Tag Archives: sails

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) knot log

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Sailing Naked

Today we will continue on our quest to find the freedom and guts to go sailing naked.   What instrument are we going to eliminate today?  I vote for the knot-log.

knot log

So, what exactly is the knot log?

The knot log is a transducer that protrudes from the bottom of our boat usually located ahead of the keel on or near the centerline.   It is important for the knot-log to be out front in clear water so that the water flow across it is the same no mater what tack or point of sail we are on.   The log has a paddle wheel that spins as the boat travels through the water.   It works just like the anemometer that we spoke about yesterday.   Unfortunately, unlike the anemometer, the knot-log is vulnerable to being fouled by barnacles and debris in the water.   It is also notorious for being inaccurate.   There are new designs that help to eliminate this problem but they are still not the norm.  The knot-log gives very different information than your GPS.   It measures our boat’s speed through the water while the GPS measures our boats speed across the ground.  

You ever find yourself sailing along and all the sudden realize that the boat feels just awesome?   When we have our sails trimmed correctly and the boat on the correct point of sail it just feels right.   Guess what, we’re probably sailing the boat as fast as it can go at that moment.   When was the last time you went sailing and said, “Hey, I think I want to slow down”?   That just doesn’t happen.   When sailboats are hauling butt they’re going 6.   That’s already slow, right? Most of us want to go “fast”, so slow just isn’t a skill we want to develop although many of us seem to have a natural ability to accomplish it.   When the boat is “fast” it has that awesome feel.   We don’t need to have a digital display flashing in our face telling us what we already can feel.  

We should be able to be at the helm in a comfortable position, with the boat at the optimum angle of heal (about 12 degrees), the rudder at 3 or 4 degrees to leeward and the wheel being held loosely between our thumb and pointer finger.   If that’s not going on then there are only three things to look at and they are:   Sail trim, amount of sail up and point of sail.  

Sail trim:

If our sail trim is poor the boat will be slow.   Most sailors tend to overtime their sails.   The tendency is to trim in to far.   This will “bind up” the boat and may well increase weather helm.   All well designed boats have a tendency to turn into the wind.   This is a good trait that adds to safety (if there is a problem at the helm the boat turns into the wind and slows or stops) and the ease of steering (by giving the helmsman a little pressure to “feel the rudder” with).   But as with most things in life, too much of a good thing is not good.   With over-trimmed sails we need to apply more rudder angle to keep the boat sailing straight.   More rudder angle equals more drag and that equals 5th or 6th place at the end of the race.   Under-trimmed sails means we are giving away power and drive.   Proper trim will allow the boat to sail fast.

Amount of sail set:

This is really an extension of sail trim.   Regardless of how well we trim our sails if we simply have too much or too little sail exposed to the wind the boat will be slow.   Obviously if there is not enough sail out the boat will be underpowered.   Being underpowered will make us sail at a lower angle to the wind (sail fat). It takes sailing fat to get the boat speed to where we expect it, so while the boat speed may be okay our journey to the free rum (directly upwind) will take longer and that equals slow.   The opposite problem is too much sail out and that will make us overpowered.   If we are overpowered we will experience an excess of weather helm. We counter-act that weather helm by turning the rudder leeward. Keeping the rudder turned increases drag and slows the boat tremendously (it is also exhausting to hold the helm against the added pressure).   In the worst case picture the rudder is unable to hold the boat on course and it will round up into the wind.   Now, that’s really slow.   It is important for us to get to know our boat and discover what amount of sail is appropriate for the wind conditions on any particular day.  

Incorrect point of sail:

If we have deployed the correct amount of sail and we have trimmed those sails perfectly for sailing close-hauled but we are sailing on a close reach then our boat speed will be terrible. It is crucial to be sailing on the point of sail that we think we are.   Our talk yesterday explained how to be sure we are sailing the way we want.   Go back and read it again if you are having trouble with this. All of this aside, does it really matter whether we are sailing at 5.2 or 5.4 knots.   At the end of the day we will be where we want.   Our trip planning skills prevented us from planning a trip based on speed that closely monitored.   Didn’t it?   How could we plan for that level of accuracy anyway?   Ever here of current?   So, if we spend a great day of sailing with proper sail trim, proper deployment of sail and on the point of sail that we say were on we will get our boat from point A to point B as quickly as possible.  

Go practice, better yet get an instructor and go practice.   By doing so, these things will become second nature and you’ll have more fun on the water.   Knot-log? Knot now!   Ah, I can smell that freedom comin my way.   Naked sailing here we come.   See ya tomorrow On the Water…With Captain Frank