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post #1 of 7 Old 07-04-2007 Thread Starter
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a question of experience - and Boat size

This question is partly about my wife. I've been sailing all my life, including quite a lot of off shore sailing, and a 6 month stretch of a circumnavigation.

My wife has not. We've done a few week long cruising trips, moored every night, etc. She's quite nervous of sea due to lack of experience with it, and gets sea sick. She's quite excited about our sailing trip though, and our plan is to do fairly costal sailing for first 6 months of the trip.

The question is really how much sailing experience do BOTH of us need before we head off.
I feel pretty comfortable in my ability to single hand the boat.

I feel comfortable in my wifes ability to single hand the boat if she needs to get us to a port in an emmergency. - Im not sure she'd be able to dock the boat by herself though.

When people talk about a boat being too big to handle, is the issue at sea, or in harbour. At sea, it seems to be its like having a big SUV instead of a small car from a ease of handling point of view. I know that the sails need attending to, but if its roller reefed headsail and a slab reefed main - sailed conservatively, is it really that big a deal. From a physical point of view, my wife is the same size as elen mccarthur. She seems to be able to hoist and reef a fairly massive main by herself. I know shes in a league of her own when it comes to sailing experience, but if the issue is how much sail is too much to handle????
Boat size versus sail size. We've sailed in the med on 50 footers (beneteaus, gib seas etc) with smaller sails than the 38 footer that I race or the 40.7 that I used to race on so surely a cruisy bene 50 is easier to handle from a SAILING point of view than a bene 40.7?
On a mooring point of view, predominantly we will be anchoring, and my experience of anchoring a 50 footer is the same as my experience of anchoring a 40 footer. Retrieving a 50 footers anchor by hand if the winch breaks would be more effort though I agree, but as a general issue - seems to be that it is not THAT much of an issue?
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post #2 of 7 Old 07-04-2007
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The issue is that it is too big to handle... it doesn't matter where the boat is, if it is too big to handle for any one task, it is probably too big. One sailing author wrote that 300 sq. ft. is about all the size of a single mainsail he'd want to handle. Given today's more modern technology, better winches, and lighter sail materials, I'd say you could go up a bit.

Ellen MacArthur has a serious advantage in her long experience. It has taught her how to do certain things without the brute force and size that most guys would use to do them. Her boat, the B&Q trimaran, was also very well (expensively) equipped with the latest and greatest in gear as well... Cruising sails are usually heavier than racing sails of the same size... and cruising winches are usually less powerful.

The real question is does your wife feel comfortable in handling the boat by herself. Imagine the situation of you falling overboard or getting knocked on the head by the boom. Now she has to single hand to boat and also has the added stress of you being either in the water or injured and unconscious. Could she do it??? It takes a fair bit of self-confidence and experience to do so in such a situation. While many people will be "fine" single-handing a boat when they know help is just a shout away... doing it for real is a totally different situation.

Why do the two of you need a 50' boat? You might want to think about the reasons you're looking at such a large boat carefully.


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post #3 of 7 Old 07-04-2007
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I recommend three things:

1) Let your wife run the boat. Helmspeople puke far less, because they are focused on the task and aren't down below, where seasickness is made much worse.

2) When she's running the boat, DO NOT COMMENT ON HER DECISIONS unless they directly threaten to damage gear or to endanger the crew or the boat. Just...crew. Answer her questions politely and without personal views IF ASKED. She must learn the confidence to follow her own instincts and knowledge if she is to co-crew.

3) Convince her to crew on deliveries of varying lengths and complexities WITHOUT YOU. She must have an opportunity to learn without your vastly more comprehensive experience both to bail her out of trouble and looming over her as an authority. Only then will she get on the road to sailing skill equivalency.
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post #4 of 7 Old 07-04-2007
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Handling the sails and the anchor are probably the hard parts, plus docking.
The anchor depends somewhat on the depth, and whether you have an electric windlass. If you end up having to do it by hand, I trust it will be you not your wife.
I don't think a comparison with racing boats is fair. Look at the number of experienced crew.
Effectively if you are sailing passages as a couple you are singlehanding, and broken sleep patterns make you pretty tired.
If your wife is less confident you probably need to give weight to what she can handle and is comfortable with in less than ideal circumstances.
A women only sailing course would be helpful plus training so she knows she can bring theboat back unaided.
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post #5 of 7 Old 07-05-2007
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I think your wife should know how to navigate, handle the sails, use the communication and emergency gear and run the engine. She does not hae to be initially as competent as you and can learn along the way...but if you fall overboard or have a debilitating injury/medical event....you're gonna want her to be competent to help get you and the boat to safety. A 50 footer PROPERLY equipped for short handed sailing is NOT too big....but you might wanna look at ketches if you are concerned about sail size.
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post #6 of 7 Old 07-05-2007
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Ketches are the redheaded stepchildren of sailing...if you forget entirely about yawls, which seem to have few friends this century. A well-designed ketch is a joy to sail and the thrill of blasting along well heeled but in full control with a mizzen and a jib out in 40 knots is really something I wish more sloop drivers could experience.

It takes more initial labour to get a ketch going optimally, and you will never point as well as a long-J measurement masthead sloop, but the advantages, particularly to the tradewind voyager, are many. My personal compromise was to go to a cutter-rigged sloop with a short but overbuilt bowsprit and a decently sized boom and staysail. Now my decision is "do I get a deck-sweeping furling genoa as well as the Yankee jib that came with the boat?"

Variety and options are good and allow us to consider larger boats. For us, 40-42 feet was the limit for a fit, strong, but height-challenged co-skipper who needs fairly closely grouped mast steps. I wanted a 45-50 footer and could afford it, but that would entail more mechanical/electrical assist than I wanted to have aboard. Our steel cutter can have the hydraulic steering bypassed in favour of a tiller, and we come from tiller steering. That is quite a thrill in a bigger boat, because you can feel what's happening, but it become physically problematic for some women beyond that 40-odd foot length.
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post #7 of 7 Old 07-05-2007
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I would probably be the equivalent of your wife. Although I was born and raised on the water, my initial experience is with (shhhh – motor boats). I grew up on a 40’ Mathews and a Boston Whaler and lived on Fire Island every summer for many years. Therefore, when I met Skip, a single-handed sailor who also happened to be a Master Shipwright, I had to learn the language you all share and so many other things important to know and exclusive to sailing. Years ago, Skip gave me a 2-day single-handed course on a 30 footer as a Christmas present. Receiving my textbook before hand, I set out to learn all I could before I actually got into the boat. When it came time for the actual sailing part, I was surprised and disappointed when asking questions, that my instructor did not know the text and terms as well as I did. This was an ASA course. The good news is that I nailed the man over board drill the first time and every time after. Certainly not a bad thing to be good at considering I would prefer to keep Skip on board when ever possible.

Valiente said it best, at least in my opinion. It really does make sense to have the helm to yourself while knowing you have the support of someone so knowledgeable standing by if you need assistance. It has allowed me to work through some of my confidence issues and the logistics of sailing. Because MISTRESS was only launched last year and spent several months with only one mast in, there has not been a lot of opportunity for me to have the helm while being close to shore. Skip and I agree we will be putting out buoys for me to sail to, around, and the like to help me get use to MISTRESS’s ways while pretending to be in close quarters.

Skip originally picked this kind of Schooner because with just her working sails, (main, staysail, and jumbo) each being on its own boom, she tacks herself when the wheel is turned. No need to play with the lines; of course that is once they have been raised to begin with. The jib is a furl jib and is not difficult for me at all. The Queen Fisherman is another story, therefore in light air, by myself; this will be a bit of a chore. That sail requires someone to assist it with each tack, thereby making it a bit difficult to be at the helm and assist the Queen. It won’t look pretty.

MISTRESS is a 50’ Staysail rigged Schooner. With either of her Fisherman’s up, she appears to be a Gaff 4.

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