Join Date: Sep 2010
Location: North Texas
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You can spill the wind off the sails and depower them. You can sail close to the wind or let the main out. You can also run with the weather. You hold the sheet, don't cleat them so you can let them out quickly. If you need to drop a main or jib so you can handle the boat without cleating, then you do so. Things happen too fast on dinghies to be cleating in such conditions.
I learned basically by trial and error and on a Minifish (like a Sunfish). On that boat you have a main sheet and that's it. No reefs, no outhauls, no cunninghams, no vangs to help you.
Eventually you learn where you can trim so that your sail isn't at full power without flogging. It takes being familiar with your boat. And you learn very quickly to watch the water for gusts.
When you're on a boat without a motor, you simply need to pay more attention. You pay attention to where you are from shore, how you'd get back, and what the weather will do. You'll need to develop a "weather eye", watch the clouds, so you know when to start heading in before things get out of control.
I've had my little boat out in very windy conditions and still be able to sail her. It's not comfortable and it'll wear you out.
You want to push yourself but not over do it in order to learn. Have someone else there who can get you and your boat if conditions are or will get hairy if you're wanting to see what you can do.
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A ship in harbor is safe, but that's not why ships are built.
1974 Alcort Minifish-Minifish
2001 Drascombe Lugger-Penelope
2004 Hunter 260-Miss Muffet