Get Your Head Out Of Your …Cockpit!

This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series Get Your Head Out Of Your ……Cockpit!

When you drive down the highway in your car, do you keep your eyes glued to the speedometer or mirrors? How ’bout you power-boaters, do you run down the waterway with your eyes glued to the speedo and gauges? You VFR (visual flight rule)  pilots, do you fly around never taking your eyes off the instruments?

how to sail
Keep your head up and out of the cockpit

Are you texting and driving?

The answer to all these questions should be, “no”! Although, I think the woman driving next to me last night on I-275 probably would have to answer “yes”.  I shouted at her, “Put down the damn phone and stop texting”!

So why do so many sailors, particularly new sailors, get so focused on things in the cockpit? All they really need to sail can be seen while looking out of the cockpit at the front and sides of the boat.

Ever try to steer your car while staring out the sunroof? No, why not? The results would be the same as staring at the windex while trying to steer your boat. New sailors in particular get fixated with the windex on top of the mast, at which they stare for hours on end. I think they see it as a security blanket. If I can only get that damn arrow pointed over one of the feathers I must be close-hauled, right?  They mutter to themselves.

Well, I guess that’s true if all the gods are lined up exactly and karma is with them. The reality is however, that the angle of sailing close-hauled has many variables, so the fixed angle of alignment that the windex shows is only accurate occasionally. It gets sailors into the ballpark, but from there they have to use other clues to truly get close-hauled. So why not simply use the other clues and keep eyes looking at the picture ahead?

God forbid the boat has an anemometer. Hell, those things are as attention-getting as a bug zapper to a mosquito. Now don’t get me wrong, the windex and anemometer are very useful tools, but if sailors get stuck staring at them constantly they will soon find their course over ground looking like the zigzag stitch on my sewing machine.

All helmsmen needs to do is look at the luff of the jib, with its telltales, and the main (yes the main luffs even with that tree growing in front of it). With the addition of a landmark, whether on land or water, the helmsman has a built-in course reference and sail-trim guide, all within the same sight line.

Learn to think outside the cockpit

Normally when I am working with ASA101 students I will keep the compass covered, our heading really doesn’t matter to us since we are just burning holes in the water. But as time progresses, new sailors eventually need to see the number that represents the direction in which they are traveling.

Actually, come to think of it, does the number really matter? In the short term, it doesn’t really matter where they want to go, what matters is where they can go, and again, all that info is located outside of the cockpit.

I know, I know. The compass tells us very useful information about wind shifts and current that would be very helpful in improving sailing performance. Furthermore, it would be nice to know if we are on a course that will end with us sunbathing on a sandbar waiting for the tide to come back in.

And, I understand that all I have to do is explain that the compass lags behind the actual turn so we have to stop the turn before it reads what we want (lead the turn). However, students understanding  what I have explained and demonstrated, while sailing, is very different than being able to process and execute it while they are sailing along. So, for beginners I leave the compass out of the equation.

Sailors need to use the instruments — whether electronic, analog or simple pointers — in the same manner that they use instruments in their car — as references.  In short, they should glance at them to reaffirm what they already know.

What a good sailor knows

New sailors should practice finding the wind with their faces.  All they have to so is rotate their heads SLOWLY, until the wind is hitting both of their cheeks with the same pressure. When it is, they are staring directly into the wind.  They should read the tell-tales (when sailing upwind), making corrections to their attitude, by turning the wheel to make them look pretty (flowing straight back). They should make sure that the landmark they have selected is just visible and “touching” the head-stay.

Students should be taught to see what is in front of them as a “photograph”.  In other words, the picture should not be changing.  If they close their eyes for five seconds, upon re-opening them, the “photo” should be the same.  If it has changed, that is an indication that the boat is turning.  In that case, the wheel should be turned in the opposite direction of the movement, halting the turn, and thus, turning the “movie” back into a “photo”.  The “photo” should only become a  “movie” if they want to turn the boat.

They should be taught to recognize the input the rudder feeds back to the helm.  Their responds to that feedback should be to apply just enough pressure to the helm to match that input.

Most importantly, they should scan between these clues regularly and consistently, and to respond appropriately to each before moving on to the next.

These are all critical skills, adding other tools to the equation before they are mastered only muddies the water and gets the new sailor frustrated. Want to know how to master these skills? It’s easy,  practice, practice, practice! Rent a boat and an instructor for an afternoon and just go sail. Read my article, “Sailing Naked…I have the guts, do you?” to learn more about the art of sailing old school, without instruments. Master these skills and you are a sailor.

Well, sadly, once again I find myself needing to move on to other things.  So, til next time, when I see you On the Water…With Captain Frank

Bits n Pieces 12/26/2014

This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series Bits n Pieces 12/26/2014

Wow, I can’t believe it already Friday! But it is, so, that means it time for Bits n Pieces.

For the last time of 2014, I wish you and your families a Merry Christmas. I hope that Santa brought you all that you wished for. To see what I got click here.

Do you realize that two weeks ago there was an event that won’t ever occur again in ours (and probably our children’s) lifetime? The date was sequential: 12/13/14. This won’t happen again until 01/02/2103! Not a word about it anywhere that I saw. Amazing!!

This Week’s Toast:

Here’s to Eve the mother of us all,
And here’s to Adam who was Johnny on the spot when the leaf
began to fall.

Tommy & the Pirate

So the Pirate goes up to little Tommy and asks him, “Little boy, what might you think a Pirate’s favorite letter is?”

To that little Tommy replied, “Heck, that’s easy! It’s Rrrrrrrrrrrgh for sure!”

The pirate snorted and laughed at Tommy’s silly answer. Then he retorted, “Nooo silly lad, for it’s the CCCCCCCCC!”

Tommy responded, “Oh.”

This Week’s Drink:

Walk the Plank

1oz Captain Morgan® Original spiced rum
1 oz Malibu® coconut rum
1 oz RedRum® rum
fill with 7-Up® soda

Pour rum over ice. Fill with 7-Up. Stir. Garnish with cherries.

Found at

So, I have a busy couple of days coming up:

I’ll be sailing with a group of four on a lovely day-after-Christmas afternoon trip today.

This weekend I have an ASA101 class and then on Monday I start an ASA104 class to close out the year!

Thanks Sailing Florida.

On Tampa Bay

On Tampa Bay, we sail the whole day
Watching dolphins play as they lead the way
Warm breeze blows fair, might we take the dare?
Behind leave our lair, we have not a care
The bridge stands so tall, so we answer the call
That big yellow ball, it’s now starting to fall,
Past Egmont Key for all else to see
Boat feels so free we shouted with glee
Sunset does loom, there will be no gloom
Star’s brightly lume, we have plenty of room
Under warrior’s eye, perched high in the sky
His gaze it is sly, we pass slowly by
Waves pass by our side, our boat she does glide
Lass near for the ride, it fills me with pride
White sandy beach lies off on a reach
Can lessons it teach, our minds open for breach?
Toward Pelican’s Bay, tis there that we’ll stay
With sails put away, the mast it won’t sway
On Tampa Bay, we sail the whole day
Dream what we may, of things Tampa Bay
 Written by Captain Frank

And with that, I bid you adieu. Till we meet again I’ll see you On the Water…With Captain Frank