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Go Back   SailNet Community > Skills and Seamanship > Learning to Sail
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  #1  
Old 08-22-2006
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First Experiences under the Wind

Might as well jump in here,
And get my "feet wet"on this forum, so to speak

Brand new to sailing, although I have read about it and learned a few tidbits I had never been on a sailboat in all my goin 'on 50yrs..until last month.

I became the unexpected owner of a freebie Sunfish clone. It was in very sad shape, however it was complete and functional. I spent an afternoon cleaning it up and then my brother and I took it down to the cove, rigged up and pushed off. The wind was about 2 knots, when it blew at all. We actually managed to catch a few good puffs of wind and when I saw the boat making a tiny wake with me at the controls I let out a whoop. It was really fun, and we sailed back and forth on the cove as best we could in the near calm for a couple hours.

Spent the next few weeks really cleaning and polishing and refitting what there is on a Sunfish, and waiting for the weather to either cool off or the wind to blow. Finally the day came that the weather was up and there was *plenty* of wind. We moved the boat to a larger cove and my brother left me there to do my thing. Lots of other boats around so I wasn't truly alone, but I felt like it. I rigged up and got the Sunfish in the water, climbed on and wiggled the sheet and rudder until suddenly...the 20-25 knt. wind caught that old ratty sail and..





I was planing across that mile wide cove faster than I could imagine that surfboard with a sail could move!

Halfway across I realized I may have an "idea" of what to do to turn it around and head back but I was in WAyy over my head. At that point I just held on and hoped I made it across without drowning. ( Yes, I had a brand new life vest on..but)

I made it, and spent the next 2 hours trying to calm down and paddle or catch the wind right and beat back across the cove. No way, I finally had to tie up and go for help. I don't know if I was more embarrased or in semi shock from the experience, but the boat stayed on the "blown to" side of the bay for that night. The next morning I went back and finally managed to paddle back across. The Sunfish has been sitting on it's trailer ever since, and it's gonna stay there until I am ready and the weather is not too much or too little or too damn hot again

After reading some of the other first time and learning experiences on this thread, I must say I feel much better about my little voyage of terror now. Perhaps it wasn't that bad after all!

MobyD, hopefully in a boat big enough to sit down in and not on..one of these days.
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Old 08-22-2006
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nolatom will become famous soon enough
You did better than you may realize. A Sunfish, lacking a jib, can be kind of twitchy if you're trying to beat upwind in a strong breeze, it either starves out on speed and steering responsiveness if you pinch it too close, and heels and makes leeway if you bear off to get her moving. Too easy to lose your headway, and kind of volatile getting it back. In a really honking breeze (like yours), may be better to close-reach it rather than close-hauled, a more forgiving point of sail, though your upwind progress will be much slower.

As a beginner, you did the right thing, you hung on to that tiger by the tail downwind, and then waited for a wind shift rather than beating back into a 25-knot wind, which is not the Sunfish's strong point, and will wear you out. This is what the clipper ship captains did in the old days.

But learn to sail comfortably on this thing in 5-15 knots of wind, and the bigger boats you graduate to will be a walk in the park.
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Old 08-22-2006
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MobyDud,

I could see your story unfold as soon as you said 20-25 kts. of wind with a Sunfish. Although it can be a blast running downwind in a Sunfish or Sailfish, even in those winds, they don't like to tack back home in heavy winds. They are just too overpowered with no ballast to keep them up. It can be done, but if you went a mile downwind you would probably have to tack back about 8 miles in those winds. If you could stay upright to do it.

Sunfish are a great learning experience, but try to learn in 10 kts. or less and then step up to 15 if you feel lucky. I always told my kids when it was blowing and they wanted to use the Sunfish or paddle boat that they needed to go upwind and let the wind bring them home. Of course they were sometimes way to smart for this old man and then learned to walk a boat along a soft shore for a mile or so. After that they always told their friends to go upwind first. Amazing how fast you learn.

I would imagine that your Whoopee in a little gust of wind became a Whoopee and Holy %^&*8 going downwind, and then an Aw %^&*8 when you turned back into it.Live and learn. Have fun!!!!!!!!!
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Old 08-23-2006
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Thanks for the encouraging words. You know I felt so foolish after asserting to my family and all that I knew the 'basics' of what I was doing and I was rather determined to get out and try to really sail the Sunfish as soon as there was some decent wind. We had had about 3 weeks of 105+ temps and 1 or 2 knots of wind. So when the front came through and it cooled off to about 95 ( Hah!) with a stiff steady wind, I was set to go. I knew I would rather have it blowing softer, but I also knew I needed more wind than there had been so even though I was a bit nervous to launch I was again..determined.

Determination is not always the best deciding factor perhaps

Very happy to know I'm not alone in my overenthused first time out, and it sounds as if others have had worse experiences! Not that I'd wish that on anybody, but it does help to ease the pain and want to try again..on a more appropriate weather day!

Moby
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Old 08-24-2006
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chrondi is an unknown quantity at this point
... and remember that a dinghy is the best (only?) way to learn sailing. On the other hand, you waste your time and energy trying to manage it with 15+ knot wind speeds. Rather try reefing techniques first with somebody else on a two-sail open boat when it blows at the 4 to 5 force range and then move to heavier stuff with a keel, where you do not need constant balancing by displacing your body i.e. move from racing to cruising mode (more adapted to people in their fifties!)
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Old 08-24-2006
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I hear you Chrondi!

A Sunfish would not have been my first choice to learn to sail on, at least not now that the old bones are beginin' to creak and groan a bit

Hard to turn down 'free' for your first boat though.

But indeed, when the budget gets bigger and the belly gets smaller..more sailing will be on the horizon! And I may start checking the weather reports for the next few weekends. Perhaps that cove won't look so big or be quite as intimidating in a nice lil 5 to 10 knt. blow..compared to last time

Moby *
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