The next few blog posts are going to be written by on of our instructors, Ken Jensen. He will be doing a series on docking, something that everyone can always learn and practice more.

Ken has been teaching with VSS since 2004.  A native of Minnesota (The Land of 10,000 Lakes!), Ken moved to Colorado in 1995, and took his first class with VSS in 2002.  Back in Minnesota, Ken and his dad sailed little dinghies like Sunfish and Sailfish, as well as Hobie cats back when they were the cool new thing.  Nowadays Ken teaches most of the VSS classes, but particularly enjoys teaching Docking on the J/30 at Chatfield, where you will find him on most Saturdays.

Post 3:  No, We’re Still Not Done Preparing
These blog posts assume you will be motoring in and out of the marina, so we need to discuss motors.  In this post, I will be referring to the outboard engine on the J/22 and the Marine diesel on the J/30.

In starting an outboard, the first question is whether to use the choke on the initial pulls.  My typical technique is to put the throttle in the starting position, then give the motor two pulls while the choke button is in (disengaged).  If the motor does not start, I pull the choke button out (engaged), and give the engine two more pulls with the choke button out.  I keep alternating (two pulls with the choke button in, two pulls with the choke button out) until the motor starts.  

If the motor is flooded (meaning there is too much gas in the cylinder and not enough air), there are two techniques.  Some people just let the motor sit for a while, then do a normal start, and this will often work.  We impatient types will instead disconnect the fuel hose and try to start the motor with the throttle full open.  Once it starts, turn the throttle down and re-connect the fuel hose.  If you are quick, the motor won’t stop, and you will look like an outboard motor hero (OMH).

Starting a diesel is a little different.  I start the diesel on the J/30 in idle (the throttle lever straight up), but check the manual on the engine, some manufacturers recommend starting the engine with a partially open throttle.  

I also like to start the diesel with shore power unplugged.  When you start the engine with the boat plugged into shore power, it is really the shore power which is starting the engine, so you have no idea of the condition of the batteries.  With shore power unplugged, you get an idea of the condition of the batteries when you start the engine- good info to have, that.

And with the diesel, don’t crank the engine for more than about 3 seconds, and give the engine a rest between crankings.  Continuous cranking on the engine is hard on the starter.

Next, shifting.  For both types of engines, the idea is to shift slowly and deliberately.  A best practice is to say out loud the gear you are in, the word “pause”, and the gear you are shifting in to.  So “Neutral”, “Pause”, “Reverse” for instance.

Finally, to shut down a marine diesel, remember this like you remember your wife’s birthday: DO NOT SHUT THE MOTOR DOWN BY SIMPLY TURNING OFF THE KEY.  Instead, put the motor idling in neutral, then pull out on the fuel cutoff until the motor completely stops.  Then when the motor is completely stopped, push the fuel cutoff button in.  NOW it is safe to turn off the key.  Turning off the key directly can burn out the diodes in the alternator.  

 A few more thoughts:

The J/30 has a tachometer which will display how fast the engine is spinning.  There is no redline on the face of the tachometer, but I don’t rev that engine past 2,000 RPM.  

On the J/22, the outboard motor has separate controls for the throttle (engine speed) and the shifting.  With this setup, it is possible to shift the engine while the engine is revving (while the throttle is partially or fully open).  NEVER DO THAT.  Instead, always shift the outboards on the J/22 with the engine speed down at idle.  Shifting while revving is very hard on the engine.

Also, it is not a bad idea to test the motor at the dock, on the mooring lines.  So once the motor is warmed up a little, gently put the motor in gear and give the motor maybe half throttle, just to prove that it is running healthy.  Do both forward and reverse.

That’s a few things about the motor.  I promise that sooner or later this blog post will get out of the slip and into the marina!

The next few blog posts are going to be written by on of our instructors, Ken Jensen. He will be doing a series on docking, something that everyone can always learn and practice more.

Ken has been teaching with VSS since 2004.  A native of Minnesota (The Land of 10,000 Lakes!), Ken moved to Colorado in 1995, and took his first class with VSS in 2002.  Back in Minnesota, Ken and his dad sailed little dinghies like Sunfish and Sailfish, as well as Hobie cats back when they were the cool new thing.  Nowadays Ken teaches most of the VSS classes, but particularly enjoys teaching Docking on the J/30 at Chatfield, where you will find him on most Saturdays.

Welcome back.  Before we get into the nitty-gritty, I want to talk about two ways that we can screw up and one thing to up our game.  As you read this, remember, part of the fun of docking is that you have an audience.  There are always people sitting on the back of their boats watching.  Let’s provoke their envy, not provide their entertainment.

So in that spirit, here are a few of the things that can go wrong, and their preventatives.

One of the first things to avoid is allowing a line to wrap around the propeller.  This is easy to do if you let a line dangle near the stern.  I know sailors who are adamant about not having any lines in the water once the motor is started.  So look not just at mooring lines, but also be aware of the jib or genoa sheets, as well as any other line that can wrap around the propeller or prop shaft.  Outcome to this sad scenario might include a bent prop shaft, cracking the fiberglass of the hull at the shaft, and ruining the propeller itself.  And of course the chaos in the marina you’ve just created.  ‘Nuff said.

The second thing we need to talk about is getting on and off the boat.  Believe it or not, this is a skill, and an important one, since getting on and off the boat is one of the more dangerous things you can do on a boat.  Really.  So we teach a few things.

A) Always use your hands getting on and off.

B) Do not try to get on or off the boat while holding a heavy or bulky item.  Hand it a person on the boat/dock, and step on or off unencumbered.

C) If you are stepping onto a wobbly slip, try to place your foot on the center of the slip, not the edges.  This will minimize the wobble.

D) If there is a furling line or some line that runs along the toe rail, my practice has been to step on it.  When you do this, you run the risk of slipping on the line, so be careful, but I think it is safer than putting your foot near a line and risking being tripped by it.

Finally, one thing to up our game, let’s discuss dinghies.  Assuming you have a towable dinghy (not one on davits or stored in a garage in the transom) you have a few option on what to do with it in the marina.  

A) If the dinghy is inflatable, the best thing to do with it is deflate it and store it on the foredeck.  I know you’re not going to do that.

B) You can raft the dinghy to the sailboat.  (Rafting boats means the boats are tied together side by side.)  If you have the room in the marina, this is a great solution, but remember to use both breast lines to hold the dinghy to the sailboat and spring lines to keep it from moving back and forth.  You don’t want the dinghy moving against the hull of the sailboat.

C) Most likely, however, you will be simply towing the dinghy.  If you do this, remember to tie the dinghy as close as possible to the stern, so that it can’t swing and hit things.  It is a first class mistake to be in the marina with a dinghy trailing 10 or 15 feet behind the stern.  

Next post:  Motors- your best friend that seems to hate you.

Most people who know our school, will recognize our world class J/22 boats before anything else. These boats are amazingly fast, but simple enough to learn how to sail on. The J/22 is also known as a fixed keel mono hull sailboat. Those of you who can remember back to ASA101 theory, will recall that there are 3 major distinctions between sailboats. There are dinghies, keelboats, and catamarans. Today I want to talk about the differences between keelboats and dinghies and more importantly, why you should learn to sail dinghies, even if you already know how to sail!

To begin, we must talk about the safety and stability of keelboats. No matter the size or weight of the boat, a keelboat will always right itself after being knocked down (or broached). Barring the boat taking on water, or someone holding the mast down, a keelboat will always come back upright if you wait long enough. This is why we love teaching on the J/22’s, they have a fixed lead keel that weighs 700lbs. Remember those old inflatable clown punching bags? They operate on the same principle, a bunch of weight in the bottom keeps the clown upright. The boats are fast and safe, and as long as you manage to stay in the boat it will always come back up (take a look at our last entry for more information).


Keelboats are typically bigger, and drier than dinghies. You can have a larger crew (or friends and family) on board and you can explore oceans with them. But, the bigger the boat, the less ‘feel’ you get for how the wind and waves affect you. I use the term ‘feel’ loosely, it can be on bigger boats. There are phenomenal sailors all over the world that exclusively sail on big boats, and that takes a lot of training. My argument for dinghy sailing is that for people who are just starting out, or people who want to get a better understanding of how sailboats move through the water and interact with the wind.

There is no better way to learn this than on a dinghy. Depending on the size of the boat you will be single handed or double-handed at most. This creates a very easy cause and effect chain for you to explore. On bigger boats, there are other crew members contributing to the speed and heel of the boat. On a dinghy, it’s just you. Move the tiller slightly to leeward? The boat heads up. No wondering if someone else affecting the balance or trim of the boat. Ease the main sheet? The boat will start to fall off slightly (assuming your have a jib up). There is no better way to really learn the intricacies of sail trim than when you are alone on a dinghy.

Dinghy sailing is also much more exciting (in my opinion). You are right down at water level, getting sopped with waves as you crash through them on a close-hauled course. You get wet, you get a workout, and you have fun! Having to use your body weight to keep the boat upright is a workout. Hiking out of the boat will test your core strength and your mental strength. All the while keeping a 360-degree field of awareness for wind gusts, waves, other boats, and of course shore. Being so intimate with all these details will give you a fresh perspective on sailing. Over the years I have had many students be skeptical of dinghy sailing.

“I don’t want to get wet! What happens if I capsize?”

My answer is always the same. So what? You will get wet, and you will capsize, that is the point of dinghy sailing. The first thing we teach beginners is capsizing, so that the fear is gone and they have learned the worst thing that can happen to them. No other boat will let you know right away if you make a mistake, a dinghy will let you know by flipping over. You get real time feedback from the boat on how well you are sailing. Plus, learning to dry capsize is a great challenge!

Finally, racing in dinghies is much more accessible to most people. Sailing and racing keelboats can be very cost prohibitive and tough to break into. While dinghies are much cheaper to rent and own! There are also multiple world class dinghies that have fleets all over the world. Everything from the classic Laser, to 420’s and Finns, to our very own Topaz’s! Having access to these boats and learning to race on them will take your sailing skills to the next level. A lot of sailors know how to get around on the water; but learning to race will teach you to get from point A to B as efficiently as possible. You will need to combine sail trim, boat balance, tactics and so much more!

Interested in learning more about dinghies? Join us this summer as we introduce our ASA110 – Small Sailboat Sailing Course!

The next few blog posts are going to be written by on of our instructors, Ken Jensen. He will be doing a series on docking, something that everyone can always learn and practice more.

Ken has been teaching with VSS since 2004.  A native of Minnesota (The Land of 10,000 Lakes!), Ken moved to Colorado in 1995, and took his first class with VSS in 2002.  Back in Minnesota, Ken and his dad sailed little dinghies like Sunfish and Sailfish, as well as Hobie cats back when they were the cool new thing.  Nowadays Ken teaches most of the VSS classes, but particularly enjoys teaching Docking on the J/30 at Chatfield, where you will find him on most Saturdays.

If you’re like me, you love sailing, you love sailboats, and want to develop the skills of sailing.  And one of the most important skills in sailing is docking.  I am one of the instructors at Victoria Sailing School, and I teach the docking class on the J/30 at Chatfield.


This is the first in a series of blog posts I will be writing on docking.  Most of the points covered in these posts will apply to almost any boat, with a few specific pointers on the two models of boat in Victoria Sailing School’s fleet, the J/22 and the J/30.

In this blog post, I will be discussing the very basics.  Future posts will cover specific situations.

My philosophy on docking is really an extension of our philosophy on sailing in general: good docking is 95% preparation and 5% execution.  In this blog post I will discuss the ways to prepare for a successful docking.

First of all, we assume that you have the basics for any sailing excursion- hat, sunscreen, water, etc.  For docking we also recommend having a clipboard with a blank paper, a marker or pen, and ideally a chart of the marina.

Next, before the motor is even started, it is a good idea to have a strong grasp of the following skills.  In no particular order:

One skill we emphasize is the ability to make a simple micro-plan and communicating it clearly.   By micro-plan we mean something that might be as simple a plan to just get the boat out of the slip and into the channel, or a plan to spring the bow off the dock.  Creating and communicating these simple plans can greatly cut down on the chaos.

A related skill is the ability to create positions or roles, and assign people to them.  For instance, in docking the J/30, we typically have someone at the helm, two people on the dock handling mooring lines, and one person acting as the dangler, dangling a fender on the starboard side, protecting the hull from the dock.

Another skill is simply how to hold a boat at the dock.  We recommend two wraps of the mooring line around the cleat, setting up to tie a cleat hitch.  (And by the way, being able to tie a proper cleat hitch is one of THE cornerstone skills of sailing.  Walk up and down the docks, properly tied cleat hitches are very rare.)

The ability to toss a line a line can be handy.  And there is a technique for this.  Make sure the end of the line is secured, and a knot in the end being tossed makes it easier for the recipient.  Then coil the line, and split the coils into each hand.  Toss the coils in your primary hand first, followed quickly by the coils in your weak hand.  If you do this right the first time. You don’t have to toss a line that has fallen in the water.  Your friends and family will appreciate this!


More docking posts coming soon!

Disclaimer : This post is not meant to be a hard and fast guide for dealing with gusts! There are many other things that go into dealing with gusty mountain winds, the most important of which is sailor ability. Please remember that your confidence and ability play an important role in being able to sail in difficult conditions.

Believe it or not, Colorado is one of the hardest places to learn how to sail. Learning about the weather and wind patterns in Colorado is probably the most important step to mastering sailing in the Rockies. Weather plays a huge factor in staying safe on a sailboat and knowing how it affects us while sailing will turn a novice sailor into an experienced one. During the summer, Colorado has hot days with very little wind, and stormy evenings with incredible wind spikes and thunderstorms. It’s those wind spikes or gusts that can turn a pleasant outing into a horrible one in seconds. So, what can we do to prepare for these inevitable gusts?

First, we need to look at the general wind patterns for Denver, CO. In the Spring and Fall months we get an average wind speed of about 8.3mph. During the hot summer months that average wind speed drops to 6.9mph. Now that might not seem like a huge difference; but remember that average, means half the time the wind speed is below that mark. We also need to keep in mind the max wind speed during the Spring, Summer, and Fall. Looking at data from Climatology Reports ( we find that during the summer months the maximum wind gust also drops. The average max wind speed stays about the same throughout all the seasons, but we get higher wind speed maxes (around 45mph) during the spring and fall months. Why is this important? In order to prep for wind gusts, we must first understand when they are likely to happen so that we can be prepared for such an outcome before it happens. Keep in mind that these re averages and generalizations, the wind gusts in Colorado can strike even during the hot summer months, especially when there is a thunderstorm on the way.

Now that we know when to expect gusts (unfortunately all the time), we need to know how to prepare! Just like any other sport or skill, you need to practice. The easiest way to prepare is to reef, and reef fast. If you don’t know how fast you can reef your boat, you should time yourself, with a crew and by yourself. If you can’t reef in under a minute you may have some trouble avoiding knock downs when the wind picks up. The gusts don’t come with any warning, by the time you see it, it may already be too late. Look at the wind forecast before leaving the dock, know what you will be sailing in that day. If the forecast calls for gusts, start with a reefed mainsail, or furled genoa. As you get comfortable, you can always shake the reef!

Sail trim is very important when sailing through a gust. Adjusting your trim to avoid knockdowns will be your best ally. As the wind picks up, especially while sailing upwind, you will want to tighten the outhaul, cunningham, backstay, traveller and boomvang. All those adjustments will flatten your mainsail and not allow it to draw as much power. Remember the flatter a sail, the less power it will generate. As you increase draft, you will increase power. For your Jib or Genoa, you will want to pull the blocks aft, this will tighten the bottom of the sail and again, reduce sail power. Adjusting your sail trim allows your boat to remain balanced. Ideally, we have a perfectly balanced boat, if you were to let go of the steering the boat would continue straight. We aim for a slight weather helm, as a perfectly balanced boat is very hard to achieve.

Boat balance is also achieved by shifting body weight side to side, and forward and aft. We don’t want to put a bunch of weight too far forward or aft, as it will bury the bow or give us lee helm. As much as we can, we want to center the weight of the crew around the keel or beam of the boat, this means the skipper is sitting in front of the traveler while steering. On a J/22 we don’t want to have any crew behind the traveler, especially while battling gusty conditions. We also want to have crew on the high side, or windward side of the boat. A flat boat is much easier to control than a boat heeling over. The combination of windward weight and proper sail trim will allow us to drive through the gusts.

Our final adjustment for sailing through gusts, is to literally sail the puffs. As the gust comes, we want to aim the bow into the wind and ride the gust upwind. As our boat turns into the wind (just before stalling) it will flatten out and allow us to keep control. As the gust wanes, we fall off again to pick up speed. The goal is to keep the boat on the same degree of heel throughout all the gusts, heading up and bearing away through each puff. A great racer will be able to pick out the puffs and drive their boat through them without losing any speed or control. Remember, if you can’t control the tiller with only 2 fingers, you are not balanced and out of control (on a J/22 that is).

Gusts are an integral part of sailing in Colorado. Knowing when they strike and how to adjust will help sailors navigate and even enjoy gusts. Practicing reefing and knowing when to reef (early and often), will also go a long way in building confidence through gusty weather. Remember, if you can’t control your boat, you have too much sail up. Reef, get comfortable, and maybe next time you won’t need to reef. Knowing what all the sail trim lines accomplish is also very important, look out over the next few weeks as we will talk about what each line does! For now, remember that on a keelboat if you do get knocked, just wait for the boat to right itself, and don’t forget to close the hatches!
Victoria Sailing School *** 1776 S. Jackson Street, Suite 116 *** Denver *** Colorado *** 80210 *** 303.697.7433 - (8:00 a.m to 5:00 p.m. please)