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Go Back   SailNet Community > Skills and Seamanship > Learning to Sail
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  #1  
Old 11-24-2007
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What went wrong?

I took my son out yesterday for the first time and was having an awesome day. Handling of the boat went very well and we even put the toe rail in the water briefly. Decided to drop the jib due to wind. As wind and wave started to settle, we put the jib back up and this is where the problem began.

We where in basically the same wind conditions as when we started out and we couldn't get the boat to hold course. One gust caught use, turned us and caused my mainsail to bust off all the slugs. With only the jib, it was almost impossible to control. A gust would come along and blow the boat 90 degrees off course. My first sail on this boat was with jib only and the boat handled fine. Unable to maintain control, we dropped the jib and motored home.

My boat is a 22 ft Hunter (being a Hunter is not the problem) with a swing keel. This was only my third time out in her. I don't believe I was in wind conditions beyond my limited experience.

What I believed happened was that the keel raised partially up some point between dropping and re-raising of the jib. My keel is not a weighted keel. My son did the lowering and the raising of the keel so I am not certain as to the position when we came back in. Never been in a sailboat without the keel lowered, so I am uncertain as to how it would react.

Any insight would be helpful.

Jim
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Old 11-24-2007
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Your theory may be correct, hard to tell for certain from your description. The few times I've sailed without a centerboard it was as if, well, as if I didn't have a centerboard. pretty obvious and uncomfortable.

Did you have wind gauges? what point of sail were you on? were there whitecaps? what size jib do you have? What did you do with the main after it popped all the slugs?
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Old 11-24-2007
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What point of sail were you on with the jib only? I've sailed a fin keel (C&C 24) that did not handle well in higher winds with jib alone. This might not be as noticable in lighter winds, which might be why it wasn't a problem the first time you took it out (assuming lighter winds then). If you were on a beam reach or higher and the swing keel was only partially lowered it would have made the boat more prone to come off the wind in gusts, but even with it fully lowered I wouldn't be suprised if it was pretty squirrelly.
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Old 11-24-2007
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We were trying to sail a close reach. There were no white caps. 1 foot waves at the most as we were in the river. We had 2ft waves with the occasional 3 footer thrown in for fun earlier. No wind gauge. NOAA projected under 15 knots sustained as I recall.

I took the main down and had it stored below. The jib is 110% The first time I took the boat out there were stronger winds. I had extra ballast then as there were 2 more people on board.

Squirrelly is a good way to describe how she was handling, as if I had been drinking.

Jim
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Old 11-24-2007
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Think of a seesaw. The center is the point of rotation - the boat equivalent is the centre of lateral resistance, the point the boat rotates around. Put only one person on the seesaw, that becomes the centre of effort the point where the force can be considered to act. With only a jib that point is ahead of the CLR so the boat turns that way, because it is not offset by a counter rotating force on the main.
The swing keel makes some difference to the position of the CLR ie the further back or raised it is the further back the CLR so having it raised would add to the imbalance of the sails.
Downwind the centre of effort is offset to one side so this tends to produce a rotation akin to pushing on one quarter. However that may be readily offset by the rudder in light conditions.
The general point is when reducing sail to balance the sail plan by reducing jib and main - an option which was not available to you. The slugs should not pull out of the track. Perhaps there is excessive wear or a mismatching of sizes.
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Old 11-24-2007
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If the centerboard...and that's basically what a swing keel is...wasn't all the way down, the center of lateral resistance would have shifted aft slightly, leading to lee helm... and making it harder for the boat to tack or point up, since the center of effort was forward of the center of lateral resistance. When you lost the mainsail, the center of effort shifted even farther forward, and made the lee helm problem even worse... making it even more difficult for you to control the boat and keep it pointed up.

In general, you want to keep the COE and the CLR relatively close to one another, with the CLR slightly ahead of the COE..so you have a tiny bit of weather helm. Having weather helm means that if you let the tiller and sheets go... the boat will slowly round up and end up head to wind. Having lee helm is dangerous, especially if you're singlehanding, since if you let the tiller and sheets go, the boat will turn down and end up running before the wind. If you fall off the boat when single-handing, you can see how it would be easier to catch a boat that rounds up and drifts slightly, rather than one running before the wind. BTW, if you're singlehanding—DON'T FALL OFF THE DAMN BOAT.
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Old 11-24-2007
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Jim,

Your description is a little sketchy, but, I doubt that the centerboard had anything to do with it. If the boat was handling well at first, with the rail in the water, then the centerboard was probably down at that time.

Centerboards are designed to not come up by themselves, unless you hit something, and, if you hit something hard enough to raise the centerboard, you would probably have noticed it. I don't know anything about your son, but most kids (not all) who were just learning to sail with their dad would probably not think to raise the centerboard without being told to do so. I doubt that your son raised the board without you telling him to do so, or without him asking you first.

You lowered the jib, because the wind was too strong, but then you raised it again because you thought the windspeed had decreased. I strongly suspect that was a mistake. Inexperienced sailors often have difficulty in judging windspeed, because they don't completely understand how the wind behaves in relation to a sailboat. When you lowered the jib, the boat's speed through the water would have decreased greatly, and that would decrease the apparent windspeed (but not the actual windspeed). It would feel as if the windspeed decreased, when it really didn't. You probably only thought the wind had declined. Also, you might have sailed through a brief lull in the wind, and not realized that a lull is usually only a temporary condition of relatively brief duration.

In any event, when you raised the jib again, the boatspeed increased, and the apparent windspeed increased, and you found that the boat was overpowered, just as it had been when you first furled the jib.

When you raised too much sail area in too much wind, the boat became instantly overpowered. It tried to accelerate, but sailboats are somewhat slow to accelerate, and it couldn't cope with all the energy that its sails were creating, so the boat heeled excessively, the rudder was overpowered by the forces on the sails, and the boat either broached or at least rounded up suddenly. That's probably what stripped the slugs off the mainsail. As they get older and a little worn, plastic (or nylon or monel, or whatever they are) mainsail slugs can break fairly easily. Once they start to break, it's best to replace them all.

So, what should you have done? Your first instinct was that the wind was too strong for the amount of sail area, so you decided to reduce sail area. That was the right thing to do. But, you furled the jib and tried to sail on the mainsail alone. A sailboat can sail well on the mainsail alone, but it will be at a significantly reduced speed. Since you already knew that the wind was too much for the main and 110% jib, you shouldn't have re-raised the jib. Instead, you should have tucked in a reef in the mainsail. By doing so, you would have greatly decreased the tendency of the boat to heel, and the forces on the sails would have been more balanced, forward and aft of the boat's center of effort (it's pivot point). That would have reduced the amount of power being generated by the sails, which is what you want to do when the boat is overpowered. After you reefed the mainsail, then you could have re-raised the jib, because that sail configuration probably would have been well-balanced under the conditions.

You said you sailed the boat previously on jib alone, and it sailed well, but not this time. A sailboat can sail off the wind just fine with only a jib, but it can only sail to windward if it has some sail area aft of the center of effort. That part of the sail area pushes the stern to leeward, which, in turn, causes the bow to point toward the wind. When you sailed the boat previously, you might have only been sailing off the wind, or you might have been sailing with a big overlapping genoa jib. A big genoa jib will usually provide enough sail area aft of the center of effort to help the boat sail to windward.

As others have said, a sailboat generally needs a balance of forces forward and aft of the center of effort to sail well. With only a 110% jib, the boat didn't have enough sail area aft to help the boat point to windward.

My suggestion is, avoid the temptation to sail the boat with only one sail. Sailboats are designed to perform their best with two sails. They can be sailed with only one sail, if you're only sailing off the wind, or if you use a big genoa, but that's really not the best choice. As the windspeed increases, try to reduce the area of the jib and the mainsail so that you maintain a balance between them.

Last edited by Sailormon6; 11-24-2007 at 10:50 AM.
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Old 11-24-2007
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It sounds like that my keel/centerboard wasn't all the way down and was my problem. That is good because that is easily corrected. Keep a check on it especially when I have trouble pointing. I wish I would have thought of that yesterday in the boat. Still learning.

The slugs didn't pull out, they snapped in half. On the bright side, I can have the sail repaired before next year. Not sure how old the sail is. I am only losing one or two more weekends this year.

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Thanks for the info,

Jim
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Old 11-24-2007
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Sailorman6,

We were typing at the same time. I need to reread your post and I will respond.
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Old 11-24-2007
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I don't believe my son (22 years old) raised the keel. A cam cleat holds the line in place and I was thinking that it allowed the line to slip a little and and that is how the keel possibly came up.

We were sailing close hauled under both sails and having a great time. We turned to a beam reach and this is when we dipped the rail. Still having a great time and in control. Before we reached the leeward shore is when we dropped the jib. Sailed 4-5 miles off wind and decided to re-raise the jib.

I was off wind and on the leeward side of the river giving me a false sense of calming conditions. If I understand it, thats what screwed me. I should have raised the storm jib instead and reefed the main. I am learning.

I still have my keel concerns. I am just not convinced it was all the way down. The rudder seemed to be acting as a pivot point. It just doesn't seem the boat should have been that uncontrollable. We couldn't do anything on wind. Next time out I am going to partially raise the keel and see what happens.

Thanks for the time and info.

Jim
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