Ship helm

Ship helmFeeling the helm with the hands is another skill that needs to be mastered. The novice should take firm hold of his tiller, but not grip it; if there is a nice smart breeze, and the beginner will learn best when the wind is not extremely light, he should pull his tiller up -that is, towards him, so as to turn the vessel's head a little off the wind and fill her sails well. Let him pull his helm up until the boat is not only a "good full," but decidedly off the wind.

As he does this he will notice the boat slightly increase her angle of heel, and he will feel the pressure of the water on the rudder. If there is a skipper or old sailor on board, this individual will say: " She's off the wind, sir." We do not want this information at the moment.

Now when the novice feels this pressure of water upon the rudder through the tiller to his hands, let him for a few moments fix his eye upon some mark ahead any object will do, a boat, a buoy, a patch of white seagulls resting on the sea, anything and let him for a short while keep the yacht's nose straight on this mark, or fairly straight.

We do not wish him to pay attention to the mere fact of keeping straight. We wish him to think chiefly of something else. We want him to keep his mind upon the peculiar feeling or slight throbbing or pressure of the water upon the rudder as conveyed through the tiller to his hands.

Relax the fingers a bit and hold the tiller with the palms of the hands; knead the tiller a little with the fat inner part of the thumbs so as to feel and resist the pressure and tendency of this tiller to take charge. The object in view is to get an exact idea of the weight of the water on the rudder. This is what is meant by the feel of the vessel.

The angler fishing a stream with rod and line has a difficulty in knowing when he is a beginner the whereabouts of his flies. As he proceeds he gradually knows by instinct just where his fly is; he feels and he is always in touch with his fly, and, no matter what may be the character of the stream, the good wet fly fisherman knows just where to look for and feel the trout rise, although his fly is invisible.

It is the same with the helmsman of a yacht, although he may not know it. He will gradually grow to feel this pressure of the water upon the rudder conveyed through the tiller to his hands so exactly that he can tell precisely when the boat is "just nicely full" when sailing to windward. He will know by the feel of her, without looking at his sails.

We do not, however, expect the novice to know this all at once, and we are not asking him to attempt it. So far all we have asked him to do is to take the helm in a nice breeze, pull it up a little, and for a few hundred yards keep her decently straight on some mark ahead and fix his mind upon this rudder pressure, and so through his hands try to begin to realize this feeling.

In the fresh puffs she pulls pretty hard, and it is some effort to keep her on the mark ahead. It becomes quite an exertion, even gripping pretty hard with the fingers of both hands, and this takes the attention off this first attempt at feeling the boat.

The sheets of the boat are trimmed properly for close-hauled sailing, and the boat is of herself luffing and asking to be sailed "full and by" So far we have only discussed feeling the helm of the boat. We will now show the novice how to let her come up and sail her to windward.