Race to Alaska: Sailing 101

“Okay. Run me through the order of operations one more time?”

It’s around 3am, and Ert and I are crouched on the foredeck to change out the jib sail.

We’ve got tethers from our sailing harnesses carabinered to jacklines on the boat to make sure the bucking seas can’t toss us overboard. We’re still getting sprayed. I’ve got a nub of ginger root in my mouth against the nausea triple threat of rough seas, not enough sleep, and empty stomach.

But the wind kicked up, we had to reef the main sail (lowering it a bit to reduce the amount of sail blowing us over), and now the big jib is overpowering the main and making it hard to steer. So now is the time for me to learn how to change jib sails on a sailboat that’s underway.

“Rick turns upwind to de-power the sails. You lower the jib halyard while I flake the sail onto the deck. You switch the jib sheets from the old sail to the new one- make sure to keep the lines routed the same way. I’ll change over the halyard and cars. Then we pull up the jib.”

Like many such things, it’s not really complicated. You just have to get it right, and in some cases getting it wrong can be catastrophic.

In this case, my potential damage is limited. I untie the sheets from the tack (back corner) of the old jib and whip quick bowlines into the new.

Liam is giving similar coaching to Rick back in the cockpit as he learns how to steer for this maneuver. “Fall off” means to point less upwind, useful in case you’ve “pinched” too close to directly upwind, leaving your sails flapping (luffing) uselessly, “in irons”. It’s surprisingly hard to hold a straight line: the boat rocks over waves, wind shifts, your arm drifts, you get a little off true and compound the error by moving the tiller the wrong way trying to correct.

Our tutors are patient, and the instruction could not be more timely; a mettle-testing racecourse makes for a strange training ground, but we’re here now, so there’s no better time left.

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An adventurer, woodland creature, and engineer. Currently working on data ownership models, environmental accountability, and intentional community.

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Kelsey Breseman

Kelsey Breseman

An adventurer, woodland creature, and engineer. Currently working on data ownership models, environmental accountability, and intentional community.

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