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Hobie Adventure Island Sailing Basics

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Great Bass 2:
I sailed and raced catamarans for 4 years when I lived in San Diego. A lot of Hobie AI owners are new to sailing so here are some tips to get you sailing faster and safer. I posted a Word version of this article 14 posts down on this page. It is easier to read and print. First you’ve got to learn the lingo.

Boat Terms
Aft - The back of a boat. The aft is also known as the stern.
Bow - The front of the boat.
Port - The left-hand side of the boat when you are facing the bow.
Starboard - The right-hand side of the boat when you are facing the bow.

Wind Terms
True Wind - The wind speed and direction as seen by a stationary observer.
Apparent Wind - The wind speed and direction as seen by an observer who is moving across the water.
Windward - The direction in which the wind is coming from.
Leeward - The direction to which the wind is going.
Header - Change in wind direction towards the bow of the boat.
Lift - Change in wind direction towards the stern of the boat.

Sailing Terms
Point of Sail - The angle between the boat and the wind
Heeling – Sideways tilt of the boat.
Reef - Furling part of the sail.
Mainsheet – The rope (line) that trims the mainsail.
Telltale – A wind direction indicator.
Trim - To pull the sheet in. (line)
Ease - To let out the sheet. (line)
Overtrim - A condition where the sail is trimmed in too tightly for the wind direction. The leeward telltale will be fluttering.
Undertrim - A condition where the sail is trimmed too loosely for the wind direction. The Sail will luff if undertrimmed and the windward telltale will be fluttering.
Luffing - The fluttering of a sail when a boat is pointed too close to the wind or the sail is eased out too far.
In Irons - The condition when the boat is pointed directly into the wind.
Tacking - Turning the bow of the boat through the eye of the wind.
Starboard Tack - When the starboard side of the boat is windward.
Port Tack - When the port side of the boat is windward.
Gybing - Turning the stern of the boat through the eye of the wind.
Head Up- Turning the bow of the boat towards the eye of the wind also referred to as pointing higher.
Bearing Away - Turning the bow of the boat away from the eye of the wind, also referred to as bearing off or falling off.

When and Where to Sail
When starting out, lakes would be the best for developing your sailing skills. Look for days with 5-10 Kt winds. As you develop your skills you can sail bays and lastly the open ocean. When sailing bays, factor in the tides and current. When sailing on the ocean, factor in the swell size, direction and periodicity. The Beaufort Wind Scale (see below) can be used as a guide but should not be relied on exclusively when deciding on whether to sail. As far as surf launching and landing, I would avoid any surf over 2 feet. I rolled a catamaran in 4 foot surf at Blacks Beach in San Diego and almost drowned because I got tangled underwater in the shrouds and forestay. Broke the mast in half and ended up with over $2,000 worth of damage.

Here are some ocean launches which are usually protected enough to launch a Hobie AI:
San Luis Obispo: Avila Beach, Morro Bay, Leffingwell Landing
Monterey Bay: Still Water Cove, Coast Guard Station, Monterey Bay Kayaks, Moss Landing, Santa Cruz Harbor
San Mateo Coast: Pigeon Point, Half Moon Bay
Marin: Muir Beach, Bolinas Lagoon
Sonoma Coast: Fort Ross, Timber Cove, Still Water Cove, Bodega/Doran Beach
Mendocino and Humboldt: Albion, Shelter Cove, Humboldt Bay

Here is a good resource for launch sites on the San Francisco Bay:

Sailing Up Wind
Sailboats can sail up wind because the curve of the sail creates lift like the wing of an airplane. Not all of the lift developed by a sail moves the boat ahead. Since the direction of lift is roughly at right angles to the sail, some of it tries to pull the boat sideways. The point of sail where a boat’s sails just begin to gain lift and propel the boat forward is called “close-hauled”. Generally this is about 40-45 degrees. When sailing close-hauled, the sails are brought in tight and the dagger board is all the way down and Mirage Drive fins pointing down. Movement up wind is accomplished through a series of alternating 90 degree turns (tacks) in a zig-zag pattern which is referred to as “tacking” or “beating” to windward. Technically this is the most challenging of the points of sail. In addition to generally being the slowest point of sail, sailing on the brink of the no-sail-zone means that any change in wind direction or change of course could end up deflating your sail causing you to lose speed. Also, because of the angle of the sails, the boat will encounter the most heeling force of any point of sail causing the boat to tilt (heel) over. If you have benches instead of trampolines and a tiller extension, this is when you would use them.

If not enough speed is carried through the tack, the boat can get suck pointing into the wind, “in irons”. Luckily with a Mirage drive, this never happens and when tacking, peddling through the tack is really helpful. When your sail is trimmed properly, the telltales on both sides of the sail should be horizontal. There 2 ways to achieve good sail trim; 1) adjust the sail using the main sheet and 2) use the rudder to change the heading. When sailing closed-hauled I usually pull the main sheet all the way in so the main sail is almost flat and then adjust the heading with the rudder until both telltales are horizontal. 

Up Wind Tactics
Going from point A to point B where point B is upwind (windward), involves one or more tacks. Choosing the tacks is a complex issue but to simplify, you want to sail the shortest distance at the fastest speed.

Shortest Distance: Usually going from A to B is not directly into the wind so you should sail on the tack that points closer to your destination for the longest time which is referred to as the preferred tack. This is sailing the shortest course. If you get a small header but are still on the tack closest to the destination, you probably will wait for a bigger header before considering a tack. On bays where the current is strong, you need to factor the current direction into your decisions.

Fastest Speed:When sailing on the bay or lakes, set up your tacks to maximize your exposure to clean air. Hills, buildings, large boats and jetties can create areas of “dirty” air which you want to avoid if possible. Also, sail towards and in the most wind pressure. Sailing in more pressure means you point higher upwind and go faster. Before you start and while sailing, look upwind and see where there is the most wind. If you draw a line from A to B and one side has clean air and the other side has dirty air then you want to lay out your your tacks to maximize the time you are in clean air which is preferred to as the preferred side of the course. In this case depending on the wind direction, you may not be sailing the shortest course but you will be getting to your destination faster.

Keep turns to a minimum. Make sure that each turn pays for itself in the sense that you will gain boat speed or shorten the distance to the destination. In racing, a tack will cost at least one boat length. The goal is to get to the destination in the shortest period of time. Sometimes you may choose a longer course to gain boat speed and sometimes you may choose to sail the shortest course. When you are sailing upwind with a buddy, agree on a destination and pretend you are racing. When you get to the destination, talk about what worked and why. Racing will accelerate your knowledge and skills and after awhile tacking decisions become intuitive.

Sailing Cross Wind
When sailing cross wind (reaching), the curve of the sail provides lift which moves the boat forward. Reaching provides the greatest boat speed and generates less heeling forced than sailing close-hauled. The sail should be trimmed so both telltales are horizontal. The dagger board is partially up. In this position the dagger board can no longer tilt backwards if you run aground so stay out of shallow water or pull the dagger board completely out. Completely submerging the bow of the kayak or amas results in a loss of speed so reefing the sail under these conditions may result in an increase in overall speed.

Close Reach (Point of Sail = 50-80 degrees)
Close reach is not a precise point of sail and includes any angle to he wind between close-hauled and a beam reach. Here, the sails are let out more than close-hauled and the dagger-board is raised to about ¾ of being fully down and the Mirage drive fins are against the hull. Also known as “Fetching” this is a more efficient point of sail than close-hauled and can allow for faster speeds. A close reach point of sail also endures less heeling force than a close-hauled point of sail and can be more comfortable to sail.

Beam Reach (Point of Sail = 90 degrees)
This is a precise point of sail and is exactly perpendicular, or 90 degrees, from the direction of the wind. Here the sails are let half way out and the dagger-board is set to half way down and the Mirage drive fins are against the hull. This is generally the most efficient point of sail and can provide for the fastest speeds.

Broad Reach (Point of Sail = 100-160 degrees)
A broad reach is not a precise point of sail and can be any angle from the wind from a beam reach to directly down wind. The sails are about ¾ of the way out and the dagger-board is only ¼ of the way down and the Mirage drive fins are against the hull. Even though you are starting to sail down wind a little bit, you actually lose efficiency from a beam reach and will generally see slower speeds.

Sailing Down Wind
This is a precise point of sail where you are sailing in the same exact direction as the wind. Here the mainsail is let out all of the way while the dagger board is fully up and the Mirage drive fins are against the hull. If you have barber haulers, you would use them to achieve more sail area. This is also the only point of sail where the sails are actually “catching” the wind rather than generating lift and generally allows slower speeds.
Running can be a very relaxing point of sail. There is very little, if any, heeling force on the boat meaning that the boat is rather upright while sailing. There is also no wind blowing across the boat since the wind will be coming from directly behind the boat.

Often referred to as the ‘Don’t Go Zone’, running can be a very dangerous point of sail. Since the stern of the boat is already “in the eye” of the wind, any sudden wind changes or mistakes while steering could cause the boat to accidentally gybe causing the sail to swing dangerously across the boat to the other side. Although the Hobie AI sail does not have a boom, an accidental gybe can tear the sail in high wind conditions. Due to this, it is often advised to beginner sailors to sail 10-20 degrees off of a true run until they gain enough experience to be able to safely handle it. In addition, unless you have rigged a whisker pole, you can’t get your get your sail all the way out to the side so a point of sail of 150-170 degrees presents more sail area to the wind.

Depending on the wind speed and conditions, you may to get to your down wind destination quicker by using a series of alternating broad reaches.  When gybing, pull the sail to the center half way through the turn then gradually let it out on the other side as the gybe is completed. This will reduce the risk of tearing the sail.

Right-of-Way Sailing Rules
You should know the rules for right-of-way. These rules should help prevent collisions if the other boat knows what the rules are. When in doubt, it is better give way to the other boat even if you have right of way, unless you are racing.
• For sailboats on the same tack, the windward gives way to leeward.
• For sailboats on opposite tacks, port tack gives way to starboard tack.
• A sailboat running (downwind) gives way to one closed-hauled.
• Any vessel overtaking another should always keep out of the way of the vessel being overtaken.
• A sailboat should always keep out of the way of any boat that is: a) not under command, b) restricted in its ability to maneuver, and c) engaged in fishing
• When passing through a narrow channel, sailing instructions are to keep as close to the outer edge as possible.
• Non-commercial powerboats usually give way to sailboats, unless the sailboat is overtaking it. However, general sailing instructions are also that sailboats should try to stay out of the way of large vessels and ferryboats that may find it harder to slow or change direction—especially in narrow channels.

Capsizing is part of sailing and in 4 years of catamaran racing I capsized at least 12 times. When you are racing, you have to push it to the limit and sometimes you end up capsizing. There are 2 ways to capsize, sideways and stern over bow (pitchpole). Capsizing sideways is the most common, particularly in mono-hulls. Boats can also capsize stern over bow which is called pitchpoling. This is probably more common with catamarans and trimarans due to their speed and lateral stability. This is usually a more violent event which can damage equipment and people.  In case you capsize, you should know the how to get the boat upright. The procedure is described on page 13 of the owners manual. Three important details not included in the manual are #1 release the trampolines from the rear aka bars, #2 secure the folded in ama to the hull with the bungee paddle keeper, #3 reach underneath the boat and uncleat the main sheet. I am not sure it is possible to pitchpole a Hobie AI because the bow submarines at 6-8 MPH which is probably too slow to pitchpole. All that said, capsizing is not fun and here are some ways to prevent it:
•   Don’t sail in winds over 20 knots, swells over 6’ or on small boat advisory days.
•   Don’t launch in surf over 2 feet.
•   In high wind conditions reef the sail from 50-90%.
•   In high wind conditions role up the trampolines.
•   Keep the main sheet in your hand and don’t cleat it. If the boat starts to heel too much, let the line go.
•   When tacking and reaching, keep your hand on the rudder control. If the boat starts to heel too much, turn the boat into the wind.
•   Be careful sailing on a large trailing sea and around boiler rocks.

Rigging and Sailing Improvements
There are a few basic considerations when rigging the Hobie AI. First is that the sail and main sheets traverse a large area and anything sticking up in that area will interfere with sailing and might get knocked into the water. Second is that the trampolines sag quite a bit and anything not tied down or secured can get washed overboard.

The simplest and least expensive thing you can do to improve your sailing is to install a removable wind indicator on the top of the mast. Really helpful when learning how to sail and on days where the wind shifts frequently. You can buy one for about $20. Down wind enhancements like barber haulers or whisker poles or upwind enhancements like benches and tiller extensions can improve performance but add weight and complexity and the improvements in sailing speed are probably small. Not to say you shouldn’t do it though.   :smt003

Have fun out there!!!  :smt006 Scott

Thanks Scott, this is very timely. I am thinking of printing and laminating so I can study up on those windless days out on the water.

Pat R.:
Wow :jawdrop Scott thanks for the article this will help a lot and now I know how you caught up to me so fast when we went to the ARW :cheers:. I feel honored to be part of your article nice pic :smt007.


Great info! Very much appreciated.

Very well written! :smt006 As a former windsurfer, this is spot on!!!

btw: you forgot "Stern" :smt003


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