The two-handed drill for puffs and lulls
A while ago, James Clarkson recommended one of Frank Bethwaite's books on sailing to me. I forget which one, as I now have three of them. They're incredible but incredibly dense, so I'd only recommend them to the "quants" of the sailing community. And even then, you'll read a lot more about weather systems than you ever wanted to learn, and more detail on everything than you can comprehend. That's how Frank was. He was a pilot (of commercial flying boats, think about that), a meteorologist (the official metereologist of the Austrailian Olympic team in several Olympics in the 1970s), and a sailing fanatic as coach and designer. Three of his kids (sons and daughter) won Olympic medals, and one of them may have invented the gennaker (as always with inventions, there are priority disputes). Frank died in his 90s in 2012.
For the patient reader, there's really wonderful stuff in his books. One is an explanation of why sail twist needs to be very different in light winds than in higher winds (another post?). And there are many others.
One very practical thing I got out of his books was a technique and a teaching technique of how to respond to puffs and lulls. We all know how to do this, we do it, and we teach it to some extent. You have three controls: weight placement (out in a puff, in in a lull), tiller (pinch in a puff if the boat can do it, fall off in a lull), and sheet (easy in a puff, trim in a lull, not just mainsheet, but also jibsheet if you're really concerned about speed). I tell basic students that they have these three controls, and to use one or more of them when they get a puff (at this point in their development, they're not so worried about lulls).
Frank was obsessed with keeping the boat flat and as fast as it can go (these are correlated). Assuming a decent wind, you're hiked out. We're assunming you have the tiller extension in one hand and the mainsheet in the other. A puff will heel the boat to leeward, and a lull will heel it to windward if you don't move your weight in either case. His technique is this: when the boat heels, don't move your weight, but move both hands to the down side, the sheet hand more than the tiller. Never luff.
So in a puff, you're easing the main as you're pointing slightly upwind. In a lull (or in the recovery after a puff), you're doing the opposite - sheeting in the main and pointing slightly downwind.
So what's new here? La solita scoperta di acqua calda (the same old discovery of hot water, an idiom in Italian) - nothing that wasn't obvious before. But Frank Bethwaite considered the idea so counter-intuitive (or maybe counter-culture) that half of one of his books is devoted to motivating it (did I say his books are dense?).
But this movement is what the good sailors do. What was new for me was a way of explaining it
in terms of body mechanics (both hands to the side of the boat that's down, sheet hand more than tiller hand) that could be used to teach at a fairly basic level.
For basic students, there's a critical point when they have to control both the mainsheet and the tiller at the same time. This is a difficult time, as how the sails work becomes important, and you need to both understand the theory and get the theory to animate your body movements. This is the point where the student laments not understanding where the wind is coming from and much more.
I've tried the "two handed drill" with students at this critical point of controlling mainsheet and tiller at the same time, and it has worked reasonably well. Get the boat trimmed correctly heading upwind with a decent blow beyond the wind line, and do the drill. What it seems to do is get students out of the "OMG a gust is going to knock me over" mode into one of calmly and gently dealing with it, keeping the boat moving at the same time. As they get better at it (usually in one lesson), they luff less and less in the puffs. Also, their confidence builds in general, and they sail upwind in stronger winds without luffing.
For you instructors, does this make sense? Try it out with your students and see if it makes sense to them. Please post feedback here, so we can all learn from it.
"Both hands away" is the most Wonderful thing i have heard as a beginning student. It is worth it's weight in gold.
I would hate to read some way too dense book, on the other hand, something like this , do able , simple is SO HELPFUL as a beginner.
The first lesson was too much wind, we capsized twice. I understand it is important to be able to accept the boat may capsize and how to right it but, a goal for me as a beginner is to not have to capsize except when i want to do the drill. I have only had 4 lessons and i was feeling very uncomfortable with being out of control and feeling like does this mean every time i sail i have to go through this capsize deal , and so again, something simple and doable, right now what to do, just is wonderful. ( like flying step on the sky similar for the rudder , to do right now in a gust) It does not require a lot of thinking, trying to figure it out. i have not had a chance to try it on the water but i feel so much better ,hearing it and having it as THE TOOL. I understood the 3 things, but which to do as a beginner that is hard, this is easy and doable. Also reading this John blog, the idea that , "in a lull -( or recovery of a puff you do the opposite, well this is also helpful because it is dynamic thing, and when i feel the puff and freak out and both hands away to keep from capsizing, now i realize the balance is to get less jerky and there is a reaction of course to putting both hands out, BALANCE,, i got from windsurfing - the analogy for life,, lean too far one way and you fall in the water, lean too far the other way and you fall in the water, so from this blog , i got the second learning, yes, two hands away can be great,, but even better is two hands away and then back just a little , enough not too much, it is all about the balance which i have not learned yet but this SO HELPFUL , thank you John.