Better Tiller handling for Small Boats – GIS cruising on Lake Como

Enrico Franconi built a Goat Island Skiff a couple of years ago. His sailing style is quite nice, so I will use it as an example of more advanced methods.

Particularly for those who are learning sailing; there is some nice tiller handling in the sailing sections that I want to share with you.

Also some super footage of a sail and oar tour on Lake Como, Italy.

First of all a couple of photos of Oz Goose sailors. Note how Ian’s hands are lose together in this pic. The only way to do this is to have the tiller extension pointing across your chest.

Tiller handling in an oz goose - storer boat plans

If you point the tiller extension down the side of your body closest to the back of the boat it keeps your hands separate. You only have two ways of pulling on the sheet with one hand.

  1. Wrap it around your hand – slow to pull sheet in and the circulation is cut off so your hand goes numb. BAD!
  2. Pull sheet in, hold it in your teeth and take another grab with your hand. Dentist bills can be expensive and it is slow. BAD!

But if you point the tiller extension across your body then you have lots of possibilities … plus you don’t need to look at your hands to do them. Either hand can hold the sheet … so you hands don’t get so tired, and you can even use BOTH hands to hold and steer at the same time. You don’t have to do the unattractive teeth grimace I’m doing in the photo below.

Tiller handling in an oz goose - storer boat plans

So let’s looks at Enrico’s video. He starts with breakfast, but is soon sailing. If you don’t have much time to enjoy Lake Como then move the slider to 4.14. There are three nice relaxed tacks.

The tiller extension isn’t held along the side of the body but across the front. This brings the two hands together so that both can work on important boat handling.

Also note how Enrico moves across the boat before he considers changing his steering hand. Steering for a bit behind his back to find the angle for speed.

Here is a young kid steering behind his back as he finalises moving across to the other side. This is what it looks like at the Olympic level too.

The steerer’s head is kept up out of the boat to judge when the sail is full on the new tack and to stop the turn at that point. Not to mention seeing other boats 🙂

if you are looking at your hands … you won’t get it right and your movement across the boat will not be crisp. A big reason for bad tacks and gybes and capsizing unexpectedly is thinking about hand swapping while moving across the boat.

I suggest to beginners to wait even longer and steer with their hand behind their back until the boat is fully up to speed. That’s another major thing to learn. You can feel the KICK of the extra power when the sail just barely stops luffing – learn to feel that KICK and you won’t need to luff the sail to find speed.

It might seem strange or scary to steer behind your back … but most people learn the basics of normal steering with the tiller extension in about 15 minutes. It is no different for steering behind your back. About 7 minutes to learn.

Another thing to try is moving from side to side on shore holding the tiller extension. On the move  across look forward and the loose end of the tiller and your arm holding it should lead the way.

Watch these kids … the first tack in the series is particularly nice to watch.

The process is …

  1. Stay sitting on the windward side and commence the turn,
  2. Wait until the boom is in the middle of the boat – and facing forward – walk over to the other side of the boat with the tiller extension loose end in front of you.
  3. keep facing forward and sit down on the new gunwale knees pointing forward and hand behind your back watch the luff of the sail
  4. When the luffing stops you stop turning exactly then.
  5. hike out hard and level the boat. Feel the speed.
  6. When you have full speed appropriate to the wind then you swap hands.

All experienced competitive sailor do this trick because it is fast, keeps the boat moving well and opens up a world of possibilities in other boat handling to take you through to advanced sailing techniques.

If you steer with the tiller down your side, rather than in front of you like Enrico, it is very difficult to move to advanced sailing techniques and it is likely to get you into trouble more than once.

How do I know … I spent the first 10 years of my sailing career steering down my side and trying to use my other hand for the sheet. A Uni friend, Alan Downes who had done some National youth squad training asked me “Why are you still steering like that MIK?”.

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