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Old 06-23-2013
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Thumbs down Fear of heeling

I am 16 and have grown up on a 30ft catalina on lake michigan. But for the past maybe two years i have been deathly afraid of the heeling of a boat. My dad lets me steer and i know exactly what im doing but after four knots i get uneasy and after five going on six im seriously considering abandoning ship. I hate that i get this way, im a string swimmer. No one else is like this and i feel like im a drag. I want to know what to think when sailing to not get scared! I usually lay someplace i dont feel the lean of the boat so much and think of how sturdy the boat is and i try to sleep. But i want help! I have to remind myself that i can always jump off to make me feel safe sometimes!

Ps- i dont really have any current or sudden stress and thinking back i think i have been fearful since i could start to think of things and experiance some scary "close calls". Also, i know how everything on the boat works and i have sailed some small sun fish and i loved it, capsizing and all. The catalinas size and force is what really scares me i think. I feel like its in control of me

Last edited by Alexssimon; 06-28-2013 at 01:35 AM.
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Old 06-23-2013
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Fear of heeling

This is a pretty common fear, and it sounds like you have a bad case. Perhaps it might help if you read an article or two on the physical mechanisms of sailing so that you better understood the way that the wind, sails, keel and rudder work together balance the boat. This will help you convince the logical side of your brain that heeling is normal and even necessary. For the "instinctive" side that is experiencing the panic, the next time you sail try some deliberate experimentation on different points of sail.
- try sailing on a beam reach - wind perpendicular to your boat direction -, trimming the main and jib until they just stop luffing. This should be both a fast and comfortable point if sail for you. Then head up into the wind a bit to more of a close reach (look up these points if sail if you are not familiar with them), again trimming the sails in until they just stop luffing (edges flapping loosely). As the boat starts to heel, try letting go of the helm and get a feel for how the boat will self-correct by heading upwind and losing power. Repeat the exercise but this time steer away from the wind and feel the heeling diminish. The point is to repeatedly bring the boat to point of sail in which it heels and then move it out of that zone in a controlled way. I think with practice, you will get a better intuitive feel for how the boat works and its inherent stability and so build up your confidence to the point that you are comfortable whether you are at the helm or someone else is.
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Old 06-23-2013
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Re: Fear of heeling

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Originally Posted by Alexssimon View Post
... But for the past maybe two years i have been deathly afraid of the heeling of a boat..!
The best way to get over your fears of any kind is to confront them. You can do that gradually, at your own comfort level, or immediately.

Gradually, you could sail in stronger and stronger wind conditions to become accustomed to healing.

Immediately, while sailing upwind, you could steer the boat off the wind until it is broadside to the wind. Hang on tight.

Using either method, you will discover that a keel boat will only go over so far, then the wind begins to deflect off the sail while the ballast pulls the boat back up, the boat floats high above the water, even when healed over at extreme angles, and the boat will eventually pop back upright when the force decreases.

Running away from your fears, avoiding them, never works. You will simply become a fearful person who has lost confidence in yourself. You might as well make the decision to live your life courageously, to face down all your fears, and free yourself from excessive worry. Fear and worry rarely accomplish anything for you and you waste a lot of psychic energy that could be better focused on something productive.

With all your fears, you should also consider what is the worst that could happen. People usually inflate the consequences of their fears. Take heeling: the boat could be knocked over and/or sink, you would find yourself in the water and you could swim to shore or wait to be rescued. So what? That would hardly be the end of the world. You would be wet and inconvenienced. Many have survived worse.

Last edited by jameswilson29; 06-23-2013 at 08:57 AM.
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Old 06-23-2013
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Re: Fear of heeling

If you're on the helm, have you let the boat round up toward the wind about 5 degrees? You should notice a clear reduction in heel. Round up more and the heeling should subside more.

While this may not be the tack you want to be on or have the sails properly trimmed for it, the helmsman can always fix the heeling problem, as necessary. In fact, weather helm is designed in for just this purpose too. Once you realize that you have the power to stop it, you should become less fearful of it.
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Old 06-23-2013
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Re: Fear of heeling

It takes time to get used to heeling. I owned my boat 2 years and before I got used to it! Now I can "dip the rail" and actually have fun trying to do so.
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Re: Fear of heeling

I dare say, in a 30 ft Catalina in relatively small seas and winds under 30 kts, you couldn't knock her over if you tried.
DRFerron and jimgo like this.
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Old 06-23-2013
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Re: Fear of heeling

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Originally Posted by Minnewaska View Post
I dare say, in a 30 ft Catalina in relatively small seas and winds under 30 kts, you couldn't knock her over if you tried.
very true!

Alexis, it isn't really necessary to heel hard over, and most of us know our boats sail best with less heel then more. I'd also say who your sailing with is not really concerned with the comfort of others on the boat.. NOT, a good thing imho.
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Re: Fear of heeling

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Originally Posted by Alexssimon View Post
I have to remind myself that i can always jump off to make me feel safe sometimes!
Your fear of heeling is so great that jumping off the boat makes you feel safer? I've sailed Lake Michigan for decades and there's no way I would ever say that. Most who fear heeling worry about ending up in the water (the boat sinking). You've already overcome that fear. So, if being in the water makes you feel safe, why worry about heeling? Just look at heeling as being closer to being safe in the water.

Sometimes we have to play mind games with ourselves to overcome our fears.
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Old 06-23-2013
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Re: Fear of heeling

The unusual thing here is that the fear has developed after a long time sailing, the OP has grown up with the boat and at 14 suddenly is frightened by this... Normally someone new to sailing has to come to terms with the sensation, this may be something different.

Wondering if anything happened to trigger the onset of the anxiety? It's true that of all the boats out there the Cat 30 is a heelophobe's dream... Hard to imagine a less tender boat.
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Old 06-23-2013
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Fear of heeling

If you enjoy being in the water why don't you try some fast paced sailing dingy action at a local club. When I was young I used to love putting on a wetsuit and seeing how far I could push the envelope, ultimately ending with me in the water but to me that was fun! These smaller boat also help really get a feel for the mechanics involved in heeling. My daughter is 8 and she gets afraid when our '38 boat heels. I intend to put her in a sailing club so she may confront her fears in a controlled and fun way. She is very comfortable in the water like you so I hope for positive results. Good luck. And yes, you must confront your fears.
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