Cruising

Attaching lifelines, poling the headsail, calculating tides, and oil lamps

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This month: attaching lifelines, poling the headsail, calculating tides, and oil anchor lamps

Safety

UV damage
Instead of attaching lifelines to pushpits with clevis pins, it’s good practice to use lashings of prestretched line. They provide enough tension to take the slack out of the lines but can be cut in an instant if need be—for instance, to clear the lifelines out of the way quickly for a crew-overboard recovery. A word of warning: UV radiation can weaken the line without your realizing it, causing the lashings to give way unexpectedly. It would be cheap insurance to replace them annually. P.N.

Techniques

Roll, then pole
Who’s that wobbling precariously around on the foredeck, trying to clip a headsail sheet into a whisker pole? It’s not you, is it? If you’re sailing deep enough to warrant poling the headsail out to windward, there are two basic ways of accomplishing this maneuver—the hard way and the easy way. The hard way is to set the pole up and then gybe the headsail by clipping the weather sheet into the pole end and using the sheet winch to drag the sail across the foredeck. Often the sail wraps itself around the headstay in the process, and it turns into a bit of a circus. The same goes for gybing the sail first to go wing-and-wing and then trying to set the pole. It might work in flat water with a good helmsman, but if the boat is rolling and pitching you usually get beaten up by the flogging sail. There’s a much easier way, one that works in any conditions: set the pole, roll the sail up, clip the sheet into the pole jaw, and then unroll the sail to windward. P.N.

Weather

Use the moon for tide times
It doesn’t take long to learn how the moon’s phases affect the tide in your area. If you are casually planning a weekend passage while you drive home from work and you have an area of current to deal with, you might well want to know which way the stream will be running after breakfast on Saturday. First, remember what phase the moon was in last night. A day or two after the full moon means spring tides; the half-moon means neaps. If you learn approximately when the stream turns for these main tides, you’ll be able to interpolate the others approximately in your head. If the neap ebb starts at local high tide minus 4 hours and the spring ebb at high tide plus 2, a three-quarter waxing moon will pump that ebb away at high tide minus 1, and so on. Fishermen used such observations from the time of Noah until the last 50 years or so. Learn your basic local rules. They’ll never let you down, not even when the almanac blows over the side. T.C.

Seamanship

Burning the midnight oil
If your boat has only a modest battery bank, you are probably very aware of the electrical power consumed by your masthead anchor light whenever you anchor out at night. In remote locations, you may even be tempted to switch the light off, figuring no one will see it anyway. But there is a better way. Anchor lights with fresnel lenses that burn lamp oil are still widely available. Hung from your forestay in the foretriangle, they are in fact more likely to be seen by anyone transiting the anchorage at night because they are much closer to eye level. The distinctive yellow glow of the light they cast also stands out well against backlighting. Filling the lamp’s reservoir, trimming its wick, polishing its lens, and hanging it out on the foredeck as night is gathering makes a great end-of-the-day ritual. It’s certainly more romantic than flicking a switch on an electrical panel. And your batteries will thank you for it. C.J.D.

Heel and float
When you are aground and struggling to heel the boat over to reduce its draft, a handy method is to swing the boom as far out as it will go with a crew volunteer hanging onto the end—the heavier the better. If there are no takers for the job, a 5-gallon water jug can be almost as effective. T.C.

Words from the Wise

“Seamanship and seamanlike behavior are hard to define but both involve qualities that every sailor should try to acquire. To behave in a seamanlike way shows you have an understanding of the ways of the water and have a feeling for the boat. A skilled seaman is able to anticipate what may happen and has thought out what action he would take if a certain emergency occurs.
“Of course much of what is involved in seamanship comes from experience. But having a good understanding of the basic technical matters is a start. With increased ability comes increased confidence, along with those hard-to-define qualities that mark you as a seaman.” —Percy W. Blandford, The Art of Sailing

Contributors: Stacey Collins, Tom Cunliffe, Charles J. Doane, Peter Nielsen

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