Your First Few Sails

Too often, the tips you read are directed towards experienced sailors trying to improve on their sailing skills.  It seems like tip writer’s forget about the new sailor.  Here are a few thoughts to consider during those first few very important sails.

Your day will not be enjoyable unless everybody on board is enjoying it.  Sail to the comfort level of the least comfortable person on board.

Dress for success.  As you may have already found during lessons, weather on the bay can vary greatly.  I’ve seen days in the winter where shirt sleeves are in order and days in the summer where crew members are getting hypothermic while dressed in sweaters.  Often, the temperature can start with one extreme and progress to the other.  Bring layers even if you don’t think you will need them.  My wife came up with a great idea awhile back.  She picked up four inexpensive fleece blankets which she rolled up and put in a reusable cloth grocery bag.  They fit perfectly, don’t weigh much, and are always available for the added little bit of comfort.  Throw in a couple pairs of warm gloves and you are set.

Don’t be afraid to sail under mainsail alone, at least for the first couple of hours.  If you are a new skipper, chances are very good your crew has even less experience than you do.  Adding in a jib creates complexity.  When you do, your crew needs to handle sheets and winches, which will probably be a bit intimidating the first few times.

There are five sailing maneuvers I recommend you practice every time you go sailing.  Tack, jibe, crew overboard recovery, reef, and heave to.  Start with doing several tacks to get yourself and your crew used to being on board.  Once you are comfortable, do a few jibes.   If you are sailing under just the main, this will be the first time your crew will need to handle any lines.  Make sure your crew has gloves on.  Take your time and be safe.  Doing a crew overboard recovery is simpler with just the main.  After you have your jib deployed, put in a reef and heave to.  This doesn’t have to be done the first time out if you (or your crew) are not comfortable with more than just the main.

First and foremost … have fun.  You are going to make mistakes.  Don’t beat yourself up when they happen, however, make your mistakes safe ones.  For example, everybody keeps their head down at all times.  Practice the first few jibes in protected areas with light air.

Every time you go out stretch your skills.  Start in well protected areas.  Once you are comfortable find more challenging conditions.  Make a few “safe mistakes” then tuck back into the well protected area to learn from them.  Ask yourself two questions; “what did I do well” and “what could I do differently next time.”

Here is a thought … everyone has a “comfort zone,” a “learning zone,” and a “panic zone.”  You have to get out of your comfort zone to learn.  If you go past your learning zone you get into the panic zone and nobody learns anything.

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1 Response to Your First Few Sails

  1. Steve Aphugh says:

    Don,
    Great words of wisdom from an experienced sailor and teacher. I was out in some moderately challenging conditions on Sunday with an inexperienced crew and I wanted to make sure that we never got in the “panic zone”. We went out with a reefed sail and no jib for the majority of the morning, moved it up for a short time with reefed main and jib, then after lunch headed home with a full main, no jib. We all had a great time and although challenged a few times never felt unsafe. Just a great day out following your sage advice.

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