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Lucy54 05-19-2008 09:53 AM

Will I get comfortable over time?
My husband and I are nearing the end of a sailing lesson program in the Northeast. We have always wanted to learn to sail, and we're having a great time (we are mid-fifties). The problem is I am, in general, more of a timid person as opposed to an adventurer like my husband. Our latest lesson involved a day sail which brought us into open water. On our return the weather turned and it was raining and quite windy, causing the boat to heel excessively multiple times. Everyone else except for me and one other person seemed fine with the conditions. I was terrified that the 28' boat would topple over. At times it seemed that we were almost on the verge of "going over". We have one more outing before the session is over. After this last one, I'm not sure this is the sport for me, but I don't want to give up this easily. On the other hand, I don't think I want to get more involved in something that will cause me to become so unnerved everytime a less than ideal situation arises (which I know is certain to happen). Is this something that I will or can get used to? Is there somewhere that I can read something that may convince me that the boat will not tip over? I want to believe that this can be a safe sport if you follow the rules and are smart about things. Thanks ahead for any advice anyone can provide.

chucklesR 05-19-2008 10:11 AM

Many people do 'get over it' by letting there forebrain talk and simply knowing the physics involved. Reading about flight might make it okay to accept airplanes, but the best way to get easy about heeling is time, experience and a hand on the main sheet to dump the wind and right the boat.
Your instructor sucks if he let his students get unsettled without reefing the boat. No excuse. His job is to teach, not get a thrill. Generally all boats sail better when upright not heeled excessively. I'll bet that was a Newport 28 you were sailing on?

I sail a catamaran because my imagination is more powerful than my williness to accept the facts about heeling.
Fact is I hate it. I hate the percieved lack of control, I hate the way it makes everything more difficult when I'm trying to relax.

I didn't want to get used to it, I switched to catamarans. My Admiral (wife) decided she felt exactly the same.
With luck you have locals in your area and can hook up for a ride on a catamaran, try it. You said North East, if you are in my area Private message (once you get to ten posts) me or my wife (user MMR here on sailnet) you and your husband can come try a catamaran anytime.

PBzeer 05-19-2008 10:11 AM

While it is certainly not unreasonable for the novice to be concerned when heeling, it is something that you can overcome. First of all, if it has been explained to you, have the instructor thoroughly describe what is involved when the boat heels. What keeps it from going over,why it heels, what a knockdown is, etc.. Second, you need to gain confidence in the ability of the boat to remain upright, even though heeled over. With those two factors, if you find you still can not get comfortable with the heeling aspect of sailing, then it probably isn't for you.

Best of luck with it.

sailingdog 05-19-2008 10:12 AM

Most larger keelboats, especially ones designed for cruising, are not likely to capsize very easily. Some designs are a bit more tender, at least initially, and will heel over 15-20˚ and then harden up quite a bit. Once you've sailed on a specific boat long enough to learn the boat's habits and peculiarities, I think you'll realize that they're relatively safe.

Granted, there are events that can "Knockdown" a keelboat, but they're not all that common. Things like a spinnaker broach, can cause a knockdown, but generally the boat will right itself once the spinnaker is dropped.

If heeling is really an issue for you, I would highly recommend you look at trying to sail on a larger catamaran or trimaran. Of course, my opinion on this matter might be a bit biased, since I am a trimaran owner. :)

Welcome to Sailnet and I would highly recommend you read the post in my signature... to help you get the most out of your time here on sailnet.

TrueBlue 05-19-2008 10:16 AM

This approach to your fear of heeling, by seeking the support of other sailors, shows me that you are at least trying to overcome your level of discomfort. My wife and I are presently also in our mid-fifties and went through a similar experience about 5 years ago. I sailed, my wife didn't - but at first she did show an interest in learning, since most of our friends owned sailboats and the peer pressure was hard to resist. So, I convinced her to buy a Nauticat 33 together, a very safe and sturdy ketch-rigged motorsailer, that also sails surprisingly well.

Things went OK at first as I taught her the basics. A few months later however, during a sail to Nantucket in near-gale force conditions and high seas, we were challenged by a true test of sailing endurance. After a couple hours, she was tossed against a rail by a large wave and retreated to the pilothouse in fear.

Ever since, this memory stayed with her every time we went out and her confidence in sailing was diminished greatly. We ended up selling the boat earlier this year and are looking for other alternatives.

I don't blame my wife since she has always been anxious of any adventurous situation that risked her safety and sense of security. I often wonder though, if instead of trying to teach her myself, she would have overcome these fears through professional sailing lessons - with a better understanding of the dynamics and physics of sailboats. I have concluded however, that some people may never enjoy the thrill of adventure - but in time, others may.

Tough out the lessons and hang in there with your husband. You may just get it one day, and never look back to this time of uncertainty.

merlin2375 05-19-2008 10:33 AM

I echo some of the sentiments above.

First, Chuckles makes a good point that the more you understand about the physics of sailing, the more you realize that "going over" is not a likely event in larger keelboats. I've always found it fascinating that sailboats kind of have some built in safety features such as the concept more you heel over, the more wind gets dumped. Get some books that explain how sails work, and read, read, read.

Second, having good clothing and safety equipment will increase your confidence and comfort. If you have good gear that will keep you dry, you will be significantly more comfortable. Safety gear (such as an inflatable life jacket) is also important to feeling secure. You could even wear a harness and clip into the lifelines so you're connected if it makes you feel more secure.

Third, experience helps a lot. The more you've been out, the more different conditions you've been in, the more confident you'll be in your ability to handle whatever conditions you run into. You can do your best to be a fair weather sailor but you need to be prepared for anything.

It's probably good to be a little uncomfortable when doing anything new :) It keeps you on your feet. Don't forget you've got a nice heavy keel below you!

Good luck!

Siamese 05-19-2008 10:34 AM

You might. I sailed for years, got married, and introduced my wife to the sport. We have a 31 footer. I made a point of not trying to thrill her with lots of heeling on a windy day. She quickly got used to the healing. We're fifty-ish, by the way. Now she likes to curl up with a book on the low side of the boat when we're heeling.

Spend some time on shore looking at other boats sailing and heeling. Study it, and what you may learn is that the heeling you experience on the boat is PERCEIVED as being greater than what is actually occuring. Imagine yourself on one of the boats you're watching.

When you get back on the boat, look at the ENTIRE boat as you sail. Imagine the keel sliding through the water (with lots of ballast). FEEL the boat like it's a big surfboard and get in tune with the way it moves through the water like a big fish.

Don't get "localized", feeling the tilt that's going on under your butt, and watching your immediate area tilting, tilting tilting. That'll just make you focus on the heel and your fear. Experience the entire boat like it's a big dinghy.

With a competent skipper and a reasonable day, you're not going to get hurt. Sailing isn't for everyone, but for those who enjoy it, it's amazing. Maybe it's worth ignoring you fear and just getting in the groove to see if you'll be a sailor.

Sure it has to, it's just the way it behaves. The entire hull of the boat is designed to be used and to move efficiently through the water (from the tip of the keel up to the deckline).

My wife quickly got accustomed to the boat, and she seldom takes the helm. I believe, however, that one becomes more comfortable with heeling when they become comfortable at the helm, particularlty sailing to windward. As you gain competence at the helm, you find yourself more in control of the whole situation. Remember, to look at and FEEL the entire boat when you're at the helm. Feel and watch how it moves through the water. Give it a chance.

Yeah, sure, you can get hurt on a sailboat, particularly with a new skipper. You'll both be cautious about when to sail. Just cuz others are going out on a blustery day doesn't mean you have to. Let's face it, there's a whole lot more danger in your car. Next time you're on the highway doing seventy, quickly turn the steering wheel hard to the right, hold it there and see what happens. It's the same on a sailboat. You're in control. You do smart stuff, not dumb stuff and everyone's okay.

sailortjk1 05-19-2008 10:44 AM

My question to you,
Were you at the helm when this was happening or just a crew member along for the ride?

Sometimes, whan you are just along for the ride (Like me in the passanger seat when my wife is driving), it can be more unnerving than if you are at the wheel.

Next time out in bad conditions. Take the helm and see what it feels like. (If in fact you were not at the helm)

Maybe if you get the feel for how the boat reacts, and better yet, what you can do to manage things in adverse conditions, you will feel more at ease.

Edit: I see that Siamese makes the same point. Sorry for the repeat.

Lucy54 05-19-2008 10:58 AM

Thank you ALL, so much! T

The instructor we had on the last trip out was a different person than the one we had on all prior occasions, and it made a world of difference (in that the first was very conscious of not making anyone uncomfortable with anything). The fact that the 2nd instructor controlled the main sail while a student controlled the rudder also contributed, I think, to the discomfort.

Although we were dressed appropriately for the change in weather, I do know that I'm going to put a life jacket on next time we're in less than ideal conditions - that would have helped ease my fear of ending up in the water...

I plan to read, read, read this week, and then be prepared to ask our instructor any and all questions I have at our next outing.

Thank you for validating my decision to move forward in the hopes that with more experience and knowledge I will soon be able to love this (hopefully) new part of our lives.

PBzeer 05-19-2008 12:09 PM

A positive attitude is the majority of the battle.

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