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The Traditional Sailor’s Tool Kit

Honing the skills to sail traditional gaff-rigged boats.

  • Mike Erkkinen—July 31–August 6 (intermediate sailors), August 14–20 (experienced sailors)

Tuition: $950

Note: Prior sailing experience required for this course.


This course takes place aboard the schooner ELLEN C. WELLS, the Friendship sloop BELFORD GRAY, and potentially any boats in the WoodenBoat School fleet that will further the goals of the participants in this class.

Traditional gaff-rigged boats have a magic all their own, and unlocking this magic takes a decidedly different approach than sailing either modern rigged boats or small centerboard craft. Mike Erkkinen, instructor of this course and captain of ELLEN C. WELLS, has been sailing traditional boats shorthanded or singlehanded for the past 30 years, and has had to uncover many tricks and shortcuts to handle these vessels in challenging conditions. The benefit of unlocking the capabilities of these boats is to experience a sense of confidence and independence that allows one to take on cruising and day-sailing with elegance, and enjoy the details of a beautiful coastline such as we have in Maine.

These two one-week courses will be slightly different from one another. The first week is best for an intermediate sailor, and will cover all of the basics of sailing a traditional gaffer, on shore, at the mooring, and on the water. The second week is meant for experienced sailors with at least a season or two of cruising experience, and will focus more on the specific goals of the participants and less on basics.

As much as possible, we’ll practice skills in fun and engaging ways. One favorite technique is to “pick up” (really just touch) lobster buoys under sail, as fishermen would have done 100+ years ago.

There will be a series of short videos sent to all participants well in advance of each course, to learn basic skills such as rope handling, coiling, etc. Learning as many basic skills as possible prior to meeting in person will maximize sailing time.

Because of the salty nature of this course, and the unpredictable weather of coastal Maine, we’ll use “sailing-challenged” weather to dive into practical marlinespike techniques that you’ll need to rig and maintain a gaffer: splicing, whipping, sewing, sail repair, knots, crafting deck rugs, ratlines…so please bring the basic rigging tools noted in your course packet.