Sunfish side-switching as you tack - How do you do it?

Discussion in 'Sunfish Talk' started by Amory Klein, Jun 13, 2013.

  1. Amory Klein

    Amory Klein New Member

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    Hello,

    This will be my first post on this forum. I've been sailing for a couple of months now and the only type of boat that I have sailing experience with so far is the Sunfish.

    One of the biggest difficulties I've encountered has been learning how to switch sides when I tack. I took a course offered by a local sailing club, but the instructor, who was otherwise excellent, wasn't very helpful at all in this regard. When I privately asked him for details about what he did as he switched sides when he tacked, he wasn't even sure how he did it. He said something about "whatever works for you", which I think is just plain wrong. My position on this is: if you consider skills like swinging a golf club or baseball bat, typing on a keyboard, or playing a musical instrument, would you expect to be told "whatever works for you"? I wouldn't.

    I was particularly discouraged when I served on the committee boat during a club race and watched him and others round the windward mark. My instructor, who wins most of the races held by this club, actually let go of his hiking stick, spun around, looked back to find the stick, and then picked it back up again! When I saw that I thought "that can't be right!" Other competitors had other methods, but it seemed no two did it quite the same way.

    I asked a couple of other people who are regarded as skilled Sunfish sailors, and was surprised to find that they also weren't sure how they did it. A couple of them actually had to take their boats out on the water and tack while watching themselves, and one actually got upset because paying attention to what he was doing caused him to become confused. I also searched unsuccessfully for help on the Internet, but I finally realized that I'd have to figure it all out for myself. The following is what I've come up with so far.

    First, as a beginner I may not be qualified to describe the correct method of switching sides as you tack a Sunfish (if there is a correct method), but I can list some features that this method should have before it can properly be called correct:
    1. Always keep control of the rudder. Never let go of the stick with both hands at the same time.
    2. Always keep control of the sheet, doing your best to avoid easing the sail so that you have to pull it back in after you've finished.
    3. Begin the tack sitting forward in the cockpit.
    4. Don't get clobbered in the head by the boom.
    5. End the tack sitting forward in the cockpit on the other side, preferably without having to shift your body into that position after you sit down.
    6. Be headed in the right direction when you're done.
    Note: When discussing this I've found it best to not speak or think in term of left and right. (If you do then you'll have to learn everything twice.) Instead, you have an aft hand or tiller hand, and a forward hand or sheet hand. Similarly, you have an aft foot and a forward foot.

    The following are my seven steps to prepare for a tack, followed by my 12 steps to execute it. This is a work in progress.

    Preparing to tack:
    1. Be sure the sheet is pulled all the way in to the close-hauled position.
    2. Kick all of the loose sheet forward.
    3. Pull your forward foot in close and extend your aft foot across the cockpit so that your feet are directly across from each other. The object of this is to be able to execute the entire maneuver by pivoting on the balls of your feet without having to reposition your feet.
    4. Hold the sheet with your thumb pointing toward the ratchet block. Even if you normally hold the sheet with your thumb pointing back, hold it this way in preparation for tacking.
    5. Hold the hiking stick at its end with your thumb pointing forward, "like a microphone", as they say.
    6. Choose a landmark behind your back as your target direction and make sure the way is clear.
    7. Slide your sheet hand back along the sheet and position it on the side of the cockpit next to you, maintaining enough tension with the aid of the ratchet block to prevent any easing of the sail.
    Tack:
    1. Push the stick across the cockpit for full rudder deflection.
    2. As the boat turns into the wind and the boom swings toward you, duck under it and use your sheet hand to help push you off your seat toward the center of the cockpit.
    3. As you come up on the other side of the boom, pivot your body to face forward with the hiking stick behind your back.
    4. Slide your tiller hand down the stick enough to make room for your other hand to grab it.
    5. Bring the sheet behind your back and make sure it goes under the stick. (If it goes over the stick instead, you'll quickly find out why this step is so important.)
    6. Take hold of the stick from underneath with your sheet hand, still holding the sheet and maintaining tension, with your thumb pointing toward the end of the stick. You're now holding the stick with both hands and your thumbs are both pointing in the same direction.
    7. Release the stick with what was formerly your tiller hand. That hand is now free to help pull you into your new sitting position on the other side.
    8. Sit down in your new position on the other side, at the front of the cockpit, as you begin to straighten the rudder.
    9. Grab the sheet with your new sheet hand and then straighten the rudder all the way. Grab the sheet either way, but if you grab it with your thumb pointing toward the ratchet block then you'll be ready for the next tack.
    10. Drop the loose sheet into the cockpit.
    11. Check your heading and adjust the sail as necessary.
    12. Kick the loose sheet to the front of the cockpit, forward of your feet.
    That's what I have so far. I'd love to hear comments and suggestions, and I'm especially curious about how your own method differs from what I've described. Thanks for reading!
     
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  2. beldar boathead

    beldar boathead Well-Known Member

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    Are you sure you are not a ringer??? That is a very good description of how to do it. BB
     
  3. minifish2

    minifish2 Active Member

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    Sounds pretty good. In actual practice, when things are happening faster than can be described, the main points are probably that you should start off with your sheet hand and tiller hand fairly close together in front of you; when you pivot do it facing forward; if things are happening quickly it's fine to end up initially holding the tiller behind your back for a moment so you maintain control until you get settled.

    Here are a few videos including Lee doing lots of tacking after about a minute in to his, PJ's exceptional video with just one tack halfway through but such a worthwhile discussion I had to link it; and the Loring promotional one where you see the behind-the-back control after tacking (not necessarily in order).


    PJ:


    Loring (click for worthwhile link)


    Lee:


    Time also to put a plug for my2fish's blog - which almost certainly already has posted these and any other worthwhile ones out there.
     
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  4. Sailkb

    Sailkb Member

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    I had the same experience two years ago when I learned to sail. There was no information on technique for tacking. After two years of sailing and some club racing, here's my approach. I have two main priorities, one to NEVER let go of the tiller and two, make sure I have speed and good thrust on the rudder to create a new angle into the wind (prevent irons). I do my best to make the transfer of the line and tiller but if I lose one, it's the line. I can always quickly sheet back in if I drop the line during the tack. If racing, you might lose a few seconds but that's it. In heavy wind I find myself handling the tiller from behind my back for a bit after the tack as I set the sail. With a little practice, it's not that hard. Managing the sail is more important in heavy air in that if the wind catches it in the wrong position during a tack, you can easily go over.

    As has been suggested, watch what you can on-line. The pros make it look easy.
     
  5. Satch4621

    Satch4621 New Member

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    Great videos. I have been using the top one for a while. I am practicing the maneuver he sues right at about 3:50. As a newbie I too was struggling with proper tacking technique. Seeing some one else do it has helped a lot.
     
  6. Wavedancer

    Wavedancer Upside down? Staff Member

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    Excellent discussion.
    As mentioned in the earlier posts, hold on to the tiller until 'comfortably' seated on the new tack. This means that one has to learn to steer the boat with the tiller behind the back. Yes, it takes some practice, but isn't that hard.

    I used to switch the tiller (extension) behind my back while tacking, but every so often (5-10%) I would loose the extension. And a few boats. Hence, I had to learn to do it the proper way in order to be somewhat competitive. Racers also roll the boat under most conditions.
     
  7. Amory Klein

    Amory Klein New Member

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    Now hold on there! Please don't be so quick to claim that your way is "the proper way." :eek:

    While I was trying to figure out how to switch sides properly, a friend gave me a photocopy of an article from a publication called Windward Leg. The bottom of the page says "Fall/Winter 1995-96", and the article is titled Boat Handling Fundamentals, by James Liebl. The method I outlined above is based largely on that article, with a few details included that I worked out for myself. Here's what the article says about proper tacking:

    My point, which is reinforced by this article, is that although I'm in no position to claim that the method I adopted is "the proper way", neither are you.
     
  8. beldar boathead

    beldar boathead Well-Known Member

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    First, I was right. You may not be a ringer, but without crediting James Liebl, who is very good, you stole his method and claimed it to be your own. I did not think a beginner could come up with what you did.

    Secondly, very nice of you to come on here and in your second post be asserting that other people are wrong. You have 2 posts, and Wavedancer and 2,482. This board usually :rolleyes: has good etiquette and respect for others.

    Thirdly, James's article is from 1996. I don't suppose anything could have changed in 17 years? Go to this site, http://propercourse.blogspot.com/ and scroll down just a bit to the two videos of guys tacking Lasers. Both hold onto the tiller until they are on the new tack. I go to a lot of regattas, and that is pretty much how the best do it. So there is no right or wrong way, but there is a more popular way that many of the successful sailors use. BB
     
  9. douglas_zargham

    douglas_zargham Member

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    where'd you get your writing lessons, tolstoy?

     
  10. minifish2

    minifish2 Active Member

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    Well, one thing we have established is the value of Sunfish Class membership, so you can be getting your own copies of Windward Leg and have access to class resources.

    As far as 'proper' techniques go and the concern over semantics, I would encourage participation in a Sunfish clinic, if one is ever held in your area. Those on LI have been fortunate over the past couple of decades to have access to PJ and his occasional (volunteer) clinics. Likewise with other top sailors in other areas. Or just ask. These folks are amazing with their time and knowledge.

    Back when Rick White held his clinics on the Keys, right off on the first day he would videotape everyone's moves, and play back highlights including improper tacking after dinner in the classroom. He'd immediately focus publicly on any 'improper' tacking techniques he had observed, with evidence, and by the second day everyone would have the 'proper' method down. Nobody wanted to be called out in class twice. Everyone would be tacking like the 'pro's' on hand (those would be his assistants - a former Olympian and an active Olympic campaigner). I doubt anyone who was corrected ever thought it wasn't an improvement.

    Anyway, if the youtube videotapes don't do it, you can always ask those folks in person. THey are eminently available and remarkably helpful.
     
  11. danpal

    danpal Active Member

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    Quick question, in PJ's video he's tacking on a reach yet he has his daggerboard pulled up. Wouldn't you want it all the way down and if not, when would you want it all the way down?
     
  12. Eric Woodman

    Eric Woodman New Member

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    More boat cam videos with tacks
     
  13. Amory Klein

    Amory Klein New Member

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    You were right about what? All you implied in your previous post was that I'm a "ringer" but you just conceded that I'm not, so you were wrong about that. What did you say in your previous post that you were right about? If you meant "that is a very good description of how to do it" then I thank you for that. I wrote that description from scratch and stole it from nobody. It's the result of a lot of research and a lot of trial and error on the water. My conclusion was that the method I described in my first post, parts of which were demonstrated to me by friends when I was first learning, parts of which were confirmed later when I read the James Liebl article and other sources, and parts of which I settled on after lots of trial and error, seemed to work best for me, so I decided to adopt and practice that method of tacking. It's a composite of the best information I could find and the method that I came up with as my choice. I didn't invent it and neither did James Liebl. All I did was summarize it with a request for comments and suggestions.

    The reason I brought up that James Liebl article was to invalidate Wavedancer's claim that there exists an objectively "proper" way to tack. It was a presumptuous and inflammatory thing for him to say and I don't apologize for saying so, regardless of our relative post-count statistics. Since you and I are in agreement that "there is no right or wrong way", your hostility toward me as you disagree with him is puzzling.

    At any rate, we've established that there are at least two competing general methods of tacking: You can switch hands while you're pivoting, or after you sit down. This has been educational for me so far and I hope we can keep this going.
     
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  14. minifish2

    minifish2 Active Member

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    I think you have really missed the mark here. You said you were a novice and came on with a step-by-step tacking description that was fine, especially for something like beginner lessons where the instructor has had difficulty articulating the steps. You asked for comments, which some might have interpreted to mean constructive suggestions based on their actual (and often considerable) years of experience. When some very gentle suggestions for improvement were offered - accompanied by video of two world champions and a North American champion illustrating the improved technique with what can be considered (instead of 'proper' we'll use the perhaps more accurate term) 'best practices', you seemed to take some unwarranted offense.

    A couple of suggestions:

    1. Have a look at the second video Eric posted, featuring recent NA champion Bill B. Start about three minutes in and continue through the series of tacks. If I were giving lessons, especially trying to show proper technique in light and moderate breeze, that video segment would be it. This is not only good form but his is an 'objectively' fast and effective technique. How do we know? Take a guess. (How many here can identify Bill B from a distance - a distance too far to read his sail numbers - by his sailing form? Quite a few I'd guess)

    2. Actually get some experience racing with top sailors in the area. Use your own developed technique. You will almost certainly find that you will always be following these folks, but for perhaps at least a few minutes each race you will be able to observe from behind and hopefully close-hand how they are tacking effectively. When you are ready to take your game to the next level, update your own habits to emulate them.

    3. Sailing is a remarkable sport in that expert sailors are almost universally helping the competition behind them improve. Go to an event and ask. What you don't want to do is, when advice is offered, take offense at their suggestions. You are hurting more than just yourself; you are taking something away from the spirit of the sport.

    4. One thing novices do well to learn is when to let a crossing sailor 'cross' versus when to call for a tack. If you are going to be racing against (or for that matter asking for advice from) more accomplished sailors and you are going to be in this sport for a period of time, remember it's a small universe, and you will be crossing the same folks over and over for a long time. Rookies have a choice as to how they will be perceived, and deference early on goes a long way towards getting that 'cross' yourself someday when you need it.
     
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  15. Wavedancer

    Wavedancer Upside down? Staff Member

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    I guess the word 'proper' in my post wasn't totally proper; :). Currently preferred by racers would have been better, in retrospect. There's ample evidence for that statement in the videos that were posted. As I mentioned in my post, I used to switch the extension and sheet behind my back, but every so often I would loose one or the other. I then learned to do it as is currently preferred by racers and I am not looking back.
     
  16. Wavedancer

    Wavedancer Upside down? Staff Member

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    I watched the "Reaching" section again but don't see him tacking. Just constantly adjusting the sail and his body for max power.
    Please identify the time in PJ's video for further comments.

    As an aside, at one point the water is squirting upwards out of the daggerboard slot; :D !
     
  17. Amory Klein

    Amory Klein New Member

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    And I guess I overreacted when you said "proper." Sorry about that!


    It seems that I made some unfortunate word choices in my opening post as well, and failed to get across what I really wanted to say, which was more along the lines of "This is how I'm doing it. Am I doing it right?"

    I'm definitely going to give the switch-after-you-sit method a try and see if it works out better for me.
     
  18. minifish2

    minifish2 Active Member

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    OK - I tried your originally posted method today - for about two seconds before the light-bulb went on. Beldar was correct - technique (for perhaps a large portion of Sunfish sailors) has evolved and improved over the past couple of decades, and for an obvious reason (obvious now that we've tried it, that is). That '90's-prescribed technique may have been passable back then for boats equipped with the factory-issue tiller extensions from that era, but it's cumbersome if not impossible with today's equipment!

    So the question is, how long is the tiller extension that you are using? Mine is typical of most these days, at 36". It occurred to me that some folks may still be using those old, short wooden factory-issue tiller extensions that wouldn't extend to behind their backs on the tack anyway, making a meaningful discussion on tacking technique almost impossible. However they manage get around is fine - by following that article they are using good form with what they have, and their problem is with the extension itself. With those extensions of course it was almost impossible to be in the optimum seating position upwind in a breeze. If you are still hanging on to the old-style recreational extension, you'll be using different form altogether, but rather than refining technique you should first consider that inexpensive and very effective upgrade.

    If you don't know the measurement off-hand, then how about this: when the rudder is down and the tiller straight forward, how far - how many inches, if any - is the gap from the end of the tiller extension to the front edge of the cockpit? An inch or two? Or more? If you look at that brief Loring video above again, does the tiller extension he is using look like yours?
     
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  19. Amory Klein

    Amory Klein New Member

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    My tiller extension is about the same as yours. I made it myself to fix up an old rudder that had the extension chopped off short, apparently for beginners. I used a 36 inch piece of aluminum tubing and made the whole assembly match the dimensions given by AQBill in this thread. That is, the tiller is slightly more than 44 inches long, and my homemade extension, which is attached to the tiller with a Battlestick rubber u-joint, is 36 inches long. It's almost, but not quite, long enough to reach the ratchet block when the rudder is centered.

    The hiking stick doesn't interfere at all with tacking when using the method I described above. It's well out of the way as I initiate the turn into the wind, and as I pivot my body to face forward, the stick goes behind my back and never gets in the way. In fact, the long length actually helps by making it easier to grab the stick with the sheet hand.
     
  20. danpal

    danpal Active Member

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    Hi Wavedancer, my post was incorrect. He wasn't tacking but was on a reach. The section I'm referring to is at 5:31 of the video. Wouldn't you still want the daggerboard down on a reach though? I'm just curious as to the reason.
     

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