View Full Version : heeling phobia ?

02-27-2003, 12:23 AM
This past summer, after six years I finally fit my Catspaw dingy with a sail and took my wife out with our two small children in a fresh warm breeze. This was the first time we had been sailing together. As expected the round bottom boat heeled to about 20 or less and took off. I was in heaven until I saw the look in my wife's eyes which can only be read as extreme fear beyond logic. I mean there was no danger, we were on a warm water lake, close to shore, people around and my wife is an excellent swimmer with trophies to prove it. She begged me to turn about and head for land. She had gotten to the point of tears. On the ride home she said her reaction freaked her out too. I have a small Whaler that we always take out and have been in a nasty chop before with no distress signal with her. She was looking at the current WB and saw the photos of the people sitting out windward for ballast in a regatta and she said her heart rate increased. I can only think I am dealing with a phobia here, and I was wondering if anyone has heard of this before and can offer some wisdom for how to treat it? Furthermore, my then 4 and 5 year old reacted to seeing their mother beg for life and don't want to go out again. What to do?

Todd Bradshaw
02-27-2003, 01:23 AM
Buy a trimaran. My wife doesn't like heeling either. She really liked the tri we had for that reason. I even took my mother-in-law sailing on it and she's scared to death of water and boats. She sat there and knitted me a pair of socks while we sailed.

Nicholas Carey
02-27-2003, 03:38 AM
Pay attention to your wife.

A big part of her fear is the lack of control she feels. Even if she groks conceptually just what and why the boat is doing what its doing,she'll be beaucoups uncomfortable if she feels that things are out of control.

You need to make her comfortable. A good way to help her feel comfortable is to put her in control. Turn the tiller and the sheets over to her -- make sure she knows how to sail, of course (hint: you are probably not the optimal teacher for her. If she doesn't already know how to sail, get someone else to teach her. You'll appreciate it. So will she. And so will your marriage. Shouting is not an effective teaching technique.)

For most people, the heeling is a lot less panicky if they are in control and know how to stop it or control it.

When I teach sailing, one of the first things I tell the students is that the boat can take more than they can. So when they start to feel like they're uncomfortable, it's time (actually, past time) to start fixing it.

As one gets more experience, one's comfort level increases. But you have to run, so to speak, before you can walk. Someone who's panicked isn't going to (A) learn anything or (B) ever want to go sailing again.

Learn to sail the boat flat. Most boats sail happier flat than they do heeled over. If you need to flatten the boat, try one or more of the following:

</font> Shorten Down. Tuck in a reef. When is it time to reef? "The first time someone says, 'Doncha think we ought to reef down?' ALL HANDS ON DECK!". One of the dirty secrets is that a normal displacement hull will likely sail just as fast (if not faster) and with less stress on the crew, if its not being flogged to death. Hull speed is hull speed; adding more energy to the equation just increases stress. Not to mention that its a whole lot easier to shake out a reef than it is to tuck one in....so, as the saying goes "Reef earlier; shake late."</font> Fall off. Ya don't heel so much off the wind.</font> Ease the sheets. Luffing is a good way to depower.</font> Point up until you luff. Again, luffing is a good way to depower the rig.</font> Get a different boat. If you want to sail with your wife and she isn't comfortable with the Catspaw, get a different boat. The Catspaw is [primarily] a rowboat. The design constraints for a rowboat are considerably different than those for a sailboat.</font> Heave to. Parking the boat for a while, resting and/or talking about what's going on usually helps a lot.</font>And, possibly most importantly, if you are the skipper, make sure that you aren't hollering, or panicky, or out of control. The smell of fear or panic, the sense that you're not fully in control of the situation, any intimation that you're reacting to things rather than anticipating them virtually guarantees that you're losing your passengers.
One other hint: read Deborah Tannenbaum's You Just Don't Understand (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0060959622/qid=1046334224/sr=2-1/ref=sr_2_1/102-2040256-2762543). It's a groundbreaking look by a linguist at the differences in the methods used by men and women in communication. You Just Don't Understand spent 4 years on the NY Times bestseller list.

[ 02-27-2003, 04:56 PM: Message edited by: Nicholas Carey ]

John R Smith
02-27-2003, 04:23 AM
You are not alone. Kate has the same problem. In fact, she is more nervous now, after three seasons on the water, than she was when we started out. And we have never done anything stupid in terms of press of weather or heel angle - in fact the waves have yet to dampen the gunwhale.

In her case too, the fear seems to be irrationally out of proportion to any perceived danger. In fact, she is incapacitated by terror when it happens. Despite all the good suggestions above, I doubt whether any of them will help in Kate's instance. Putting her in charge of the helm and the mainsheet does no good - she just freezes. It seems to be the actual sensation of heeling which causes the problem, and Lord, the boat HAS to heel if it's going to sail, folks.

But in light airs, Kate loves it. She will happily sail all day at two knots or less, when I am getting itchy to fire up the diesel and GO.

Ho hum. Funny thing is, she can swim and I can't ;)


02-27-2003, 06:58 AM
SWMBO and my daughter went out on the water with me one time. I picked a day that was flat, calm and quiet. It was boring to the point where it almost wasn't worth the time putting up any sail. The boat heel was almost inperceptable and she went for the weather rail thinking the boat was going to sink. I tried putting her at the helm, explaining what was going on, even putting my daughter at the helm, no luck. That was over two years ago and she (or my daughter) hasn't been out since after numerous invitations. I'm almost convinced that once somebody develops a fear of it you may as well sell the boat or get used to singlehanding. Next I'm going to try offering some very short, very protected water cruises under power with no sail. We'll see.

Doug Wood
02-27-2003, 07:43 AM
I think Nicholas' comments are right on the money. I'd emphasize the education part as overcoming a fear, whatever it is, can often be dealt with if you've got the facts. As long as a boat is in control, (key) and those aboard are comfortable with the boat, their skills and the skills of the skipper, beating to windward can be an exciting and enjoyable point of sail. If you don't feel safe and secure, I'd imaging sailing could be a terrifying experience, and that's the last thing sailing should be.

02-27-2003, 07:53 AM
My wife had looked at the photos of Tamwock in the latest WB and noticed how calm the people were as they sit on her rail. This may be an indicator of how she will react with a little healing. :rolleyes:


Dan McCosh
02-27-2003, 08:32 AM
Can't say this is much of an answer, but our relatively narrow Sparkman Stephens design sails nicely at a 28 degree angle of heel, which is enough to make most sailors used to modern boats a bit nervous. Usually it goes away in a minute or two. Even with 8,000 lbs. in the keel, it's not unusual for a novice to ask "Can this thing capsize?"
My daughter weighed about 100 lbs. when she was racing 20-foot centerboard Flying Scots, and she was always looking for heavier crew. On two occasions, she took out larger guys who had never been sailing before, and had to reassure them that it wasn't as dangerous as it looked. Both times they capsized during the race. So it goes.

Chris Coose
02-27-2003, 09:04 AM
This is a problem.
I got married to a Cape Cod Cat Boat 26 years ago. At the time I was wed to a woman who who grew up sailing. She'd was flipping boats at sailing school as a youth while I was puttzing around in run abouts. My first clutch of babies prefer a knock down heel than a light air day as a result of our day and extended trips.
My current bride grew up on a large old Cris-Craft on a lake that was skippered by her grandfather who was known to run his boat aground regularly. She also spent a lot of time on the beach.
While dating she took a couple of day trips and I didn't notice any reluctance. I don't know about you, but folks will do some things in courtship that might not be in character.
Anyways, she does get nervous and the nervousness heightens relative to the axis planes of the boat and the wind velocity.
We have a little cutie that gets clutched and the strength of that grip gets tighter in direct proportion to the above.
No matter how I handle the main and project an air of calm, her fear does not change.
The cat rig is a lousy combination for easing fear but I work it the best I can. One weather report which is pretty reliable is wind speed and direction so I am more attentive to it in planning than in the past. My reef gear is pretty well tuned.
I spend lots more days solo sailing than in the past. I do this by planning better and making my intentions known well ahead.
I invite more company that I used to.
I go to the beach more than I used to and after a few years of accepting that, I am quite comfortable on the sand.
This summer I hope to enroll the little one in sailing school and let an independant skipper help her get more comfortable and hopefully relieve some of the already instilled fear.

Out at the end of the anchorage is this grand wood beauty. She's maybe 40-45'. She's got this Novi turn amidships that makes it look like she's got a cabin as big as our current living space. A gigantic aft deck and flying bridge.
I could see us floudering around the east coast in something like that in later years, so I am not willing to surrender my efforts with this bride to find a comfortable realm on the salt water.
As long as she is willing to step aboard, I'll do the best I can to accomodate.
I do notice that when we take a sail on a 35'range craft she'll sit in pretty peacefully. Problem is that if we advanced to this size boat, she would become a widow to the maintenance and the cost of upkeep.

02-27-2003, 09:26 AM
The way that I have dealt with it to invite out all of my girlfriend's friends. I make a particular effort to invite out her best friend who is pretty brave. That way the 2-4 of them can work out any fears that they have with themselves, and not with me...

I also made a bit of an effort to take them out on other people's boats. This way they see that it isn't just me trying to be brave, but actually the way that you sail.

The one mistake that I did make was to bring all 3 out on a windy day when we were practicing to race. As a crew we get along really well, but when setting the spinnaker and stuff there is some yelling. (It is more just load communicating...) Anyway, when they heard the yelling they thought that something was wrong, then got worried.

Also one other thing...don't try the sit back and have a beer and enjoy it thing...The minute I have a beer in my hand my girlfriend assumes that I'm drunk and gets worried that I don't know what I'm doing. Then it is trouble city...

Good luck.


Scott Rosen
02-27-2003, 09:32 AM
Coastie, you've got a problem there.

I think the first thing you need to do is find out if your wife has even the slightest desire to overcome her fear and learn to sail. If the answer is no, then you should find some other friends to sail with.

If your wife really does want to learn to sail and overcome her fears, then you should consider enroling her in a sailing class or sailing school. There are lots of them. I think the best way to learn to sail is in small dinghies, without family or friends nearby. My wife took a community sailing class at Mystic Seaport a number of years ago. She was intimidated at first, but by the end of the course she was zipping around the harbor solo in a Dyer Dow and loving it.

Other options include classes for women only. Our sponsor offeres some sailing courses as well.

Good luck.

Ian McColgin
02-27-2003, 09:45 AM
Coastie, Chris got close without quite getting to the point - It's a dink. Have a nice warm day capsize drill in shallow water, bathing suits and fun.

Actually, do this yourself first so you really know what the boat will do when swamped and what you can do about it.

I think you'll find that there's not enough flotation to sail her out of trouble or to right her with the rig up and then bail. (Maybe you want to add a block of foam under bow, stern and midships thwarts/seats.)

Most likely you'll find the only approach to self rescue that works is:

1. Count your bodies and be sure everyone is happily floating in a PFD.

2. Secure the loose stuff - floating oars and cushins and what not.

(Plan ahead. A bit of light line or a gunny sack always with the boat helps here. Every dink should be sailed and rowed with the chance of swamping firmly in mind. Retrival of junk is important.)

3. Bring the boat half way upright and, with the boat on it's side, pull the rig out. Do your best to furl it in the water and pass the sheet of hallyard over something in the boat so that it won't float away, but leave the rig outside the boat.

4. Now get the boat upright and see how she floats. Likely transomes up but midships gunnel submerged.

5. Try to flop some water out by depressing the stern a little and shoving the boat ahead and up.

6. If the gunnels get clear, then you can start bailing from a position outside the boat.

7. Once empty enough to take your weight, board over the stern, bails some more, bring your crew in, retrieve the cooler that's floating on a piece of string, and open a frosty.

A game of this with wife and kids, starting in shallow water where you can just stand around, will go a long way towards confidence.

The next thing is to deliberatly sail closer and closer to the capsize edge (warm day, wading depth) so that everyone has the feel for exactly where the thrill ends and the capsize begins.

Knowledge displaces fear.

Fun displaces everything.


02-27-2003, 10:21 AM
Good topic. I feel blessed that my wife, a non-sailor until I inflicted myself upon her, seems to have a natural affinity for sailing without an innate fear of heeling. This, however, is on a 28' keelboat. She understands the physics of having two tons of lead hanging underneath the boat.

But I'm not sure she'd be so confident in a twitchy dink. I like Ian's suggestion of doing capsize & recovery drills. If your wife is a good swimmer and is not afraid of the water, as you say, she's probably just afraid of losing control and dumping the boat. Once she realizes that dumping the boat isn't the end of the world, she'll probably lose her fear of heeling.

02-27-2003, 11:19 AM
SWMBO went into momma bear mode when the kids were little & she was pregnant. It may be worth trying when the kinder are ashore w/ Grandma, but I doubt it.
Dealing with irrational fear demands motivation. Lacking that you either sail alone, acquire a mistress, or sell the boat :(
We sold the boat. :rolleyes:

[ 02-27-2003, 11:21 AM: Message edited by: TomRobb ]

Wild Wassa
02-27-2003, 12:21 PM
Coastie, I see this fear in grown men when I Skipper. When you had a heel of 20, did you have the sheets on as hard a you could ? Was the boat unstable ? A comfortable sailboat ride shouldn't induce real fear.

Learn to get the boat upright in a matter of moments, and without the kids, did you all have PFD's on ? My little Lucy is learning canoes before she learns sailboats. Although she is good at dinghy maintenance already.



[ 02-27-2003, 12:39 PM: Message edited by: Wild Wassa ]

Adam C
02-27-2003, 12:41 PM
I ran into this with my wife as well, especially on our current boat, which needs 20 degrees of heel to go anywhere. She overcame it herself, after I handed her the tiller and sheets. It took several months of trying, but she is comfortable with it now.

This problem was exacerbated by the fact that our previous boat hardly heeled at all, and sh wasn't used to it even after years of sailing.

02-27-2003, 12:44 PM
And then there are those of us that are fine with a 30-40 degree heel but think the runabout is going to flip over backwards as it comes up on a plane :rolleyes: Seriously, the first time I was out by myself and accelerated the power boat, I just knew the d**n thing was gonna flip.

Tilt me sideways any day :D

02-27-2003, 12:58 PM
When we started teaching our boys to sail, they too were concerned about capsizing in the Snipe. Soooo, we capsized it on purpose. It was a nice warm day, we discussed what to do before we ever went out, and we made sure everyone understood what would happen and when it would happen. Granted dumping a Snipe and re-righting it is a lot easier than in a big keel boat, but after a bit of bailing, they were both ready to go dump it again...and again...and again. They got comfortable with the idea that nothing worse was going beyond getting wet. After the first capsize, we also let them control the sheets and tiller so that they could get a better feel for where that ragged edge of control is on that particular boat. Fast forward just a very few years, and Alan is race crew for my dad on the big sloop.


ken mcclure
02-27-2003, 01:02 PM
Heh. I posted this last July:

Well. I finally got a free weekend day to go sailing so I took my daughter (4 1/2 yrs old), headed for Lake Arthur in Western Pennsylvania and rented a sailboat. What a trip it was!

No, the boat wasn't wood, but the daggerboard and the rudder were. It was a little dinghy (around 14ft) with a main and a jib.

The weather was picture perfect at 80 degrees F with some high thin clouds and winds around 5 knots from the northwest. We lathered up with sunblock and made sure the emergency rations (pretzels and vanilla wafers) were securely zip-locked and that the drinking water bottle (16 oz) was securely stowed.

With a last check of the life vests, we untied from the dock and pointed the bow towards the lake and glided off ... until the breeze shifted and we glided back into the line of empty rental boats that were waiting to snag unwary sailors. After we had untangled the main sheet (which had been unexplicably tangled on the mooring cleat of one of the boats) we again pointed the bow outward, filled the sails and took off.

What joy! What exuberance! What wind? No more than 50 feet from the dock the wind gave a small wheeze and expired. I looked at my daughter, she looked at me. She said, "Can we go home now?"

I said, "Arrrrr, matey. We ain't goin' nowhere whilst we're caught in theese here doldrums. Why there's tales of ships that were becalmed for weeks in these latitudes! Arrrrr!" And no sooner had I said that than the wind returned, filled the sails and the boat heeled a bit and took off.

The mate immediately screamed "We're tipping over! We're tipping over! We're going to drown!"

I rounded up to ease the pressure on the sails and we coasted comfortably to a stop. And stayed at a stop. We were in irons. I said, "Arrr, we're in irons. Why, there's tales of ships..." And she interrupted me to ask whether we could go back now.

We eventually worked out most of the kinks and managed to sail across the lake and back. We saw a number of other boats, one of which was particularly friendly. As they watched us come about (it only took 2 tries that time) their captain gave a friendly wave and leaned to say something to his crew. They all laughed heartily and watched us sail by, obviously envious of the two sailors out for the day in a small, fast agile dinghy with faded red plastic sides and rust-stained sails. Salty, indeed!

And to my immense pride, I managed to put the boat no more than 25 feet away from the landing spot I had targeted.

As we made our way back to the truck to head for the swimming area, my daughter said "Daddy when we come back here again and go out in the boat to go sailing, I'm not going."

"Mutiny!" says I. "Why, there's tales of ships..." And she sighed and said, "Oh, Daddy."
What I'm doing is building a power boat instead of a sail boat. (sigh)

Art Read
02-27-2003, 01:04 PM
Funny you should mention that, Margo... The only boat that ever "startled" me was a little RIB with a riduclous amount of horsepower. After delivering my passengers ashore at a sedate pace, I floored it running back out to the big boat alone. (This was obviously my first time using this tender...) I'm glad nobody got a picture of my face as I scrambled forward to try to bring that bow back down! (It DID go like a bat out of hell once I learned to get it up on a plane "gently", but it still felt like I was right on the edge of control with it wide open. Not often I use more than 2 speeds on a small outboard. Idle and full out... With that one I was positively "timid"! ;)

Blues Cappy
02-27-2003, 01:13 PM
I had the same problem with my man, when we started dating. He'd never been sailing, I learned to walk on a sailboat. Even if your wife does decide to give it another shot, it's possible she's just never going to feel comfortable. After 16 thorough years of trying, I'm giving up the comfy cruising boat for a daysailer I can take out solo. But if you aren't willing to give up trying, your best bet might be to work on the kids--see if you can transfer some of your confidence and comfort to them, much like your wife did with her fear. Chances are good one of the bunch can be swayed by your enthusiasm.

Buddy Sharpton
02-27-2003, 01:15 PM
Coastie, beyond here they be demons. Gary Hoyt ( marketer of Freedoms, Americat, Alerions) wrote an interesting article in Sail about what the market needed to offer to get more people sailing. He made the observation about heeling being a real problem, not trying to be sexist, but factual, that far more women than men had that fear. Athletic women who would row shells, do kayaks, rock climb, fly in small planes, motorcycle- would just be seized by fear when it heeled. He thought if somebody cculd design a gimballing cockpit and accomodation for the crew ,they could make a fortune. I suppose he is still working on it.
I think lovely as it is to you and I, the Catspaw, being a round bottomed, unballasted dinghy is an uphill (downhill) figh. My wife does our keel boat fine, but now that we aren't racing, she is very vocal about my urge for more sail. The 170's and spinakers aren't used when she's aboard. Past 12 degrees of heel in a puff, and I'm pressing too hard. I just accept that I'm going to go only 90% of the speed the boat can make.
Our round bottomed 14'whitehall just scares her if its blowing more than 10mph. It's a given. That's why I went to the MarshCat- great beam stability and 200 pounds ballast. She likes this boat, but I rigged single line reefing so I can shorten sail easily, and often.
The angle of heel is the whole deal- not speed, not noise, not spray.

Can you borrow something- with greater beam, maybe a wider v bottom, that can reef easily, and has side decks, coamings, cockpit seats, and ballast- to ease the roll time and ease her out again? Truly the catspaw, for all its best features, has all the worse traits for this problem
combination of twitchy roll, greater angle of heel, and low freeboard which make her fear she's going to be in the water at any monment. Borrow the equivalent of that nice, wouldn't run off with anybody trailhorse, not a high- strung throughbreed jumper.
I wouldn't trade boats right off because there's a fair chance that this isn't something an adult women can lick. But you can raise daughters who won't be bothered by it at all- I have two that started as babes, and one really loves to sail, the other likes to go. But they both prefer the keel boat.

02-27-2003, 01:22 PM
Fortunatly my wife is more afraid of being a widow than of drowning.

02-27-2003, 02:31 PM
Welcome to the forum, Blues Cappy!


John B
02-27-2003, 03:08 PM
Coastie, dinghy sailing is a lot different to keel sailing. Much more reactive to the breeze and much less stable feeling. Perhaps you might try taking your wife sailing on a bigger boat to 'aclimatise' her to the feeling of heel.( in addition to the education factor mentioned above of course) Pick a good day. Several times over the years I have seen people frighten their families off sailing by going out in marginal weather. Stress shows in the skippers behaviour and is felt by the crew..... next thing it's single handed time.

Scott Rosen
02-27-2003, 04:15 PM
Welcome Blues Cappy. Beautiful boats, by the way. The Crocker is a real looker. Art Read is building a Dark Harbor, and has posted some pics of his progress on the Forum.

As a man, I can assure you that giving up those beautiful boats for the love of one of my gender could be a big, big mistake.

Blues Cappy
02-27-2003, 04:44 PM
Thank you for the kind welcomes. I've been reading around the forum for a few days and finally found a subject to respond to that was close to the soul.

Scott, never fear, I will most assuredly own another beautiful wooden boat one day.

02-27-2003, 09:41 PM
Hey, Costie, here's a reply from a female one-time heel-a-phobic.

My dad introduced me to the ocean surf when I was about 4 years old. He picked me up kicking and screaming and carried me out beyond the breakers. I avoided even being near him on the beach for weeks to follow and rarely do I enjoy a dip in the sea today. He also introduced me to sailing. He bought the family a Bluejay and wanted to have me and my brothers sail with him. I can remember my terror as I walked down the dock peering out onto the bay for whitecaps and if I saw one, I turned and ran for the clubhouse. I once was bullied by an older boy who took me out in his little sailboat and swamped it on purpose. As far as I'm concerned, capsizing sucks no matter how warm the water is.

But as time went by, Dad got a bigger boat. And that made all the difference in the world to me. I realize that I'm an ON-the-water person not an IN-the water person. As long as I'm sure I won't be swimming, I've grown to really love saliling. One of my fondest memories of sailing is of me and my dad returning from our informal Thursday night races, tearing along under the full moon with the rail of our Pearson 26 all but buried. Heeling under a stiff breeze is what it's all about! But I didn't always feel that way.

Perhaps you and your wife could go for a sail on something bigger and see if she enjoys it. Best of luck.

02-28-2003, 12:36 AM
Thanks all for some interesting advice. I had my wife read your replies and she kept saying "see,see... told you so" if that doesn't make sense; she tried to blame it on me and the boat as well as pointing out the ladies advice. I just will "have to get a bigger boat". Although I have not done a capsize drill (I Will) I have stood on the rail (160lbs) with the board up and had three inches of freeboard at the dock. I live in a remote part of Louisiana where sailboats are rare, nothing but bassboats on the lakes. So there is no support for her in terms of lessons, other sailors, or even freinds that could join her. This is not our "home", the Army decided we would live here. What makes it bad for her is the fact that she is from that sailing paradise know as Mount Desert Island, Maine... quite a bit different down here.

[ 02-28-2003, 12:40 AM: Message edited by: Coastie ]

02-28-2003, 01:54 AM
After paddling for 30 years before recently taking up sailing I have a bit of the fear myself, tho not quite phobia. I worried mostly about our cold water or sinking my hard work. I found starting off slowly with a reefed main in calm conditions, slowly getting accustomed to the idea that a sailboat is stable and safe while healing was what I needed. Learning the difference between a car and sailboat perhaps.

Dave Hadfield
03-03-2003, 01:15 PM
Robin, my partner and wife, hates reefing, steers all the time, puts the boat on its ear and calls me a wimp when I'm down below making sandwiches hollering "Ease off up there!!!" through the companionway. I don't know where she gets it from, but I wish I could package it and sell it. No fear of capsizing and damn the rig anyway....

We've had guests and friends aboard who've been scared of heeling (mostly female, I'm afraid), and nothing I've said has made any real difference. Partly it's a guy thing, I think. Few women, in a situation they view as threatening, pay any attention to a male's explanation of anything, particularly if it's technical. The explanation has to come from a female and even then may not sink in, especially if it has terms like "leverage, ballast or floatation" in it.

If the guest has an open mind, giving them the tiller or sheet makes a difference, true, once they've figured out what to do with it. If their eyes are glazed though, you've lost them.

If they've brought children aboard, concentrate on them. As you teach and explain things to them, the parent might perk up and try to comprehend. They're often willing to suspend their disbelief and get involved in whatever their children are participating in.

If it's your spouse, perhaps you can suggest an alternative: there's always canoeing, kayaking, rowing or even motoring. I think a power boat with a displacement hull must be the most seemiongly non-threatening introduction to the water possible.

Failing that, there are sailing courses for women only.

Don't give up, but look for alternative ways.

Art Read
03-03-2003, 01:55 PM
Occasionally, during my sailing classes, our first day out will be a "howler". (I much prefer a fairly easy breeze to start with, but I'd rather have too much wind rather than too little, or heaven forbid, none, for teaching beginers any day. But that's another topic...)

Often on days like this, I can sense pretty quickly who is uncomfortable. You can see it in their eyes and almost read it in their minds. "Well, I'm glad we did this BEFORE buying a boat! Ain't no way in hell I'm ever going to be doing THIS for "fun"..."

When I see that, I try to put that person on the helm. I'll let them get a feel for it just long enough to see that I'm unconcerned, and not hovering over their every move, and then I'll causually ask if they feel like maybe they're going break something, or perhaps even tip us over, not really knowing what they're doing? A quick, nervous little nod is the usual response. So I'll say, "Tell you what... Why don't you just go ahead and turn the wheel as hard as you want, any way that you want, and we'll just see what happens?" (First, of course, I make sure we're on at least a close reach with the boom in nice and tight and that everybody is down in the cockpit and out of harm's way...) If I'm lucky, they'll turn to weather and we wind up hove to with the boat floating peacefully on the other tack while I explain what just happened. But it doesn't really matter. If they turn the other way, they might get a little "wide eyed" when the boat heels even more as we turn beam to the wind with that sheet hauled in, but then they see it come back upright again as we start to bear off and that begins to relax them. Eventually of course, we jibe and round up hard on the other tack and then just end up being hove to again anyway. In fact, I usually have them do it both ways, just to prove that they REALLY aren't going to break anything, capsize or sink us! ;)

After everybody's had time to settle down a bit, I show 'em how to get out of being hove to, and then let the same person "put her to it" again. At least now they trust that they aren't going to break anything, or "tip over", and the difference is often startling. Suddenly, they're laughing and making "Capt. Ron" jokes... And now they're actually INTERESTED in such things as triming the sails to match the point of sail so as to "ease" and/or get the "most" out of the boat. Where as before, they were just too "preoccupied" with their own discomfort to pay any attention at all to "petty details" like that, now, they WANT to know.

Showing somebody how to heave to and "stop this crazy thing" goes a loooooong way towards dispelling anxiety. I think most fear is a result of feeling "not in control". Showing them that they ARE, in fact, in charge of the vessel, instead of the other way around, is the first step in creating that unique appreciation for, and love of, sailing that many of us with long experience too often take for granted as "natural".

(Of course, I teach using ballasted keel boats. This "technique" is probably not too wise with dingies or other small, capsizable, daysailors! ;) )

[ 03-03-2003, 03:08 PM: Message edited by: Art Read ]

03-03-2003, 06:24 PM
I should have added that I always show them about headers and lifters (wind shifts and gusts) and how you head up or down depending on the wind.

Then if it is hairy enough that I need to drive the boat I have them scan the water for wind shifts and tell me what's happening. If they are wrong I will tell them that I think it might be something different, but teaching a novice how to read the water and waves gives them a big heads up because they can expect things that are going to happen.

Also I have found that it means they are start to look forward to seeing what happens, when you get a gust or shift and they were right. As a driver I will talk them through it, so we head up in a lifter and keep the boat at the same angle of heel.

That is another thing. I will always try to sail it with no change in the angle of heel. On the Melges I do this in one of two ways. The first is to work the traveler controls alot. The second is to head up or down depending on what the wind is doing. I rarely touch the mainsheet, though it is in my hand the whole time (and in a jam cleat)

Good luck,