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Go Back   SailNet Community > General Interest > General Discussion (sailing related)
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  #1  
Old 03-08-2006
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Smile New to helming

Has anyone got any tips they could pass onto a lady novice sailor.
Good at crewing i.e. fenders, ropes etc but not so good on the helming and keeping boat on course side of things. Any advice appreciated, thanks.
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Old 03-08-2006
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The most common mistake I see newbies make at the helm is that they oversteer the boat. They steer it one way, and then, when it's going too far in that direction, they steer it the other way. As a result, the boat oscillates back and forth, instead of holding a reasonably straight course.

Let me suggest an experiment that will help you understand an important concept about good helmsmanship. Ask a good helmsman to put the boat on a course, and then lock the helm, so that it can't move. You'll see that the boat will hold it's course for a short while, even without anyone touching the helm. What that tells you is that you don't have to constantly make big adjustments in the helm. Let the boat more or less steer itself, and just make occasional adjustments when necessary to keep it on course.

It's really the same principle as driving your car. When we drive a car, we don't constantly make big adjustments to the steering wheel. If we did, we'd zig zag all over the road. We learn with experience that the car will almost steer itself, and all we have to do is apply very slight pressure to the steering wheel, one way or the other, to keep it on course.

Secondly, when the boat strays off its course, don't bring it back on course with one big adjustment of the helm. Instead, turn the helm in the direction that you need to go, and hold it there until the boat is almost back on course, but not quite. Then ease the pressure on the helm slightly and let the boat settle itself onto that course. When it has done so, then make another small adjustment of the helm to bring it the rest of the way onto the desired course.

Finally, the only way you'll learn to steer the boat is if you spend some time with your hands on the tiller or wheel, practicing. Take your turn steering the boat whenever you can. It won't take long for you to get the hang of it.
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Old 03-08-2006
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Trust your sails

In addition to sailormon's advise, listen to the sails and what they are telling you. The sails will tell you when you are making a mistake.
Do your sails have telltails? They are a big help when learning.

Feel the boat, she will give you the info your looking for.

Like I always say, "Do you feel that? Your in the groove. Keep her there."
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Old 03-09-2006
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Great Advice on helming

Thanks for the replies, they really make sense. No we didn't have have tell tales on our last boat, new boat arriving soon and that's one of the things I want to get put on. Do they really make such a big difference?

As for the practice bit, that's very true as I do drive and can see where you're coming from with that. I think initially when not very good I tended to avoid going to the wheel and letting my husband take charge of it. Then when he needed to do something else I would have to take over and to be honest made a complete mess of it, and even tacked through the wind as I turned the wheel too much! (Exactly what you suggested) I think I understand things more now, but if you're not a natural it takes a while longer. However, yes I need to practice more rather than avoid the wheel! Thanks again the advice is much appreciated.
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Old 03-09-2006
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Look where you want to go

Just as in driving a car, youíll trend to steer where you are looking.
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Old 03-09-2006
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GordMay
Just as in driving a car, youíll trend to steer where you are looking.
That's so true, I find especially with a tiller versus a wheel.
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Old 03-09-2006
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If you are just 'sailing', looking at where you are going is a good way, As Gord states.
If you want precision steering for a FAST course, place a long row of telltales (strips of ripstop nylon ~3/8" wide by 6" long and fastened to the sail with a 'dot' of self adhesive sail repair tape) in a line parallel to about 8 ft. from the deck and on each side of the sail (different colors for each side). The 'rows' will be about 8 foot long on a 30 LOA boat. Then simply steer the boat so that ALL the tell tales are flying 'straight back' or with the windward side just gently 'lifting'. When steering, every 15 - 20 seconds look up at the tell tale row, and steer the course to make the telltales flat and streaming straight back. If the wind shifts (almost always is shifting back and forth) your steering will automatically return back to the proper sailing angles. Since you can not SEE the wind you can see the telltales and the affects that the wind has on them and then can best steer simply by watching the tales and then steering to get the best wind angle. This may sound somewhat complicated but once you apply a 'steering row' of telltales to the headsail, you will automatically steer the best course, the proper angle, etc. .... and your boat will 'scallop' in direction according to the wind but the course will be the fastest. Since the wind is usually always varying direction when sailing you either continuously adjust the sails or continuously steer the boat .... steering changes are easier.

Last edited by RichH; 03-09-2006 at 11:07 AM.
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Old 03-09-2006
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Talking new to helming

Two things to help with the "feel" - it WILL come.

One, focus on a point well forward of your boat. Same in driving - if you're looking only a few yards ahead you'll waver. Get the long view....at least 50-50 yards ahead and that will keep you from jerking the wheel (or tiller). When I was very young, my father would have me concentrate on something on the other shore. Make sure it's not a sailboat under sail!

Two, we used a Windex and just kept the tail within the red lines. This is especially handy in light winds when the direction isn't all that obvious. As long as there's nothing in front of you, just look up.

For reversing - if you want to pull your stern into a dock, first pull ahead just far enough to turn your bow away from the dock, then, without moving the wheel (tiller) slowly reverse. Your stern should swing right in. Remember, the power is in the stern of the boat, not in the front like a car. It's nice to have a long line ready too!
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Old 03-09-2006
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In the spirit of full disclosure, I'm not a real experienced sailor. My wife and I have had a 36' boat for about eight few months, and I am, was more experienced the she is, was. In retrospect, the comments on over-steering were spot-on.

As for telltales, I think you might want to start watching, and sailing by the luff -- it's not quite so complicated.

I think that a tiller gives a person a better feel, so when we joined a floatilla (with a UK company by the way), we asked for a tiller precisely so she could learn more quickly.

The way we've sailed the new boat after the first few weeks or so is for her to have the wheel all the time. I handled the running rigging and suggest "head-up a bit" or "fall-off a bit," and not infrequently am wrong. After a few months, one day she had it. I seems to work so well, that she has the wheel all the time now.
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