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Traditional Sailing Techniques - Lets Not Forget Them

7th February 2019
A vintage yacht sailing on Dublin Bay - traditional techniques should not be forgotten says Tom MacSweeney A vintage yacht sailing on Dublin Bay - traditional techniques should not be forgotten says Tom MacSweeney Photo:

Yachts are marvels of engineering…. So I have been told – many times – at boat shows; by designers; builders; by sales staff; by sailors, amateur and professional; by proud owners….. Yachts are also nice to look at … I’ve liked, at various times, all the boats I’ve owned – my present Sigma 33, whose looks were the first to attract me … the Sadler 25, the Ruffian 23 I owned previously; even the Vagabond and Mirror dinghies I sailed in younger years…

On all of them, I learned about sailing…..Generally, they behaved well .. a “good sea boat” I was told, can look after itself, even if the sailor isn’t able to do so…!!!

Gradually over the years, I acquired more of the modern technology which made sailing better, safer, easier, so I was assured.

The design and construction of yachts accommodate them to their domain, the sea, which will, assuredly, challenge them at times….. The traditional techniques I learned included how to heave-to; to lie a-hull; to be aware of being over-canvassed; learning the approaching weather signs; when to reef and how to do it quickly and correctly and that there are times when the management of a small boat in a big sea, must be learned and understood….. hearing all that from those with more knowledge and experience….

As modern technology has taken over – and that continues to be the case, much of what was basic years ago has been changed - charts, paper and pencil to electronic navigation have been replaced…., GPS, Plotters and so on are great but what if they succumb to electronic faults…? The sea has many moods, so does the sailor and, perhaps at times, even electronic equipment….

"No qualifications are required to be produced to buy and own a yacht"

Yachtmaster and training courses are pathways to knowledge and skill, so too are experience and traditional techniques …. As yachts are built with materials better than ever before we are told and implanted with more and more technology, are traditional skills being passed on… maintained, preserved ….?????

No qualifications are required to be produced to buy and own a yacht and, while more regulatory controls are not particularly welcome in what is one of the last bastions of freedom… that of sailing…. Let’s not forget the traditional sailing techniques…..

Tom MacSweeney

About The Author

Tom MacSweeney

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Tom MacSweeney writes a weekly column for He also presents the maritime radio programme This Island Nation on community radio stations around Ireland.

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