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Go Back   SailNet Community > Skills and Seamanship > Seamanship & Navigation
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Seamanship & Navigation Forum devoted to seamanship and navigation topics, including paper and electronic charting tools.


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Old 02-19-2004
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ccboston is on a distinguished road
Shifting gears at the helm

This question pertains to helming "modern" broad-beamed fin-keeled spade-rudder type cruising designs of, say, 35 to 40 feet in varying sea conditions. The overall goal is to sail efficiently and comfortably but not necessarily to maximize VMG at all costs. (i.e. cruising not racing, and there''s no crew available to constantly change sail trim on every wave)

I have never seen a good description, nor do I have a good feeling for, how to "shift gears" and switch from one helming strategy to another as conditions change.

I believe (someone should help correct me if I''m wrong) that:

A) In light seas, the goal is to counteract the waves and steer the boat as straight as possible, keeping the sails optimally powered.

B) In medium seas, the goal is to work with the waves, for example, when heading upwind, to head up a little when climbing the face of a wave and bear off when descending the back, with the sails twisted off a bit so as to widen the groove

C) In heavy seas, the goal is to avoid breaking crests and taking a sea broadside: steer around the bad spots and to hell with VMG.

But I don''t really have any sense of how to shift between these approaches, or how to know if I''m doing the right thing or not.

Recommendations? Books? Videos?

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Old 02-19-2004
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Shifting gears at the helm

I believe you have a fair grasp on sailing through the waves to windward. To put a finer edge on it you might check out Chapter Twenty Two of "High Performance Sailing" by Frank Bethwaite. As for ''shifting gears'', my sense is that it is more about sail trim than helming, ie., the throttle rather than the steering wheel. Bethwaite covers this also. Be sure to note the major trim and power differences between light airs, less than 5-knots and a breeze greater than 6-knots. Regards, George.
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Old 02-20-2004
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Shifting gears at the helm

It''s a bit like how you get to Carnegie Hall --- practice, practice practice. Each boat is going to react a little differently in different conditions. Each wave is different from the next, too. Essentially you have to go out and see what works. Knowing some theory and having an idea of what you want to do is great, but the only real way to "shift gears" is to be in the situations that require them. On a standard-shift car, you need to be going fast enough for the next gear before you can shift into it. If you shifted before that point, you''d stall out. On a boat, the boat, the wind speed, point of sail, and wave conditions all factor
in to the equation, and you need the experience to know how your boat handles and to know what you think you should do. Sometimes you make the right choice, and you come out fine. Sometimes you make the wrong choice and you still come out fine. Sometimes Murphy shows up, and there''s a problem. Practice.
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Old 03-02-2004
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Shifting gears at the helm

You describe three sea conditions but not the attendant winds. Light sea conditions with light or heavy winds, carry on as you say. Medium and heavy seas "left over" from a previous or distant storm may coincide with light airs, in which case you will not be able to proceed to windward and should quarter off to leeward with a thought as to where the sea room is as well as your desired destination. Heavy wind and seas, if sea room allows, straight downwind under bare poles with a drogue and storm tri to keep from swapping ends. The aim is to minimize wind speed over the deck. This is a good spot to emphasize that when bad weather impends, get a very good idea where you and the beach are.
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