Cruising

Cruising Tips - May 2006

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This month: rope ladders; marking chain; pet seasickness; sailing with a bad back; and ideas for singlehanders.

Anchoring

Marking Chain
There are a number of ways to mark your anchor chain, including using paint or plastic-wire ties. I prefer to use strips of colored nylon spinnaker cloth.

First lay out the entire chain on the dock and flake it in even lengths. Choose a length that is appropriate to the depth of the waters you will be cruising in. I use 25-foot lengths. Then tie one of those easy-to-see pieces of cloth through the links that start each end of the designated length. I wrap the nylon strip through the link twice and tie it with an overhand knot.

We bought spinnaker-cloth tapes from our sailmaker in 2-inch-wide rolls, in red, green, and white. We cut the tapes into 30-inch lengths and marked each with a felt-tip marker to indicate the number of feet of chain that have been put out.

The colors let the foredeck crew know how much chain is going out even if they can’t see the actual numbers. I’ve tied green tapes on all the 25-foot marks (25, 75, 125, 175), red tapes on the 50-foot marks (50, 150, 250), and white tapes on the 100-foot marks (100, 200).

The colors are easy to see, the nylon cloth goes through the windlass easily, and the cloth lasts longer than paint. F.R.

Boathandling

Think Like a Singlehander
I’ve taught sailing for many years and am always amazed that many crews leaving a dock—often it’s a couple—have one crewmember go forward to retrieve and secure the bow line and fender after the boat has cleared the dock. When they return to the dock, they reverse the procedure; someone goes forward, sets the fender, and gets the bow line ready.

This is hard to avoid on bigger boats, but on a smaller boat—under 28 feet or so—it’s safer to set up as if you were sailing alone. This means attaching the bow line or lines to the bow cleats, then leading the lines outside the lifelines back to the cockpit. With this setup it’s easy for the helmsman to tend the lines. You can position the fenders on the lifelines so that after the boat has cleared the dock, one person can use a boathook to grab the fender hanging over the side and pull it up on deck, while remaining in the cockpit. When the loose end of the bow line is secured to a stanchion—a clove hitch will work in most situations —the boat can proceed without having anyone go forward to secure the bow.

The procedure should be reversed when returning to the dock. Hang the fender on the lifeline and use the boathook to push it forward to the right location for protecting the hull. Once you’ve untied the clove hitch that secures the bow line to the stanchion, the rest of the docking maneuver can be handled easily from the cockpit; there’s no reason for anyone to go forward. R.C.

First Aid

Bad Backs and Boats
Several months ago I wrote that I had to be very careful of my back when I was on board a boat. Since then I’ve received a number of letters from sailors asking whether I do anything specific to protect my back when I’m sailing. The answer is that I’ve tried many things over the years to reduce my back pain, including limited surgery, visits to chiropractors, and acupuncture. But I’m still susceptible to discomfort, and if I’m not careful the pain can become severe. I’m constantly aware of how hard I’m working my back.

It’s not just a matter of putting a limit on, say, how much weight to lift. I need to assess how much bending my back can safely absorb; stuffing a sail into a sailbag for example, is almost sure to give me a backache. I’m fortunate that my wife, Terrie, is fit and energetic—and, yes, she does much of the hard work when we are sailing. We’ve also done what we can to minimize heavy loads. A powered anchor windlass came first, followed by roller furling and reefing; our newest boat, a 45-footer, has electric primary winches as well as an electrically powered mainsail-halyard winch.

We use a crane to lift the outboard motor from the dinghy, and we hoist the dinghy itself with the electric halyard winch. Although these devices take care of most of the heavy routine work on board, I still get backaches. I only rarely sleep through the night on the boat, but it’s no different at home, so I’m not about to give up sailing. Unfortunately, I have no magic bullet to offer. The best advice I can give is to make sure you know your body’s limits on weight and flex, then do everything possible to stay within them. N.C.

Soothing the Seasick
My wife, Ursula, is prone to seasickness, as is our cat. My wife tried many of the standard remedies, but aside from getting thirsty and becoming drowsy, she didn’t feel any better. Then a fellow cruiser mentioned having had good luck with Triptone. Happily, my wife found that it worked for her, even after the onset of seasickness, which has not been the case with the other brand-name medications.

We’ve since discovered that this product is well known in the diving community and is carried by many dive shops. It’s also available through local pharmacies. Of course, you should consult your doctor before using any medication.

We’ve also found it helpful to spend several days at anchor before heading offshore. My wife says this helps her get used to the boat’s motion and start to get her sea legs. Certain foods—citrus-, ginger-, or lime-flavored drinks and ginger ale—seem to work well for us, and we’ve found that eating smaller amounts of food more often helps too. We avoid sweets in favor of salty crackers or pretzels. If your sweet tooth needs attention, try ginger cookies.

Giving human crew a seasickness medication is one thing; giving such a medication to a cat or dog without clear instructions from a knowledgeable veterinarian is another. We medicate our cat, in a dose appropriate for her weight. She often becomes drowsy. We keep her comfortable and place a container with water nearby. Hugging, holding, or petting a seasick animal also seems to reduce its stress level. H.P.M.

Seamanship

Tie One On
I’ve heard stories about sailors who were alone aboard their boats, doing some in-port maintenance, and were never heard from again. Presumably they fell overboard and had no way to pull themselves out of the water. The potential for trouble is greater if the boat is located where the water never gets very warm.

In Maine, where I live, we’re lucky if the water temperature gets above 60F in the middle of the summer. In the spring, when boats are being prepared, 40F is more typical. Because I work on my boat frequently, those temperatures got me thinking about how to eliminate this danger.

Now when I’m working on board, I rig my “self-protection gear.” This consists of a rope ladder with wooden slats. I attach its head to a strong point like a cleat or winch. The folded ladder sits on one of the boat’s quarters, and a strong, light line runs from its base over the side and down to the water. A gentle pull on the line is all it takes to make the steps fall over the side (the lower steps rest in the water). The line hanging over the side is long enough to be easily reached by a swimmer. Fortunately, I’ve never had to use this gear, but I’ve tried it out thoroughly and rig it when I’m on the boat by myself. T.T.

Words from the Wise

“There is no substitute for getting to know your own boat although it takes time and patience, a steady crew and testing and tuning. If you race it will also require detailed recordings of the sailhandling adjustments that work for your boat.

“Perhaps even more important is to have an experienced crew. Look at the leading sailors and you will find most have put a lot of time and practice into their boat and have also sailed a lot on other boats. Each crewmember, having done his particular job many times before, knows his objectives. And ideally the skipper, who is the leader, should have as much knowledge in all areas as each individual crewmember. The more experienced the crew the quieter and more efficient the boat will be. Practice gives you the ability to act fast and seize any opportunity to move the boat ahead.” —Wallace Ross, Sail Power

Contributors this month: Nigel Calder, Ray Copin, Hans-Peter Mueller, Fred Roswold, Toby Tobin

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