Jun 10

Tall ship sailing on the Pathfinder

Last weekend just before I got run down with a miserable summer cold and before all the G20 nonsense in Toronto I had my first tall ship experience. This was through the Harbourfront Centre Sailing club so it wasn’t a stand around and watch other people do the work type affair. We actually got to learn how this shipped worked.


The boat was Pathfinder, a brigantine along the Toronto Harbourfront. You may have seen this boat docked next to it’s sister boat Playfair and on the other side of the same pier the larger Empire Sandy. This boat is normally for youths, so it was a great chance to finally check out this boat which I have walked past many times. The boats belong to the Toronto Brigantine, a charity organization that provides Tall Ship Adventures for Youth.

“Toronto Brigantine Incorporated (TBI) is a Canadian registered charity mandated to provide experiential learning, develop leadership and life skills through tall ship sail training programs for youth 13 -18 years of age.”

We spent several hours on the boat that Sunday evening. The first 30 to 40 minutes was dedicated to boat safety. Then we were all assigned tasks and pushed off from the foot of Queens Quay and Spadina. The trip consisted of a lot of “pull this, no not that one, this one”. To give you an idea, take a look at the pictures below. Just some of the many halyards, sheets and lines aboard the Pathfinder.


Belaying Pins

All those wooden pegs with line coiled and tied around them are called belaying pins. There purpose is to allow us to make fast the many lines aboard the boat. There is a method of wrapping and coiling that allows you to quickly get the line off if needed. The pins are also replaceable, and when one asks why, the answer is they break sometimes as one did on our trip.

Here is some video of the sails being raised on the Pathfinder.

Climbing aloft

Not only did we get to hoist the sails, but anyone who wanted too, also got to climb aloft. This involved climbing up the shrouds which have rope ladders attached to them called Ratlines. The safety rule while climbing the ratlines was always have three points of contact. Two feet and one hand or two hands and one foot. This safety rule should probably be applied to anyone climbing any ladder. I quickly volunteered to climb up along without about half the crew aboard. We each took turns climbing up and down.

Climbing Ratlines

Me climbing the ratlines

Climbing Ratlines

Some of the club members didn’t join us on the Pathfinder but thought it would be fun buzzing past us. Eventually this resulted in cannon fire on the aggressor which was a J24. A sling shot was quickly deployed and loaded with water balloons and the J24 took a hard hit to it’s port side. The J24 quickly halted it’s relentless pursuit and headed back to it’s home port.


The day was fantastic and I think we all learned a lot. While I would definitely go out on a boat like this again, I still want my 35 foot cruising sailboat, or even a J24, they are lot less work.

Of course this post wouldn’t be complete without some pictures of the Galley.



These doors must always be kept closed while under sail. If the boat has a hull breach it can actually stay afloat with one compartment filled with water.

More video and a gallery with a few more shots

Dec 09

Beginning to sail, learn to trust the boat

Sailboat out of water displaying keelI’ve been off the water for about two months now (the Canadian winter is upon us) and was thinking about things I learned this summer while sailing for the first time. One of the biggest fears or insecurities some of us new sailors might feel the first time they experience any real wind is boat stability, or the fear of instability. I want to share my experiences with anyone new to sailing in hopes of reassuring them that you can trust the boat.

Most sailboats have big heavy keels and look like the one pictured to the right. Without a keel a boat can capsize in high wind much easier. If you are new to sailing then the first time you feel a real gust of wind, the boat will indeed lean to one side from the force. The sailing term for this is heeling. Your first instinct might be to think the boat is actually going to capsize, since it probably would without a keel. Learning to trust the boat is the first step towards really enjoying your sailing experience. Everyone will probably have a different adjustment period, but rest assured you will get used heeling, and even enjoy it, maybe even crave it.

My first real heeling experience

Keel resistanceDuring my introduction to sailing we had very little wind for the first three days. This made it actually harder to learn the points of sail, since it was very difficult to read the wind direction. It also left us ill-equipped for real winds. On our last day we had a few gusts and a time when we all jumped out of our skin, but none of this was even close to my first race night.

We were sailing J24′s and the wind was really good, perfect for racing in fact, but kind of scary for a first timer like myself. I remember grasping on to the the cabin roof above the hatch for dear life. I was way more tense than I need to be, but you couldn’t tell me that at the time. I really thought I was going to go overboard at any moment. Now I know the boat is not going to capsize in wind like that and I have much more confidence in my balance and feel for the boat.

You can still capsize

That said you can still of course capsize in high winds, but the winds needed to do that are much higher than you will think at first, and you will learn how to cope with higher winds as you gain more experience. The last sail of this year for me was actually the strongest winds I’ve sailed yet. It was challenging and every time I go out I gain more skill, but I can see that there is a point where it no longer becomes fun. I’m sure on a bigger boat you can deal with stronger winds, and maybe I’ll find out this Winter while I’m sailing in Carribean!

Hopefully you will slowly work your way up to stronger winds. Once you learn how to handle the boat you will realize that you have much more control than you think. If you panic you can always sail head to wind, this will slow you down quickly, but pay special attention to your boom and your crewmates. Windy weather and panicking are when you will most likely get yourself or an unsuspecting crewmate smacked in the head or thrown overboard by an angry boom. A better way to slow down is to let out your mainsheet a bit, sometimes you will only need a few inches to stabilize your boat. You can also replace your the sail at the front called a gib or genoa with a storm jib or none at all. Reefing the mainsail is another option. All of these tactics reduce the area of sail, thus lessening your heel.

Practice makes perfect

Like anything, practice makes perfect. I have only been sailing for one summer, but it really is amazing how fast you start to become comfortable on a boat. If you feel intimidated by sailing, don’t give up, you can conquer this feeling; trust your boat, trust your keel, once you do this you will truly be free to enjoy this incredible outdoor activity.

Sailboat heeling

Sailing terms in this article: