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Sailing backwards

Seaotter5

Member
On Sunday I was sailing my Minifish Holman Lake at Little Buffalo PA State Park. At least I was trying to sail. The wind was blowing at about two miles an hour, at most, and was shifting 45 to 180 degrees every few moments. I was getting a little too relaxed, and wasn't paying much attention, when suddenly I heard the trees behind me moving in the wind. By the time I got up to look around a powerful gust hit us. I have no way of knowing how fast the gust was, but the Minifish immediately started healing over. To say that I gyped implies some degree of control, which was definitely not the case. The sail kind of lifted up, and I am pretty sure that the mast would have pulled out of the mast step if the halyard hand not been cleated.
By instinct I pulled the rudder over to head into the wind. I didn't really expect that to work, and I was getting ready to practice my capsize-righting drill (which I really need to do. I havent tried righting the Minifish yet). Much to my surprise the boat developed a strong weather helm, and it spun me right around. Ok, so far, so good. I was still dry, the boat was still upright, and all was well in the world. Then I noticed that I was sailing backwards. Very quickly. I am pretty sure that I wasn't planing, but my wake was rather dramatic. I suspect that If I hadn't been sitting well forward the boat would have done a fine impression of a U-boat crashdiving. Without the ahh-ooo-gah horn, of course.
The gust had slowed down considerably, but it was still blowing at about 15 mph. I tried everything I could think of, but the 'fish stayed firmly planted in irons (something it has never done before). I tried (gingerly) pushing the boom one direction and turning the rudder in the other, but my retrograde sailing configuration didn't change. I tried all of the boom/rudder/paddling/praying strategies I could think of, but nothing helped. Finally, in a state of semi desperation (after all, the lake was small, the water was warm, there were plenty of people around, and I was wearing a life jacket. Not exactly a life threatening situation!), I fell back on my canoeing experience, and got my weight as far back as I could, lightening the bow enough that the wind caught it, and turned us leeward. At which point I straightened my rudder, pulled in the line, and sailed on down the lake. As I pulled up to the dock couple of kids were waiting for me, and asked if I would go back and spin around like that again. They thought it was really cool! Perhaps it was, but once was enough.
 

L&VW

Well-Known Member
There's a video of Sunfish racing backwards on this forum. :cool: Maybe someone remembers it.

Sailing backwards intentionally is good training for getting "out of irons".

This thread was close:
 

wjejr

Active Member
hi Seaotter5. It would work again, but I have had better luck lifting the dagger board and then grabbing the boom and pulling it in far enough that it catches the wind. With the reduced lateral resistance amidships, the boat will pivot around the stern where there is comparatively now more resistance (i.e., the rudder). Once the boat falls off the wind far enough, you can put the board back down and sail off. By sitting in the stern, you essentially did the same thing, reducing lateral resistance in the forward part of the boat.

Hope that is of help to you.
 

Seaotter5

Member
hi Seaotter5. It would work again, but I have had better luck lifting the dagger board and then grabbing the boom and pulling it in far enough that it catches the wind. With the reduced lateral resistance amidships, the boat will pivot around the stern where there is comparatively now more resistance (i.e., the rudder). Once the boat falls off the wind far enough, you can put the board back down and sail off. By sitting in the stern, you essentially did the same thing, reducing lateral resistance in the forward part of the boat.

Hope that is of help to you.
Until you said that, I had totally forgotten that I had pulled the centerboard partway up. One of the things that I found problematic with the Sunfish (and now the Minifish) is that if I pull the centerboard up without pulling it out it sticks up high enough to get hit by the boom. Pulling it all the way out and showing it while tending the line and the tiller is a feat I have never managed! But you are quite right. I doubt I would have gotten back under control with the board all the way down.
 

Sailflow

Active Member
Seaotter5 are you using a shock cord to hold your centerboard? You should be able to leave in any position. Also, when you are out you should practice sailing backwards and getting out of irons. When the wind and waves come up it is a harder to do. You do just have to hold the tiller over and it will come around but in waves it is not fun. What centerboard are you using? The minifish came with the shadow board but I would upgrade to a bigger board.
 

wjejr

Active Member
Until you said that, I had totally forgotten that I had pulled the centerboard partway up. One of the things that I found problematic with the Sunfish (and now the Minifish) is that if I pull the centerboard up without pulling it out it sticks up high enough to get hit by the boom. Pulling it all the way out and showing it while tending the line and the tiller is a feat I have never managed! But you are quite right. I doubt I would have gotten back under control with the board all the way down.
Hi again. I just raise the board as high as I think I can without it hitting the boom. I don't take the board out. One of the reasons I said, "grab the boom", is that if you grab the boom with your hand, you don't have to sheet in which would pull the boom down, reducing how high you can lift the board.

As sailflow says above, you need a shockcord wrapped around the bow cleat or mast that is then tied/connected to the board. I have a nylon clip cow-hitched to the board that I can clip to the shockcord loop. This makes it easy to pull the board out when landing the boat, as I disconnect the clip, and then don't have to deal with the shockcord getting pushed down by the boom or gooseneck.

Forgive me if you already know this, but, and especially with the wood boards which don't have a foil shape, you need to bear off some before sheeting in, and then bring the boat back to close-hauled. If you trim for a close-hauled course when you aren't moving, the boat will just round up, and you will be in irons again.

Hope that helps a bit further.
 

Seaotter5

Member
I did know that, but it is best if everyone just assumes I know nothing. Most of my sailing experience has been in Grumman canoes with a sail rig, which is obviously quite different! My experience with my old Sunfish was 30 years ago, and I am having to re-learn everything.
I usually do use a shock cord around the board, but there was so little wind (at first) that I just got lazy. One more lesson learned!
 

norcalsail

Well-Known Member
I was in a similar situation last June on Tomales Bay. I tried to land on a familiar beach but the tide was low and I got caught in some sea grass and was in the "irons ". Tried to paddle out and it took a lot of messing around to get going. Thanks for the above advice, I will have more to work with next time.
 

Weston

Member
I had a chance to try out these various suggestions for getting out of irons under heavy wind and waves today. On the GPS track below, I'm heading S and decide to come about, but took too long to get situated and was stuck in irons. That's the yellow path where I'm going backwards reverse tacking 3 times before I finally got going S again. With the wind coming from the W at 16 with gusts to 24, and high waves, I wasn't able to turn away from the wind until lifting the daggerboard as suggested above. I felt pretty silly taking that long to get out of irons and was just glad that I had read this thread prior. Thanks for the tip, wjejr!

IMG_1602.jpg
 

L&VW

Well-Known Member
I did know that, but it is best if everyone just assumes I know nothing. Most of my sailing experience has been in Grumman canoes with a sail rig, which is obviously quite different! My experience with my old Sunfish was 30 years ago, and I am having to re-learn everything.
I usually do use a shock cord around the board, but there was so little wind (at first) that I just got lazy. One more lesson learned!
I had a Grumman sailing rig on a canoe.


I imagine you're delighted with the improved pointing ability of the Sunfish! ;)
 
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