Blind helming

Babylon

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Had a crew this weekend who, on crossing from Poole to the Solent, was finding it difficult to hold a good course to windward (F3 NNE).

So I asked him to keep his eyes completey shut - no cheating - and helm on the tiller simply by noise, angle of heel, speed though the water, wind on his cheek, etc.

My basic instruction was to bring the helm up if the boat slowed, came upright, and/or he heard and felt the sails start to flap, then let the helm down a bit until there was the only merest hint of being too close to the wind, repeating the process constantly with small adjustments only.

My next instruction was to keep a feel out for an increase in windspeed, as this indicated a gust was coming in and he could therefore point a little higher ('luff in a puff' I kept repeating), until the gust had passed, whereupon he had to come off the wind a little to keep saiing - and repeat the exercise of small adjustments to the tiller.

Incredibly, with his eyes shut, he became an instant expert - and enjoyed it thoroughly!

I think there's a lesson here for all of us, and I'm going to keep a blindfold handy for other crew in future.
 

john_morris_uk

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Its a great technique but I suspect that there is a limit on the size of the boat this works on. As boats get bigger they respond more slowly to helm instructions. For example if you sail something 100 foot long, it sort of takes minutes to tack... It might also depend on the length of keel. In our boat we tend NOT to luff in puffs. The boat (unless on the verge of being over-pressed) just leans over a little more and goes faster.

I do remember having problems with a crew and her steering on a 55 foot boat. She couldn't get the hang of steering a compass course and we had a huge snaky wake as we wove our way across the ocean. She chased the lubber line on the compass all the time and couldn't bring herself to look up and see which way the head of the boat was swinging and check the swing or take helm off as the boat got back near its proper course. I ended up putting her baseball cap over the compass and MAKING her look at the sea and the sky.
 

Babylon

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Ah yes.... insurers, seacocks, blind faith....

I would emphasise that I spent this time on the foredeck keeping a lookout for pot-markers and other boats, mostly just a rank of angling mobos extending over the shoal off Hengistbury Head.

Of course if the hull was slowly flooding, I wouldn't have had a clue until it was too late to dive down into the floating mess to find out which seacock(s) had disappeared, let alone put on the kettle for a cup of tea.

The next move would have been to sever the liferaft lashing (I keep a sailing knife on a lanyard in my pocket whenever we're underway), launch the thing - and only then tell my crew to open his eyes!
 

Babylon

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...It might also depend on the length of keel. In our boat we tend NOT to luff in puffs. The boat (unless on the verge of being over-pressed) just leans over a little more and goes faster.

We're heavy-displacement with a long keel and we also put our shoulder down and speed up in a gust rather than broach, but I still like to luff a little in a puff, especially if we're trying to make ground to windward.

...I ended up putting her baseball cap over the compass and MAKING her look at the sea and the sky.

We don't have wind instruments, so I ask the helm to settle the boat onto her compass course while I trim sails, then get him to clock the position of the Hawk wind indicator ('look up')and the angle of the waves ('look out'), finally ask him to hold the course by concentrating on this trio.
 

snowleopard

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Its a great technique but I suspect that there is a limit on the size of the boat this works on. As boats get bigger they respond more slowly to helm instructions.

On the Lord Nelson they are fully set up for blind and partially-sighted helms with a large display and audio compasses. It is my experience that blind people using the audio steer a far better course than sighted people. As John says, feel of wind is little use when you are steering a 500 tonner with servo-assisted steering.
 

oGaryo

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I think this thread is extremely enlightening and I suspect blind helming of sailing yachts is the norm.. not only in open water but in marinas, narrow channel estuaries and other tight spots shared by unsuspecting mobo owners

now where's my tongue in cheek emoticon when I need it:D
 

oGaryo

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I think this thread is extremely enlightening and I suspect blind helming of sailing yachts is the norm.. not only in open water but in marinas, narrow channel estuaries and other tight spots shared by unsuspecting mobo owners

now where's my tongue in cheek emoticon when I need it:D

bugga.. near on 2 day laters later, lots of viewing and not one nibble:(:D
 

Babylon

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bugga.. near on 2 day laters later, lots of viewing and not one nibble:(:D

I know, its terrible!

Watched, yesterday morning, as a brand new 52ft yacht (family crew all in matching oilies) was carried by the flood onto the sharp end of a pontoon, its bow thruster screaming, narrowly missed messing up the sterns of two innocent mobos, a a teenager matching-oily thumping onto the pontoon. A right old avoidable error if only the father matching-oily understood the first thing about something called wind and something else called tide; and eyes wide open too!
 
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