Thursday, March 08, 2018

Dusting off an AMC Minifish Sailboat

After living in the same house for over twenty years, you tend to amass TOO MUCH STUFF. In an effort to declutter, I started going through our house room by room to donate or sell everything that we weren't using or could part with. In our basement taking up a lot of space, was this AMC Minifish sailboat that my parents gave to me. They bought it around 1980, and I remember taking it out a few times. We also had a Snark sailboat which I enjoyed a lot more because the cockpit was roomier and the boat was way less tippy, but that boat was long gone. I remember taking a Sunfish out in Disney World around 1987 and capsizing it multiple times, not exactly a good time!

Since the last time I used a sailboat was 30 years ago and I really didn't have much sailing experience, the Minifish just sat in my basement. The hull was propped up against the wall and the sail and mast were tied up and sat on some rafters. For TWENTY YEARS! So it was time to either sail it or sell it. Adam and I took it out in the yard to see if we could rig it up. I was worried that the sail was completely eaten up by bugs or rodents, but miraculously it was in perfect shape. I had long forgotten what my dad told me it about rigging it and was hard pressed to find anything on the internet. There were plenty of videos about rigging a Sunfish, which is significantly more complicated rigging than a Minifish. I had one 3/8" rope with it, which I managed to raise the sail with but it was really tight going through the mast and didn't seem like enough to actually sail with. When the sail was up, I took a few pictures for Craigslist just in case I was too chicken to actually sail it.

After much more research on the internet, I finally found the original instructions for a Minifish in a sailing forum. Even this was complicated to understand, having forgotten all the terminology. Finally, I determined exactly what I needed to rig the Minifish. Here it is in easy to understand language!

Assuming the sail is attached to the booms (lashed) and the daggerboard still has its retaining cord, here are the items that you will need (Amazon affiliate links, thanks):
  1. Two 25' lengths and one 15' length of 1/4" or 5/16" diameter braided nylon rope. One 25' length is used as the halyard (raises the sail on the mast) and the other for the mainsheet (rope you hold on to for controlling the sail). It's possible to use about 20' for these, but 25' is what I used. The shorter rope is used as a tow rope or to attach the optional paddle below. You can get rope at Lowe's for $0.22/foot, or spend more at Amazon
  2. Optional (to attach the mainsheet to the bridle - rope which goes across the back of the boat): Stainless Steel Swivel-eye Boat Snap 3-1/4". If there is no ring on the bridle, this becomes necessary.

  3. Optional (to get you out of still water): Attwood Emergency Telescoping Paddle. This one is especially nice because it has a hole in the handle to attach a retaining rope, but it is a little tricky getting it to open and close consistently.
Here are some all-important knots to know:

Here are the rigging instructions:
  1. If you have a paddle, tie one end the 15' rope to the paddle using a bowline knot, and the other end to the bow handle (handle at the front of the sailboat) using another bowline knot. If you don't have a paddle, use the 15' rope as a tow rope by attaching one end to the bow handle and tying an open bowline knot at the other end. Leave the paddle or the tow rope on the cockpit.
  2. Attach the rudder. First, put the tiller (rudder handle) under the bridle (rope which goes across the back of the boat). Push the endpin of the rudder upward to expose the shoulder at the top of the pin. Insert the pin, then press down again when in place.
  3. Place the daggerboard in the cockpit. 
  4. Lay the sail to the left of the mast hole, with the ring over the hole.
  5. Use a 25’ length of 5/8” rope for the main sheet. 
    • If you have a boat snap hook, attach it to one end of the rope with a bowline knot. Clip the hook to the ring on the bridle (or just to the bridle if no ring). Feed the free end of the rope through the back pulley of the sail and then through the front pulley. Tie a figure 8 stopper knot on the end and place the rope in the cockpit.
    • If you do not have a boat snap hook, tie a figure 8 stopper knot on one end (leave in place for future use). Feed the free end through the front pulley of the sail and then through the back pulley. Tie the free end to the bridle ring using a bowline knot.  Place the stopper end in the cockpit.
  6. Use the other 25’ length of 5/8” rope as the halyard (the rope that holds up the mainsail). Tie to the upper beam of the sail just above the 7th plastic sail attachment with a clove hitch followed by two half-hitches. Slide the free end of the rope through the hole at the top of the mast to about halfway down the rope.
  7. Insert the mast into the sail ring and into the mast hole. Raise the sail by pulling the rope and attach the free end of the halyard to the deck cleat with a cleat hitch. Place the remaining rope in the cockpit.
  8. Insert the daggerboard, with the longer straight edge to the back, and tie the retaining cord to the metal loop on the deck.
  9. When sailing, sit on the stopper knot of the main sheet so it doesn’t get away.
Our first outing was to a small lake in New Hampshire, with a beach launch. I was extremely nervous, but put my phone on dry land and set off. This is where you really need a phone! No way to call for help if something goes wrong! It was slow going at first with little wind, but once into the middle part of the lake, there were a few gusts. The only thing I remember from sailing as a teenager was that if things got out of hand, loosen the main sheet. It was really nerve-wracking at first when the sailboat started to tip, but it wasn't too bad once I gained confidence that I could actually sail again. Coming to shore was a bit of work since there was only the slightest of breezes going offshore, so I had to wave the rudder back and forth to get the boat moving (here's where the paddle would've come in handy, didn't have it yet). It was actually, dare I say it, fun!

After that successful first sail, I got Adam into the boat. I gave the briefest of instructions on how to sail (because I knew so little myself) and pushed him away from the beach.  He immediately crashed into a nearby dock so I waded into the water to pull the boat away, and set him in the right direction. When I got to shore, I realized that my iPhone 6 was in my shorts pocket and it was completely soaked! I tried to get it quickly into a bag of rice, but it didn't look promising. The screen kept flickering on with the Apple sign then fizzing off and it was extremely hot. The sailboat ended up costing me a phone!

Adam also had a successful outing with no capsizing. He mentioned that sail turned all the way around the mast, but he managed to get it back. The next week, we went back with a new iPhone 7 and this handy pouch.  The iPhone 7 may be waterproof, but it certainly doesn't float! I performed a float test with this pouch before going again and it does work!

3 Pack Cambond Universal Floating Waterproof Phone Case

Since then I've got an iPhone 7 Plus, and that is definitely too big to float in this pouch! I may try this one next year:

Temdan iPhone 8 plus / 7 plus / 6s plus/ 6 plus Floating Case

On our second trip the following weekend, I relaxed a bit more and explored around the lake. I attempted to take some photos with my new phone when there was no wind, but the pictures don't capture the beauty of the boat and the feeling of freedom and empowerment by traveling completely through natural wind power.

It's so quiet and peaceful when there is no wind. And then it gets exciting when there is wind. Lean to the side! Watch the water splash over the deck! Whoosh! How fast am I going? And getting around relies completely on your understanding of the wind in the sail. In the end, we decided to keep the sailboat. To many more sailing days ahead!


Unknown said...

Hi, you mention 1/4" or 5/8" is this supposed to be 5/16"? This seems like a big jump, thanks in advance!

Angela said...

Good catch, 5/16". updated! I'll update the knots pics as well.

Anonymous said...

we just got a Minifish from a Habitat Restore and this blog post has been a life saver! Thank you!!!!!

Unknown said...

Looking for a Minifish. Thanks for the post, good read. Glad you're enjoying it.

If you change your mind want to get rid of it -let me know.


Angela said...

Haven't sailed this in the last couple years.. If you're near Mass, send me a message at

Anonymous said...

Hi, I am fixing up an old Minifish that I just bought, and it doesn't currently have a bridle. Do you have any tips on attaching a bridle? There is a lot of info out there on the Sunfish, but the Minifish setup is a little different. Thanks!

Angela said...

I don't know much about attaching a bridle, but I found this here: