Some Thoughts About Fairway Turns

My last tip How Fast is TOO FAST! In a Fairway? got me thinking about fairway turns.  As an instructor, I can honestly say teaching this skill causes me to experience more “stomach muscle tightening” than any other skill I teach.  Which is interesting, I enjoy practicing them.

Here are a few of the “techniques” I have seen that cause my “stomach muscles to tighten.”

  • Accelerating into a fairway turn.  Generally the reason for a fairway turn is a boat unexpectedly backing out in front of you.  I don’t know about you, but accelerating toward danger just seems wrong.  Also, any acceleration in forward is going to require and equal and opposite acceleration in reverse to offset it, which leads to the next problem.
  • High amounts of throttle.  Generally speaking, a fairway turn doesn’t require a great deal of throttle.  Just enough to hold the boat in position against momentum and wind.  The only time a lot of throttle is “needed” is if too much throttle was used during the last transmission shift.
  • Slamming the transmission back and forth rapidly and at high throttle.  The goal of a fairway turn is to turn the boat around while staying in the same location.  Rapid  shifting and high throttle settings cause the boat to move … exactly the opposite of what you are trying to accomplish.
  • Trying to “finish” off the fairway turn on the leeward side of the fairway.  Your goal should be to remain as far upwind in the fairway as you can!  Trying to transition out of the fairway turn and into forward while on the lee side of the fairway allows the wind to blow your boat down onto the boats that are there.
  • Too close to the port side of the fairway.  Assuming port prop walk, it’s normal to start from the port side of the fairway and turn to starboard.  As the bow moves to starboard, the stern moves to port and hits the boat or dock finger behind the boat.  Start with enough room to  allow the stern to swing.
  • “Downwind” fairway turns.  On a boat with port prop walk, it is natural to do a fairway turn to starboard.  A problem may arise when the wind is blowing from port to starboard.  Momentum and wind are both pushing you to the lee side of the fairway.  Right were you don’t want to be.  All is probably going to be ok if you are on the windward side of the fairway, and provided you shift into reverse early enough, with just enough throttle to overcome momentum and wind, and assuming you didn’t accelerate into the turn.  That’s a lot of “ifs.”  Sometimes its easier to do the fairway turn to windward, even if it’s opposite the direction prop walk wants to take you.  Please don’t try this without first practicing the maneuver in a safe area.  Not all boats will do it well.

With the down side in mind, here are a couple of thoughts on a “better way” to do a fairway turn.

  • As with most things in sailing, if you didn’t think about it 10 minutes ago, you waited too long.  Know what you are going to do before you actually need to do it.  Plan ahead.  As you turn into the fairway, set up L.O.T. for your docking and have a backup L.O.T. for a fairway turn if it is needed.  It’s too late to plan that boat backs out of the slip at you.
  • Where in the fairway do you need to be to approach your slip?  Will that location work for a fairway turn?  If not, how are you going to get into a location that will work if one is needed?
  • Know the boat you are on.  Will it do a fairway turn to windward opposite prop walk?  How does it handle a downwind fairway turn.
  • Your goal is to turn the boat around, while holding position.  Use only enough throttle to accomplish that goal.
  • Let the boat do the work.  If you are exhausted at the end of the maneuver, you are working way too hard at it.
  • Watch the stern more than the bow … you can see it better and chances are it is closer to obstacles anyway.
  • Practice, practice, practice.  As anyone who does boat checkouts with me can attest.  I take the wheel in almost every checkout and do a fairway turn or two.  Often times I will stop the fairway turn after 90 degrees and try to get the stern as close to an upwind mooring ball as possible.  Its a great way to practice fairway turns and staying to the windward side of the fairway.
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