Learn to Sail with eSail (2024)

USER POST 21 July 2021 (Sorel Mitra)

I was also following a RYA course and preparing the theory for RYA Day Skipper before Covid hit. Ever since I’ve been only sim sailing and here’s what I’ve found after 170+ hours on eSail:

I believe its real power comes not from its tutorials but from:

– It really helps you wrap your mind around deck & co*ckpit activities. In my first hours on it I found it really difficult mental work to do all the actions for raising sails or reefing. I struggled a lot to remember the steps and what line to ease, let go, or pull. After many hours on eSail I’ve recently found that I now perform sail activities almost as a second nature: raise, reef, lower, tack, gybe, change headsail. I even managed to raise & adjust the newly added gennaker on my own w/o hitting the tutorial.

– It helps understanding points of sail in a “practical” way – of course the sim boat is different from real boats, but then real boats also differ between each other so what I learned is that you need to adapt to your boat – the theory helps but what you need to do is watch and feel your boat and then I guess you’ll be able to do this on real boats as well. Initially I was trying to set the sails “by the book” and kept struggling with that. Once I started “feeling” the sim boat (watching what she does and remembering how sails work) I began being able to trim the sails to 1) gather a decent speed 2) steady the boat 3) avoid excessive helm – On certain points of sail I’m even able to take my hands off the helm (without autopilot!) and have the boat follow a course I chose

– No tide or currents but I believe it has leeway so your course is altered by that. Also in heavy wind it’s quite difficult to maintain a steady course so go ahead and estimate your position if you can! Not sure yet if leeway is a thing but at least dead reckoning can be practiced – get out of any land sight, take a target in the middle of the ocean in lat/long coordinates and try to hit it without ever looking at your GPS. Estimate your position and once you believe you hit your target compare that with the sim GPS. As the Shearwater islands are at some coordinates in the Atlantic, you can use Open CPN for your chart work outside the coverage of the available sim charts.

– Get used to estimating and plotting your position on the chart on the hour. Leave the sim running (perhaps with autopilot on, or for more challenge without it), go do your other activities and try not to forget to plot your EP on the chart (Open CPN or sim chart). Try to estimate the average speed and course. Do that for a few hours and then compare your EP with sim GPS – how far are you from that?

– Pilotage. Draw your pilotage plan and follow it. This helps before you get to learn the islands by heart. Ignore the GPS/plotter and pilot your boat with your pilotage plan.

– It helps build coordination. You do have “crew” but I feel more like I’m solo sailing where I need to hold the helm, adjust the sails, watch-out for that nasty ship that’s chasing you to run you down, keep an eye on the depth and so on.

– It helps make you a decision maker. You’re in Virginia passage determined to beat to wind and the nasty ship appears ahead of you. Try not to run away with your engine and find a way to stay clear of that ship while still in control of your boat. Or you’re heading straight between two rocks believing you can pass between them and the depth is rapidly changing. You just stare at it as I did and run aground or do a last-minute tack or gybe to escape the danger?

– It adds real value with mooring. I guess it’s not easy to get to practice mooring with real boats – there’s always the danger of hitting something. With the sim boat you don’t care and have a chance to learn the basics. I know real-life conditions are different but once you realize that it helps you get your head around mooring at a pontoon – the sim wind pushes you real hard and it has quite a few narrow places where you’ll find you need to balance your speed – too low and the wind pushes you around, too high and it’s hard to control the boat. Try mooring to a pontoon on the inside of Port Fogarty in 30kn of wind and you’ll see what I mean. Of course, don’t cheat by using different camera views. Stay at the helm and try to get a sense of the length of the boat, how she moves, how the wind pushes her – I think this helps with real boats in the same way people that learn how to drive cars make good use of car driving simulators.

In short I believe there’s nothing like being on a real boat, but lacking that, or if you’re mostly crewing instead of skippering that real boat, a simulator can help at least wrapping your mind around the usual skipper activities so when you hit that real boat at least you have the proper mindset.

Learn to Sail with eSail (2024)


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