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Learning to Sail (again?) (Spindrift 11N)

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tl;dr: Looking for learning resources for non-competitive dinghy sailing.


Hiya folks! So I’ve pretty much finished my Spindrift 11N. Her name is Elsewhere and she is red and white and wonderful. I’m sailing on the Hudson River off Lower Manhattan (Pier 40 is home). The Hudson is fun! Salty, a little icky, and a lot ferry. We play chicken, me and the ferries and the party boats and the giant barges. Never a dull moment.


I learned to sail and practiced on a 22-foot-ish bermuda rigged sloop on a quiet little “river” (more of a long lake, really). Elsewhere is much more skittish and “active”. And less forgiving of errors. Like getting the mainsheet caught on a life vest attachment during a tack. That got me in the water right quick, and the fire fighters dropping by to see what the fuss was about. I’m learning all about the nuances of downwind sailing on a boat without shrouds and how crucial line management and tidiness is.


So the question: are there books or other learning resources for the “beginner” cat rigged dinghy sailor? Not particularly interested in racing, but looking to hone the craft of safe and confident sailing. (My heart rate is apparently consistently two to three times higher on the boat than on land =D )



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@Aleksandr Pasechnik— I have found that experience is the best teacher.  Also, I suggest using YouTube.  I’d search under Laser sailing techniques.  If you have specific questions especially related to the Spindrift, this forum would work.  I’m not aware of any books that would help.  But YouTube is great for this.  Here’s an example.  


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Wow, big water and little boat.  I've seen what those currents can do, so you are right to be cautious.  Do you have the ability to move your boat over to City Island?  I've never been there, but I know it's much more congenial to learning small craft.  And there's at least 2 sailing schools and clubs there.  

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  • 2 weeks later...

Unfortunately the Messabout this year falls on a day that I recently got some much anticipated concert tickets for. Also, I would imagine I'd have to rent a U-Haul to get Elsewhere down there =D . But I'll take a look at some of these videos you linked and suggested. The Spindrift is close enough to the Laser for the techniques to apply?


I really like having Elsewhere down at Pier 40 because it's a short bike ride away. Moving her up to City Island would unfortunately result in almost 2 hours of busses and trains to see her!

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I believe the Laser has more things in common with the Spindrift than things that are different.  Granted, the toll tack video was a poor choice.  But there are many “basics and beyond” on YouTube; most lessons are in a Laser.  Here’s Part 1 of a good series.


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  • 1 month later...

Went through the MIT sailing course and a bunch of videos on Youtube.


The thing I still can’t find a good reference for is depowering when heading downwind. In other points, I can generally loose the mainsheet if things get too squarely but when heading downwind there’s only so much one can do, no? Am I not “by the lee” enough? Is there a limit to how far forward I can send the sail? Should I instead be thinking about turning up to the wind a bit? Or some non-mainsheet adjustments?


I’ve had a few times when heading downwind felt like barely controlled chaos, between the waves and the wind, and it really wasn’t pleasant.

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Why do you want to depower?


If it is an issue with wind and waves, then don't go dead down wind.  Tack down wind, that is, sail at 135° TWA and gybe back and forth. There will be little or no tendency to roll when off the wind a bit.  If you can plane the boat, it will actually be faster than 180° down wind.

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I think you have raised a valid point.  When the wind is up I have always felt more comfortable sailing close to the wind, you do have the waves crashing and the spray but as Amos said you can just head a few degrees up into the wind, feather a little until a gust has past, or heave to and reef.


Downwind is another story. when the wind is light no problem, when the wind builds I feel a little panicky because you have to commit  yourself and the safety of pointing up into the wind seems a long way away. Daves advice is sound but a little from the perspective of a racer. 

18 hours ago, Hirilonde said:

Why do you want to depower?


He has a point though. If you want to improve your sailing and push the limits at some point you have to embrace the chaos and go for it. Many times I have found the boat to be much more capable than I thought. 

On 9/27/2021 at 11:30 PM, Aleksandr Pasechnik said:

Am I not “by the lee” enough?

I am not following you here. My understanding of sailing by the lee is to have your sail on the windward side of the boat when you are running before the wind. In a cat ketch putting the mainsail by the lee keeps both sails in clear air and gives you more power.  Letting the sail out forward of the mast is not sailing by the lee. On my Spindrift the gooseneck will not allow the sail to move forward of the mast.

It is good if there is someone to have your back. Or you can reduce sail. 

Thanks for bringing up some interesting points. Let us know how it goes.

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On 9/27/2021 at 11:30 PM, Aleksandr Pasechnik said:

Am I not “by the lee” enough?

I did a search on the web. I did not realize how much information there was on the advantages of sailing by the lee in a cat rigged dinghy. That is sailing on a run with the boom on the windward or 'wrong' side of the boat on the verge of a gybe. About the only time I sail my Spindrift by the lee is when I am maneuvering around something and I don't want to gybe and than gybe right back when I resume course.  For me sailing by the lee takes a lot of focus. I would not feel comfortable sailing by the lee in winds much above 10 knots.   I use the technique that Dave suggested of varying my TWA to find something that feels comfortable with the wind speed and waves I am dealing with.

Thanks for bringing this up. I am looking forward to experimenting with this technique.

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Sailing by the lee is a pretty common trick while racing Lasers to keep your advantage of being on starboard tack or avoiding a couple of gybes at the leeward mark rounding. That said, it can be pretty risky in shifty wind conditions and I've capsized plenty of times when it went wrong. Downwind death rolls are just part of the fun when club racing, especially when the stakes are pretty low.


I'm not as willing to risk capsizing in my Spindrift 10n with the family on board, or when there's a lot of traffic in the marina. Or just getting cold and wet for that matter.

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I think Graham recommends sailing the main by the lee and the mizzen on the "regular" or downwind side when running wing on wing, which I realize is a little different matter.  That way you get the full effect of the by-the-lee arrangement on the biggest sail.  Like others, I would feel most comfortable with this in light to moderate breezes.  Or reefed.


Don't forget the alternative to a heavy wind-gybe, the "chicken gybe," or heading up and tacking around through 270 degrees.  I do this on the big boat when going solo and seeking to avoid a crashing boom all standing.  I would certainly consider it for the CS in heavy wind.  You'd have a chance to take a breather in the middle, too, heaving to.

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