How to Sail

A living room trainer helps teach you how to handle your sailboat.
By Mike Drucker*
SAILING is by no means difficult and the fundamentals can be learned by the average person in a matter of hours. An obvious question arises at this point. “Can we learn to sail from a written text?” In most cases, the answer is “No!” Generally, nothing more can be gleaned from an article of this type than a knowledge of how it should be done.
An electric fan or the blower on a vacuum cleaner provides wind for practising with cigar box boat.

The easiest way to begin to sail Is on a reach. Keep the wind coming over the side of the boat at about 90° from the centre line. Pennant or smoke from stack con is used as a wind indicator. Note direction.

In order to sail back over the same line—or reach—turn the boat by pushing the tiller toward boom. Draw sail In as boom swings In. When on new course let sail assume the same angle as on other courses.

By sailing a zig-zag course into the wind we are able to make headway In that direction. To change your tack (turn), push the tiller toward the boom. Handle on cigar box boat acts same- as tiller on the sailboat.

However, I am attempting to do more than just that. By constructing a simple cigar box trainer and utilizing it in con­junction with an electric fan, the action of the wind on the sail can be studied at first hand. The tiller or rudder control on the trainer will act exactly as it would on a sailboat You will be amazed at the ground you can c_iver without ever having cast off a mooring. A nautical purist will cringe at my obvious omission of nautical language. The use of nautical terminology in an arti­cle written for the benefit of the would-be sailor will only add to his confusion. An individual interested in sailing will, once he has gotten his “sea legs,” quickly enough acquire a nautical vocabulary, but let us get him sailing first.

The maneuvers are described in num­bered sequence so they may be followed and referred to, with ease.


If the question were put to a dozen sailboat skippers, as to their recommendations for the ideal beginner’s boat, you will probably receive twelve different answers, each one using his own early experience as a basis for his choice. Therefore, I main-thin that the best boat for a beginner is any sailboat he can beg, borrow or rent. Of course, it would be unwise for him to try to learn to sail on a 75-ft. schooner. Therefore, the only limitation I place is that it be a single-masted vessel of such size that an individual can handle it easily alone. The sailboat should have a fixed counterweight in its bottom (a keel) or one with a pivoted steel plate called the centreboard. The centreboard and keel serve to prevent the boat from drifting sideways. For simplicity of description, I will assume that the boat being used is similar to the one used in the demonstra­tion photos: that is. a single-sailed dinghy. Any additional sails will only increase the confusion. Once the basic principles are mastered, there is no problem in adapting the use of the additional jib sail. The ves­sel depicted in the photographs is Midge constructed from plans (No. 927) pub­lished in MECHANIC” It.thiantatro. is 71/2-ft. fiat bottomed pram, with 27 sq. ft. of sail and a dagger type centreboard.

Before getting under -nay there are cer­tain precautions that must be taken These rules should apply for the balance of your sailing career.

I. Never enter the boat without having on board an approved life jacket.

  • Do not take passengers until you are proficient in sailing.
  • Determine as best you can the weather conditions for the day and continue to ob­serve them for the balance of the day.
  • Always have aboard a secondary means of propulsion: either oars, paddles or a small horsepower outboard motor. While in some quarters this is considered heresy, it nevertheless can save a lot of hard work for the beginner.
  • A suitable pump or bailer should be kept on board.
  • Never tie down the rope used to con­trol the sail Hold it in your hand at all times.
  • Face the boom when steering.

As far as clothing is concerned, I rec­ommend a hat as a must and the balance depends on your morals, your pocketbook or your social standing.

It can safely be assumed that the person from whom the boat was commandeered will instruct the beginner in the proper method of raising sails for that particular boat.

We can now proceed to the actual me­chanics of “making the boat go.”

When dead into the wind, the sail will shake violently. Shift weight to other side and boat will continue to swing. On new course now, draw in boom close to the centerline, then set at an angle of 450 to the direction of the wind.

When sailing downwind, keep the wind over the shoulder which is away from the boom. Tack downwind by bringing the sail In over centre of the boat. allowing wind on both sides as In tacking, only from the rear.

Now swing the boat to the op posits side, being careful to bring the wind over the shod. der once more. Permit the sail to swing over to the new side. To get full power from the wind. set the sail at about 90′ angle.


Before casting off your first mooring, it is necessary to acquire the “feel” of the boat. By this I mean, getting to know its limits of stability, the sensitive or sluggish action of the rudder, etc. MI this can be done while still safely tied to the mooring. Proceed as follows:

1. Lower the centerboard and keep it down while you are learning.

2. Take your position at the tiller.

3. Bring the sail over the centre of the boat and hold it there.

4. Gradually push the tiller away from you, then with force pull it towards you. This will swing the boat to one side. The wind will then strike the sail and impart a forward motion to the boat.

5. Permit the boat to sail until it has reached the limits of the anchor line.

6. Then release the sail and the tiller and permit the boat to settle back to its previ­ous position at the end of the mooring line.

7. Repeat this until you feel more re­laxed about handling the boat and until a measure of control is achieved.

Assuming that you have mastered the above, let us now actually get under way.

By simply casting off his mooring and as­suming that his boat will start sailing, the beginner runs the danger of permitting his boat to collide with other moored boats. Therefore, I recommend that you row the boat to a clear area, drop the anchor, then proceed to set your sails. Once this is done, haul in the anchor and get gilder way. If while hauling in the anchor, you do drift back, you will then have plenty of sea


I recommend that all the following ma­neuvers be practiced with the home trainer so that you will have a good mental picture of the procedure. When using the trainer in executing a change of direction, do not simply swing it around, but try to impart a forward motion so that a more accurate demonstration will be achieved.


One of the simplest and most delightful ways of sailing is known as “a reach.” When sailing in this manner, the vessel is able to sail from one point to another and return with no complicated maneuvering. A ves­sel is considered to be sailing on a reach when the wind is coming directly from the side of the boat. The wind indicator, a flag or a bit of ribbon in the rigging, would be pointed 90° from the center line of the boat.

  1. Let us assume that we have cast off our mooring with the wind coming over the left hand side of the boat.
  2. Our objective is to sail a distance away, and then to turn around and come back to the original starting point. It is always a good idea to pick an object on the shore to steer by. Proceed along with the boom tip about two feet away from the rear corner of the boat. When we have reached the point where it becomes neces­sary to turn the boat, push the tiller firmly to the side of the boat upon which the boom is located. Do not jam the tiller over be­cause the boat will then lose considerable speed.
  3. As the boat swings gradually around to the left, steadily haul in on the sail. Per­mit the boat to swing until it is headed back


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