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Sailing Shoal Draft Boats

I sell sailboats to some really good sailors. A shoal draft sailboat can be a sailboat that's difficult to learn on and sail well. My sailors are working with a smaller keel and the keel is the most important part of any sailboat. Shoal draft sailors have to work more with less and still get the most out of their boat. I had an old customer one time that sailed his Com-Pac 16 up a creek and into a marina. He had one of those Johnson motors that were made in Europe that didnít run very well. I wish I had pictures of him sailing that 16 up that creek. He wasnít all that young when he did it, but he knew something some other sailors may not know. You have to move around in a 16 cockpit to sail it well.

Lets get on with the categories. Everyone masters the first category well. Sit back and sleep and let the boat sail it self. Shoal draft boats do this well because most of them have extra ballast. No talent required, the boat does all the work. The second category is the cruising category. You have enough wind to go somewhere and you use the conventional sailing techniques and hardware to get there. In the Com-Pac 16, you sit on the high side if you have enough wind and you let the boat follow the wind. Your course will look like a snake as you steer to follow the wind. You may even adjust the sails a bit if the wind changes direction by a large amount. If you sail lots of miles in category one and two, you may never get the experience you need to sail well in category three. Category three is the working category. You pick out a point upwind and sail to that point. No more letting the boat sail it self. It time to go to work and that means lots of sail adjustments as you go upwind. If 2 people are sailing the boat, one has to be on the tiller and the other has to be on the sheets. One person sailing a 16 in category three looks like a one-arm paperhanger. There are lots going on in the cockpit. The first thing to remember and practice is you canít overpower the keel. One part of your brain is working on the course with the rudder while the other part is making sure the sails are not overpowering the keel. If you are on the wind, the dumb sail will be the main. You set it at the right trim angle from the vast amount of experience you have gained in the boat from sailing miles and miles in category 2. It will change the least of the three dynamics devices that you will be using. The tiller and the jib sheets will be moving the most as you sail upwind. If you had a deep draft keelboat, you could sail upwind with a lot less work. With a shoal draft boat, you canít overpower the keel and that requires work. Of course, that older gentleman with the bad Johnson motor would never have sailed up the creek with a deep draft boat. The creek is too shallow.

If you only sail category one and two and wonder whatís wrong, maybe you donít sail category three as much as you should. It takes work to get good at anything. Sailboat builders build their boats to sail up to category two.

Iím going to use a Com-Pac 16 for an explanation of category three. Your body will make a big difference in the way the boat sails in category three. I call it good exercise. Other people have called me the energizer bunny when I sail a 16. Iím moving around all the time. This technique wonít work on a 35-foot boat, but it works well on a 16-foot Com-Pac. If you are pointing, you need to point the keel. If Iím at the back of cockpit on the low side, the keel will point much higher in light wind. The boat and the wind will tell you when your body needs to go to the high side. When you go to the high side, you need to slide your butt forward at the same time. More wind and more helm means you need to move your body forward to reduce weather helm. Extra helm was good in the light wind because it helped us point higher. With the extra wind, we need to follow the wind in the small shifts using the tiller and adjust the jib if needed. The main is using the wind off the jib and doesnít need to be adjusted as much unless you have a big shift. Keep in mind, you are sailing a straight line to point in winds thatís changing because it coming off and though a landmass. The idea is keep the boat moving as fast as possible towards your goal. The 16 sails best between 15 and 25 degrees of heel. More heel and you might be going sideways and overpowering the keel. It can handle 35 degrees in big winds and does well if you watch your keel and maybe roundup some on the gusts. Of course if you are on the wind, rounding up a little as you go compensates for some keel slippage.

The way you trim your jib in category three (light wind) is to constantly check the leach for movement. If there is any doubt, let it out works for a shoal draft sailboat. Work the sheets to make sure you are on the edge of the luff. When the wind picks up, boat speed will help you keep your keel from going sideways. You can start driving the boat forward with brute force. I have moved my behind from the cockpit seat to the cockpit coaming in winds of 35 knots. The extra weight outside the cockpit helps hold the boat down and keep the keel in the water. Itís hard on the rear end, but makes for a fast boat. You drive the boat with that extra power from the sails that couldnít be used if you were in the cockpit.

So shoal draft sailors are better sailors than deep draft sailors. Maybe better may be too strong a word? Shoal draft sailors work more at sailing than deep draft sailors do for sure. All and all, just about anyone can screw up a good thing. I remember going sideways in a deep draft boat. I wasnít going very fast, maybe that's because the cabin ports were in the water and they may have slowed me down some? I had too much sail up for the wind speed.

If you only have light wind in your sailing area, practice category three sailing when you can. Making a 16 perform in light wind from time to time is fun and a little less work. If your motor dies, you will have the experience to sail yourself home. As a matter of record, a Com-Pac 16 points to 45 degrees in light and heavy winds

The graphics below show 2 Com-Pac 16s sailing on a nice summer day with a modest wind in 2004. Iím in the blue boat and a good friend is in the red boat. Before the start (picture #1), we talking back and forth from boat to boat while we were getting setup for the start. The start line is the first white line. We both hit the start line at the same time and my friend had the favored position because he was closer to the finish line. The finish line is the second white line. The finish line was behind a hill and some trees and the wind was coming from that direction. Before the start, we had good boat speed in the area that didnít have that type of terrain. We tacked back and forth and I was in a position behind my friend. I did gain some ground during the tacking dual (picture #2), but I was thinking to myself, it looked like I was going to come in second in a fleet of 2 boats. We were both sailing our 16s using category 2 techniques. I was pretty sure my friend didnít know about category 3 sailing.

I started my category 3 sailing on the next to the last tack (picture #3). I had to do something or I was going to stay in second position. What I did in the light wind (behind the hill) was put the jib clew inside the shrouds and sit on the low side. Less air means the slot between the jib and main should be smaller and that would powered up the main. You can see the improved angle going to weather. My friend looked behind his boat and expected to see me. Instead, he saw me between his boat and the finish line. He gave me the biggest double look I ever saw. I lost a little speed using category 3 techniques, but pointed much higher and won the race (pictures #4 and #5).

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Richlands, NC 910-324-4005