Relative Bearings

You must be able to determine quickly if a collision will result should you and the other vessel maintain your respective courses, and if so, what action you should take. Taking relative bearings is the simplest method of answering the first question. Using your compass, note the bearing of the approaching vessel. If this bearing remains constant over the next minute, the two of you are on a collision course. If the angle gradually widens, the ship will pass by your stern, and if it is closing,...

Pivot Point

All yachts have a point about which they rotate going forward, when going astern, and when using prop torque to turn. As you would imagine, this varies with hull and fin configuration. Shallow canoe-body-type hulls, with small keels and space rudders, typically rotate about a point towards the aft end of the keel. As the rudders get less efficient, the hull deeper, and the keel longer, this pivot point usually moves forward. The tricky thing here is, however, that the pivot point can move...

Abandon Ship Drill

An abandon-ship drill should be held on a regular basis so everyone is familiar with his or her job. In the event of a true emergency the ability to do the assigned task in a fast, orderly manner may mean the difference between life and death. There are three basic areas of action that will need to be rehearsed. First, the life raft and or dinghy should be prepared. If a sea is running it's In almost all cases staying with the mother ship, as opposed to getting into a dinghy or raft, is safer....

Night Watch

A light northwesterly breeze pushes the yacht towards the tip of Baja California. With main, mizzen, reacher, and mizzen staysail set, the 45-foot (14-meter) ketch Far Horizons is making good time tonight. The bow wave sings a gentle song, while the occasional whoosh of a porpoise coming up for air keeps the watch alert. To port 10 miles away looms the outline of Cedros Island. With a gibbous moon and clear sky, this high island is clearly visible. The back side of Cedros Island, off the Baja...

How to Read Steaming Lights

The steaming lights, mounted on the bow and a high mast amidships or aft, give pointed indicators of a ship's course. Lined up on top of one another, they are like range lights you are looking down the centerline of the ship. If the bow light, which is lower than the aft light, is towards you, the ship is on a heading that will cross astern of you. If the bow light is away, the ship is heading past your bow. And if the relative bearing stays the same, you are on a collision course. Make sure...

Securing the Stern

There are several choices for how the stern lines should be tied. One approach used in tight anchorages such as Papeete is to cross the lines to keep the stern from swinging and to avoid running a line across a neighbor's lines or transom. Splaying the lines outwards from the stern avoids chafe on your own lines but may annoy your neighbors. If you've plenty of space between boats, a set of lines can be run out from There are many ways to secure the stern. The best, if there is room, is to take...

Handholds

The second way to minimize the risks of falling overboard, or simply falling, is with secure handholds. Your boat should have handholds anywhere you will have to work. They can be dinghy rails, cabinside handrails, standing rigging, mast bars, or handrails over dorades. Lifelines are the handholds of last resort and should never be totally relied upon. When you move from hold to hold, keep your center of gravity low for maximum body stability. With your feet spread, knees bent, and chest...

Tugs and Tows

Running Lights Barge

Tugs and their tows are another hazard to watch for in coastal cruising. These sometimes move at relatively fast rates of speed, with a separation of as much as a mile between the tug and the barges behind. Never attempt to pass between the tug and its tow. The tow cable will at times be well below the surface, and at other times pop up to the surface. If you get caught on the cable as it is coming up, it will slice through the hull like a knife through a loaf of bread, or hang onto the boat...

Taking the Dinghy through Surf

The gleaming white beach is a few yards ahead. I am studying the rise and fall of the sea from just outside the surf line, where the swell of the ocean feels the bottom and begins to break on the beach. Linda, seated in the stern of our nine-foot (2.8 meter) Dyer fiberglass dinghy, is relaxed, anticipating the children's joy. Elyse and Sarah, ages two and five, sit in the forward seat in their life jackets, gripping the gunwale with one hand and their buckets and shovels with the other. Just...

Bow and Stern Hooks

We avoid using bow and stern hooks as much as possible. The loads increase with beam winds since the boat cannot weathercock and there is always the risk of fouling the stern rode in the prop (yours, or someone else's). However, it is sometimes necessary to anchor bow and stern to keep aligned with swell or to avoid hitting neighboring boats in a crowded anchorage. The stern hook is frequently set from the dink, after shutting the engine down. Handling a good-sized anchor from a dinghy requires...

Wind and Wave Factors

The lighter the winds the more benefit to jibing downwind. As the breeze increases, and you begin to sail faster (approaching hull speed), there is less advantage in the higher angles. Sea state is another major factor. You will often find that wind waves diverge from the wind 15- to 20-degrees. Sometimes there will be a secondary set of swells as well. Your decision on if or how much jibing angle to use will be based on what angles get you the most comfortable ride (the smoothest ride is...

Single Headsail to Weather

Once the wind gets onto the quarter it becomes possible to get the jib out to weather on the spinnaker or whisker pole. This will usually pay dividends with the apparent wind as far forward as 120-degrees, if the pole is long enough in relationship to the foot length of the jib. Don't be afraid to ease the pole well forward and have the jib billowing out ahead of and to leeward of the headstay. It looks funny, but is usually more efficient than sailing with the jib to leeward. You will probably...

Major Leaks

Areas of potential leaks in every vessel should be catalogued and reviewed for control. The worst problem areas are keelbolts, through-hull fittings, and stuffing boxes (on both rudder and propeller shafts). Soft wood plugs should be available for through-hull fittings, along with a large quantity of underwater epoxy, (which has many other uses aboard). One possibility to consider when chasing a leak is a source above the waterline. It's amazing how much water will find its way below through...

The Right Clothing

If you have to sail in the snow then having the right gear makes all the difference. Breathable foul weather gear is excellent in these conditions. Probably the most difficult thing to get right is the choice of gloves. The helmsman can get away with large ice climbing mitts but for sail handling you really need gloves fishermen's gloves are excellent and have a built-in lining for warmth but once wet are difficult to dry. Regular rubber gloves are not bad as a polypro or mer-aklon liner can be...

When to Use a Spinnaker

Sailing with a chute requires more attention to the boat, the course steered, and the weather. The amount of care depends on the size and construction of the chute (heavier sails give you more leeway with mistakes). It also depends on the stability of your boat and how well she steers under vane or pilot (or human if you're out for a day sail). The better steering control you have, the more aggressive you can be with the spinnaker. Of course weather is a major variable. If conditions are...

Slipping the Anchor

You may one day need to leave in a hurry. The anchor might be fouled, the windlass inoperative, or it may just take too long to bring the anchor up. If this happens, the normal procedure is to slip the anchor. This means let the rode run out, securing a buoy to the bitter end. A fender usually does a good job as a marker. If anchored in deep water with heavy chain, you will want to take a look at the buoyancy of the fender compared to the weight of the chain. To do this, take the water depth,...

Kids and Dinghies

Boat Selfreliance

We can tell you from firsthand experience (as kids, parents, and grandparents) that there is no greater thrill for the younger generation than having command of a dinghy. It is such a feeling of power and freedom that unless you have experienced it yourself, as a child, it is difficult to comprehend. Getting kids out on their own in the dink teaches them self-reliance, and brings them closer to understanding and enjoying the operation of the mother vessel. The key is to let them stretch their...

Up in the Lulls Down in the Puffs

Dinghy and catamaran sailors learn early in their racing careers to head up in the lulls and down in the puffs. As the wind dies down, to maintain boat speed you head up, bringing the apparent wind forward in the process. When the breeze picks up again, head off to gain stability and ground to leeward, so you'll be able to head up in the next lull. These same tactics apply to many offshore passages. Take our trip across the middle Indian Ocean from Cocos Keeling atoll to Rodrigues Island, 2100...

Using High Tech Line as Shackles

In the olden days, back in the 60s and 70s when we were sailing high performance catamarans, it was common to use line rather than shackles or turnbuckles to hold things together. We found this approach lighter, less costly, and infinitely easier than trying to dig out exactly the right piece of hardware. As we got into monohull cruising this mindset faded. Intermezzo, our first cruiser, came to us with a box of shackles and we used them. Twenty-five years later, however, on Beowulf, we are...

Hydrodynamic Issues

All of the discussion we've had so far about sailing is to some degree dependent on your keel characteristics. The lift generated by the keel is a function of the angle of attack created by leeway, and boat speed squared. Since the keel's lift increases with the square of the boat speed you can see that small changes in speed will have huge impacts on keel efficiency and lift. The keel has to overcome rig forces. The higher these forces, the harder the keel must work. When the keel is...

Shakedown Cruise

The shakedown cruise is really just a long term, detailed sea trial. Properly planned, a shakedown sail can help to ferret out various onboard weaknesses that may have escaped notice while it's still easy to make corrections close to home. The object is to test each of your boat's systems in the most aggressive mode possible, meaning in rough water as well as in calm. This also applies to the crew. You should be testing yourselves at the same time. Finding out what can go wrong and what you...

Hull Damage

Collisions at sea resulting in hull damage are rare, and when they do occur, assuming you're keeping a watch, they will be between you and a floating log, cargo hatch, or perhaps a shipping container. Depending on your vessel's construction, you may want to make more or less elaborate precautions. Wood vessels, planked on frames, can be thought of as a series of small structures bonded together. As such, they're more subject to leaking from minor impact than metal or fiberglass boats. A metal...

Defensive Seamanship

Throughout this book you will find us referring to the concept of Defensive Seamanship. This is much the same as the practice of defensive driving you probably learned in driver's education years ago. At sea it manifests itself by constantly being aware of the weather, the sea state, boat, and crew. Respect for the sea The two most important things you need for successful cruising are respect for the sea and its mate the weather, and an understanding of how their changeable moods can affect you...

New Zealand to New Caledonia

Once the mechanics of weather are understood, it is then possible to make tactical decisions concerning weather systems. The changes in wind patterns within highs and lows can be used to eliminate beating (or reduce it substantially) and to pick faster and or more comfortable wind and wave conditions during a passage. Our trip from New Zealand to New Caledonia aboard Intermezzo is a good example. Recall that Southern Hemisphere highs circulate counterclockwise. In the spring, when we were...

Towing Downwind

Towing downwind can present problems, too. Cruisers are frequently lulled into towing their dinghy on a nice day. Then the wind picks up. As seas build, dinghies, because they are lighter and accelerate quickly, tend to surf down the wave faces towards their mother ship. We have seen dinghies careen madly down a sea, swerve past the stern of the towing boat, reach the limit of the painter as they pass the stern, Towing at slow speeds, as shown in these two photos, can be done with the dink...

Increasing Heel

As we've already discussed, in some situations you may be able to float your boat on her side towards deep water. Being trapped on the seaward side of a lagoon or estuary will sometimes yield an easier escape across the shallows fronting the inland body of water. Heaving your boat down by the masthead will reduce her effective draft. A 40-foot (12-meter) sailboat that draws six feet (1.8 meters) on her feet may only draw 2 1 2 feet (76-centimeter) at a 70-degree angle of heel. The mast head can...

Anchoring Considerations

If your only options are anchorages, look first at the amount of protection from the expected direction of the storm winds. Secondly, consider what you will do once the eye passes and the wind goes through its major shift. Normally you move to the next windward shore during the lull before the storm resumes. Is there sufficient protection there (It is also important to know the lay of the anchorage so you can make the change in less than ideal light if necessary.) Think about the bottom...

Dealing with Obstructions

It is often the case that a yacht in relatively good condition before the tow off begins suffers substantial damage on the way to deep water. Any rocks or large coralheads in the way are going to be a problem more so than when the boat is driven ashore, in some cases, due to the power of the towing vessel. The best way to deal with this issue is try to survey the route to be taken as thoroughly as possible. Often the tow boat can pull at a different angle so the obstructions are missed.

Sheeting to the Main Boom

The first step as the breeze goes aft is to look at sheeting through the end of the main boom. This gets rid of some of the belly in the sail, opens the leech of the headsail relative to the mainsail compared to where it would be if sheeted on the rail , reducing drag, and weather helm in the process. For end-boom sheeting to work the clew of the jib must be designed relatively high from the beginning for this approach. Low-cut jibs obviously will not work. But if you have a reacher, or yankee,...

Rules of the Road

When the Narragansett Bay collision took place it had been years since we had looked at the legal rules of the road. As we began to work with the other vessel's insurance adjuster we were self-insured their adjuster asked us several questions that sent us scurrying to the rule books. The first was, Were we under inland rules or international waters The answer to this question had direct bearing on whom was at fault. As it turned out, we were not subject to inland rules by a distance of a few...

Backing Tactics

The particular tactics you employ to position yourself depends on the backing characteristics of your boat and the relative direction of the wind and current. One of the key factors with a Med moor is the wind direction. If it is on the bow, as shown below, even a really difficult boat to maneuver in reverse like Intermezzo can be gotten into position. But when the wind is on the beam the situation is a lot more demanding and often taking a line ashore with the dinghy is the best bet. Wind is...

Cabo San Lucas

Before going further into the subject of defensive anchoring we want to take you back to Cabo San Lucas, on the tip of the Baja Peninsula, during the winter of 1982. At this time, Cabo was a picturesque Mexican village now it is a city with lots of high-rise condos . For generations it has been a favorite of mariners traversing the Mexican coast. If the winds are light in the Gulf of California, Cabo offers good protection from the prevailing northwesterlies blowing on the Pacific Ocean side of...

Communication with the Tow Boat

If you have to tow another boat, or accept a tow yourself, it is best to establish communications early to plan how the rescuer will approach the helpless vessel and at what speed the tow will be affected. Be sure to detail a crewmember to keep an eye on the tow line to help the helmsman keep it clear of the prop. If a direct radio link isn't available, try working out a system of hand signaling on speed. Once the tow starts, engine noise will make voice communication impossible except by...

Sailing to Jib Telltales

Now let's see how these work for sail trim. The principle is quite simple. Under optimum trim the windward telltales should be jumping about nervously, while the ones to leeward should be streaming aft. If the leeward telltales are jumping or streaming forward you need to ease the sail or head closer to the wind. If the windward telltales are standing straight up or heading forward you have to tighten your sheet or head away from the wind until they go back to their nervous condition. Not all...

Oversheeting to Reduce Rolling

Older designs, those yachts with heavier displacement and keel-hung rudders, may not be able to handle the steering loads that come with the high downwind speed and surfing. On these boats, carrying a staysail or sheeting a reefed main close to the centerline will reduce rolling. The sail from the Windward Passage between Haiti and Cuba to Panama is usually fast, and unfortunately rolly. There is often a sea from the northeast and southeast, more or less crossing at right angles. Often changing...