Timing is Everything
You can be feminine, small, beautiful, and sail the boat as well as the rest of them. Regardless of your physical size or strength you have the capacity to harness thousands of pounds of pressure of wind in sails using natural breaks in the forces. Learn to time sheeting-in and eliminate the strain often associated with sailing. Working with nature is manageably challenging.
It’s blowing twenty knots on our nose as we sail through this narrow pass. “Prepare to tack!” I command. Dale adjusts the traveler, wraps the starboard jib sheet around the winch, and takes up the slack while I hold the port sheet, maintaining pressure as I ease it out of the winch jaws, ensuring the jib takes no extra line. “Ready,” responds Dale, and I command, “Tacking” while turning the wheel to windward.
As the yacht heads into the wind, I notice the reducing degree of heel as the boat starts to level. Simultaneously, the jib softens, wiggles or luffs, then shakes strongly before backwinding, or catching wind on its other side. Just as it starts to backwind, I holler, “Release,” remove the sheet from the winch,and let it go giving Dale a brief moment before quickly taking in the sheet, wrapping it a few more times around the winch, laying it over the tongue of our self-tailing winch, and securing it in the jaws. We both tidy up, flaking the sheets and laying them to rest off the floor; lines underfoot roll. Ahhh…..a few moments to relax.
In no time, we’re running out of water and needing to tack again. “Prepare to tack,” sounds the call. This time it is Dale who takes the helm and releases the working sheet while I adjust the main and sheet-in the jib. As a crew of only two needing to work the jib, the main will luff while tacking. Choosing to use natures force as a support, I work first with the main sail noting the current position of the car on the traveler, then easing the sheet so it slides down into a “mirror image” position on the other side of center. Positioning my body so it is centered for pulling straight on the jib sheet and ensuring the ability to use my legs for bracing or taking in the last few inches, I wrap the sheet once clockwise around the winch and holler, “Ready!” “Tacking,” comes his call.
1. Feel the boat’s heel change and watch the jib soften
2. Brace myself for fast sheeting
3. Listen for Dale’s call, “Release”
4. Enjoy a momentary pause in time
5. Take in the tiny bit of slack caused by the sail’s slightly movement
6. Leave all dainty behind and take-in the sheet moving faster than you ever thought possible
7. Here’s the critical step, wrap the sheet at least once, better 2 more times around the winch BEFORE the sail completely fills and is too heavy. You only have a brief second to correctly time this step!
8. Secure the sheet in accordance with the rigging on your vessel
9. If necessary, trim using the winch handle so tell tales on both sides of the sail are flying straight out and parallel with the water.
10. Tidy your sheets
Feel your muscles burn? No need to workout at the gym today. You know you’ve got the right timing when you’ve eliminated lots of exhausting winching.
* The sail fills with wind before wrapping the sheet extra times around the winch.
Solution: Reach for the turning block lock. Closing it on the sheet will hold the line while you use your other hand to wrap it a few more times around the winch. Use the winch handle to take up a little line allowing you to leave the lock open and ready for the next tack.
* The load on the sheet is so great when preparing to tack that it pulls from your hand or worse, pulls your hand toward the winch - extremely dangerous!
Solution: Make a team decision to wrap the sheet at least one more time around the winch. To define the amount of load on a line prior to releasing it from its locked position, use your thumb to press on the small section of line suspended between the winch drum and the tongue on self-tailing winches or the locking point on other winches. If there is flex, of a little bit of “give,” then you can safely release it from the lock. If, however, the line is taught, brace yourself to accept the load, or better yet, secure the line in position using the cheek block lock or another line, then add another wrap around the winch drum.
* When released, the sheet binds or gets a twist called a hackle preventing it from running freely through the blocks.
Solution: Try flaking your resting lines instead of twisting them to coil and lay be sure to lay them to rest with the bitter end on the bottom.
* The sail is too heavy to bring in by hand.
A. Check the timing of the release. When the jib is released too early, the boat will slow, level, the sail will shake a lot, and the sheets will slap (leading to terrible bruises if you should get in their way - ouch!)
B. You’ll have to move even faster and take in the sheet BEFORE the jib fills with wind. If you do have to winch it in, be sure to continue following this blog. The next technical post will be on winching by engaging your entire core. Don’t try to use your arm muscles alone.
Beating upwind through the narrow channel between the island of Viti Levu, Fiji and her surrounding reef with two reefs in the jib. there is over eight thousand pounds of pressure to be harnessed. Heightened awareness and refined teaming leading to precision timing is critical. Repeated practice is the key. After two days of tacking my arms are warm with warm from a good workout and I’m relaxed. Nothing has been strained. Timing is everything.