Cruising

Cruising Tips - September 2006

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This month: Rust stains, oversteering, and how to take care of your sails

Sails

Grenada Lime
Last fall, when our boat was on the hard in Grenada during the hurricane season, torrential rains found a way into the cockpit locker where we had stored our sails. Normally that wouldn’t have hurt anything, but this time a guest had left behind a duffel that had plain-steel grommets. The grommets started rusting and managed to stain every sail in the locker.

Without thinking I had much chance of succeeding, I got out a lime, squeezed it over a teaspoon of salt, and sponged the mix onto one of the stains; I then placed the treated stain in direct sunlight. An hour later the stain was half as dark. Multiple treatments of all the relatively fresh rust stains left just shadows behind. Although older rust stains were made somewhat lighter by the lime treatment, it is clear that the newer the stain, the better the result.
Since our supply of fresh limes was limited—and on a cruising boat they also have other important functions—I did try bottled lime juice. It worked well, but fresh juice is better. D.C.

Techniques

No Snakes
When you get behind the wheel of a sailboat, you normally want to keep the boat sailing in a specific direction. Trouble is, you don’t do this the same way you steer a car down a highway—by turning the wheel one way and then the other to keep to the middle of the road. When a boat starts to stray off course, quickly turning the wheel to maintain a steady heading is called oversteering, and it will swing the bow past the desired heading to the other side of the course, requiring another turn of the wheel to bring the boat back in the right direction. The rudder movement will slow the boat, and your course will cut an irregular “S” pattern through the water.
It is best to get the boat on course and trim the sails properly; then relax and let the boat’s bow move gently from one side of the course to the other. This movement is perfectly natural, particularly when you’re sailing off the wind. To break the oversteering habit, pick out a landmark ahead of you and steer for it. Try to make as few helm movements as possible while keeping the boat heading for the target. Ignore slight wanderings of the bow. You’ll be surprised by how quickly you’ll develop the “feel” that every boat has. Keep in mind that the better the helmsman, the less the helm moves. C.M.

Maintenance

A Stitch in Time
After each squally passage on our Pacific crossing, several boats we knew would limp into port with their sails in tatters, but we sailed halfway around the world without a blowout. This might have been sheer luck, but I suspect it had more to do with care. We know other cruisers who left with a full set of new sails, which they kept in their locker while making long distances on their old ones.
Good-quality modern sailcloth is tough stuff, and a good suit of used sails has a lot of life in them. Our sails were a few years old, though lightly used and well kept, when we left Annapolis in 2000. We took them to a sailmaker who patched the wear points and checked the stitching.
I do this myself every couple of months. I inspect the mainsail for wear in the batten pockets and at all the chafe points where the stays rub, because these sometimes require patching. Then, using a small pick—a sail-repair needle or a thin ice pick will work—I try to lift the stitches at a number of scattered points around the sail. If one stitch breaks, I try to lift others in the vicinity. A couple of frayed stitches can be caused by wear and not breakdown, but if a row of stitches breaks or if lifting one pulls out a whole length of thread, then I know it’s time to restitch the sail.
When we hit this critical point with our mainsail, the cloth itself was still in decent shape, so I took it to a sailmaker and asked him to run two rows of new stitches across the seams and new rows at each batten pocket and reef point. The sailcloth probably won’t last as long as the restitching, but it gives us more time with the sail and means that when we do get a new mainsail, we can use the old one as a spare. A.H.

Contributors this month: Don Casey, Ann Hoffner, Charles Mason

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