Cruising

Cruising Tips - October 2006

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This month: Figure 8 coils, Sailing in Light Air, Reading the Small Print, Bleeding the Engine and Shirttail Nonsense

Seamanship

Figure 8 Coils
The traditional way to coil a line is to make coils of equal length and drop them into the palm of your hand. Hold the end of the line in one hand and use the other hand to lay the coils, one on top of the other, into your palm. The problem is that unless the line is uncoiled very carefully, it often becomes tangled as it runs out; the smaller the line diameter, the greater the chance this will happen. Years ago I watched a friend coil a long umbilical cable for an experimental underwater vehicle in a figure 8 configuration that made it impossible for the line to become fouled. Since then I coil all my lines—from bow and stern lines to anchor rodes and jib-furling lines—that way. Here’s how to do it.
With one end of the line in the palm of one hand, take a section of the line in the other hand and run it down behind the back of the opposite forearm—go from left to right—then under your elbow before coming back up the back of your forearm to cross over the top of your palm right to left. Go back down again under the elbow and continue (go slowly so you don’t forget which way to make the coil on the back of your forearm) until you’ve coiled up nearly all the line. Wrap the tail of the line around the middle where the eights cross; then bring the remaining line up in a loop, and pass the end of the line through the smaller loop you have just made. You can either stow the coil or hitch the end of the line over a cleat or hook. B.B.

When the Wind is Light
Some of my sailing friends tell me that a powerful engine and plenty of diesel fuel are what you need to move from place to place in light wind. I don’t agree. The reason I have a sailboat is to move with the wind in a pleasurable and satisfying manner.
For example, my wife, Margaret, and I recently made a 16-day, 1,653-mile passage from Gibraltar to Kusadasi, Turkey, in our 35-foot Whisper. With the calms and upwind sailing we averaged only 103 miles per day. That’s not a great deal—but it’s respectable, and it proves you can sail in light air. Were we lucky or just determined? Maybe both. Here are some things you can do besides turning on the engine.

Get the weight off!
Don’t make your boat a storage shed. Develop and pursue a weight-reduction plan. New winches are nice. Now you should offload the old ones you’ve stored below, along with those pieces of pipe, broken winch handles, the old sun awning, the wrong-size propeller, and one of the two identical sets of socket wrenches. A few scraps of wood are useful for repairs, but unload the pile of lumber under the forepeak berths.

Is it really necessary to carry those extra jugs of diesel fuel? Do you really need five anchors? Think what your boat’s designer would say about carrying 2,000 pounds of extra weight.

Consider the boat’s underbody.
Everyone has a favorite paint. I like hard bottom paint that can be scrubbed and burnished. I use a different color for each application to help keep track of the coverage and assess the wear. If your propeller zinc is in good condition when you haul out, replace it with a smaller, more streamlined one. Through-hulls that are flush further streamline the underbody. I’ve had good results with high-strength Marelon through-hulls and shut-off valves. Your goal should be to make the underbody of the boat as smooth as its topsides.

Look out for propeller drag.
Get rid of that three-bladed propeller; it has 33 percent more drag than a two-bladed prop. If propeller drag were not important, rating rules wouldn’t make such a big thing of correction factors for fixed, folding, and feathering props. Until you’ve sailed the same boat with and without a propeller in light wind, you can’t believe the difference in performance.
If your propeller is in a rudder aperture, consider using a fixed two-bladed propeller that you can align in a vertical position by putting a mark on the shaft inside the hull. For the past 30 years I’ve been using two-bladed Martec folding propellers that work well even though some detractors claim they don’t work in reverse. That hasn’t been my experience. When I approach a dock, I try to come alongside slowly. Then I put the engine in reverse and rev it up to stop the boat. The trick is to try to stop in a place where there will be no damage.
To practice with a folding prop—or any prop—drop a small buoy in open water and try approaching and stopping next to it. Have everyone in the crew (wives, children, friends) try this. Most docking troubles occur because the approach is too fast and the helmsman doesn’t understand how the propeller and engine work together to slow and stop the boat.

Better winds are often offshore.
You can make an argument for sailing close to shore to find a land breeze during the night and early morning, then going farther out for the sea breeze during the afternoon and early evening. This tactic makes more demands on precision navigation because the rocks are usually close to shore. Sailing 20 or even 50 miles offshore usually keeps you away from local fishing boats and coastal traffic and means that your sailing can be more relaxed and easy. Remember that light air and calms are part of sailing. Perhaps after an hour or two of calm, a breeze will fill in from a new direction and off you go, ghosting along on a flat sea. On one of my passages around the world via the Southern Ocean, I was becalmed 11 percent of the time. What did I do? I slept. I cooked. I fixed things. I read. I wrote in my journal. I felt very close to the sea and nature itself. These were lovely times.
Do try to avoid the motoring mindset. Once you start, there’s a tendency to continue even if the wind comes up. The reason? The wind might not last.
“The wind dropped, so we had to motor” is what I hear from some of my friends. I’d rather hear them say, “The wind fell, so we chose to motor.” I choose to sail. H.R.

Navigation

Read the Small Print
As you get older, your eyes naturally become less able to focus on objects at short range. Many sailors find that the small print on a chart seems harder to read each year. The good news is that when you can’t quite make out those sounding numbers on a chart and your reading glasses are down below, you probably have just what you need within reach.
Grab your binoculars and turn them around so you’re looking into the front of the lenses. Look through the front of one lens, holding the eyepiece just above the chart. The closer the eyepiece is to the chart surface, the greater the magnification. An inspection with the backward lens may reveal that what you thought was a 5 on the chart is really a 3. Discovering it this way will be a lot easier on your bottom than a grounding. D.C.

Engines

Full Notice
If you don’t have a self-bleeding diesel engine, here’s a suggestion that can save time and effort. Photocopy the instructions for bleeding the engine from its manual. Then blow up the type big enough so you can read it without glasses. Laminate the page(s) to waterproof them. With instructions in hand, bleed the engine’s fuel system and mark all the lines you have to break with a touch of red nail polish. Then put the laminated instructions and all the wrenches you need to bleed the lines into a sealable plastic bag. Next time you have to bleed the engine, you won’t have to search for anything. D.S.

Sails

Shirttail Nonsense
When I see a boat sailing with a jib that is not fully hoisted, I keep hoping that it’s like someone walking around without noticing his shirttail is hanging out. Surely, if a person knew the problem existed, he’d correct it right away. The problem, of course, is that a jib sits right out front of everyone on board, and everyone can see it. There’s really no excuse for not taking the time to get the sail fully hoisted.
Sailmakers and speed mavens can offer lots of advice on how much halyard tension is optimal in different wind conditions, and it’s all good stuff. But if your jib is hanked on, there should always be enough tension on the halyard to keep the luff from scalloping between the hanks when the jib is trimmed in on a close-hauled course. The sail will be more efficient, the boat will have more power, and perhaps most important, no one will be wondering why you insist on sailing around with your shirttail hanging out. C.M.

Words from the Wise

“Every time on a cruise I hear somebody (myself, for instance) beefing because the ice is running low, or the engine is acting up, or the wind is from the wrong quarter, I know the complainer is getting old. If he’d just think back to some of the discomforts he put up with, some of the boats and equipment he was delighted with, and some of the misadventures he survived in his early cruising days (unless he was unlucky enough to be born with a silver yacht in his mouth), and the fun he had in spite of it all, he’d feel better. -- William H. Taylor, On and Off Soundings

Contributors this month: Bob Burgess, Don Casey, Charles Mason, Hal Roth, and Don Street

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