Having a seasoned sailor aboard can definitely improve your sailing performance.
Yet I had that opportunity recently when I invited a seasoned sailor and competitive racer along for a sail. It was a great experience to have another set of eyes on the sails, hands on the lines, and a certain depth of knowledge from which to draw. My experience resembled a re-certification process, with my “Pro” taking the First Mate’s position as I took the helm. We were fortunate to have some stiff 23 to 30 knot breezes across the lake that day, conditions under which some cruising skippers might not risk leaving the docks.
With a single reef in the main and a second in the genoa, we headed out to see what the lake offered that day. Reefing is too seldom employed by cruisers but is an essential skill for all sailors. Even large vessels can become overpowered by carrying too much sail. Strong winds can tear sails and create frantic emergencies. Reefing manages sail power and, if trimmed for the unique characteristics of each vessel, will balance the boat and "tame" strong winds for safe sailing enjoyment .
The reefed sails on my Alberg 30 provided us with a good pointing to windward and good hull speed over the water in a very fresh blow. Most of our time was spent doing what sailors do, we tacked and hauled on lines, we hiked out a bit, we talked. While obvious that we both knew how to sail, it was helpful of him to observe what I might be doing that was getting in my way to being a better sailor. In collegiate racing, team coaches often use megaphones and shout corrections so teammates learn best practices under the pressure of drills and practice races. Here, there was no yelling aboard. This was quite collegial as my mentor assessed the performance of the Alberg and then pointed out beneficial tips on sail shape, rudder handling, and pointing.
My learning curve peaked suddenly, after several hours on the water. The wind was a bit cooler and the sun was beginning to hide behind the winter clouds when we turned toward home. We’d had a great time under sail and I savored the chance to get real time coaching. During the reach home, I saw something happening that didn’t match my idea of sail trim.
With wind on our port beam, my “Pro” had let the main out to starboard looking as if we were headed downwind on a run. Posing the obvious question while looking at the Windex, I asked “Why not pull in the main to leverage that wind on the beam?” In a revealing teaching moment, he pointed to the tell-tails on the leech of the main. Hauling in a bit to windward the tails began to flutter in the disrupted wind flow behind the main. He then eased the sheet and explained the concept of flow over windward and leeward surfaces as the tell-tales streamed off to leeward and the boat pushed forward, the main now cooperating with the wind on the beam. We looked as if we were sailing downwind but were actually on a beam reach.
In that instant, I realized that, somewhere in that catalogue of sailing lore we keep buried in a mental drawer, I’d lost track of such a simple but important characteristic of sails. By my advice, we would have continued to sail fighting the wind instead of trimming for optimum power. Not having the “Pro” along that day would have meant that, unless I could remember enough of my sailing instruction and articles I’ve read, I’d continue to mishandle that point of sail indefinitely. What a waste that would be!
This was one of those moments where I changed the point of sail but did not do the mental math on what I saw with the wind direction. Deflection and flow is everything to a wing, even the vertical wing we raise on our sailing vessels. But on this particular point of sail, I learned a valuable lesson: watch the sail position carefully and give it the best flow on every point of sail maximizing boat speed and balance.
Four hours of sailing with a “Pro” was never better for me. We often laugh about the fact that we’ve been sailing for years and years and repeating the same mistakes whether they’re right or wrong. And that’s often very true. With another set of experienced eyes aboard, will we be able to maximize our learning curve and avoid our tendency to repeat the same mistakes. We often look but don’t see our deficiencies.
This mentoring moment aboard the Alberg 30 had a profound impact on the way I look at my sails and boat’s balance in the wind. My instructor’s mentoring moment that windy day helped me to apply a basic principle of sail shape overlooked because of a failure to read my sail to best advantage. Those four hours of "re-certification" will pay big dividends helping me sail a terrific classic design in an optimal manner.
|They are not called "tell-tails" for nothing!|