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Beginning Your Own Sailing Adventures

Dec 27, 2007
The great day has arrived at last you're about to sail the boat by yourself. It's all very well to say, "Don't be nervous," but as with most new things in your life it is sometimes a little hard to get used to a sailboat. It's not that you're afraid of capsizing (you wouldn't be so foolish as to get into a sailboat if you couldn't swim); it's just the strangeness of the feeling in your bones as the boat leans with the wind and the confusing sound the sails make overhead.

One consolation is to realize that if you get confused in a sailboat, it's perfectly safe to let everything go. When you let out the sheet, the wind spills out of the loosened sail. And although the sail flaps away noisily, you quickly realize that the boat has flattened out like an old bathtub and slowed down to a mere drift.

In a sailboat you can just let go. Try it a couple of times, to gain confidence and relaxation. Pull in the sheet and feel the boat tip as you tighten the sail against the push of the wind. Drop the mainsheet and feel the wind spill and the sail loosen and the boat flatten out. Any time that anything goes wrong while sailing, let go of the sheets. This provides time to meditate on the situation.

You sit in your boat forward of the tiller (so that you can swing it freely, to steer) and opposite your sail (so that you can balance the weight of it as well as look at it easily.) You will want to check your sail every few minutes, since its lower third, up next the mast, is like an instrument panel in a car or plane.

This is the area you will check to see if your sails are set right. While it's all very well to stare up at the whole mainsail, for the wonder of it, luckily for your neck the lower part is all you have to keep looking at. Here's how you check the set of your mainsail:

You let the sail out, by letting the sheet in your hand run out, until the sail begins to luff. This means that the sail in the instrument-panel section begins to flutter and bubble. Then you pull in the sail till the luffing just stops; that is the best set for your mainsail.

Remember that this sail isn't, after all, a perfect triangle. If you look at it, you'll see that it is skillfully cut and seamed so that there is a curve to the whole thing. Don't pull in your sail till it's flat; just keep a nice curve in it like a bird's wing.

So much for the general controls for your boat; now let's take a look at how to get started.

Getting Underway

If you are moored at a buoy, the bow will lie into the wind. For an example of getting underway, let's say that there are several boats close to your port side, so you decide to go off to starboard in other words, on a port tack. (A boat is sailing on a port tack when the wind is coming over its port side.) With both sails hoisted, haul in the starboard jib sheet, taking up all the slack. Push the clew of the jib to port; the wind will fill the sail and force the bow of the boat to starboard.

As soon as the boat begins to swing around, let go of the sail and take up on the starboard jib sheet. Swing the tiller to port; this will help push the nose of the boat to starboard. (Unlike the steering wheel of a car, a tiller is moved in the direction opposite to the one you wish to swing the boat.) Then trim the mainsail by taking in the mainsheet until the sail is fairly flat. As the jib pushes the boat around, the mainsail will fill, and the boat will move forward.

At this moment, cast off the mooring and you'll begin to make headway.
Congratulations! You've begun sailing.
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