Cruising Tips – Seamanship
Raising/Lowering Your Outboard (July 2006)
If you store your motor amidships or forward near the mast, you can use a spinnaker or jib halyard and any convenient winch, including the regular halyard winch, to help you raise and lower an outboard to and from your dinghy. You also need a harness for the motor; you can make one from the strong webbing material sold at any sporting-goods store. Use a safety line—any short piece of rope will do—to keep the motor from heading to the bottom if you drop it.
If you keep your motor on the stern pulpit or in the lazaret, you might be better off with a davit or crane aft. Either approach is safer than horsing the motor up and over the rail by hand. Fred Roswold
After You Run Aground (July 2006)
Sailing the length of the Intracoastal Waterway in an engineless 31-foot sloop taught me a lot about what to do after running aground. The Ditch’s unpredictable cross-currents and fluky winds forced me to revisit several important lessons on ways to refloat a grounded vessel. Because even the best navigators can end up on a mud bank, even in their home waters, the techniques are worth reviewing.
- If you run aground under sail, lower your sails immediately. This will stop forward movement and guarantee that no errant breeze compromises your effort to get the boat back into deep water. Once the sails are down and secured, check the bilge to make sure the boat isn’t taking on any water. If you know you’re on a soft mud bank, you might skip this step. But if you hit something at 3 knots or more and it isn’t mud, checking the bilge—particularly where the keel joins the hull—is very important.
- Make sure you are located where you think you are. If fog or other bad weather has reduced visibility, this may not be easy. If you don’t know where you are, getting off one shoal could put you on another one.
- If you know you’re in a charted channel but are still aground, there may be unusual water levels caused by tide or wind. Charted shoals can shift their positions (usually over long periods of time), but hurricanes and coastal storms can fill in channels, and inland river bottoms can shift during spring freshets or when development changes natural erosion barriers.
- Is the tide rising or falling? On the ICW, for example, the timing of local tides can vary widely from one day to the next. Running aground on a falling tide could mean being stuck for up to 12 hours unless you work fast to get off. If you do go aground on a falling tide, you must come off as you came on. In other words, you should move away from the shoal on a course reciprocal to the one that got you into trouble. When you try to back off the shoal, keep the rudder directly in line with the keel, and keep a firm hand on the wheel or tiller; don’t rely on a rudder-lock mechanism to do the job. Start with the engine on low power (500 to 1,000 rpm) and work up to a moderate speed for a short time. Running the engine in reverse for longer periods can stir up silt, sand, and other bottom debris that could quickly clog the engine’s raw-water intake strainer or ruin the impeller. Coral heads and granite ledges can cause more damage if you try to back off. You can lighten the boat to reduce its draft. Another possibility is to shift ballast, gear, and people either to the bow or to one side, depending on the boat’s underwater profile. Heeling the boat can often reduce draft enough that the boat floats free.
- If that doesn’t work, the next step is to put out at least one kedge anchor astern—two is better. Use the dinghy to get the anchors well away from the boat and into deep water. Run the rodes to the biggest sheet winches aft, tighten them as much as possible, and secure them. Reduce draft by heeling the boat. Running a masthead halyard to the rode of an anchor set out on one side of the boat can provide more leverage to heel the boat over. Put the engine in reverse, and, if you’ve done everything right, you can often kedge yourself free.
Speed and patience are both virtues when trying to refloat a boat, but each has its time and place. Speed is important when there is a falling tide; patience works well when the tide is rising because it will oftenlift a grounded boat free. If nothing seems to work, you are still on the hard, and there’s no one around to help, the smartest thing to do is to get on your VHF and call a tow service. Ken Textor
Multi MOB Maneuvers (June 2006)
Catamarans and trimarans do not lend themselves to standard crew-overboard maneuvers. With multihulls there are so many design variables that you need to experiment to find what works best with your boat.
While the mainsail of a monohull can almost always be luffed on a close reach to slow the boat, a typical multihull, with its swept-back spreaders and full-batten mainsail, often must be pointed almost directly into the wind before it slows down. Also, if a multihull is left to drift while its crew is attending to an MOB, the bow will be blown downwind, the main will fill, and the boat will accelerate; this will happen a lot faster than it would on a monohull.
Some multis tack well, while others won’t go through the wind in any kind of seaway and need to be gybed instead. In addition, both boat speed and the point of sail can represent significant variables that make it difficult to recommend a standardized procedure. This means multihull owners should design their own MOB-recovery maneuvers. Follow these steps:
- Try stopping the boat by easing the sails. How close to the wind do you need to steer before the boat stops? Note how much (or, equally important, how little) momentum the boat is carrying when the sails are depowered or the engine is put in neutral. Learn how soon the boat will start backing up. Find out how fast it drifts downwind.
- Try tacking and gybing relatively quickly from both a close reach and a broad reach and note any limitations or difficulties you experience.
- Formulate your own crew-overboard maneuvers for use when sailing both upwind and downwind and write out a brief step-by-step description. Decide if the instructions should vary depending on the point of sail.
- Now try the maneuver with a buoy in the water that has some type of weight or drogue so it won’t drift quickly to leeward (a fender tied to a bucket works well).
- After testing your method, realistically evaluate what should be changed. Type up a succinct description, and keep copies on board to show to crew and guests.
- Finally, ask other multihull sailors what they would do in an MOB situation.
Tie One On (May 2006)
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. Toby Tobin
Avoid Damage Aloft (April 2006)
One potential danger when sailboats lie alongside one another for a convivial night is that if they roll to a wash or begin to move in an unexpected sea, the spreaders can clash together and suffer catastrophic damage. Always look aloft when rafting up and make sure the masts are well out of line. Rafting bow to stern is a good way to prevent spars from clashing. Tom Cunliffe
Cut the cheese (April 2006)
A line end that’s neatly done up into a Flemish coil, or “cheese,” looks very salty, especially on the gleaming cabintop of a classic boat, but it’s not a good way to treat a line that might have to run free in a hurry. Cheesed lines are prone to kinking and need to be thoroughly shaken out before you get under way, or there’s a good chance they’ll snarl up just when you least want them to. Cheesed lines are also great dirt traps, as you’ll find out if you’ve left one on your cabintop for a few days. Peter Nielsen
Back on that Digital Course (February 2006)
Steering a compass course is never hard when you’re looking over the top of the compass card, as you do with an old-fashioned binnacle or a typical modern steering pedestal. Since the lubber’s line coincides with the boat’s bow, if it moves right of the heading, for example, it is visually obvious that you steer the bow to port to bring it back onto line.
A bulkhead compass or, an electronic readout can be more difficult, unless you remember this simple rule to get back on track. If the number shown by the compass or the screen of the digital readout is higher than the desired course, turn to port. If it’s lower, come to starboard. The only catch is that if the course is 355 and the compass shows 005, you should think of it as 365. The rest is plain sailing. Tom Cunliffe
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