she will not be going out on Breakin Wind, ever... who'd figure she'd have a change of heart?)

Well, alright, she's taking an interest... That's good right?
As has been the case most of this summer, it's a SW wind coming straight at the dock blowing pretty good, but I know (now) how to preset the sails (down) and motor out, raise the sails and transition to wind off of motor.
Pretending i know what I'm doing, I gave her the 1-2-3 things to do if I fall out of the boat, pull main sheet, pull jib sheet & turn into the wind. And she says "You'd best not fall out of the boat, because I'm not going to remember any if that!"
Ok... Good point to remember... Don't fall out if the boat...

So we're clipping along ok, I'm intentionally cutting a little more into the wind to reduce heel (she is NOT enjoying heeling), and we're tacking and all is OK, until suddenly, right after a tack, as I'm reaching around her to set the jib sheet (she is not participating in the crew thing this time out..." we caught a very substantial gust! This is actually a first for me, but I've had it hammered into my head (by you guys), pull the mainsheet, which I did as fast as I could grab it, but in that time, we were way up to the point water washed into the cockpit. I never saw it happen, but when the sheet let loose and the boat leveled out, there were a couple inches of water in the stern trough.
I said "gee.. That was fun... (oops)". She said "OK, I'm done, take me back.."
So... Here we are, basically at the south end of the lake, white caps all around, having "just then" nearly laid the boat over, and now I need to figure out how to do a 180 to head back
So I'll pause at this point to ask a question.
Q- What is the correct procedure for turning around in a moderately high wind?
At some point, no matter where I have the sheets set, the main is going to be broadside to the wind. And that didn't seem to work very well a few minutes ago.
Luckily, the wind eased off for a few seconds and I was able to come about. I got her back to the dock without further incident, she got off, and then I made my 3rd mistake, I decided to go out and try to figure out what went wrong, and how to correct for it next time (falling off the horse thing).
Unfortunately, by now it was even windier. I got out, raised the main, raised the jib, was just going to set the sheets when another big wind came and suddenly I was doing a fast turn toward shore again. I decided to stay with the momentum, the trolling motor was still in the water so I cranked it up and continued the turn doing a 360 back into the wind.
Back to business, I tried to set my sheets, and found the jib had sort of furled itself around the headstay. I tugged on the sheets but the whole thing was fouled big time.
I may be stupid, but at least I know when to quit, so I dropped the main again and motored back to the dock. So another question occurs to me.
Q- how in the world can anybody climb out on the bow when single handing the boat to fix a problem with the jib. I can release the mainsheet and lock the tiller, but that doesn't prevent the wind from pushing the bow around and then with the mainsheet loose, all that means is I'm headed for an unexpected jibe or two.
Suggestions? (other than not inviting my wife to go with again for a while... Like that's going to be a problem...)
1- how to turn with the wind in a higher wind condition. (15-20mph)
2- How to stabilize the boat without a jib - can't heave to... (drop the main?)
Your suggestions are needed and welcomed.

Thanks - Scott
Last edited by hectoretc on Sun Jun 24, 2012 7:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby GreenLake » Sun Jun 24, 2012 1:35 am


let me take a stab at a reply. This will be my personal take, no guarantees it will be the "best" answer, especially as high wind scenarios are rare where and when I sail.

Slight whitecaps on the water (assuming your lake isn't very narrow in the direction of the wind) would mean somewhere around 10-12knots of true wind. That's vigorous, but you should not yet be in "survival" mode. Around 8-10kn is a more fun, yet still relaxed wind speed, which, as you know with hindsight, would have been more appropriate for your passenger.

Later in your story you write of "whitecaps all aroound" - which makes me think winds might have increased appreciably for you, perhaps to 15kt. Somewhere there, the DS beings to be past its design wind speed and you have to take more active steps dumping power.

Now for turning. If you are going upwind and want to go downwind, all you do is let out your main and jib as you make the turn. At the end of the turn, the boom will almost touch the shroud. With windspeed of around 11kn your downwind ride would be fun, but, once you reach hullspead at around 5kn, the relative wind speed drops significantly, so the main "feels" only 6knt.

If you (begin to) release the sheets before the turn, not in repsonse to it you wouldn't be caught with a fully tight main being hit broadside by the wind, which might send you over.

Ideally, in conditions like that (and stronger winds) you have the mainsheet in your hand, not cleated in. If you haven't already, put a ratchet block in your system, so you can hold the main more easily at highter tensions, but still just need to open your hand to release it for a gust.

Jibing in stronger winds needs a bit of care. If you find that in order to get to your dock, you have to change the angle sailing downwind so that the main would have to be on the other side, you want to manage that carefully.

With the wind from behind, you can sheet in the main (to reduce how far it has to swing), then turn until the wind comse slightly from the other side (the jib will tell you) and bring the main over - and immediately and smoothly let the main out all the way.

Also, in the middle of the turn, as the main comes over, you temporarily steer the "wrong" way a bit - not to undo your turn, but to steady the boat.

When you single-hand, you would let out the jib sheets and let the jib do its thing - later you can gently sheet back in.

Lots of practice in conditions leading up to stronger winds will help...

At some point, the winds will be too strong for you to feel comfortable in jibing, and then you'll turn the other way and go head through wind (a maneuver calld the "granny gybe", but which, technically, is a tack).

If you foul your headsail, mainsail down and motor on (if you have one) would seem to be the logical steps. Without motor, your only choice would be to drift. With headsail sheets loose and main down, I wouldn't expect the boat to heel, but you might drift much faster than hove to (and on a small lake you might run out of room). Sailing under main (with fouled headsail in place) might then be your only option.

Sailing with passengers (or not fully experienced crew) or single handed, it's nice to be able to put a reef into the main. Also, adding roller furling to your headsail would allow you to take in your jib quickly to depower.

If you have to bring inexperienced crew, the heavier the better. My very first race in the DS had gusts up to 20kn. My crew for the occasion was new to the boat and somewhat new to sailing. But our combined "butt weight" allowed us to finish the race without even sitting out on the gunwhale - we didn't do well, because we pinched and spilled air from the main, so we were slow, but we had fun, and my crew stuck around for the season.

Finally, while you can read much of the wind by looking at the water, having a small wind meter would allow you to be more "objective" in it, for example in deciding whether your skills or crew are up to certain conditions. The wind force goes with the square of the wind velocity, so there can be a noticeable difference for just a knot or two of wind more.
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Postby hectoretc » Sun Jun 24, 2012 10:01 pm

Thanks GL - Greatly appreciate the very comprehensive and non-technical response (I understood every instruction and term). Again, greatly appreciated.

I went back out today in much less wind to try everything you suggested so when I need it again, I will at least have tried it once. It never occurred to me to reef the main, (kokko also suggested that offline) I'd never tried it, which is probably why I didn't think of it, but that should have been one of the first things to do. Even if the conditions are not dangerous, just getting a bit less sail would have made it more comfortable for my passenger.
I did my first reef tied to the dock this morning to insure I knew how, and had all the necessary lines and parts needed. Then I did it while under sail, and it worked great, but there was a lot less wind today so I'll have to practice that every time I'm out so I get a variety of conditions to practice in.

I have one or two further questions that came up either reading your explanation, or when out trying things today.

1- You comment when turning from upwind to downwind, (paraphrasing here) to release the mainsheet, and tack through the turn, at which time the boom with go with the wind and eventually should "almost" touch the shroud. Can you (or anyone) expand on the "almost" touch the shroud? When I release the mainsheet, at it's full extension, how far out should the boom be allowed to travel? Within an inch, two inches, six inches of the shroud?
I now have the center-sheet setup so I should be able to just tie a figure 8 knot in the sheet to limit max extension?

2- Raising the main while offshore: I've concluded after trying it a half dozen times, it is clearly easiest when I'm pointed into the wind, but easy is sort of an oxymoron when it comes to raising/lowering sails. As soon as I move forward to start working halyards and slots, the wind wants to push the boat to a downwind direction.
2A- Is that normal, or do I have something setup wrong? - I feel like I need a drag chute off the stern to keep my bow into the wind.
2B- While raising the main, should the main-sheet be tight or loose?
2C- Raise in what order, Main then Jib?, Jib then Main?, depends? doesn't matter?

3- Dropping sails - More or less same questions...
3A- Should one always turn into the wind to lower the main? (I think I've figured out that's a yes...)
3A- Is there a recommended order? Jib then main? I've tried both, I think Jib then Main seems to work better, but neither seems to work well. It's very chaotic no matter what.
3B- Should the mainsheet be tight or loose when dropping the main? I assume tight because it keeps the boom where I'm going to want it, but I'm always up against the clock, and if the boat starts to turn with the wind. Suddenly the sail is filling and blowing all over the place.

It just seems that the transition to/from sails is very... uncontrolled, rushed, I think I already said chaotic...

Maybe this something I just need to get into a rhythm with (and get used to) and eventually I just won'tlet the blowing concern me?
I'm not worried as much about it as my first time out, since I've found a way to recover from every mistake I've made... (so far)

Maybe it's like flying? Flying itself is not so hard, it's the takeoff and landing that are really complicated and give you the most grief if you do it wrong...

Oh, and I thought of a non-relevant item (random things that come up). A bowline knot... is that pronouced bow as in the front of the boat, or bow as in bow and arrow... hard to pick those kinds of things up on in a written only environment.

Thanks for the ongoing help and suggestions... At least my questions are now based on things happening on the water rather than asking what might happen when I get on the water... I'm getting there...
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Postby Skippa » Sun Jun 24, 2012 11:34 pm

Let me throw in my $.02. We should have reefed the main when you were out with me just for giggles even thogh the wind never got over 8MPH.
DO NOT tie a knot in your main sheet to limit the travel,(except for the stopper at the bitter end). One thing I know I repeated several times (because from expreience I know it is critical) is always keep an eye on your sheets, both jib and main sheets to make sure they can run free when you need them to.
Anytime you are hauling your sails, raising or lowering, you want the least amout of tension on them as possible, this means head into the wind and release the jib or main sheet and let them just flog as you release and lower. A topping lift is a nice thing to have for the end of the boom and a down haul system for the head sail is nice if your single handing, The down haul can be as simple as a length of parachute cord attasched to the head of the sail and running the length of the luff to the deck and back to a cleat in the cockpit. There are posts that describe this system better.
Running downwind I let the main out as far as it will go, keeping in mind that chafe is the enemy, sail cloth against the spreader is not a good thing for the sail but it's hard to avoid, just be aware. On the DSII the boom doesnt go out far enough to contact the shrouds so that is not a factor, I have sailed boats that the boom will contact the shrouds and with wave action it can act like a wire saw on the boom.
Again from experience, if you want it so your wife never goes out with you again, take her out when the wind is 15-20 mph, she will stay on shore for ever, On the other hand, if you want a new crew to return again, make the first trip(s) in 8-12 mph range.
I was out today with my brother, an experienced sailor and we reefed the main at around 14mph, that speed would have been fine for steady wind and full sail but the gust had us over powered, We reefed and were rewarded with a lighter helm and better overall boat speed.
Many of the issues you are describing are things that have happened to all of us, It's just a matter of how quickly you recognize the mistake and avoid repeating it.
Crisp clean tacks are easy to master in 10-12 MPH, Gybing takes a bit more practice to do well but is a skill you will need so work at it also. Work in light to medium air to build your skill set, Tristan Jones said he put a lit candle in a jar, if the wind didnt blow it out he went sailing, He had many more miles under his keel then we have, If there are numurous white caps on the lake I am probably not going out but will get on the boat and work on somthing to pass the time.
Good Luck and if you want to go out again, I am pretty easy to talk into it.
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