Monday, April 18, 2011

magic few sails in glorious April

It would be good to try to organise some thoughts about these first few sails of a yawl, and this one in particular. Whatever things I say here will be spoken like an inexperienced sailor, and my observations may seem simplistic to some, and should not be gospel to anyone.

I've taken a few opportunities to sail Annie alone, and the weather has been very kind to me- but my aim in doing this is to spend some time just trying to listen and feel, and see what Annie has to teach me before I go off with the distraction of crew and passengers to talk to. This has really paid dividends already because it is one thing to nut something out intellectually, but quite another to follow a line and give it a nudge either way to see how it all feels through the fingers and seat.

Take the issue of weather helm and mizzen tuning for example. On my first outing in Annie, in very light winds I was having an easy, lovely time, but when a gust came the tiller didn't do the things that it does to my fingers in a sloop. The boat didn't ask me to spill some wind or let the tiller slip a'lee, because in those light conditions I had the jib sheeted up like I would have in a sloop. The result was an incredibly light helm, or even a bit of lee helm. It seems to me that makes for very relaxed sailing, but if things go awry quickly it is helpful to have the helm wanting to round up the boat into the wind and decelerate all by itself, with no help from the skipper, whose mind might, at that moment, be on other things....On the other hand, an overly heavy helm is hard on everything, including the fingers.

On a sloop, the helm can be balanced or tuned by adjusting the stays for mast angle- back for heavier helm, forward for lighter (speaking generally), but you can't do these things without leaving the comfort of your seat....

Anyway, that first sail taught me a lot and I came to the second and third sails wanting to be more tuned into the needs of the mizzen and jib in balancing the rig for comfort as well as safety. To-day was great weather for finding some skills and practicing some drills. I had all morning available, and a wide expanse of Corio Bay to myself except for a few anchored ships and small fishing boats dotted around all the likely spots. Not another sail to be seen. Wind was steady and I took a very long beat from one side of the bay to the other with no other objective in mind than to feel what could be achieved by balancing mizzen against jib.

So, heading to windward I found a useful groove for the windspeed and just let out the jibsheet till I felt the mizzen pulling a little on the tiller. It's great to have the main and jib sheets coming from the same direction, but in these conditions I just cleated the main and see-sawed the boat from mizzen power (weather helm) to jib power (lee helm) without changing anything but the pull on the jib sheet. (The mizzen was sheeted fairly tight throughout the whole beat) For a small-brained simpleton like me this was fantastic- and it was like learning to actually feel the mizzen on my tiller fingers as it powered up relative to the jib. So finding the groove when the boat was in balance soon became more automatic, but still fluid as the wind raised and fell away. If I let the jib go out too far it told me by flapping, so the ears were learning just like the fingers....maybe the brain will catch up soon.

Second time around the bay the wind picked up on a beat and the hull came to life but I felt confident enough now to hold the course and let the wind do its best with me without giving any sheet away. It suddenly felt very grown up. Not content with that I sat out with the tiller extension and let her rip, having the most exhilarating solo sail I've ever had. The boat repaid my trust and gave me some speed, and I have to say, the boat feels like a different animal altogether from above the coaming with me looking down the bowsprit from an exulted height. It seems bigger, and very resolute.

One thing I'm really pleased with in the laying out of my fittings is the angle and positioning of the sheet cleats. I think for inexperienced sailors, in particular, it is incredibly important to have them carefully angled so that they are easily engaged, but more so in disengaging them - they need to be angled so that even just pulling the line will release them. First set of my jib cleats was nearly right, but was just a tad hard to cleat off without reaching forward and pulling down. I angled these up a little higher and now it is easy. Maybe stating the bleeding obvious, but a couple of degrees of orientation might save a lot of embarrassment some day.

Oh, and the little uneventful clip up there is from the second sail. To-day I was having too much fun even to answer the phone let alone film anything. Sorry....


  1. Rob, what a pleasant commentary on your days out on the bay.
    As a distant observer of your first leg over to the grain wharves, the sight of Annie alone on Autumnal waters of the bay was a most stirring scene. Seeing a gaff rigged yawl working the breeze was a welcome change to the tupperware brigade. Perhaps all the plastic stayed on their moorings in respect!

    I was able to observe your trimming experiments and most most impressed by the turn of speed you showed. A pity I had other chores to attend to, as I missed the runs in the strengthening breeze.

    The lad did keep an eye out for you in between beach combing and fish watching. He was most interested in just how far you went in the minutes we watched.

  2. Thanks Dale for your observations. Your presence yesterday reminded me that I need to carry a child sized PFD in future....

  3. Wow. You must teach me how to sail AND film AND take blog notes. I struggle with tiller AND sheet.
    Looking good

  4. Well, Paul, you're being overly humble there- your lovely boat was doing just fine with you at the helm when I had the pleasure of sitting in it!
    But thanks anyway!

  5. It is an overcast and somewhat foggy day today. Not dim enough to obscure the view of Annie passing by on her trailer.
    What adventures awaited we wonder?

  6. well spotted....very gentle breezes, picnic on board with 3 passengers, some motor-sailing when the wind died. Morning just two of us in light winds. Very pleasant.