Learning How to "Actually" Sail... Badly - SailNet Community
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post #1 of 23 Old 07-24-2017 Thread Starter
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Learning How to "Actually" Sail... Badly

I "learned" to sail eons ago in a Laser. Easy stuff: point the boat, haul in on the mainsheet and go. If you dump the boat, right it and try again.

Decades later I "learned" to sail on keelboats in the 35-40' range. Still pretty easy stuff: raise the sails, point the boat, fiddle with the sails and go. If that failed, fire up the diesel and motor back to dock.

This weekend I think I really "learned" how much about sailing I have yet to learn, courtesy of a 26-foot MacGregor with a cranky outboard. It took us about 15 minutes to sail to the middle of the lake on a nice beam reach and over an hour of hijinks to get back in shifting, light winds. At one point the leeway was so bad, we were moving sideways faster than we were moving ahead.

I realize the MacGregor isn't known for its fantastic sailing performance, but I don't think I ever realized how lucky I have been sailing well-designed boats and how much a good boat can compensate for actual lack of sailing ability. We had our asses handed to us in the gentlest of ways—it was a hoot.

A few things I learned that don't work so well in a more cantankerous boat with a less-than-competent crew:
  • tacking: on one particularly attempt at tacking we had to try 3 times to get the boat to actually swing through the wind. Never happened to me before—I mean we weren't even in irons, it just wouldn't go that far until we finally built up enough speed.
  • leeway: as I mentioned above we were moving into the reeds sideways with little or no luck making forward progress. And the helmsman at the time kept thinking "surely we can make it ... it's only a hundred feet..." Nope. We ended up having to tack around and head back out.
  • where's the wind?: no wind instruments and a big enough boat that it actually mattered, had us doing things like wetting our fingers and sticking them out to try and actually figure out our point of sail. And doing it badly
  • lack of maneuverability at low speeds: the Macgregor may have two rudders but, at one point we were hanging off the transom to see if they were actually in the water. Let's just say the docking wth a slight crosswind was hilarious to the party we left drinking and watching on the shore.
  • poor ballast: The MacGregor is big enough that I was surprised very time I moved from one side of the boat to another and affected the degree of heel.
  • winches and sail trim: I had to use a rolling hitch to unbind the the sheet from the teeny-tiny winch after screwing up trying to get it into a teeny-tiny jam cleat.

The best one was the total chaos that resulted from the lack of a topping lift when we dumped the mainsail. The boom drops into the middle of the cockpit and on to the helmsman while we busy ourselves at the mast fussing with trying flake the sail neatly, completely ignoring the poor guy who is trying to start the engine and regain steerage as we once again drift sideways into the reeds along the lake shore.

It was an awesome day and I am so looking forward to getting my ass handed to me again next time.
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Last edited by MacBlaze; 07-24-2017 at 03:00 PM.
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post #2 of 23 Old 07-24-2017
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Re: Learning How to "Actually" Sail... Badly

"The sea is selective, slow at recognition of effort and aptitude but fast in the sinking of the unfit." - Felix Riesenberg https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Felix_Riesenberg

It is difficult to master all the moods of the sea. Light flukey winds can be more challenging to master than blowing stink.

That said, I wonder if you put enough water ballast into the keel that day. If it was under ballasted it would tend to make more leeway (not to mention be a bit tippier).
I can't tell which version of the Mac 26 that is but it was my understanding that they were all water ballasted.
The lack of a topping lift for the boom is rather annoying. Perhaps you can add a line fixed to the top of the mast to use as a boom topping lift.
Sailing a centerboard boat in thick weeds is always going to be problematic.

Don't give up!

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post #3 of 23 Old 07-24-2017 Thread Starter
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Re: Learning How to "Actually" Sail... Badly

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Originally Posted by CalebD View Post
"The sea is selective, slow at recognition of effort and aptitude but fast in the sinking of the unfit." - Felix Riesenberg https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Felix_Riesenberg
Great quote! Another author to add to the list... And we aren't giving up, we are just getting started. :-)

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post #4 of 23 Old 07-24-2017
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Re: Learning How to "Actually" Sail... Badly

Thanks for sharing your mishap. Good luck next time.
SailboatData.com shows that, of the three MacGregor 26 versions, the only one with twin rudders was the MacGregor 26M. I'm also curious if you had water in the ballast tank, and if you had the dagger board down when tacking.

It helps to tie little strips of ribbon to every shroud to give you an idea of wind direction.
I taped strips of silk ribbon to mine, but some one on here recently suggested that strips of old tape from old cassette tapes works well.
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post #5 of 23 Old 07-24-2017
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Re: Learning How to "Actually" Sail... Badly

Sailing in weeds, you pretty well need to sail board up. At least the rudders shouldn't be too bad to clear on a Mac 26.

When the boat blows sideways like that, you pretty well need to bare off and get the boat sailing.

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post #6 of 23 Old 07-24-2017
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Re: Learning How to "Actually" Sail... Badly

Agréée with Mudwesterner, if you didn't know how the water ballast works or the center board its gotta very difficult to sail in V light wind.

It *seems* to be a great idea to go learn in light winds but this is piffle. A moderate breeze is much easier.

Next time do it like this with the engine *OFF*! That's great. It's the only way to learn.


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post #7 of 23 Old 07-24-2017
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Re: Learning How to "Actually" Sail... Badly

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Originally Posted by MarkofSeaLife View Post
Agréée with Mudwesterner, if you didn't know how the water ballast works or the center board its gotta very difficult to sail in V light wind.

It *seems* to be a great idea to go learn in light winds but this is piffle. A moderate breeze is much easier.

Next time do it like this with the engine *OFF*! That's great. It's the only way to learn.



I think they did have the engine off (though not by choice).

He said, "This weekend I think I really "learned" how much about sailing I have yet to learn, courtesy of a 26-foot MacGregor with a cranky outboard."


It sounds like they were trying to get it back to the dock after the engine died, trying to beat it much of the way.
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post #8 of 23 Old 07-24-2017 Thread Starter
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Re: Learning How to "Actually" Sail... Badly

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Thanks for sharing your mishap. Good luck next time.
SailboatData.com shows that, of the three MacGregor 26 versions, the only one with twin rudders was the MacGregor 26M. I'm also curious if you had water in the ballast tank, and if you had the dagger board down when tacking.

It helps to tie little strips of ribbon to every shroud to give you an idea of wind direction.
I taped strips of silk ribbon to mine, but some one on here recently suggested that strips of old tape from old cassette tapes works well.
Well I wouldn't quite call it a mishap :-) Perhaps a learning experience is more accurate. We did fill the ballast but who knows if it was "full." And the keel was down although we did have some issues with it sticking so who knows if it was all the way down.

I like the ribbon suggestion. I'll suggest that to the owner. I am just spoilt normally with a full windex and electronic wind instruments. Gotta keep learning...

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Re: Learning How to "Actually" Sail... Badly

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Originally Posted by midwesterner View Post
I think they did have the engine off (though not by choice).

He said, "This weekend I think I really "learned" how much about sailing I have yet to learn, courtesy of a 26-foot MacGregor with a cranky outboard."


It sounds like they were trying to get it back to the dock after the engine died, trying to beat it much of the way.
Let's just say it was intermittent and functionally useless after we drifted out of the channel into the reeds once we started heading in.

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post #10 of 23 Old 07-25-2017
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Re: Learning How to "Actually" Sail... Badly

The guy in the office next to mine just bought one of these, and he is already thinking of selling it. He is away for a week sailing it on a lake so I will get a report next week but up to now he reports that in light winds he sees other boats sailing but he can't do really get his going. .He just has some experience with dingys and Hobies but he knows the basics of how to sail and he is frustrated with his Mac 26M.

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