Tag Archives: sailing navigation

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

SAILING NAKED!!!! (Learn to sail without Electronics) chart-plotter

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Sailing Naked

So, far we have shed the anemometer and our knot-log. Now for the painful part, the beloved chart plotter. I guess you could say that the chart-plotter is like our underwear (I’ll bet Raymarine, Garmin, Furuno and Simrad never thought their staple product line would never be used in the same sentence with underwear). Both may well be the hardest to shed. But be brave naked sailor want-to-be, we will do it together and get this boat navigation down.

boat navigation

What is it about the chart plotter?

The chart plotter really isn’t all that magical in its basic operation. We attach a GPS antenna, that doesn’t do anything more than receive from satellites our exact position on earth, and places that location graphically onto underlying charts on a TV screen. Yea yeah I know they do lots more buts that’s all extra stuff.

The good news is that if you use your chart plotter then you’re already familiar with using charts. So your dilemma in shedding your chart plotter is just to figure out where you actually are and to locate that spot on a paper chart. That my friends, is known as navigation.

Boat navigation

Boat navigation is the skill set that changes everything. It is what separates people that sail (maybe very well) from sailors. Navigation opens the doors to your dream destinations. Having the ability to navigate safely without electronics allows you to travel near and far with confidence. It also gives you something to do while on that long tack between A and B.

When you set out on your naked voyage you have two choices. You can have faith that Poseidon will guide you safely to where you want to go or you can keep track of your location, study your intended route and monitor your progress making changes and decisions along the way to accomplish a safe passage. The first…yeah, not so much. Navigation takes training and practice. Navigation gives you confidence and once mastered it, is very rewarding.

How to learn boat navigation?

So, how do you learn these valuable skills? The best way is to enroll in an American Sailing Association (ASA) Coastal Navigation (ASA105) class. At Sailing Florida we offer a full range of ASA classes including 105. Yours truly teaches this class and I need the work.

The ASA has established prerequisites for ASA105. Those prerequisites are the successful completion of ASA101, 103 and 104. However, they only apply if you actually want ASA certification. You can attend a 105 class and learn the art/science of navigation without getting certified.

ASA class formats

ASA 105 is offered in two formats. The first is a home-study course where you have the study material and you progress at your pace. When you are done you come to class with me for one day and there we review your work, iron out the rough spots and review for the exam. You then chose to take the exam and have it grade in class or you take the exam home, have it proctored, and mail it back to me.

The second option (and the one that I highly recommend) is a 32-hour class. We can set this class up to fit your schedule (days, weekends, or evenings). Contact Captain Dave or myself to discuss all the options. See you there!

Time to go sailing naked!

So there you have it. We have shed the anemometer, the knot-log, and even our beloved chart plotter, learning boat navigation at it’s core. We’ve talked about alternatives to all these expensive power consuming, mind dulling electronics. We have a path to Sailing Naked, wow I feel free already! FEEL THE BREEZE! YAHOO!

Hey, I just got a great idea. Let’s put together a Naked Sailing trip. Let’s set out on a journey! Let’s go to Key West NAKED! I like it! Contact Sailing Florida or myself and let us know your thoughts. We will learn a lot, have a lot of fun and accomplish something that not many have tried. Basic sailing skills will be required (and maybe no cameras) but that’s about it.   I love it when a plan comes together.

Thanks for reading and I expect to see a bunch of naked sailors on the dock. You know I’ll be there. Go out sailing and be On the Water…With Captain Frank…Naked!