Learning New Sailing Skills

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Multihull sailing requires a skill set all its own

Multihull sailing requires a skill set all its own

The other day I was thinking about the very first time I sailed a multihull. It was in New Zealand, of all places, on the Bay of Islands, midway through Christmas break at the school where I was then teaching as a Peace Corps volunteer in Western Samoa. Stranger still, I was already 29 years old.

Granted, save for the occasional trip to New England, I was, at the time, almost exclusively a Great Lakes sailor, and the Great Lakes, especially back then, were hardly what you would call a hotbed of multihull sailing. Nonetheless, it still strikes me as incredible to think that as a lifelong sailor it took me that long to get aboard any kind of yacht with more than one hull. Cat and tris, both large and small, seem to be everywhere these days. The idea of nearly reaching the ripe old age of 30 before having an opportunity to try one out, whether on charter or just for a daysail, now strikes me as almost inconceivable.

Multihulls also make great diving platforms!

Multihulls also make great diving platforms!

Similarly, I am struck by how little I knew about multihulls back then, not only their pros and cons but how best to sail the darn things, period. How deep was my ignorance? Well, the boat in question was some little-known beach cat, and it was blowing stink. Good times! I thought, as my then-girlfriend (now wife) and I shoved off.

Then came our first tack.

I’m guessing more than a few of you may have already guessed how that went. Alas, it didn’t. And the next thing I knew, we were trapped in irons, sailcloth slatting like mad, and my then-girlfriend (now wife) looking at me like, “Who is this idiot?” It’s a good thing she’s such a strong swimmer or I suspect there would have been more than a touch of fear in her eyes as well!

Happily, I soon figured out how to get our boat moving again and even succeeded in throwing in a few not-too-shabby tacks afterward. Still, that first lesson in handling a multihull is not only something that comes to mind with every new cat or tri I sail but a memory that will undoubtedly live with me to my dying day.

Other lessons I’ve learned in the years since include the wisdom of reefing early (especially when on charter with your family; heavens, but those big, full-roached mains sure do load up quick!); knowing how to work your port and starboard engines with or against one another like tractor treads when maneuvering in a tight space; the joys of thin-water sailing; lounging up on the forward tramp at sundown; and of course, the thrill of power-reaching aboard a well-found multihull, whether it be a lightweight carbon-fiber speedster or a burlier cruising cat with, nothing but blue skies and even bluer water up ahead.

Best of all, in learning these and many other lessons my various crews and I have also had a heck of a good time and created any number of other lifelong memories to boot. Here’s to creating just as many more memories (and never again getting caught in irons) in the years to come! 

MHS Winter 2020

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