Getting out of Irons

When you sail into the wind and stop your forward motion (usually not on purpose), you are said to be “In Irons”.

The rudder on your boat functions because it is moving through the water. When you turn the rudder, the force of the water on the blade causes the rudder to move away from the pressure caused by the flow of water, thus turning the boat. So, if your boat stops, the rudder also stops working because there is no flow of water.

Your sails are flapping and so is your rudder. Nothing is working and you are on the shore thinking – “Why me?!@#”

On a full sized boat, the crew will quickly push out a sail into the flow of wind to develop some pressure to turn the stalled boat. Once the boat is turned, the sails can be properly trimmed, the boat will regain speed through the water and the rudder will again function.

But not being out there on your boat, what do you do? The natural (and wrong) response is to begin nervously steering back and forth which will achieve nothing.

As you can’t push out the sails, and they are luffing away (no power) – and you can’t turn using the rudder (no water flow), there is only one thing to do. Hold the rudder over full in one direction and wait. A boat in Irons will eventually begin backing up. If you are holding the rudder over in one direction, it will turn out of its head-to-wind direction. At the same time, you should slack the sail. You want to use this back up to turn across the wind as much as you can. If you keep the sail trimmed in, it will drive the boat right back into the wind before you can regain steerage.

Once the boat has turned at least 60 degrees, trim the sail slightly and reverse the direction of the rudder, but not to the full turn position. The boat will slowly move forward. As soon as you have control with the rudder, trim your sail slowly and you are back in business.

If you race, you ought to practice this manoeuvre!

%d bloggers like this: