Rudderless But Not Adrift: Sailing Without Your Rudder
We covered rudderless sailing at our Monday afternoon advanced dinghy lessons last week. Knowing how to rudderlessly sail is crucial not only in the (sort of rare at CSC) event that your rudder falls off (!), but also deepens your understanding of sail trim, boat handling, and makes you look pretty epic out there on the Bay. And let's face it: if you look good, you're probably sailing gooder.
It's also a skill you need to know to pass your senior dinghy & keelboat practical tests at CSC.
One simple resource that can be useful to get your started is this rudderless e-book (click the link to download), written by CSC member Joel Brand.
Some pointers from our rudderless practice session and discussion last week:
If in a dinghy, try and get your rudder completely out of the water. It can still affect your course if it's in the water. As with all these tips provided below, however, try all sorts of different ways to maneuver and see what happens. Try it with the ruddder up, then down and swinging freely. Wind strength, waves, sail plan, and weight in the boat will all affect how your actions impact your course corrections...much like on any given day. Experiment!
Start your practice session upwind. You're going to have to raise your centerboard about 1/3 of the way up to try and balance your helm by moving your Center of Lateral Resistance (CLR) further aft, which means you'll side slip. If you don't raise your centerboard, but do raise your rudder (also part of your CLR factor), you'll have so much weather helm you'll probably just start to tack uncontrollably. So raising your centerboard is important, but the side slipping dynamic impacts your ability to tack, and to make headway (as opposed to leeway...sliding downwind). If you're practicing rudderless man overboards, you'll be down by the rocks quicker than you can say, "Hold on, Bob! We're coming!" And that's not good for anyone. Particularly poor Bob. If you do get downwind, drop that centerboard & rudder, sail upwind, then start practicing again.
Reef your main. This will help balance your jib and main sail plan and further reduce weather helm. In light air, you may choose not to, but in general, it's usually better to reef. Again, try both & see how it works out.
Practice solo & also with a partner. Before you practice rudderless solo, work on your single-handing with a rudder until you are competent and confident. Practicing alone really helps you fine tune your rudderless sailing and dials you into the dynamics of the boat. Practicing with a partner gives you more weight to shift around and, practically speaking, likely better simulates the actual experience of losing your rudder (and also what you'll have to do on your senior test...the tester will be in the boat!)
Tips if you have trouble tacking:
1. Bring in the mainsheet smoothly and not too quickly, especially if in higher wind. By this I mean, don't just yank it in to the center of the boat, which is a common practice when you're first learning. If you ease it in at first and use the momentum of the boat rounding up into the wind to your advantage, you will often be more successful at completing your tack. First, it allows the sail to stay powered as you round up into the wind (rather than knocking a lot of wind out of the sail by bringing it in so quickly and having it trimmed incorrectly for the boat's angle relative to the breeze); second it prevents you from heeling over quickly and killing some of your forward momentum/speed.
2. That said, heeling the boat to leeward does help the boat to tack (you've heard of roll tacks?), so don't be afraid to have it heel over as you head up into the tack. You may capsize, but it's part of the learning process to see how far you can push the limit
3. While the basics of rudderless teach you to release the jib and sheet in the main, sometimes you need the power of your jib until you enter the 'no go zone' (aka irons), at which point it's not working. Remember that your mainsail is bigger, so will overwhelm the power of the jib and allow you to head upwind regardless of whether your jib is sheeted in or not. Often, using your jib and keeping it powered will help give you enough momentum to get into the tack and then has the added benefit of 'catching' and back winding once you're through the eye of the wind, which further pulls you into the new tack.
4. If all of this fails, remember that your centerboard can be lowered to increase your lateral resistance, move it forward, and create weather helm...which helps you tack! Drop it as you start turning up into the breeze, and raise it again as soon as the jib catches and backwinds.
Tips if you have trouble gybing:
1. If you haven't already, reef your main--as you turn your boat downwind, that main powers up...which makes your boat want to head up into the wind rather than further downwind to gybe. Shortening sail will help reduce this effect.
2. Really get your weight out to windward. Other than reducing your main sail size, this is pretty much your only option to turn your boat downwind. Also, while the effects can be minimal, moving your weight aft may also help.
3. Consider raising your centerboard up to halfway, it may help with the downwind turn.
4. Once you have gybed, be ready to sheet the jib in hard on the new side after the gybe and throw your weight to the new windward rail to keep the boat from rounding up. When the main comes across in the gybe, it will cause the boat to head up--you need to counteract that to keep from capsizing and/or immediately tacking after your gybe.
5. Watch your head! When you're hanging out on the windward rail waiting for the boat to be ready to gybe, that boom could swing across hard. At your face. Be careful. We like your face. Mostly. Make sure your crew is aware as well.
Tips if you have trouble with your MOB:
1. Remember that with your centerboard partially raised (and your rudder fully raised), you are going to side slip to leeward. The more upwind you try to go, the worse it is. Thus the 'course made good', as in, the course you actually sail through the water, will be leeward of the course you are aiming for--much more so than when you have the centerboard and rudder down. So if you start downwind of your MOB and aim straight at your MOB attempting to sail upwind..well you may find yourself trying to sail directly into the wind by the time you 'get' there (if you get there).
2. Consider tacking into a heave-to position and aiming just upwind of your MOB & factor in the side slip as you approach. Your usual close-reach approach may be too close to the wind to make it (the angle of approach you would normally do when slow sailing with a rudder).
3. Consider dropping your centerboard towards the very end of your approach to shoot into the breeze and slow down beside your MOB. This can be a hit or miss approach (literally), but it's worth a try if you're not on track as you approach.
Remember to keep your eye on the leeward shore at all times while practicing, and to stay upwind of the third dock. If you're single-handing, consider the breeze and whether you need to stay in the novice area. And as always, have your anchor ready to deploy.
Any more suggestions?
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Sit down sailors--especially those of modest proportions--often don't appreciate that rudderless sailing in CSC dinghies requires a lot more body english, aka throwing your weight around, than they can provide, and they can't make up for it by monkeying with the sails and centerboard. Someone who weighs 250 lbs dry and naked can tack and jibe a dinghy when the wind is howling, just by moving their weight in or out on the boat. But someone who has spent a lifetime sworn off pork and beef, and has kept a copy of Jane Austen clutched close as a teen will lack the avoirdupois to maneuver a Bahooie in wind that raises more than a ripple.
What to do if you're sailorly but scrawny? Try standing up for your rudderless sailing. The club's dinghies come in one size fits all, but our windsurf fleet spans the range of Lilliputian to (almost) Brobdingnagian. If you're small, learning to tack and jibe and sail upwind and downwind on a windsurfer can translate into a better understanding of dinghy control than you'll get by thrashing yourself to a wet pulp trying to go solo and rubberless on a Bahooie in 20 knots.
Or better yet, take along someone heavy and willing. Order them in and out, let them fulfill your secret fantasy of being the 900 lb gorilla in the room. Plus it earns you extra points in a Sr dinghy test if you can command someone to do your bidding.
A version of the tack that might help: While sitting on the windward side, on the rail if the wind is high, sheet in the main at a rate that keeps the leeward rail just out of the water. As the boat rounds up, prepare to move quickly across the boat when it starts to level off, using your weight to keep the leeward (and hopefully soon to be windward) rail close to the water (the point being to use the curve of the hull to help turn the boat). The moment you cross the centerline of the boat, use the falls or push on the boom to backwind the main to made the last few degrees of the turn.