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Why do it?

I had no intention of trying to short tack through the narrows ahead, dead into the 10 to 12 knot wind. Pinching up in the eastern end of the Fox Island Thoroughfare in Penobscot Bay, we left Birch Island to port and pulled in front of a Mariner 39 sailing the same tack.

Then a curious thing happened approaching Fish Point Ledge. Our bow began to click to windward-bit by bit- on a mysterious wind lift. To my surprise, we easily cleared #6, and now had a full quarter mile of water to windward. Glancing back I saw the Mariner, below #6, rolling up it’s headsail and powering toward the channel.



Heading briskly into Waterman Cove, I asked Mary Ann, “Feel like a little exercise?” She put her book down.

“Ready about”, I said and she waited until the 135% genoa was slapping the shrouds before handing the sail off her winch, to me. With one wrap on the drum, I whipped yards of sheet into the cockpit, added a couple more wraps, and cranked the genny down to the port spreader tip. Good tack! We’re flying back across the narrowing channel.



I glance behind to see the Mariner crossing our wake, now motoring up the middle of the channel. This speedy tack ended quickly as I swung the wheel off Calderwood Point with a, ‘ready about’.

MA had her wrap all ready to go and as soon as the genoa went limp, she started gathering sheet for all she was worth-added a couple wraps, and cranked the genoa down to the starboard spreader tip.

Another good tack-we’re on a roll! We maintained our speed and were soon mid channel again, and the Mariner, was dead in our sights! I was loathe to give up even an inch of our hard earned windward progress, so I held our course. I would fall off,… if I had to.

“Come on-come on”, I thought watching the stern grow large. I didn’t give an inch to leeward. We had a few yards to spare as the name ZORA, slid by our port deck. The captain kept his eyes locked forward willing his boat to move faster. He never looked back as we roared by, but he raised a thumb high in the air to acknowledge our efforts. He was soon in the narrows.

Our efforts were paying off, in speed. Not long after, Iron Point loomed ahead. “Ready about!” somebody said.



MA paused in the silence before the Dacron rattled, then let her side go in a ruckus of flaying sails. I’m already reeling yards of sheet into the cockpit. Then the sheet—freezes--, in my hands.

“What the…?”, I mutter. “Tom, it’s stuck on the spinnaker winch!”, MA hollers, already headed up the starboard deck to free it. “I can’t get it off!”, she says as I see that the genoa has filled and we’re bound up all over!

I start to throw off the wraps on my winch. Lost in the white of flogging sail, I can just see her free the sheet and start all over again, reeling in what seems like yards and yards of line.

Now nearly dead in the water between Green#11 and Zeke Point, we’ve lost our momentum. The thrill is gone.

In that moment, drifting freely in the rock bound narrows, time was short -like watching the timer wired to a bomb, tick down the final seconds.

“…..5….4…..”- Should we try to sail through the back door off Zeke Point?

“…..3…..2…..” Should we tack and try to gain our momentum back in the narrow space?

“......1…..” The roar of the stone cold diesel starting, announced our surrender. We were throwing in the towel-coiling our sheets.

Short tacking all the way through the narrows would have been a nice memory to relive during the coming winter. Oh well, maybe, next time.

 

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I love short tacking out of a long narrows. It's active, takes strategy to do well, and is fun. The wind shifts from land shapes often keep you on your toes. At least half of my favorite days of sailing involve a couple hours of short tacking in tricky conditions.

A good example from 15 months ago took place in the Malaspina Inlet:
http://goo.gl/maps/bx0Hs

We were passed by a lot of motoring sailboats with a bored looking crew, but we had a lot of fun and felt good when we cleared the end of the inlet and were able to fly the kite. If you examine the charts for that area you'll see that there are a lot of rocks to dodge, which also adds to it.

One of my favorite day or one-nighter trips involves sailing around Bainbridge Island. If the wind is out of the south (it normally is) then we usually have to tack through Rich Passage, which is S shaped, has ferry traffic to watch out for, and has tricky winds due to the shape of the land nearby. It was fun doing this last week with a friend's boat nearby and keeping track of our relative tracks. This photo was taken just after he snuck all the way up to land and tacked over:


Edit: Last year I did spend an hour short tacking against the current in a narrow passage (near the Wasp Islands in San Juan County, WA). It was fun seeing how much progress I could make given my lousy planning (I shouldn't have picked times that would have me sailing through a narrow passage against a 1.5-2 knot current). After moving forward less than a 1/4 mile in an hour I did throw in the towel and motor through.
 

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Chastened
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I don't "love" short tacking my a$$ off, but I hate running my engine even more.

I hate the noise, and when it's running, I see $$$ dollar signs wafting into the air from the exhaust port in the form of fuel, routine maintenance costs and the inexorable march towards an overhaul sometime in the future.

So yes, I short tack out of my river all summer long, into the prevailing southerlies.
 

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We spent 20+ years living at the north end of a narrow coastal 'fiord' with daily inflows to 20knots, short tacking was our way of life if you wanted to get anywhere without motoring. It's still one of my favourite things to do.

We all learned how to make gains to weather pretty early!!

Nice post, Tom. Shame about the hangup.
 
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I don't "love" short tacking my a$$ off, but I hate running my engine even more.
Ditto.

So yes, I short tack out of my river all summer long, into the prevailing southerlies.
And by doing so, if the day ever comes that you're in a tight channel and your motor fails... No problem. No panic. No need to call for help. You do this all the time. Easy-peasy.
 

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Good for you. There are too many "stickboats" and sometimes I am one of them, not feeling very good about it.

We have one very narrow channel out our way, Minicognashene, that is too narrow to tack (truly, look it up), but if the wind gives me just half a chance, I sail through it. Motorboats are sometimes aghast at this. If the wind is uncertain, I do engage the engine for insurance. Last pass, after turning north west, the wind faltered in the lee of the island but I managed to get through with wind vaporizing my speed to a mere 0.7 knots.

And, hoorah for me, too, I managed to sail into my dock on bare poles with 13 kts wind on the starboard stern.

I suppose that's showing off, so forgive me... but it is only the second time I sail to dock (the first time was under duress with an overheated engine) and I do believe it is a skill worth having and cultivating.
 

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I welcome the chance to short-tack out of our breakwaters with students doing the tacking, instead of powering and then raising sail like "normal" people. Of course, it's only a 24-footer so not that much work even though you're no sooner steadied than you have to tack again. And I use the "Sixty Rule"* to keep from wearing myself out.

Then on the way in, we discuss how show-offy and cowboy-like it would be to sail into the harbor, then the pier, and then the slip, dropping the jib at the very last. And how conservative "normal" sailors would never do this, don't try this at home, kids, etc.

So it's all the more fun when we do it...

After which we chant, "Motor?? We don' need no steeenkin' MOTOR!!"



*(anything constituting actual work must be done by someone under 60 ;-)
 

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Freedom 39
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If I'm not in a big hurry I love to tack upwind since I bought this boat. Then again is not a conventional sloop with jib sheets to mess with every time I feel like tacking. There truly is freedom to relax on a Freedom beating to windward.
 

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great post Tom.

I'm with you, I frequently short tack in and out of my narrow creek to get to bigger water. Definitely not the norm around here but it sure feels good.
 

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Barquito
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And without a self tacking headsail, some may be able to make some progress to windward under main alone. Then short tacking is beyond easy (physically anyway).
 

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The small %LP headsails that come with self-tacking rigs are also easy to tack in conventional ways.

If you are on a regular sloop and know you'll be short tacking up a narrow channel it can be helpful to swap out the genoa for a working jib. It makes the tacking easier, and on many boats allows you to point higher. Partially rolling up a genoa doesn't have the latter benefit.
 

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While generally I'm not enamoured with the current trends in new boats (layouts, styling, square doors/passageways - i.e. the 'Ikea' look- etc) I do like the way rigs are moving towards designs that are adequately powered up with non overlapping headsails. In our area where so often you're either heading straight upwind or DDW, I think such setups promote sailing over motoring when facing an upwind leg.
 

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The ability to easily short tack up rivers and creeks is one reason I have a cat-rigged sailboat. To tack I turn the wheel, to tack back I turn the wheel the other way....
 

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Jiminri. I hope you are equally adept at relocating your beer: one swift graceful movement I hope.

Paul
Freedom 40
Paul,
Since the crew isn't occupied grinding winches (or doing anything else), I usually assign them the task of moving the beverage. However, if I'm sailing solo I just have to suck it up and turn the wheel one-handed. :D
Jim
 

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From my point of view, short tacking is in the same zip code as sailing on and off your mooring. A test of skill, forethought, and adventure that brightens my day. Turns the ordinary into fun.

Skywalker
 

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Ditto.


And by doing so, if the day ever comes that you're in a tight channel and your motor fails... No problem. No panic. No need to call for help. You do this all the time. Easy-peasy.
It's less painful for me when the wind is up a bit, and I can use a jib smaller than my 170% or 155%.
 

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a. Atleast some of you most have started with a no-engine sloop, where short tacking was often a way of life, leaving harbor.

b. Though I hate the motor as much as the next guy, burning less than a tank each season is probably bad boat keeping. Inspite of all good practices (additives, vent filters, polishing), anything more than a year is just too long. Additionally, anything less that 50 hours per year is not going to shorten the life of the engine by one day; it will die from corrosion first. So there is NOTHING wrong with averaging 1-2 hours per week. It is not costing you anything... other than peace and quiet.

But yeah, an hour under power seems like a VERY long time. Ick.
 
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