A Flicka Sails Herself
A boat that wants to achieve balance is motivating, fun, and easy to sail. An endearing quality of Sampaguita, my Pacific Seacraft Flicka 20, is her willingness to steer herself. I remember the feeling of excitement, having just changed boats from a squirrelly Columbia 26 MKii, when I first realized how easy it was to balance the Flicka. It was easy to imagine the fun and freedom I would have. When single-handing in coastal waters, this quality offers some relief from the helm without additional equipment, yet requires enough attentiveness to maintain safe, situational awareness.
I don’t think Sampaguita is an anomaly, so I’ll give kudos to the designer of the Flicka 20, Bruce Bingham, and his muses. New England workboat inspiration for good lines, a full keel for tracking, a bowsprit for a leveraged sail plan, and a large transom hung rudder. All the usual suspects for creating a stable, well-balanced boat. Thanks Bruce.
I have Sampaguita rigged with a touch of weather helm. When I am racing close-hauled(“is he joking?”), I can sheet the main in tight for maximum speed, a little extra heel, and rounding up for overboard safety. But, if I ease the main a bit, we find her sweet spot for balance, and she will happily take over. It backwinds the luff of the main, but creates better flow over the half-battened leech, streaming the telltales off.
Like any sailing partner, there are compromises. If I let her make her own way, we will concede a little in speed and heading. 5-15% and maybe a few degrees, respectively. On an afternoon sail in Port Townsend, when close-hauled with the main sheeted in tight and my fingers always on the tiller, we averaged 4.3 knots. With the main luffed enough to balance a still well-trimmed jib and no hands on the helm, 3.8 knots. If the heading suffered, it was because Sampaguita took a little longer to adjust to variations in the wind and waves than a focused helmsman. Wind speed, point of sail, and wave state are significant variables in performance.
Sampaguita has sailed herself with most sail combinations and on every point, including the asymmetrical spinnaker and wing-and-wing. However, it is most predictable to balance her when she is sailing close-hauled or on a close reach. The 140% genoa and the spinnaker will often overpower the main too much to be hands-free. A combination of the 100 or 80% jibs, with the mainsail and its reefs, will usually do the trick.
Understandably, quieter seas are better for balancing, especially when headed off the wind. Reaching and close-hauling, the boat can handle more. I recall sailing across the Strait of Georgia from Nanaimo to Plumper Cove Marine Provincial Park in BC, Canada. We sailed close reached for over ten nautical miles under working jib and a single reefed main with 15-20 knots of SE wind and 2-4 foot seas. The only time I had to adjust the helm was to steer around a fishing buoy directly in our path.
For those readers who are more technically and financially inclined, I have heard of electronic autopilots and self-steering wind vanes. Sampaguita came with an autopilot, but it was not wired safely and hasn’t been repaired. A trim tab wind vane would be well suited for her, but yet to transpire.
For the past seven years, I have enjoyed the simplicity of balancing the boat through sail trim. Simple is more zen for me, I guess. I am always impressed by how well Sampaguita handles herself and what a pleasure she is to sail.