Peter and his ladies: Set your course then set your sail | Rockley


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Peter and his ladies -  Set your course then set your sail – or is it the other way round…?

After last weeks physical exertions, it was time for something a bit more relaxing. Also, Liz and Yvonne were BOTH away so we could get away with no racing……. The tide was good, the wind was kind so it was a good an opportunity to go around Long and Round Island. I know we have done it before but it is always good to remind yourselves of how beautiful Poole Harbour is. And after all, it was only 3 miles there…..

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So, to get there we had to sail up wind.  That means that we can’t actually aim for where we want to go.  So……

“You set your sails, then set your course according to your sails”.

What does that actually mean?

Ok, when sailing upwind your sails need to be pulled in tight. How tight depends on the wind conditions.

Right, so your sails are pulled in. Now what?  Well now you push your tiller away from you ever so gently until either your inside tell-tale flaps (if you have tell-tales) or the front (the leech) of the sail just flaps.  As this happens you pull the tiller towards you until the flapping stops and then straighten up your tiller.  This means that you are sailing along the edge of the No Go Zone.

Oh, wouldn’t it be lovely if it was that easy! The problem is that two things can happen; firstly, the wind shifts, (which it does the whole time); secondly, you aren’t actually steering a straight line. This means that you have to push the tiller away from you again to make sure that you are on the edge of the No Go Zone.

You have set your sails (you’ve pulled them in) and now you are setting your course according to your sails.

So we had 3 miles to practice this (I would like to point own up that this is a distance I would not even consider sailing in my Laser, I’m more of a sprinter than a marathon runner when it comes to dinghy racing) before we got to the islands for the all-important chocolate break.

Mel had wisely opted for a reef or two but, reassuringly, I told her that she would catch them up on the way back.


When we got to the back of the islands it was time to bear away * for the run home. Ah, the bear away, always a tricky manoeuvre in strengthening winds in a restricted channel. As Mel proved.

Well, you ain’t going to catch them up capsized.  “Pointy stick up” is always going to beat “Pointy stick down”.

Once we had collected them all up, as Mel was not alone in her swimming exploits, it was time for the sail home.  This part of the sail we could actually aim for where we wanted to go. 

So now we…“Set our course and set our sail according to our course.”

To explain this one, it means that we point our boat until we are heading for where we want to end up. We now let our sail out as far as we can until the front flaps or the outside tell-tale flaps. We then pull our sail in until it stops flapping. Again, wouldn’t it be lovely if that was it?  But I know, and you know now, that 2 things might have happened. Firstly, the wind might have changed; and secondly, you might not still be heading for where you want to finish up, due to lack of concentration, eating chocolates, chatting, waves or trying to do two things at once…

So very simply, make sure you are heading for where you want to and now let your sail out until it just starts to flap.

If you can get your head round those two rules then you will be long way down the road to becoming a good sailor.  But remember that you need to check course and sail setting probably every ten seconds but check by using small movement of the tiller.

Oh, and on the way home we practised some gybing but by then I think that we all just wanted to get in, so another time for some of that.

* To Bear Away - To Change course way from the wind

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