Is using a paddle cheating?

Thread starter #1
Newbie. Just got my sunfish a couple weeks ago. Been out to lake twice so far. The first time was fine but winds were light and variable so it was painfully slow at times, still I enjoyed it.

Second time out was probably around 5-6mph and I had a lot more fun once i was able to get out and sail. But I had a lot of trouble getting started. The boat ramp at my lake is in a little nook which is not very wide to maneuver in. There is no dock. Also, there are full grown weeds all around the perimeter of that nook except immediately in front of the ramp. Of course the wind was blowing directly into the nook. So I have to tack in quick succession to get out. But I also have to get forward enough to drop my fins. I tried just a leg push but it was not enough propulsion to get started. Fins got caught in weeds. Got blown backwards and sideways and pinned up against the side of the nook in additional weeds. I was stuck there for a good 5 minutes unable to move in any direction. Must have been laughable to anyone watching. A single push with the paddle would not get me off the weeds.

Finally I pulled the fins up, waited for the wind to die down a bit, then did 10 quick and forceful paddles to get out into the middle of the nook, dropped my fins, close hauled for a few seconds then tacked a couple times and got out.

Just wondering if any purists would disagree with using a paddle and would have found a way to sail it out. For me to many chicken and eggs. Need to be able to steer to sail, but need to be able to drop fins to steer, but need to be far enough out to drop fins, but need to sail far enough out to drop fins.


Active Member
Welcome to sailing and "getting out of the harbor." Sailing ships use to be towed
out of the harbor by Longboats. If the currents and wind were strong enough
the Longboats because insufficient and the ships had to wait in the harbor. Feel
free to use the most expedient method as you're supported by history.
Thread starter #3
Thanks Webfoot. That makes me a feel a little bit better. The lake is close by and great for sailing (wide and deep) but the boat ramp is probably in THE worst possible place you could put if for launching a sail boat. Fine for motorized boats. Hopefully I've got the idea now and will paddle out when necessary.


Well-Known Member
But I had a lot of trouble getting started. The boat ramp at my lake is in a little nook which is not very wide to maneuver in. There is no dock. Also, there are full grown weeds all around the perimeter of that nook except immediately in front of the ramp. Of course the wind was blowing directly into the nook.
Where I am located in Florida, divers bring back abandoned anchors to sell. I bought a large and very-well-bent Danforth for $3. :cool: Using a pallet of heavy pavers for a vise, I successfully untangled it with a galvanized pipe and digging bar. This anchor was permanently installed by me about 75-feet off a shoreline. A floating yellow polypropylene line allows me to pull the Sunfish out past the weeds and into an open place to start rigging, dropping boards, and sailing. :)

In your case, the weeds could help: consider flipping a tiny grapnel anchor down that channel, and repeatedly "kedging" yourself forward:

The Lost Art of Kedging: how to set a kedge anchor - Sail Magazine
Thread starter #9
Thanks everyone for all the encouragement. Just wanted to make sure there was no easier way that i wasn't able to think of. I like the idea of getting a Jet Ski tow or having an anchor line to pull myself out on, however Jet Skis are illegal at my lake and I'm pretty sure installing my own buoy with a line on it would be too. But great ideas though for other future lakes I may visit.
There is no shame in paddling when you need to. However, if you are racing, you can't paddle after the 5 minute gun (or 3 minute gun if your club used a 3 minute starting sequence.) I have seen racers paddle like hell to make a start when they stray too far from the line in light air, but the race actually "starts" at the 3 or 5 minute gun, and no paddling after that! Oddly, a racer may anchor on a race course if a foul current pushes a boat backwards in light air, but most Sunfish don't carry an anchor! Some day I will find a $50 Sunfish with a ratty sail, install an electric motor under the hull out of sight and steam dead upwind in a light air race with the sail luffing and my fellow sailors hurling insults at me.

Alan Glos
Cazenovi, NY


Well-Known Member
Here is the 1½-pound folding grapnel anchor I had mind for kedging-out into deeper waters. ('Bit heavy to throw, but it should work).

One other lightweight grapnel is offered in a stout wire configuration, Alternatively, a weighted treble-fishhook would be easier to toss. (Bend points—grind off sharp edges—toss—pull upwards through weeds—rinse, repeat).

'Beats pulling yourself along—grasping at weeds. :confused:

Take a look at a great invention called "the praddle". It's a one-handed paddle designed for small sail boats. Unlike using a daggerboard, using the praddle, you can paddle and steer the boat at the same time. I mounted my praddle inside the cockpit, on the side wall, under the cockpit lip, closer to the stern. Fits great. Out of my way. Saved my butt a few times so far. It's a great piece of gear to have. Hope this help you.


Upside down?
Staff member
Yes, I have used a Praddle as well in no wind situations.
The Paddle Hand works similarly. Both are available from Intensity Sails.


Active Member
I find if the wind is above 5-7 kts, I'm not able to overcome a headwind. Of course other directions usually doesn't matter as much.


Active Member
In my experience, the most efficient and powerful method for paddling a Sunfish or Laser goes like this.

- Pull out your full length or telescoping canoe paddle.
- Sink the daggerboard all the way.
- Raise the rudder so it's completely free of the water.
- Sit on the bow cross legged and far enough forward so it's easy to reach out in front of you on each paddle stroke.
- The daggerboard will keep the boat running in enough of a straight line that you can do 5 hard strokes on one side before you even have to think about switching sides.
- If you are forced to paddle to shore or the boat ramp upwind because you have a mechanical failure (been there, done that) lower your sail and mast. That's a lot of windage.

An example of this technique can be seen here at 4 minutes, 15 seconds in the video.. though my protege Greg was using a kayak paddle, not a canoe paddle. In no wind conditions where you leave your sail and mast up, the Laser mast makes a great back rest when you want to take a break or back off from your high speed, power paddling.

And here's the telescoping canoe paddle I have stowed aft of the cockpit in the Sunfish.

- Andy


Active Member
I lash mine to the front edge of the upper spar, not caring about wind flow turbulence. Or...I jam it between the halyard and the mast and tie it at the bow handle.
I've been looking for my "ultimate" inspection port too, as I have no cockpit cuddy in my 69 fish. Don't want to buy new, but I'll come across a used one at some point, I'm sure. I used to have a bunch that I replaced on a boat, but pitched them.... argh!!
Thread starter #18
I have the yellow telescoping one shown above which is what i was using in my original post. I don't think mine is the highest quality though because one of the extensions is already "tough" to insert or extend. I paid almost nothing for it but it should be good enough to get the job done for now. I just throw it in loose in the aft storage area for now.
Thread starter #20
Update- my 3rd time out and still struggling with north wind pushing me into the small cove I am launching from. No improvement!!! :( Put sail up and tried paddling out into the wind but was not able to overcome the headwind (which was light I think <5mph, and I think mixmkr mentioned this could be an issue earlier). Got pushed back and horribly stuck in weeds again in a different area, took me several minutes of struggling then gave up. Unlike the first time I actually had to put sail down AND had to use paddle to push the seabed (could not just paddle out of the weeds) before i could start paddling out. Then as an experiment I tried sitting on the front like the laser guy did to paddle but my weight caused too much of a dip in the bow plus it's more difficult with lanteen sail which was in the way, so I paddled from the cockpit.

But back to my launch failure, I guess I am learning that to close haul or close reach you need speed first in order for your daggerboard not to stall, otherwise you pretty much have no sideways control. Also the daggerboard probably has to be almost all the way down in order to head up wind as well, but putting the daggerboard fully down is almost impossible in my launch situation without getting stuck or slowed down.

So I think we definitively answered my original question that using a paddle is fine, and not bad form. The problem is that it may not be enough to solve getting out of the harbor, at least not with the sail up. (I was nervous about putting the sail up on the water but it worked out ok).

Now I am reconsidering some ideas I considered strange at first, like throwing a small anchor (LightVariableWinds) or using a praddle (whitecap) or getting a tow. The small anchor might be best in strong winds when by myself, only concern would be if it got stuck. Also I'd have to watch for the scratching hazard. The praddle would at least make it easier to paddle with one hand. Also should probably get in habbit of launching with sail down, maybe that would have been enough to solve my problem. If I still struggle next time I might just not bother going anymore if there is a north (or south) wind.

Now I will tell you the story about coming in. After I had a decent sail for about an hour in light wind, the wind pretty much completely disappeared as I was heading in. Full stop. So I put sail down (again, was worried but it worked out ok, used a small bungee i stashed on board to lash the sail and spars together). I pulled up the rudder but left the daggerboard down, then tried paddling on alternate sides. My weight happened to shift side to side as I was doing this. Well I ended up going completely out of control and going in circles a couple times. I couldn't believe it.. Even as I started turning I moved the paddle to the other side, which I know from kayaking/canoing pushes you back in the right direction, except it didn't! :eek: This was right in front of a beach full of people and must have been hilarious. So I am guessing I was steering with my weight but didn't realize it which outweighed anything I was doing with the paddle.

So yeah, the praddle being one-handed would at least have let me use other hand to control the rudder and stop doing circles. I also learned that apparently the daggerboard does not provide any resistance to rotation, at least not at slow speed. Anyway, all the advice above seems even more relevant to me now.