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Old 05-09-2013, 14:19   #1
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Taking in the mainsail without an engine

I learned to sail in Sweden, where people were enormously reticent to run an engine. If you started your engine, you obviously didn't know how to sail. They'd rather break out the oars and paddle like Vikings while singing: "Vem kan sigla forutan vind?" (Who can sail without the wind?) Their marinas were better designed to accommodate engineless entry and exit - while many of ours are not.

I did learn one very useful technique that I find far safer and easier than what I will call "the American Method" of taking in sail. They taught me to heave to -- instead of trying to force the bow into the wind with an engine.

I've been single handing my Pearson Ariel for three years now, sometimes (unintentionally) in SF Bay gales, and I've never had to run my engine to take in my mainsail. And I frankly can't understand why anyone else would. You have to point the boat up on a knife-edge heading and deal with a bucking boom that's being slapped around by the turbulence of a sail in a full luff, and as soon as you start to take the sail in, the helm has to be continually readjusted to compensate for the sail coming down. I can't imagine anyone attempting that method in a fresh wind single-handed without an autopilot. Using the method I was taught, the helm is left to itself to be controlled by a short piece of bungee cord.

Am I missing something here? Is there something good about the method that most people around here are using? I've crewed on racing boats in the SF Bay, and I had to cringe watching them take in the mainsail, and laugh to myself when my suggestion they heave to drew only blank stares and the question: "how do you heave to?" In 25 knot winds, with the mainsheet pulled in tight to center the boom on these racer-crewed boats, twice I've experienced the bow falling off and the boat heeling all the way over on her side (because the boat lacked the power needed to keep her moving forward head on into a 35 knot wind); spreaders and sidedeck in the water, sliding sideways along the chop, water gushing into the cockpit, while the crew hung on with their fingernails! Why would anyone risk that?

Here's a video I shot in 20 knot winds and 5 foot swells off Pillar Point (Half Moon Bay, CA). It doesn't look that ruff while I'm hove to because a Pearson Ariel hove to creates lots of nice surface eddies that break up oncoming swells. She's not fast, but she's very seaworthy. Notice how the swells suddenly appear at the end of the video after I get back underway and leave the boat's slick of turbulence in the water. Any monohull properly hove to should settle into its smoothest ride - the best condition for a leisurely effort to take in the mainsail. Here's the vid:

Taking in sail - hove to - without an engine - YouTube (note: you need Adobe Flash installed for it to play.)

Doesn't this technique look a lot safer, saner, and relaxing? Of course, it'll be hard to accomplish if you've cluttered up your cabin with a dodger that can't be gotten out of the way.

Please. I'd love comments about what I am failing to understand about the technique being taught for taking in the mainsail by sailing schools here in the U.S.
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Old 05-09-2013, 14:33   #2
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Re: Taking in the mainsail without an engine

I don't have a comment except, WOW.

Looks like something I will try some day.

Hopefully.
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Old 05-09-2013, 14:48   #3
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Re: Taking in the mainsail without an engine

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Originally Posted by Cpt Pat View Post
I learned to sail in Sweden, where people were enormously reticent to run an engine. If you started your engine, you obviously didn't know how to sail. They'd rather break out the oars and paddle like Vikings while singing: "Vem kan sigla forutan vind?" (Who can sail without the wind?) Their marinas were better designed to accommodate engineless entry and exit - while many of ours are not.

I did learn one very useful technique that I find far safer and easier than what I will call "the American Method" of taking in sail. They taught me to heave to -- instead of trying to force the bow into the wind with an engine.

I've been single handing my Pearson Ariel for three years now, sometimes (unintentionally) in SF Bay gales, and I've never had to run my engine to take in my mainsail. And I frankly can't understand why anyone else would. You have to point the boat up on a knife-edge heading and deal with a bucking boom that's being slapped around by the turbulence of a sail in a full luff, and as soon as you start to take the sail in, the helm has to be continually readjusted to compensate for the sail coming down. I can't imagine anyone attempting that method in a fresh wind single-handed without an autopilot. Using the method I was taught, the helm is left to itself to be controlled by a short piece of bungee cord.

Am I missing something here? Is there something good about the method that most people around here are using? I've crewed on racing boats in the SF Bay, and I had to cringe watching them take in the mainsail, and laugh to myself when my suggestion they heave to drew only blank stares and the question: "how do you heave to?" In 25 knot winds, with the mainsheet pulled in tight to center the boom on these racer-crewed boats, twice I've experienced the bow falling off and the boat heeling all the way over on her side (because the boat lacked the power needed to keep her moving forward head on into a 35 knot wind); spreaders and sidedeck in the water, sliding sideways along the chop, water gushing into the cockpit, while the crew hung on with their fingernails! Why would anyone risk that?

Here's a video I shot in 20 knot winds and 5 foot swells off Pillar Point (Half Moon Bay, CA). It doesn't look that ruff while I'm hove to because a Pearson Ariel hove to creates lots of nice surface eddies that break up oncoming swells. She's not fast, but she's very seaworthy. Notice how the swells suddenly appear at the end of the video after I get back underway and leave the boat's slick of turbulence in the water. Any monohull properly hove to should settle into its smoothest ride - the best condition for a leisurely effort to take in the mainsail. Here's the vid:

Taking in sail - hove to - without an engine - YouTube (note: you need Adobe Flash installed for it to play.)

Doesn't this technique look a lot safer, saner, and relaxing? Of course, it'll be hard to accomplish if you've cluttered up your cabin with a dodger that can't be gotten out of the way.

Please. I'd love comments about what I am failing to understand about the technique being taught for taking in the mainsail by sailing schools here in the U.S.
Looks good.

Why the USA references? I’m guessing sailing schools all over the world teach something other than heaving to when dousing sails.

Have you tried this changing a hanked-on jib? I guess it would depend whether or not your boat would heave to or fore reach slowly enough under just the main.
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Old 05-09-2013, 14:49   #4
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Re: Taking in the mainsail without an engine

Pat,
I didn't learn to sail in Sweden but in France. A significant part of it was on boats without an engine but with a sculling oar. Maybe that's the reason why I run my engine only when *really* necessary: the ebb stream in my berth is too strong to dock there safely under sail.

But I almost never take my mainsail in while head to wind: whether under power or under jib alone, I do it close hauled. This way, as in your video, the boom isn't over the cockpit. Since I generally sail with crew, someone is available to helm while the others take care of the sails. But if I were sailing alone, I think I would hoist and take in the main while hove to.

By the way, I see in your video that your jib isn't sheeted in tight, as one would usually do when heaving to. I assume it's done on purpose, to retain some propulsive force.

Alain
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Old 05-09-2013, 15:05   #5
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Re: Taking in the mainsail without an engine

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Pat,

By the way, I see in your video that your jib isn't sheeted in tight, as one would usually do when heaving to. I assume it's done on purpose, to retain some propulsive force.

Alain
Yes, your assumption is correct. I vary the the jib sheet tension a little to accommodate the wind. When the wind is over 20 knots, I sheet it in tighter. Less than 20 knots, looser. My adjustment goal is to have her ride exactly beam-on to the oncoming waves to take full advantage of the wave-reducing slick.

Some boats may not behave well at all beam-on to waves, and for them the sheeting would have to be a little different.
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Old 05-09-2013, 15:18   #6
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Re: Taking in the mainsail without an engine

That technique certainly wouldn't work on my boat, as the jib is larger relative to the main. As soon as the main is no longer counter-acting the force from the jib, the boat will swing right around until her stern is to the wind.
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Old 05-09-2013, 15:26   #7
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Re: Taking in the mainsail without an engine

I did learn to sail in the US, by the mentoring process, not professional lessons. I think it is because of where we start and finish day sails. The boats are mainly not on moorings you could safely sail on and off. They are crowded into marinas that must be designed by parking lot designers, many are quite difficult to sail into or out of and the practice is forbidden anyway. So people put on the engine to leave the marina, then raise the main more or less head to wind. Then they reverse the process to return to their berths.

Few ever practice sailing the boat on or off the hook, either, and possibly even consider such practice unnecessary. I think it relates a lot to the overpopulation of people and boats for the given sailing venues. Some newbies seem to me to approach sailing with the same assumptions they would bring to using an SUV. It's a worry.

Ann
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Old 05-09-2013, 15:58   #8
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Re: Taking in the mainsail without an engine

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Originally Posted by sailpower View Post
Looks good.

Why the USA references? I’m guessing sailing schools all over the world teach something other than heaving to when dousing sails.

Have you tried this changing a hanked-on jib? I guess it would depend whether or not your boat would heave to or fore reach slowly enough under just the main.
I've sailed and observed other sailors all over he world, and while I haven't taken a scientific poll, I've only seen the method used consistently in the Americas (North and South).

Changing a hanked-on jib is a separate topic, but to do that I:

1) Sail on a close reach (wind about 40 degrees off the bow) until the jib luffs while close hauled.
2) Lower the jib about half way (I have a downhaul line to assist).
3) Tension the upwind jib sheet to bring the jib clew to the upwind side of the foredeck.
4) Lower the jib the rest of the way to the deck. None of the jib should fall in the water. I alternately fall off and head up while lowering the jib to neatly flake it on deck. Only a few degrees of heading change is needed.
5) Adjust helm and the mainsheet if necessary to stabilize the boat with the rudder near neutral.
6) Unhank and stow the jib.
7) Hank on the new jib.
8) Adjust the new jib's downwind (working) sheet to estimated tension.
9) Raise the new jib.
10) Resume course.

I do have the advantage of a modified full keel. A fin-keeled boat may not behave as well, but the technique with a fin keel should only require a few extra small helm and mainsheet adjustments.
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Old 05-09-2013, 16:29   #9
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Re: Taking in the mainsail without an engine

I to singlehandled for 23 years from SF Bay to Lake Worth Fla.

It all depends on your mainsail and what your sailing instructor told you! It's almost impossible to get a full batten main to fall into the lazyjacks will sailing off the wind. Equally difficult is to roll the main in while the wind is anywhere except on the nose.

The sailing instructor? He's force to teach to the people who want life simple.
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Old 05-09-2013, 16:35   #10
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Re: Taking in the mainsail without an engine

I say again : what do you do on boats that won't heave to without the main up?
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Old 05-09-2013, 16:40   #11
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Re: Taking in the mainsail without an engine

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I say again : what do you do on boats that won't heave to without the main up?

I think it's a rather harsh judgment to say that anyone who turns the engine on "doesn't know how to sail." I think prudence is always a good idea, and that includes making sure one doesn't hit other boats. Maybe there aren't as many sailboats per capita in Sweden as there are here, but you'd be very hard put to sail into my slip, esp. single handed, because of all the turns. The wind would have to be perfect. When I leave my slip, I want to be able to return -- without hitting any other boats.
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Old 05-09-2013, 16:54   #12
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Re: Taking in the mainsail without an engine

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That technique certainly wouldn't work on my boat, as the jib is larger relative to the main. As soon as the main is no longer counter-acting the force from the jib, the boat will swing right around until her stern is to the wind.
What would you do if you couldn't start your engine and it's too deep to anchor?

Are you sure you can't heave to with the helm fully alee (steering fully to windward)?
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Old 05-09-2013, 17:12   #13
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Re: Taking in the mainsail without an engine

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I think it's a rather harsh judgment to say that anyone who turns the engine on "doesn't know how to sail." I think prudence is always a good idea, and that includes making sure one doesn't hit other boats. Maybe there aren't as many sailboats per capita in Sweden as there are here, but you'd be very hard put to sail into my slip, esp. single handed, because of all the turns. The wind would have to be perfect. When I leave my slip, I want to be able to return -- without hitting any other boats.
There are MANY sailboats in Sweden. They have a rather long history of sailing -- since before anyone invented the wheel. And I'm only referring to their culture. Obviously here, one often can't negotiate many marinas without an engine. It's a sad fact of life.

Prudence should always dictate the proper action. And I too motor into and out of my slip here. Otherwise, I'd have to tack upwind over a mile in the marina in a channel that's too narrow to tack safely (my long-keeled boat doesn't turn on a dime).

But even if my engine is running, it's always in neutral when I take in my mainsail because it doesn't assist at all with heaving to.

I'm also a pilot, and the most prudent advice I received as a student in single engine airplanes was: "Never trust your life to an engine." I'd since had to perform three landings with a dead engine. I believe that's prudent advice for sailing as well. Always have, at least as a backup, the skill to maneuver safely without the Iron Sail. Never go anyplace you can't get out of with sail alone - or at least stop by throwing out the anchor.
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Old 05-09-2013, 17:48   #14
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Re: Taking in the mainsail without an engine

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What would you do if you couldn't start your engine and it's too deep to anchor?

Are you sure you can't heave to with the helm fully alee (steering fully to windward)?
Under the first circumstances, I'd put the jib up I think, get her moving, and then go close-hauled, sailing on the jib, then put the main up. This is how I handle reefing too.

The beauty of reefing close-hauled is that you hardly lose any speed if you are quick.

An auto-pilot is handy for both.

Yes. Heaving-to is a balance of forces, the force on the jib vs. that on the main. What is balancing the force on the jib, with the main down? It might work on some boats, but by no means all.
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Old 05-09-2013, 17:52   #15
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Re: Taking in the mainsail without an engine

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I think it's a rather harsh judgment to say that anyone who turns the engine on "doesn't know how to sail." I think prudence is always a good idea, and that includes making sure one doesn't hit other boats. Maybe there aren't as many sailboats per capita in Sweden as there are here, but you'd be very hard put to sail into my slip, esp. single handed, because of all the turns. The wind would have to be perfect. When I leave my slip, I want to be able to return -- without hitting any other boats.
Couldn't agree more - what happens when you get to the end of the fairway, and some kayakers pass straight across the entrance? This happens regularly in Alameda, btw. Or even better, those self-righteous idiots in the dragon boat. I've had them look me straight in the eye, and paddle right in front of me as I arrive at the end of the fairway. Where's reverse gear when you're under sail?

The modern marina is designed to be motored in and out of, simple as that.

Maybe in Sweden the other users of the water have more sense, too.
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