View Full Version : bringing about a heavy old ketch

Carl Stone
07-23-2001, 11:59 AM
I know this is building and repair, but there must be some pretty seasoned sailors in the forum. If I am not out of line, here's the question. If I am sailing jib and mizzen (even main sometimes) in light air, (even though every glass boat around me is doing fine) and attempt to come about, she will get almost there, then no matter what you do, she will turn back to where she was. This weekend we took some "sloopers" with us (very experienced) and watched them get very very frustrated. By the way, the mizzen is as large as the jib. What are we not doing? the boat is 45', but only draws 3'9" (bluenose hull) built in Lunnenburg, and of course in any real wind, flies in any direction with absolutely no problem. PS: Reading the forum all winter enabled us to do an entire interior refit while in the water (rib to rib), so we are finally enjoying the fruits of our labor.

Ian McColgin
07-23-2001, 12:14 PM
One common practice is to back the jib but this has two disadvantages:

You pretty much stop the boat and thus have steering problems till she gathers way; and

Keeping the jib tight and full untill you're into the wind and it backs, slows your ability to get her head around, which is half the problem.

Try letting the jib fly at the command 'ready about' and then get someone to haul the mizzen to the existing weather side and try to keep it full out there till you're around.

The mizzen will act like an outboard pushing the stern around.

This is also your chance to practice trick sailing, like making her go backwards and learning how to handle the reversed helm.


Nora Lee
07-23-2001, 12:19 PM
Had the same problem yesterday in very light winds, had to crank the iron staysail to bring her around. We are a 19 ton boat... What are your boat particulars? Ours is an Angleman design ketch, similar to the Sea Witch but not quite, still trying to find out what design she is.

Sea Fever's First Mate,

Nora Lee

07-23-2001, 12:22 PM
You know I had a similar problem this weekend, but I just have 14 footer with a sprit sail.

I noticed that in the light winds when trying to turn about 180 degrees that I couldn't turn the bow into the wind and complete the turn. It would get about halfway and just stall. I would than have to fall back off in the same direction I was orginally going.

I did find that it would turn around great if I turned downwind. It would turn around on a dime that way, but no matter how hard I tried I couldn't turn into the wind.

I think a lot of my problem though is just in-experiance.


Steve Souther
07-23-2001, 01:20 PM
Same as Ian. I've had that trouble with my H16 and I finally figured out that I needed not only to back the jib, but the main needed backing (to weather as per Ian) as well. This worked beautifully. The wind simply spun the boat (through) in place. While at anchor, a boats sailing characteristics can sometimes be observed.


Carl Stone
07-23-2001, 01:37 PM
Ian: backed the jib, seemed like it would work, but she got cantankerous at the point. Also hauled the mizzen with instant results.....to the same point. This vessel is not named the Sea Witch for nothin! But....trick sailing is fun!
Nora Lee: Will add particulars, even some pix eventually. Sound like Sea Fever and Sea Witch went to the same finishing school. Wasn't it named Captain Ahabs for floating debutantes?
Chad: No matter how many adventures, how many years out, there will always be a new experience or condition. That's why we go out every chance available.
Thank to all for the quick answers. It's so nice to know it's not only us. When, and IF we every master this, we will update you.

Ian McColgin
07-23-2001, 02:20 PM
How's the trim? Could she be a bit down in the bows? It's just odd for a sail boat to stick her bow into the wind and hang there. I'd fool with the trim first, but you may also need to get the sail area moved ahead a little.

I learned the bit about dropping the jib a hair early from a crew member who would not follow directions. I wanted the sheet let go just as the luff broke - like any normal boat, right?

So I'd prepare the crew with, "Ready about!" And Vic, d&*n her eyes would fling off the jib sheet. Took about 5 tacks, with me vainly attempting to teach her (Vic) the right way, before I noticed that the old girl (Goblin) was coming about with much more zest than her usual hesitant waddle.

I bet that if you caste off the jib before you spin the wheel, and power with the mizzen backed, you'll have her around before she can remember where she likes to stop.

You may also need to overtack to a reach, starting all the sheets till she gathers way. If you end your tack at 5 points off the wind, which I imagine is about as weatherly as you can normally sail, your speed recovery may be so slow that she eases up into irons after an other wise good tack. Go to 6 or 7 points off, easing the sheets for that, and head back up once you have her mooving.


Roger Cumming
07-23-2001, 02:42 PM
Before we got RARUS, we had a Dragon class sloop - a sleek, racing boat designed in 1927 with a modern tall mainsail and genoa on a fractional rig, with running backstays. We got used to putting down the helm, releasing the runners on one side, setting them on the other. We never missed. We had to keep from turning too sharply and slowing the boat. She would accelerate as the helm came back and she settled into her new course. In RARUS, a gaff yawl with lots of windage due to its high bow and bulwarks, we had to learn to turn sharply and to keep the helm there until she passed through the eye of the wind. Her weight will carry her through in light air. However, it is necessary to have the mainsail set in light winds, as the boat sails on her mainsail primarily, like most traditional sailboats. In very light winds, with no mainsail up, and choppy water due to powerboat wakes (common on weekends where we sail), RARUS will get cranky. It helps to have the crew sit on the leeward side to keep the booms where they belong. And, it helps to recognize (but not admit) that many modern light fiberglass sailboats with their fin keels and large headsails perform very well in light air. Otherwise, everyone would still be sailing boats with big gaff mainsails and topsails, topmasts, double running backstays, etc.

Ed Harrow
07-23-2001, 03:13 PM
What Roger said "put the helm hard over and keep it there until she passes thru" or close to that (the quote). You've got a lot of keel that says "let's keep going the way we're going" and, in comparison, probably, a bit of a rudder that doesn't have a whole lot of influence on things.

Of course, if you don't have enough way on even that probably won't do the trick.

John B
07-23-2001, 03:32 PM
It doesn't sound as if you have enough power on before you tack. If you have to, you could drop off the wind a fraction until you feel her power up and then throw....

Mike in SC
07-23-2001, 04:05 PM
You've gotten a lot of good advice- if it all fails here's some really bad advice. Mount a pair of the biggest cleats you can find on each beam just aft of center. Attach a length of rope to each cleat and the biggest sea anchors you can find at the other ends of the ropes. Just prior to tacking, drop windward sea anchor over side and throw over the helm just as soon as the line draws tight. Would recommend having a crew of gorillas that can be trained to get the sea anchor back in before you fetch up on new course. I believe this was the recommended method for tacking Buccaneer sailboats in the '80s. Hope one of the above suggestions works!

Dale Harvey
07-23-2001, 06:23 PM
If a "crank" vessel were an easy fix, a previous owner would probly have done it. It might help to rake the masts aft, unfortunately by the time you get enough rake the boom may droop. It could be the fault of poorly cut sails. Consult a GOOD sailmaker who will know how to tweak the draft. You could also increase the size of the rudder, or reduce its rake if it is steep. Increased rudder area will likely require a larger stock and gear to turn it. Be carefull that any fix does not transform an irritating light air problem into a dangerous heavy weather problem!!

Carl Stone
07-24-2001, 07:03 AM
Dale et al: Thanks again. The masts are raked, and the rudder is a huge spoon ( approx 42" long) with a large worm gear on timbers for the wheel. My marina is right across the street from UK Sails on City Island,NY, and I will go over there and chat with them. After all these years of existence, and 29 trips to Bermuda , I can not question the design of the vessel, only my ability to figure out her quirks. As before, I will report to all after this weekend.

Mike in SC
07-24-2001, 02:46 PM
Carl- you might pick up a copy of "The Boat That Wouldn't Float" by Farley Mowat. I seem to recall that 'Itchyassedsally' had the same problem and I believe he recounts his solution to same. Of course 'till he figured it out he'd use the iron wind to bring her around, which was always exciteing as, being a one cylinder make-or-break, he never knew which way she'd go. Actually that's not true- he knew from experience that she'd ALWAYS go opposite of where she should.

07-24-2001, 04:32 PM
That was a lovely book - I remember the bit where the sun burst through the fog in 'New Scotland' one day and choked the hospital with sunburnt victims.
Carl, you seem to know the sharp end from the other so obvious tips you will have already done. My old smack is about 17 tons on 44' and has the usual long keel of an 1885 old lady though not a ketch. I have found in light airs that easing sheets and laying off to full and by to pick up some speed for a bit then easing her up into the wind while hardening sheets helps immediatly before the tack. It seems to be a help that you start the tack when really close hauled. Next point is that while max helm is needed and held for many seconds as she comes way past the eye of the wind it is bad news to just whack the helm over, especially if you are tiller steered like a smack. Too much helm too fast will put the brakes on her and drag her into irons.
A smack will not tack without a jib which makes the 20' bowsprit an essential bit of kit. Maybe a jib tops'l added on in light airs might help?
I've seen Mike Burns sailing his Albert Strange yawl in a marina and turning on a sixpence with just jib and mizzen, backing hardening and rolling up as needed. Handy sail a mizzen - I'm jealous.

08-02-2001, 06:13 PM
last but not least a suggestion that hasn't been mentioned yet:
try to streer a big arc nstead of throwing her around. i have experienced similar problems with full keel boats (45 - 51 ft) ans well as shallow ballasted work boats ( 16 - 20 ft):
with certain older boats, if you throw the helm over to attempt a quick tack as you'd do it in a modern sloop, the rudder just functions as a break. sitting perpendicular to your course and there's no way to getting her around.
another thing to play around with

Nicholas Carey
08-02-2001, 07:42 PM
Originally posted by inka:
last but not least a suggestion that hasn't been mentioned yet:
try to streer a big arc nstead of throwing her around. i have experienced similar problems with full keel boats (45 - 51 ft) ans well as shallow ballasted work boats ( 16 - 20 ft):
with certain older boats, if you throw the helm over to attempt a quick tack as you'd do it in a modern sloop, the rudder just functions as a break. sitting perpendicular to your course and there's no way to getting her around.
another thing to play around with

I'll buy that. Most non-foil rudders stall at a relatively low angle of attack.

Scott Rosen
08-03-2001, 09:08 AM
I think your problem is the shoal draft. As you come into the wind, leeway becomes as strong or stronger than headway and you must, by definition, stop dead in your tracks. In heavier air, you have enough forward momentum to overcome the leeway. We once owned a sloop with the same problem. We became so disgusted with the boat's performance that we sold her.

I think the solutions are already posted. And here's what I would try. First, you need more headway going into the tack. Before you tack, fall off a couple of points, almost to a close reach, build up speed and then throw your helm to leeward. Luff the jib and main immediately, but keep the mizzen sheeted in tight. In light air, your sails are the main cause of the leeway, so you need to let them luff before you get too close to the wind. As soon as the mizzen begins to luff, unsheet it. If the wind is light, the boat's headway alone should carry you through the wind, as long as you leave the sails luffing. If you sheet in the sails before your bow crosses on to the other tack, the effect will be to create more leeway than headway. If you back the jib before the bow crosses the wind, you will make the leeway worse. You'll just end up in irons that much faster.

If these suggestions don't work, you may just have a boat that won't tack in light air. You then have two choices. Fall off and jibe or fire up the engine.

[This message has been edited by Scott Rosen (edited 08-03-2001).]

Carl Stone
08-27-2001, 12:06 PM
Thanks to all for your suggestions. Finally got some wind here in New York this weekend, and we overcame the problem!! This worked every time: built up steam, used a WIDER arc, and just before turning the wheel, we luffed both mizzen and main quickly. Kept the jib till the last moment before she luffed, then adjusted with the opposite sheet to shape the jib for max air.
Got the main tight next, and the mizzen followed at a slower pace. What a sense of accomplishment. That old iron wind will have to wait for another day!