The task of becoming sea-worthy

Getting Out Of Irons

To get out of ‘in irons’ it is important to understand how you got ‘in irons’ in the first place.

There are many situations which can cause a boat to get ‘in irons’. The most common is failing to complete a tacking maneuver. Additional situations could be pinching too hard, attempting to luff another boat, responding to a luff by another boat, broaching, etc.)

As a boat nears head to wind it’s sail starts to luff and the boat slows. The slower the boat speed, the less effective it’s rudder becomes and the less directional control the helmsman has.

It isn’t uncommon to see a helmsman inadvertently hold a boat in-irons while attempting to get ‘out of irons’.

Here is how it can happen:

1. The boat starts to tack and gets caught in irons.

2. The helmsman holds the rudder over trying to force the boat through the eye of the wind.

3. The boat starts to back down falling off the wind onto the original tack.

4. When the boat has turned sufficiently for the sails to fill, the boat starts moving forward.

5. The helmsman continues to hold the rudder over to tack as originally planned.

6. The boat starts to round up and goes back into irons.

7. This sequence continues to repeat until the helmsman stops trying to complete the maneuver and releases the rudder allowing the boat to sail forward and gain sufficient speed to successfully complete the tack.

However, with a bit of common sense and application of basic sailing theory it is possible for the helmsman to bring the boat out of irons on the first attempt and on the desired tack.

Getting out of ‘in irons’.

You need to know how to get ‘out of irons’ as it is an important skill.  Backwind is a technique for getting out of irons.

Ideology:  Balance the boat with your weight and push the boom into the wind to the side you want to turn (starboard or port)—the wind will exert force on the back of the sail. This is one of the few times when it is permissible to hold on to the boom! The boat will start to move backwards (sternway). Now, push the tiller in the same direction you want to turn. Be sure to turn the boat more than 45° off-wind. After the boat is turned off-wind, straighten the tiller and then pull in the mainsheet slowly to start the boat moving.

Backwind steps:

1. Push boom out to produce sternway.

2. Push tiller to produce turn.

3. Backwind more than 45° off-wind.

4. Pull in mainsheet to start sailing.

Things to remember:

1.  Stay calm – it has happened to everybody at some time.

2.  If water has come into the boat, bail out as much as possible.

3.  Hang on to the tiller (never let go the tiller when sailing).

4.  Completely let go of the mainsheet.

5.  Sit on one side or the other facing the boom, towards the back of the boat a little more that your usual position.

6.  Push the tiller away from you about an arms length (45 degrees to the transom).

7.  The boat will slowly sail backwards and will turn so that you are on the windward side.

8.  Wait until the boat is at right angles to the wind.

9.  Pull the tiller back to the middle of the boat

10. Then pull the mainsheet in slowly and the boat will start to move forwards.

You are now out of irons

Extra information:

When in irons, sails generate a tremendous amount of aerodynamic drag which rapidly slows and stops the boat. It is this same drag that will cause the boat to drift downwind and eventually out of irons. The effect of the rudder becomes important  in bringing a boat out of irons under control.

The rudder generates steering force by the flow of water along it’s surfaces in the same manner that lift forces are generated by the airflow across the sail surfaces.

For there to be directional control of a boat, water must flow past the rudder surface. The direction of this flow is irrelevent. When a boat moves forward the water flow is from the bow. A counterclockwise rotation of the rudder will cause the stern to swing to port, the hull pivots around it’s center of lateral resistance moving the bow to starboard.

Now consider what would happen if the flow direction is from the stern (the boat is moving aft). This same counterclockwise rotation of the rudder will cause the stern to swing to starboard, the bow to swing to port and the boat backs into a turn to starboard.

So the boat will turn to starboard with a counterclockwise movement of the rudder whether the boat is moving forward or aft in it’s direction of travel.  A clockwise rotation of the rudder cause a turn to port.

If you are caught in irons and want to recover on a starboard tack simply hold the rudder control for a normal turn to starboard, wait until the boat starts moving aft, and the boat will back onto a starboard tack.  To come out on a port tack, hold the rudder control for a normal turn to port and wait.

Remember this action must be coordinated with the action of the sails. Once direction with respect to the wind changes sufficiently for the sails to fill the boat will begin moving forward. If no further rudder action is taken at this time the forward moving boat will turn into the wind and back into irons.

It is vital that the rudder by returned to neutral (or turned in the opposite direction to bear off) as soon as the sails fill and the boat starts to move forward when coming out of irons.

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