Skerry limits

Now that I have actually floated, sailed, and rowed the Skerry I was wondering where the safety limits were. I sail in Lake Ontario and the water can get really rough. I am quite timid and certainly would not invite a swim in the lake at this time of the year but I was wondering if you had guidelines.

Since you have sailed the Skerry and have compared it to other boats you have a basis of comparison. I understand you cannot say that the boat is safe with 2 meter waves and 20 kilometer winds but any suggestions?

I have only sailed in a Wayfairer before and they can take alot of rough water.  I also have alot of experience with canoes of every ilk.

Does this make sense? I guess I am asking what are the danger signs and what is just plain exciting water resonably safe if I handle the boat sensibly?


9 replies:

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RE: Skerry limits

Christine - As with all small boats, their limit is often the skill of the sailor. Skilled dinghy racers can take just about any small boat out - and race it - in a terrible conditions. Faerings, in general, are seaworthy (for small boats) and can take relatively rough water - provided they are handled well. That  takes "time in the boat" and being prepared for capsizes. That's why small boats make for better sailors - you get instant feedback, and you get wet when you make a big mistake. I'm sure you've experienced this with your Wayfarer!

 Do you know how to right a capsized boat? Have you tried it with your Skerry? Do you know how much water yours will take on - and do you have a plan on how to get it out? Have you tried re-entering your swamped boat? Do you dress for immersion in cold water?

These are all things you should know, and be competent at, before you start sailing in rough water. Practice these things close to shore, and in controlled conditions. Once you are comfortable doing this, try it in rougher water, because it's lots different then!

Once you're prepared, then danger signs are up to you - and that just takes experience in the boat. One day, whitecaps will be scary, but later they'll become something you look forward to. The nice thing about the Skerry is that you can stow the rig when you feel overwhelmed, and then  row back home!

Wear a life jacket, and a wetsuit and go have fun!

Dave Gentry

RE: Skerry limits

It's a good question, and in no way do I mean to be flippant when I compare the question to something like, "What are the limits of my mountain bike?"  Just as the bike is limited almost entirely by the rider's skills and acquired instincts, small boats of all shapes and sizes are going to be largely at the mercy of their crews.  I know a guy named Howard Rice who could (and very well would) sail a Skerry across the Florida Straits or some such.  But he's an absolutely crack sailor with thousands of hours in small boats.

The Skerry's buoyant shape and broad stability band make it an excellent trainer OR rough water boat.  Still, find yourself on the wrong side of the sail in a nasty jibe, and over you go.  The Skerry has more buoyancy in the tanks than any traditional smallcraft like it, but a flooded Skerry is still a mess.

I second all of Dave's remarks, and add that there are a LOT of worse boats to get started in, including a Sunfish or Laser.  The Skerry is stable and comfortable and easy to sail, and when you're ready for the rough stuff, your Skerry will be, too.

Here's me wringing out Skerry #1 during a small craft warning in open water near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.  Big waves, 18-20 knots.  The Skerry's just skipping along, not taking on any water.  Some white knuckle tacks and gybes, and it looks like I'm wearing a drysuit under the PFD, but no capsizes or trouble at all.  I've got some even more dramatic photos from this sequence I need to dig up.

Wheeeee!  Truth be known, I was trying to break the mast.  Never succeeded.  That's the poor boat that died in a car accident.

RE: Skerry limits

Looks like good fun. If you come across the other pictures I would love to see them.

I took Cricket out before I asked the the original questions about limits and  I found it a bit too exciting. The waves were about 3.5 feet high and wind picked up so that there were some white caps. You can imagine I stayed low and paid attention! That was more than I had bargained for particularly since I had only sailed her once before in a quiet breeze inside the breakwall! 

You are right about the skerry being stable. I didn't take in any water. I was pretty safe the whole time except when I got my feet tangled up in ropes when I was jibing.

Have a nice 4th of July weekend.


RE: Skerry limits

There is more to it than just a windy day and wave height or swells. 

How you position a boat is important in waves that are breaking. Never give breaking waves your side. Always bow or stern, never allow to be broadsided.

No one can say a boat is ok for a certain wave height or wind speed. The 'period' of the waves is also an important number and can provide a rough, scary ride or a very fun day.

With sail, definitely a huge factor in safety is the skill/experience of the sailor.

RE: Skerry limits


As a fellow Skerry enthusiast, I'll echo the above comments on good judgment and sailing skills . . . but there are a few aspects of the Skerry that I think need also to be considered.

If you do go over, the boat will have a huge amount of water in it when you right it again.  I've never gone over, but I have intentionally put it over just to see if I could right it.  It's a worthwhile test of your skills!  You'll be bailing for a long time and if the conditions are already rough, it's going to make it hard.  Then ask, how far would I have drifted while I was bailing (and in which direction)?

With respect to your comment about going for a swim, I think you should always be prepared to do so when sailing a small boat.

If you are out sailing and decide it's getting rough for you, it would be nice to take down the sail and row in.  But, the sprit rig is difficult to bring down.
Brailing it leaves an awful lot of weight and windage aloft, and it's enough to affect the stabilty of the boat.  Where I sail, I come home to a rocky bay with the wind driving right against shore.  Usually I switch from sailing to rowing in the bay so that I can take out the daggerboard and kick up the rudder and not come in too fast, and I think the boat handles the worst with the sail brailed and tends to easily get into a pendulum rocking motion.

Reefing a sprit is possible, but not with the stock rig, although I don't have first hand experience with scandalizing the sprit, I'm guessing it would be ok in a run.  I'm not so sure if you had to go to windward.

Finally, I grew up on Lake Ontario and I know how quickly storms come in there, and how wavy it can be on even a calm day.  The waves in Ontario really seem to roll and swell without a lot of provocation.  I think you are wise to approach it cautiously.


Best luck to you!  Glad your boat is in the water!


- Bob 



RE: Skerry limits

Hi Bob

Thanks for your comments. All very true I think and to the point.

Lake Ontario certainly knows how to make rolling waves and near the breakwall there always seems to be a wave echo added to the original waves.

How did you get back in the boat when you let it swamp? I have alot of canoe experience and I am not afraid of going in. Its just not very much fun. I do have a respectable amount of plumpness and this helps me both float and stay warm!

I have made a nice little "cork" for the daggerboard hole from a dollar store gardening knee pad. It fits very well and it would prevent the boat from filling up from the daggerboard well as it gets bailed but I can't for the life of me figure out how to get back in. Its hard in a canoe when you are alone and since the Skerry has no flat end I can't imagine where to even try. Maybe the front has enough buoyancy to support a person. Maybe I could get in while it is still full of water and stay very low and bail like crazy. It may be worthwhile to bring an extra flotation bladder for under the middle seat. I know I have to try a few times to get it worked out and even then success will depend on conditions.

I would think that the best way would be to take the mast down if at all possible when it is on its side.

As far as scandalizing, I have done it and its not so difficult. My snotter is long and I just eased it slowly till the sprit was within my reach.  I eased it down slowly into the water till I could unhook and release it from the loop at the top of the sail. I did this while very low in the boat. I have a long pennant on the end  so its easier to grab on to if necessary. Once the sprit was free I just brought it back in the boat The end of the sail was flopping around and I tied it by its little pennant to where the boom connects to the mast. Not a very useful sail left but ok to get me back to the dock. I had let the boat point in the wind and it very nicely just stayed there while I was working at the sprit.

I can imagine getting the boat righted and bailed and having to tow it in swimming like a retriever with the painter in my teeth. That would be a humbling experience!!


RE: Skerry limits


I've seen it done 2 ways - first a boarding ladder; second footholds cut into the rudder.

The boarding ladders I've seen were rope with wood rungs, the bottom-most rung being weighted to keep it below the surface. They were attached at the transom (these were single-ended boats) and when the boat went over they automatically deployed by also falling out of the boat. Not quite sure where to attach it on a Skerry.

The rudder footholds work best on a large rudder that doesn't kick up, but it may be adaptable to a Skerry. Just make sure that your pintles, gudgeons and their attachments are strong enough to hold the sailor's weight.

Good luck,


RE: Skerry limits

How did you get back in the boat when you let it swamp?

Actually, I don't remember it being a problem.  But of course, when the boat is swamped, it sits a lot lower in the water.   I'm curious to try it again, or any deep water re-entry.

But remember that when you swamp it and it's lying on it's side, you'll climb up on the daggerboard to help start to right it.  You can climb in as it starts to come over again.

- Bob 


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