BEGINNER'S SAILING CLINIC: HOW TO MAKE THAT FIRST TEST SAIL A SUCCESS



1. Practice getting around on deck until it's second nature, before heading out.
After a lot of time staring at this particular shape sitting rooted to the garage floor, all of a sudden we see it bobbing and nodding in the water like a live thing. And this is a lot more impressive to those of us who've spent a lot of time seeing it static, than it would be to a passerby, -or to somebody who bought their boat from a store.
All of a sudden we must re-acquaint ourselves with the project: -as a moving entity with a definite performance personality all its own (and hopefully a nice one). So we sit down on a dock-locker and drink in this new addition to the maritime world that we've created.
Ok, that done, we get on board. Every small boat will seem unsettlingly tender and easy to tip when we first step on board. After an hour on the boat, it won't seem so tippy, but at first feel, it will always strike us as alarmingly unstable.
If we've built the boat instead of just buying it, we will have spent enough time on board to have our footing down and know our way around the deck without too much tripping. If we've built the last stages of the boat with it sitting on a sprung trailer, we'll have an even better "footing sense" of how to get around it fast without tripping over things. But if we haven't done either, it wouldn't hurt to take a half hour at the dock to get a feel for how the boat reacts to our weight when we move around, -before we head out on the briney.
Different hulls will tip differently when we walk to the side of the boat. A rounded, deep keel boat will be slow to tip initially but will keep on tipping until the weight of the keel starts to resist further heeling. A keel-less boat like the Weekender will feel different. It will tip faster, but then it will firm-up more quickly as the buoyancy along the hull sides comes into play. So where a keel boat will slowly tip, -but then keep on tipping until we go white in the face, the Weekender will quickly tip, then just as quickly bring the tipping to a stop, in less than extreme conditions. So it's a good idea if we spend a little time at the dock just tipping the boat and making a lot of waves and annoying other boaters while we build up confidence in our muscles and balance to how the hull reacts to rolling. It 's just one more thing we can get accustomed to before our attention is taken up with the forward-motion thing: sailing.


2. Practice raising and lowering sails, rudder, and motor -while the boat's still on the trailer.
For complete beginners, it's good also to get a feel for where the controls of the boat are: -and to figure out before hand what they do. This can be done (if you don't mind having passersby stare at you and make salty comments) in the driveway just as well as at a dock. And also we need to figure out what to expect if we do nothing and turn everything loose and let the boat do what it wants to. A nicely balanced boat will have a little "weather-helm" which means if we turned loose of the steering (hull-control) and the sheets (sail control), the boat will simply pull its nose up into the wind and sit there with its sails flapping noisily, but harmlessly.
This is where sailboats are different from what we've become accustomed to with motor-powered machines: the louder a sailboat is, the more harmless it is. The loudness comes from a sail flapping, which means it's not harnessing the power of the wind. So if we pull up into the wind to make an adjustment or a crew-change and the sails become really alarmingly loud, -we just ignore them. It's when they're quiet and pulling hard, that we need to pay close attention to them.
There's nothing to say that, after a nice fast tack across a passage we might not want to just pull up into the wind and let the sails flap away noisily if we happen to feel like taking a quick break to gather our wits, when we're first learning our way around a new boat.
Since a sailboat can't sail directly into the wind, -if we want to stop a minute, we just point the nose into the wind. When we point the nose off from the direction of the wind, -then we'll start sailing if we pull in on the sails.
The rope controlling the bottom of each sail (mainsheet or jib sheet) is sometimes thought of as the gas-pedal of the boat. But again, it's different from a motor machine. If we pull in too far on this gas pedal, we'll begin to lose power. It's like this: If the nose of the boat is pointing say about 45 degrees away to one side from the direction of the wind; -then if we do nothing, the sails will just flap away, trailing out downwind like weather vanes.


3. Get a basic idea of how a sailboat has to slice across the face of the wind to work to windward.
When we start to pull in on the sheets, two things will happen: the boat will begin to tip, and the boat will begin to move forward. The more we pull in, the more it will do both. If we move our weight toward where the wind is coming from, then we can pull in more without too much tipping, -and go faster. But if we pull in too much in a hard breeze, most of the sail power will go into tipping, and not so much into making us go forward faster. -So pulling in more, doesn't always mean going faster, like stomping on a gas pedal harder makes us go faster.
Since we ourselves have spent a lot of time sailing land-yachts where we sail almost all the time close-hauled on the "apparent-wind" we happened to build up the bad habit of pulling in too hard on the sails in water-borne boats. We constantly have to keep reminding ourselves to ease out of the sails a little to go faster (and we see a lot of beginners making the same mistake). Generally, as far out that you can let the sail fly and still keep its shape will get us a good forward speed with minimum tipping. Lots of time we'll have everything hauled in tight, with the boat heeled hard over and thinking we're really flying because of the drama of the situation. But if we'd just ease up a little and let out on the sails, in many situations the boat will suddenly stand up straighter and make better time forward, with a calmer demeanor.
If the winds happen to be very light, and if we're sailing to windward, many times we'll want a little extra angle of heel to help her make progress up into the wind. With a keelboat, the deep keel does the job of vectoring the hull up toward the direction of the wind. But since the Weekender doesn't have a deep keel, it relies on the shape of the chines at the hull sides to lift us to windward. She's a very respectable performer to windward and generally makes it around an upwind point as well or better than most boats in the harbor. But we have to make sure she's heeling some or she won't do it. In normal breezes, this comes naturally and happens whether we pay attention or not. But if the breeze is too light to tip us, we sit on the downwind side of the boat to make her heel. Then she takes off.
IMPORTANT POINT:
Another difference between keel boats and the weekender is hull-direction to windward. A keel boat will point the way she's going, while the Weekender will sometimes not face her nose as close to the wind, -but will be able to reach a windward point just as well as a keel-boat pointing closer at the wind direction. This is because the chines are pushing the weekender up to windward, even though she's may not be pointing quite as high as the boat running next to her. Since the most important thing is actually reaching a point to windward, not just the way the boat faces it nose, -we learn not to try to keep her nose pointed as closely to the wind as the keel-boats have theirs pointing. We'll still beat them out the harbor a surprising amount of the time. Another by-product of this having-our-nose-off-more-to-leeward-while-sailing-to-windward is in the set of the sails. On a weekender we catch ourselves pulling in the sails too far sometimes, not realise that even though we're making good windward progress, the boat isn't facing so much to windward as a keelboat, so we don't need to pull in the sails so tight. In fact, we can be slowing out speed and increasing the slide off to leeward by pulling the sails in as tightly as we might on a keel boat. We constantly remind ourselves to let the sails out until they flap, then haul in a little to make a nice full shape; -and things speed up right away.
We've learned over the years that, even thought she may do things a little differently than some boats, she's a very respectable performer, -if we let her do things her way. In a keel-boat, when we take out on a tack from dead stop, -we simply point the boat, set the sails, and it moves out. With the Weekender, it's more like a catamaran: we often let her run off the wind a few seconds to build up speed so that the hull shape can start doing its job of lifting us to windward. Since she's light and a fast accelerator, this is usually done in just the first few seconds of a particular tack. The Weekender is not as different from a monohull keelboat in sailing technique as a catamaran is; -but it does take its own style of handling.
Downwind is a little different. When we're going up to windward, we can't point a sailboat directly toward the wind, so we scoot along at an angle until we get off to one side from where we want to end up, then we zig back to the other side of the wind direction, zigging and zagging as we work toward where we want to go: "tacking to windward".
Downwind we can point the boat in any direction away from the wind. But oddly enough, going directly downwind in some boats can be a little dangerous. They can develop what they call the "Death Roll", since the wind is no longer heeling the boat to one side or the other. Also, the sail sometimes doesn't know which side of the boat it prefers when going ddw(dead downwind) and if it decides (through a direction change or windchange) to switch sides, it can do it very fast, mowing down anything or anybody who gets in its way. That's why we usually zig-zag downwind even though we don't really have to. It 's a habit we picked up with landsailers, and it keeps the sails happily on one side or the other. And since the boat picks up a little apparent wind when angling across the wind direction, we can end up going enough faster to make up for the longer zig-zag course we're taking and get there sooner.


4. For your first sail, work up a flight-plan in your mind to give yourself maximum margin for error.
Sail sort of upwind on your first leg, so if anything goes wrong, you can always drift back, readjust, and take off again. Keep tides in mind too, and sail against it at first so you can drift back if needed.
So now we have a plan how to calm the boat down if we want to take a little break from the excitement, -we know how to keep things calm going down-wind, and we have a feel for the motion of the boat. Now it's time to raise some sail and make some wakes.
We always try to point the nose into the wind before raising the sails. If we're new or rusty at his, we'll pull the boat on the trailer pointing is nose into the wind, -and we'll raise the mast, then raise the sails too, just to get the lines run out nicely and for a little practice before we do the same thing on the water.
We'll raise the mainsail first when the nose is pointed into the wind. If we have to raise sail without the nose pointed into the wind, we'll put of the jib first. The idea is to put up the downwind sail first so the boat weathervanes harmlessly. If we try to put up the upwind sail first, she'll do a quick 180 just to set things right.
So we raise the main, checking to make sure the mainsheet is free so the sail can blow anyway it wants until we're ready for its power. Again, if it's blowing hard, we pay no attention to the noise it's making. We coil up the loose ends of the halyards so we won't be tripping over them, -and so we can also drop the sails anytime we want to.
We check to make sure both the front of the gaff and the back ends are pulled up tight. Later, if we're heading for a long downwind run, we may well loosen the line to the back end of the gaff (the peak halyard) a little. But this is fine-tuning we'll deal with after everything is well under control.


5. Pick your day's conditions.
It's your boat and your trial-sail, so don't let others pressure you into heading out when you don't feel like it. With a nice steady 12-knot breeze we've seen a girl master the sailing of a Weekender at her eighth birthday party. Other days, with sharp gusts and an ugly steep chop, no one in their right mind wants to go sailing in any boat. So wait, if you need to. It won't take long 'til you won't have to be so careful about conditions.
With both sails up, we start to think about pushing the nose off away from the dock so the boat can catch the wind at an angle, so we can pull in on the sail sheets, so we can go sailing.
OK, now we're moving. It will seem fast at first with any wind at all. But we'll soon get used to this and be looking for more speed. But right now we take a second to take stock with a quick 360 look around. What's the traffic like? Which way is the wind coming from? Is the rudder pulled down all the way hard? Is there a water current we need to keep in mind? In short, we size up any threats to us if we keep on this nice comfortable tack. Since we haven't got a feel for the boat's speed or its tacking capabilities, we play it real safe on the first part of the first sail.
We sail to windward so that if anything goes wrong we can always drift off back downwind to our starting point. Also this will let us practice tacking in this particular boat so we get it to where it's second nature before we start trying something fancy.
We keep to the windward side of the channel to leave us maximum maneuvering room if we need to make adjustments or (heaven forbid) make a tacking mistake. And we are VERY polite with the other traffic, giving the right-of -way to all bigger craft, even if the point is debatable. When approaching other boats, we try to keep a steady course so it's as easy as possible for them to guess which way we're headed. (We can go "head-hunting" and driving everybody crazy with our racing tactics on a later sail when we've got the feel of things).
Now we try a tack when the coast is clear. The Weekender is usually very easy to tack, but any boat can get stuck in irons, with its nose pointed in the wind, -if the skipper really works at it. If we ever find ourselves stuck between one tack and the other, we wait a few seconds until we build up a little backwards speed. Then we throw the rudder over hard so the rear of the boat turns up into the wind, the bow falls off the wind, and we can pull in on the sails and tear off again. No harm done, but again, -with a Weekender it's very rare to mess up a tack. If we're squirreling around wanting to make lightning-fast tacks for fun, we let her build up maximum speed, then we quickly turn the jib loose (so it's no longer holding the bow away from the wind) and we pull in way too hard on the mainsail boom, -just as we whip the rudder over. She'll shoot through the eye of the wind, -and we quickly pull in the jib, then the mainsail.
For tacking to a roughly equal angle to both sides of the wind, we usually ignore the jib altogether. The club-foot jib control of the Weekender will take care of everything by itself. In fact, most of the time we simply steer the boat on its zig-zag course, and the sails will take care of themselves, -unlike most sloops where the jib sheet has to the unhooked from one side and pulled in on the other with every tack.
OK, we've survived the first few tacks with ease. We've worked our way up to windward a ways so we might as well swing around and try some downwind sailing. She makes this turn easily and all of a sudden, -things are much quieter. Going downwind we've not only subtracted the boat speed from the windspeed to make the breeze seem less, but we've also made the waves seem much smaller because now we're going with them instead of punching through them.
If we're looking for Viking spray-in-the-teeth excitement, we'll work to windward. If we get tired of this, we can usually change the mood dramatically by turning downwind. There are those who stick by the motto "Gentlemen don't sail to windward," (meaning you let the crew handle that and only take over when things calm back down, downwind).
Downwind, generally the sails are let way out to catch the wind like a galleon. Now we'll try a jibe, which is a zig-movement like a tack, -only done downwind with the breeze behind us. Since the boom was let way out to catch the wind, when it comes across the boat to catch the boat from the other side, it will be completely loose if we let the lines stay slack. This often means it will slam across from one side to the other, and this is why jibing is thought of as dangerous. It doesn't have to be.
The main "danger" is the boom that's uncontrolled and let to slam to the other side. With a boat as small as the Weekender, all we have to do is grab the boom before it wants to cross over, and pull it across manually and under complete control. On a larger boat, we can pull rapidly in on the mainsheet to pull the boom into the center of the boat, the let it out to the other side, also under control.
The boom is only a threat if it's allowed to roam around loose. And the advantage of small boats is that we can manhandle the boom just about anytime we want to by simply grabbing it.
OK. We're getting to be pros. Upwind, downwind, in milady's chamber, we've got this sailing business well in hand (as long as we always keep the wind direction, and traffic direction clearly understood in the back of our head). We try making a couple windward points and checking how we stack up to other bigger boats. Damned respectably, and sometime we can even make a bigger boat skipper start fiddling with his sheets, trying to change his sail set so he can shake this pesky little sloop off his tail.


6. Once things are under control, we can start to run "drills" to learn how to manage the boat in various conditions.

The beaching-drill, the dousing sails-drill, the raising sails at sea drill, the see how far you can tip the boat by sitting in the wrong place-drill (this really demonstrates how well the boat recovers and builds confidence for all kinds of sailing in the Weekender).
Suddenly we're hungry. And since this has been a moment-by-moment action-packed adventure, we wouldn't mind beaching her for a picnic. What do we do?
Sail toward the beach, and when we're getting fairly close we untie the rudder lanyard, holding the rudder in its down-position; -but we don't turn it loose yet. When the rudder floats up to its raised-position, it will be like an old-style 19th century rudder (which means "not very effective"). It will work, but the boat won't be as happy as it is with the rudder down hard and the gaff peak up hard. So we hold the lanyard in our hand so we can feel when it starts hitting the bottom. Then we just sit looking casual as everybody on the beach waves to warn us that we'll wreck our keel on the beach if we come in there. Sailboats like this just don't sail right up onto the beach.
Well, we can't blame them. They've probably never been around Weekenders. As the keel slithers to a gentle stop in the sand, we turn all sails loose, walk forward on the deck and drop lightly from the bowsprit onto the dry sand without wetting our Gucci sailing shoes. Then we usually sidle up to the prettiest bathing beauty and ask where the nearest bathroom is. Small boats have their disadvantages too.