SAIL’s Tip of the Week

Check back here each week for a new sailing tip from our editors, presented by Vetus-Maxwell.

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saip-101100-odct-01Reading Room

Storing items on a sailboat involves a lot more than simply finding a place to put something. You must also figure out how to keep it there in all conditions.

For example, behind the settee on our 34-foot Lee Creekmore sloop there is a seven-foot-long shelf that quickly filled up with books after my husband Dave and I moved aboard the boat with all our stuff to go cruising full time. 

Before we put in the books we lined the bottom of the shelf with Dri-Deck, in case our chainplates decided to leak during a rough passage. Because the original fiddle was only two inches high, we also borrowed an idea from the French sailor and winemaker Ferenc Máté to keep the books in place whenever we head out of a harbor.

First, we installed a bronze sail track on the horizontal ceilings that run behind the books about halfway up the bookshelf. Then we put two sail slides on the track and attached a length of 9/64 in resin-impregnated line—more commonly used for pull–starting small engines—to each one. As we were doing so we made sure the two lines were long enough to run from the slide in the middle of the bookshelf out and around the center book and then along the front of the books to a padeye on the bulkhead on either end of the shelf and a small cleat. The slides make the shelf infinitely adjustable, and the cords and cleats hold the books tightly in place. Even so, we check everything regularly because if the books are not well secured there’s a chance they might tumble onto someone asleep on the settee below. Even though we occasionally do get tossed about a little when beating to windward, our books always stay put.  Connie McBride


I once had a moment of terror aboard a light daysailer on a squally afternoon. Just as we passed close to leeward of a channel marker, a particularly vicious gust caught us and we rounded up before we could free the mainsheet. We missed the marker—and a cold bath—by inches. Since then I’ve lived by the words of the sailing instructor to whom I related the tale: “If it’s blowing and you have to choose which side to pass an obstacle, always keep it on the same side as the boom. That way, you’ll broach away from it instead of into it.” – Peter Nielsen

The pizza stone under this pan helped these cookies come out evenly baked

The pizza stone under this pan helped these cookies come out evenly baked

Cure Oven Hot Spots

Galley ovens often have hot spots. The short distance from the flame to the pan, a small heat shield, and the smaller volume of air inside the oven all contribute to food burning on the center bottom before its outer edges are cooked through.

A baking stone (also called a pizza stone) does wonders to even out the heat. It should be sized so there is an inch of space on all sides for air flow (a tile shop can cut a stone down if necessary). Also, stones that are at least half an inch thick are much less likely to crack when heated.

Place the stone on the oven rack.

I use all-metal binder clips on the rack to keep it from sliding around and I leave it permanently installed in the oven. As the oven preheats, the stone warms up evenly and holds heat so that air in the oven quickly warms back up after you open the oven door. Place your pan on top of the hot stone and bake as usual. Never put a cold pan on a hot stone and never let liquid spill on a hot stone—both will cause it to crack. – Carolyn Shearlock

Our becued anchor on Iolaire. Don added some extra lashing along the stock

Our becued anchor on Iolaire. Don added some extra lashing along the stock

Becue Your Anchor

A trick I learned while sailing with Don Street aboard Iolaire in the Fastnet Race. We were becalmed off the south coast of England, confronting a soon to be extremely contrary tide, and were preparing to anchor to hold position if necessary. Because we’d be anchoring in very deep water in uncertain holding ground, Don absolutely insisted we “becue the anchor.”

None of the crew had any idea what he was talking about. Needless to say, he was more than happy to demonstrate.

The concept is quite simple. Instead of shackling your rode to the stock of your anchor, shackle it instead to the head of the anchor. Then lash the rode to the end of the stock with some light line. Set the anchor as you normally would. If the anchor gets fouled and won’t break out when you try to hoist it, you then yank on the rode hard enough to break the line on the stock. You’ll likely need to come up short on the rode and use your engine to do this. But once the line is broken, the rode will be pulling directly on the head of the anchor, and the anchor should come clear easily.

From time to time you’ll see fancy new gadgets on the market that promise to help you retrieve hopelessly fouled anchors. They are normally just variations on this age-old theme. One way or another they shift the rode’s attachment point from the end of the stock to the head of the anchor. You really don’t need a gadget to do this. Some twine or even a plastic wire-tie should do the trick. —Charles J. Doane

Stop the Drain

If your refrigerator has a drain to the bilge, make sure this drain has a stopper or a trap in it. Otherwise, since hot air rises and cold air sinks, all that lovely cold air from your fridge will go straight into the bilge instead of chilling your food. The drain in the bottom of our cold box turned out to be our single biggest problem. Five minutes of work and a wine cork trimmed to size cut the time that our refrigerator ran by about 20 percent. Just make sure you can remove the stopper when you defrost and want to drain melt water.


Crew Management

Nothing annoys a skipper more than the sound of water running endlessly out of a tap

Water and the Prodigal Crew

Pressure water is always nice on a boat, but when a landlubbing crew comes aboard it only encourages them to waste a precious commodity. They will merrily clean their dentures under a running tap until, about three days out, they shamble aft to announce the water system seems
to have busted. The solution here is not to rave and curse or deliver lectures they will hate and ignore, but to take direct action. Don’t get mad, get even. Good planning and a touch of sabotage is all that is required.

First arrange to run out of water while anchored well offshore on a rainy day. You have also already scuppered the outboard, if you have one. Now invite the crew to row the dinghy to the beach, taking some jerry jugs for fresh water along with them. These should be of at least 5 gallons capacity each. The tap is at the top of a steep cliff.

After they’ve gone floundering off into the murk, you can pour yourself a beer and open a good book. Who needs water anyway? –Tom Cunliffe

Heave ho! No need to strain your back lifting gear aboard if you sail a ketch or yawl

Heave ho! No need to strain your back lifting gear aboard if you sail a ketch or yawl

Mizzen Boom Motor Hoist

When we purchased our boat Indigo, a Celestial 48 with high freeboard, we worried our backs would suffer passing our 5hp outboard motor from the deck to our dinghy and back. Luckily, Indigo is a ketch with a mizzen boom that reaches out to the corners of the aft deck. We figured we could use this as a crane to help move the motor much more easily. 

We used a short length of high-modulus Amsteel rope to create a lifting strap that we could loop through the fitting on the end of the boom. We then put a snap shackle on this strap and made up a 3:1 tackle with a fiddle block and cam cleat on one end and a becket block with another snap shackle on the other.

We connected the tackle to a harness that is permanently installed on the outboard.  I can now lift the outboard off its rail mount and lower it to the dinghy with one hand. Better yet, we now also use our boom hoist to lift a variety of other heavy gear, including scuba tanks, jerry cans and sacks of provisions. The mizzen topping lift allows us to adjust the height of the boom, so if we need gear coming aboard to clear the lifelines, we just lift the boom higher and deposit the goods on the deck. 

This solution should work for most ketches and yawls and even some sloops, depending on the length of the main boom and the placement of the outboard mount. Thanks to our mizzen boom we’ve avoided installing a dedicated engine hoist and can now manage a heavier outboard if we like. 

–Zuzana Prochazka


Listen to your alternator

Keep the belt pulleys clean and make sure the belt itself is properly aligned

Listen to your alternator

Broken alternator belts used to be a common problem aboard our boat Winterlude. We learned the leading cause of this is rust on pulleys. Now we scour our alternator pulleys every month with a wire brush, then sand them smooth with fine grit sandpaper. Correct pulley alignment and belt tension is also very important. In our case, when we replaced our alternator with a higher output alternator, the new bracket we installed to mount it probably contributed to the pulleys not lining up exactly.  Now if we start the engine and the belt squeals, we stop everything and check the belt alignment and tension.  A squealing belt is usually too loose. To check tension, push down on the belt with one finger; you shouldn’t be able to shift it more than half an inch. Our new maintenance regimen and a pulley alignment has solved our problem, and now we always listen when our alternator speaks to us.


No-foul jib sheet

The bowlines used to attach sheets to the clew of a headsail have an annoying habit of catching on inner forestays, babystays, and shrouds. Here’s a why-didn’t-I-think-of-this-before idea: if you’re replacing your headsail sheets, don’t cut them in half. Double the sheet over and thread the looped end through the clew. Pass the tails through the loop and draw tight. Then say goodbye to those hang-ups.

Fouled prop

If a rope is sucked into your propeller running ahead or astern, there is sometimes a chance of freeing it without a dive. First, activate the fuel cut-off by pulling the stop cable. If you have an electric cut-off activated by the start switch, you may have to attend to its wiring manually. Once you are confident the engine will not fire, engage the opposite gear to the one the engine stopped on, grab a bight of the rope, take the strain, and crank the starter motor. The engine may well turn the propeller. So long as you keep pulling, and keep the rope winding on cleanly without hitching itself, you might get lucky—and the rope will unreel as easily as it went on.

Protecting Wires on Deck

Sheathing exterior wiring in old rope covers looks quite tidy and helps protect the wiresSheathing exterior wiring in old rope covers looks quite tidy and helps protect the wires[/caption]

We have an extra solar panel we keep unmounted on deck so we can move it where the sun is brightest. This leaves us with two loose wires running across the deck that are easy to trip over. My husband, Dave, found this unacceptable and decided to sheath the wires with an old piece of doublebraid rope.

Dave first cut the rope to the length of the wires and then removed the rope core. After disconnecting the wires from the panel, he pushed them through the line cover and reconnected the panel. At each end, he doubled-back the cover and secured it with light line. The single nylon line is less of a tripping hazard, and the rope cover protects the wires from sun damage. This little trick should also work well to protect wiring for panels and other equipment that is permanently mounted.—Connie McBride

Halyard Retrieval

Losing a halyard up the mast is always a big pain in the rear, but if the mast in question has a spare halyard on it, there’s a good chance you can bring the lost halyard back to the deck without leaving the deck yourself. Take a spare line, preferably an older one that is slightly stiff from a little too much exposure to salt and sun, and make a noose with a slip knot at the end of it. Then take your spare halyard’s snapshackle and clasp the shackle around the standing part of your retrieval line just below the noose you made (the slip knot must be big enough that it does not slide through the snapshackle). The noose should be opened as wide as possible without going limp.

Next, use the spare halyard to hoist the noose aloft into close proximity with the end of the lost halyard. By twitching your end of the spare halyard and the retrieval line with a bit of creative body English, you should eventually be able to get the noose around the end of the lost halyard. Then all you need do is yank on the retrieval line to close the noose. Pull the retrieval line back down to the deck and both the spare halyard and the lost halyard will come down with it. C.D.

Avoiding Tainted Drinking Water

Here are a few tips to keep the water in your tanks tasting sweet.

At least once a year, drain the tanks completely and pour in half a cup of Clorox bleach for every 20 gallons of each tank’s capacity. Then refill the tanks, pump them dry, and refill them with fresh water to which you have added a little lemon juice or Aqua Tabs water-purifying tablets.

Check the condition of the hoses. Most molds grow in the clear-plastic water pipe. It doesn’t take long, either—just a year or so.

If possible, remove the pipes while the tank is empty and run some boiling water through them, squirt some lemon juice down them, and leave them to sit for 30 minutes before repeating the boiling-water treatment. Once the hoses are clean, reinstall them while they’re still warm; it will be easier to deal with barbed connections and bend-around corners. If the hoses are still black, you should replace them; more algae grows in the hoses than in the tanks, so this alone will make your water taste better.

Use water that comes from known good-quality sources. In some parts of the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, the water is of dubious quality—almost unfit for drinking. If you regularly cruise in far-flung waters, consider buying a filtering arrangement that treats the water before it comes into your tanks. Also, install charcoal filters between the tanks and the galley sinks. Munster Sims makes a good selection of filters, and the cost is cheap when you consider that they remove taste and odor from drinking water for pennies per day.

Going Backwards is Embarrassing

You’ll notice most experienced sailors choose to back into a slip while the less experienced come in bow-first. This is because backing a boat can be challenging, but boarding a boat whose bow is pointed toward the destination can be preferable. Before attempting to go stern-to with your new sailing buddies watching from the dock, do your ego a favor and get some practice.



Sailing Through Reefs

Reefs demand respect; always wait for daylight before running a reef break

Negotiating a reef inlet, be it in the Bahamas or the South Pacific, requires precise navigation and skilled seamanship. Detailed charts are essential, and you should always consult any local sailing directions you have onboard in advance. You can also glean local knowledge by asking for help via VHF radio. You’d be surprised how eager others often are to offer advice.

Run a cut only in daylight, ideally with the sun aft. If you’re approaching at night, heave-to and wait for dawn, or even better, plan your passage to arrive just after sunrise. Plot precise compass bearings, confirm any visual reference points, and program a series of waypoints into the GPS. The helmsman should have a hand-bearing compass at the ready. Establish a bail-out point that allows you room to safely turn around if anything seems amiss.

In a sailboat, it’s actually easier to sail through a narrow inlet (unless the wind is on the nose), especially with a sea running. Driving the boat at speed with sails flying helps to stop rolling and improves directional stability. Keep the boat below hull speed, but sailing fast enough to answer the helm. Have the engine running, but in neutral. The anchor and rode should be ready to run, and all halyards and sheets ready to let fly.

Station a crewmember at the bow to read the water. Know the charted depths and keep a sharp eye on the depth sounder. White water across an inlet—like the “rage” conditions often seen in the Bahamas when the wind and sea are up from the east—means “no go.” Sit tight and wait.

Once past your point-of-no-return, trust your visual bearings and hold a steady course. Now is not the time for indecision, so be sure to triple-check everything before entering. The reward is tranquil water and a cold beverage once your anchor is down.

Granny Bars

Granny bars can help keep you on board

Anyone who has stood working at the mainmast aboard a sailboat underway in heavy weather knows how awkward, even dangerous, it can be, juggling a halyard, reef cringle and lines, and a winch handle while simultaneously hanging on for dear life. Working the starboard side, where the main halyard usually secures, with the boat on a port tack puts you on the “downhill” slope with nothing between you and the briny but thin air. Of course, any sane sailor will clip their safety harness to the mast in such conditions, but you can still be thrown around and possibly injured.

Now, compare that scenario to having a stout, broad railing braced against your back, one you can lean into with complete confidence so that both your hands are free to work. The macho lubbers who nicknamed these rails “chicken bars” or “granny bars” have obviously never been offshore.

I’m talking about mast pulpits, standing stainless steel rails mounted on either side of the mainmast. With the possible exception of those vessels aboard which all halyards and reef lines are led aft to the cockpit, any sailboat that ventures offshore should have these life-savers. While there are some one-size-fits-all rails advertised, mast pulpits must generally be fabricated (or modified) to fit an individual boat’s coachhouse camber. Price, quality, design and dimensions can vary widely. It pays to query several metal fabrication shops and welders. If your boat is a production model, an online owners’ group may be able to direct you to a fabricator who already has the appropriate mast pulpit plans. A boat with a roller-furling genoa halyard permanently secured on the port side of the mast might get by with just one starboard mast pulpit. But then again why scrimp when trouble (not to mention heavy weather) can come from any direction?

Fitting Under Bridges

masthead clearance

Sometimes you need an eyewitness to judge masthead clearance

No matter how much clearance you actually have, any time you approach a bridge in a sailboat it looks from the cockpit like your mast will never make it through. Some bridges have tidal markers that show exactly what the clearance is at any state of the tide, but many don’t. Many boatowners also don’t know exactly how high their masts are. Even if you do, there are variables to consider, such as masthead sensors and antennae, whether the boat is in freshwater or salt (boats in saltwater ride higher) and how heavily loaded it is.

There is one sure way to know whether you can fit or not—just put a pair of eyeballs at the top of the mast. I learned this while crewing for SAIL’s tech guru Nigel Calder on a delivery from Maine to Maryland some years ago. We were hoping we could fit his Pacific Seacraft 40, Nada, under the bridge over the Cape May Canal, but weren’t at all sure we had clearance. Nigel knew at once what to do, and in a heartbeat we had his buddy Mike in a bosun’s chair and hauled him up to the masthead to get a better perspective on things.

As you can see in the photograph, it was close, but we did fit through, and Mike got to exchange pleasantries with some baffled pedestrians up on the bridge. It goes without saying, of course, that when doing this you need to approach the bridge carefully so as not to accidentally behead your crew! – CD

Parbuckling Dock Lines

Once the crew on the dock has parbuckled the boat into the dock, the crew on the boat can snatch up the slack on the bow line. The process can be repeated for the stern line

Once the crew on the dock has parbuckled the boat into the dock, the crew on the boat can snatch up the slack on the bow line. The process can be repeated for the stern line

If ever you find yourself with a heavy boat tied to a dock or wall, blowing off so that no amount of heaving will bring her in, you can always use the simple principle of parbuckling on your docklines. Dig out a stout rope of reasonable length. Make one end fast to the dock, somewhere between your two docklines. Now pass it around a bight in your bow line, bringing the working part back to where the bitter end is secured, and haul away. The bow line will take on a V-shape, and your boat will march in toward the dock in defiance of all the natural forces acting upon her. Once she’s alongside, you can either rig another bow line to replace the one you’ve parbuckled, or you can smartly release your parbuckling line and have the crew snatch in the slack on the existing bow line.  –Tom Cunliffe

Heavy Going

Although this boat is doing well with a reefed main, there could be trouble if the wind gets any stronger

Although this boat is doing well with a reefed main, there could be trouble if the wind gets any stronger

The yacht on the left is beautifully reefed. Even her half-rolled headsail is setting a treat. The trouble is, she’s carrying all she can, and it isn’t very windy. If your standard suit of sails can’t really stand up to a heavy breeze and you intend serious cruising, there’s no choice but to invest in a trysail like the one on the facing page. Set with a dedicated storm jib, either yacht would then take a lot more wind in her stride. What’s more, because the storm sails see little use, they’ll never blow out.

Look over your shoulder

Don’t forget to look over your shoulder before you tack or gybe

Don’t forget to look over your shoulder before you tack or gybe

“Ready about. Lee-ho.” Crunch! Skippers at the helm have a tendency to make sure the crew are ready for a tack, that all the sheets are cleared away and that nothing is going to foul up. Things on board can get so fascinating that it’s easy to forget there’s a world out there that doesn’t know what we’re about to do. In crowded waters on a busy Sunday, or anywhere during race week, make a point of looking over your shoulder one last time. You never know what’s coming up astern

A Decent Lead

Don’t do this—rig sliding cars instead (inset)

Don’t do this—rig sliding cars instead (inset)

How often have we all had to do this? Trying to shift the car on the lee side deck with load on the sheet is a horror movie waiting to be made. And yet a reefable genoa needs to have its sheet lead altered every time a few rolls are taken; otherwise performance drops off even more than it inevitably does after reefing. Injury is not impossible and, in any case, the whole point of a roller sail is to do away with any requirement to leave the safety of the cockpit. The only possible answer is to rig a setup like this. (Pic slider) It works like magic.

Rusty Centerboard

I’ve always liked the versatility that comes with a centerboard. The ability to vary your boat’s draft from deep to shallow greatly increases the options you have when cruising. The other side of the coin is maintenance.

A centerboard can be made of anything from foam or plywood sheathed in epoxy to solid bronze or cast iron. The former will need fresh antifouling each year. The latter will demand to be stripped down to the bare metal and refinished every three or four years, and once in a great while it will want to be dropped out of the boat so the pivot pin and/or the lifting mechanism can be serviced.

Removing the centerboard on a big cruising boat is no laughing matter. Confronted with a sight like this, I would reach for the trusty angle grinder, bolt on a floppy sanding disk and get that board down to bright shiny metal in next to no time. A couple of coats of epoxy primer followed by your favorite antifouling will get that board looking good again.

Epoxy Resin in a Caulking Gun

I used the larger Flexpoxy dispenser—ideal for bigger projects. The smaller cartridge that fits in a standard caulking gun should suit most needs

Like all owners of older boats who like to do their own work, I’m extremely familiar with epoxy resin. I reckon I’ve used a good few gallons of it, for both major projects and little jobs where only small amounts are needed.

It’s for these latter tasks—sometimes involving no more than filling a few screw holes or bonding together small pieces of wood or fiberglass—that I’ve often cursed the need to get out the two cans of resin and hardener and mixing the required amounts. I’ve usually ended up with more resin than I can use, and that stuff’s too expensive to waste. Also, the epoxy invariably needs to be thickened so that it stays put, fills gaps, doesn’t sag and generally behaves itself the way you want it to.

This is what “thixotropic” means!

Which is why I’m a total convert to Pettit’s Flexpoxy and WEST SYSTEM’s Six10 epoxies. These are both two-part epoxies that come in cartridges that fit in caulking guns; you just squeeze out as little or as much as you need, and mix the two parts together with a spatula. Six10 comes with a static mixer tip that dispenses the epoxy premixed, a good idea if you’re going to be using a lot of it at one time.

Both are extremely thixotropic, a ten-dollar word that means they won’t sag. This makes them ideal for overhead and vertical surfaces.


Six10 in action with its mixing tip, filling holes in a deck

Having used these products extensively, I can recommend both of them. They’re described as “gap filling, structural epoxies.” I used the Flexpoxy when filling and fairing my cockpit prior to painting it, and for underwater fiberglass repairs. Most recently, the Six10 came in handy for filling a couple of dozen 5/16in bolt holes after I removed the beat-up old genoa sheet tracks—I applied masking tape under the deck, reamed out the holes with a slightly bigger drill bit to get rid of old caulking, and squirted the Six10 into them. A job that would have taken ages the oldfashioned way was accomplished in a few minutes.

Both products retain some flexibility when cured, and can be used above and below the waterline on fiberglass, wood, steel, aluminum and just about any other substance you’ll find on a boat. They’ll last for a year or more.

Snub the Load

If you anchor on a chain rode, you should always use some nylon rope as a snubber to absorb shock loads from the chain that would otherwise be carried directly by the boat and its hardware. Be sure to use three-strand nylon rope for maximum stretch. It’s also a good idea to use two separate lines, effectively creating a snubber bridle.

The correct length for a snubber line varies depending on your boat’s windage and the height of the bow off the water. The windier it is, the more line you’ll need. We always like to keep the attachment point for our snubbers about a foot underwater. Depending on how hard it’s blowing, their length ranges from a minimum of 10 feet to about 20 feet.

A filefish (left) checks out the twin rope snubbers on Winterlude’s chain anchor rode

A filefish (left) checks out the twin rope snubbers on Winterlude’s chain anchor rode

You can attach your snubber to your chain any way you like. Some use a chain stopper or hook; others just tie a rolling hitch around the chain. To keep a hook from falling off the chain, keep tension on the snubber as you deploy it. Once it’s all the way out, let out more chain so there’s a loose bight of it sagging below the attachment point. The weight of the chain in the bight will keep the snubber’s hook from coming loose in calm conditions. – Jan Irons

Check the Waypoint

“Rubbish in, garbage out,” was one of the first maxims to stick when GPS came onto the scene, and it’s just as true today. Datum shifts aside, the instrument is highly unlikely to be wrong if it’s working at all, but the human element punching in the numbers is prone to error. A bad waypoint is a classic case. The answer is to check each one as you put it in. Note its lat/long on the chart, then bang in the numbers and give it a name. Now, hit the “GoTo” button and read out the course and distance to it. As like as not you’ll be in your slip and know your precise position. Grab the paper chart and lay off the real bearing and range from the marina to the waypoint. So long as the two agree, you’ve got it right. Otherwise, start checking! —Tom Cunliffe


Boathandling: Downwind Mooring Pick-up

Downwind Mooring Pick-up

Most sailors pick up their moorings head to wind, which means if they misjudge the approach the boat’s bow is blown off to the side in all but the lightest wind. Since single-screw boats do not handle well with no way on, the helmsperson can do little to retrieve the situation and the mate on the bow is often left clinging to the mooring pennant for dear life. Or the pennant is dropped, and you must circle around and try again.

I prefer to take advantage of the fact that most sailboats tend to blow downwind bow first. I approach my mooring going downwind with the engine shifted into reverse, goosing the throttle to slow and stop the boat at the mooring ball with the bow downwind, where it wants to be. This makes it easy to secure the mooring pennant without a big tug of war. Once hooked up, I cut the diesel and the boat swings to the wind. This has worked well on our Morgan 382 and now on our Endeavourcat 30.

If you approach a mooring head to wind (inset), your bow may be blown off at the critical moment. If you come in downwind, the wind will keep your bow in line. Control your approach speed by playing the throttle in reverse

– Vaughn Weaver

Boomed-out Headsails

I will say it until I’m red in the face: displacement cruising yachts, no matter how nimble, always make faster passages sailing in a straight line. Forget the gybing angles that racers use when sailing downwind. Square the sails off and run!

Your boom can also be used as a whisker pole when sailing downwind

As you are doing so, you might want to try sheeting a large genoa to the main boom with the mainsail down—
a very efficient low-maintenance configuration, especially on yachts with swept-back spreaders. To do so, furl your mainsail and run your boom out as far as the shrouds will allow. Use a preventer—attached to the end of the boom and led forward around a turning block and back to a secondary cockpit winch—to pull it out while easing the mainsheet. Once set, tighten both the preventer and the sheet to hold the boom in place. 

Next, clip a snatch block near the end of the boom (or lash it there with a strop if necessary) and run the headsail sheet to it. It can be tricky to get a fair lead, so experiment with different arrangements to avoid chafe. From the boom end, run the sheet down to a block on the toerail or genoa track and then to a winch.

Unfurl the headsail. Depending on the clew height, use the topping lift and the boom vang to set the height of the boom so the leech doesn’t flutter. In heavy seas, set the boom extra high to avoid dipping it when the yacht rolls. Sheet the headsail reasonably tight so that the sail presents its largest area flat to the wind. A downwind rig set up like this is very forgiving, light on the helm, and fast and easy to reef or douse in unsettled weather. —Andy Schell

Maintenance: Propane Tank Protector

We used to have to scrub our deck to remove the rust bleeding off the base of our steel propane tank. Then my husband, Dave, cut a piece of garden hose long enough to completely enclose the tank’s circular base. He slit the hose lengthwise and fit it over the lip of the tank base. The hose keeps our deck free of rust and protects it from getting dinged by the metal tank. Don’t forget to remove the hose before you exchange the tank or take it ashore to get a refill.






With a small dinghy anchor and a snatch block (inset) you can make a weighted sentinel for clearing a rope anchor rode that has wrapped around a keel

With a small dinghy anchor and a snatch block (inset) you can make a weighted sentinel for clearing a rope anchor rode that has wrapped around a keel

Clearing an Anchor Rode

Here’s a simple trick I’ve used many times to clear a rope anchor rode caught on a keel. First, I get out my 15lb mushroom dinghy anchor and attach it to the snap shackle at the bottom of the big snatch block that I normally use as a sheet lead for my genoa. I then mouse the shackle with a light piece of line so it can’t pop open unexpectedly and attach a 40-foot retrieval line by tying a bowline to the top of the snatch block. 

To clear the rode I pop open the snatch block, attach it to the rode, and then gently lower the block and mushroom anchor into the water until I feel the mushroom anchor bump into the keel. Then I pull the anchor about two feet aft. I loosely coil about 8 feet of retrieval line in my hand and secure the bitter end of the line to a lifeline. Meanwhile, a crew member takes about 15 feet of anchor rode out of the anchor well and loosely coils it on the deck. On my mark the crew takes the rode off the cleat and drops the coiled rode in front of the boat while I simultaneously drop the extra retrieval line in the water. The slack in the two lines allows the weighted rode to slide off the keel; the retrieval line can then be used to pull the snatch block and mushroom anchor up to the bow of the boat.

To do this singlehanded, depending on the conditions, I figure you would have to work the mushroom anchor back to the keel and drop considerably more anchor rode off the bow of the boat to allow more time to release the retrieval line. –David Emsellem


A simple fabric curtain that you can switch from one side of the cockpit to the other will help keep you dry when the spray is flying

A simple fabric curtain that you can switch from one side of the cockpit to the other will help keep you dry when the spray is flying

Reversible Weather Cloth

When sailing in rough weather, cresting waves can send buckets of seawater flying into a cockpit. Some people pay big bucks to install full curtains all the way around their bimini tops, but I found a cheaper, more practical way to keep my cushions and crew dry.

My weather cloth, as I call it, is a simple water-repellent fabric barrier that I snap in place along the windward edge of my bimini top and the outboard base of my cockpit coaming. The forward edge snaps to my dodger; aft I lash it to anything convenient. When it’s time to tack, I shift the same cloth to the other side of the cockpit. My weather cloth goes up in a minute, even in a blow. If you like, you can incorporate slits or cutouts to accommodate turning winch handles, sheets and other lines led aft. Adding one or two windows so watchkeepers can check the windward horizon without getting a face full of spray is also a good idea. –Tor Pinney


To monitor your heading while protecting your compass from UV rays, cut a slit in its cover

To monitor your heading while protecting your compass from UV rays, cut a slit in its cover

Compass Mask

Sunlight is not good for your compass. The liquid inside gets cloudy over time, making it hard to read a heading. Most new compasses have covers to shield them from the effects of the sun when a boat is at rest. But there are times even when you’re not sailing that being able to see your “heading” is important.

We always cover our new compass on our Creekmore 34, Eurisko, when at anchor. But in unfamiliar anchorages we found we were continually taking it off in order to verify the direction we were facing. After removing the cover and then forgetting to put it back on a few times, my husband, Dave, came up with a compromise and cut a small slit in the front of the cover. That way most of the compass is still protected, but a small area is exposed so that we can see our heading. We can now check our relative position at a glance while still protecting our new compass. –Connie McBride


Allow the water to drain out over the winter

Drilling a small hole in your rudder each fall allows the water to drain out over the winter

Drain your Rudder

When I bought my first cruising sailboat, I falsely assumed the rudder was watertight. I later learned otherwise when I began seeing rust streaks at the seams. The staff at my boatyard informed me that water can get into the rudder around the rudderstock where it meets the fiberglass. To reduce fiberglass delamination, internal rusting of the rudder’s armature and the possibility of blisters forming, they recommended I drill a small hole near the bottom of the rudder whenever I haul my boat for storage in the fall.

Now every year when I drill a hole in my rudder, I am amazed at the trickle of water that comes running out. I leave the hole open through the winter to allow the rudder to drain completely. In the spring before bottom painting, I patch the hole with a little Marine-Tex. –Bill Bleyer

Wing and Wing

A cruising spinnaker will add a new dimension to your sailing

A cruising spinnaker will add a new dimension to your sailing

The only chance of sailing this boat goose-winged in the chop that’s running is to use a cruising chute. A genoa doesn’t have a hope unless you rig a full-length pole. With a chute, if you keep right off the wind and—here’s the secret—let go a fair bit of slack on the tack line, the luff can drift off and curve well up to windward, away from the backwind off the mainsail. A genoa will only flap and bang until it drives you nuts. So dig deep if you don’t want the trouble of poling out. Buy a decent cruising chute and you’ll fly on a reach, too. It’s a whole new dimension to sailing and, with a snuffer, it’s a breeze to set and drop it.

Filter-screwKnow your way around

The most common cause of engine failure at sea is blocked fuel filters. A bit of a chop on the water stirs up last winter’s sludge in the tank, it gets sucked through the lines and you experience the silence of impending doom. Changing a filter element is simple on many boats. This one’s builder and engine maker have done the owner proud. All he needs is a hefty rag, a good grip or maybe a filter strap spanner (cheap from all automotive shops) and a screwdriver to bleed the air from the system after the new element has been screwed into place. That’s the trick. Do you know how to bleed your engine through? If not, the time to find out is not when you are blowing down onto a lee shore. Follow the fuel lines from the tank and find the bleed points before you have to. —Tom Cunliffe



  Storing propane tanks on a small boat without a dedicated propane locker can be a challenge. You want to keep them out of the way, but in a location where any leaking gas will flow overboard rather than belowdecks. On Eurisko, our Creekmore 34, we solved this problem by hanging our four 6-pound propane tanks from our stern pulpit rail. We took lengths of straight aluminum stock, bent the top end to conform to the shape of the rail, and then bent the lower end at a sharper angle to clip under the lip of the tanks. We hang the tanks from the rail and secure them with lanyards, tying a constrictor knot around the rail. This keeps the tanks out of our way, securely inside the rail and out in the open where leaking fuel can’t get trapped. – Connie McBride

Deck Sure


Hatches, like windows, are designed to allow light and air to enter the interior space. But there’s a price to pay if someone accidentally steps on top of a wet hatch. A slippery hatch can suddenly turn an orderly footstep into a chaotic crash on the deck. Or worse. The best solution—applying bands of anti-skid tape on the hatch—isn’t  very pretty and lets in less light below. But it is much better than having nothing at all.

And there is always room for one more great idea, which is why C. Sherman Johnson’s new billet 316 stainless Jackline fairlead can take a bow. When a cruising sailor asked the company to consider fabricating a fairlead unit that would keep jacklines five or six feet above the deck—allowing a shorter tether on a safety harness and minimizing potential fall distance—they asked well-known rigger, Brion Toss, for his thoughts. Toss said that to date, his own solution had been simply to lash D rings to shrouds. Johnson’s solid stainless unit is CNC machined and its 1/2 in diameter lead is perfect for a 3/8 in diameter low–stretch jackline. Cap screws hold the unit to a shroud, and shims ensure that it can’t move and won’t overclamp or damage wire, rod or Dyform rigging from 5/16 in to 1/2 in. Nice idea ( – Charles Mason

Wind shadows

Sailing is always more fun when you can look ahead or astern and see puffs of wind coming across the water toward you. Learning how to react in these conditions isn’t hard, particularly when puffs arrive—as they often do—in a repetitive pattern. Being able to spot puffs is the first step. When wavelets on the water’s surface are roiled by increased wind, they change shape and this, in turn, changes the reflected light patterns on the surface. A puff is easy to spot, because the surface of the water in the area of the puff is darker than the water around it.

If you are sailing to windward and a puff is coming directly downwind toward you, the wind direction inside the puff will be different from the ambient wind. In almost all cases the wind will shift ahead of you, and you will either have to fall off or tack. If you do decide to tack, there’s nothing wrong with doing so before the puff arrives. If you are sailing downwind and a puff is overtaking you from astern, the best thing to do is trim the sails properly, steer so your course is aligned with the direction of the puff, and hold on! Charles Mason


Flopper Stopper

Getting ready to launch the flopper-stopper; note weight suspended below the two panels (left). When the stopper is in position and working, the boom is pulled out perpendicular to the boat’s centerline with a preventer and an eased mainsheet (right).

Getting ready to launch the flopper-stopper; note weight suspendedbelow the two panels (left). When the
stopper is in position and working, the boom is pulled out perpendicular to the boat’s centerline with a preventer and an eased mainsheet (right).

I’ve spent months anchored in places where wakes and wave conditions can make life a misery for the unprepared. But this simple stopper device that you can build in less than an hour from scrap materials will stop your boat from rolling and make the experience a pleasant one no matter what the conditions are. Here’s what you need.

Two 18in x 12in pieces of plywood with a thickness of 3/8 or 1/2 in. Aluminum plate is better but more  expensive.

20ft of 5/16 or 3/8 in non-stretch line

A weight (heavy belt or mushroom anchor) to hang below the flopper stopper to hold it down.

A drill and 7/16 or 1/2 in bit.

Some seizing twine or light cord.

Drill bridle holes in each piece of plywood that are big enough to receive the line you will use. Place the holes about two inches above the centerline of the plywood. Drill three more holes in the bottom of each piece of plywood about 1 1/2 in from the bottom. Put a hole at each end and put the third in the center of the piece. The two outer holes are used for the hinges. Next, loosely tie the two bottom edges together so they form a hinge. Make sure they will hinge open and shut smoothly. Make the bridles by cutting two pieces of line 6ft long. Mark the center of each and then run the two ends of the line through the bridle holes; pass the line through the holes from the outside to the inside of the plywood and put a strong knot in the ends. Make a small eye in the middle of each bridle line and tape it. Whip the two eyes together and your bridle is ready.

To deploy the stopper, hang the weight from the holes in the center of the stopper’s bottom edge and then tie an 8- to 10-foot piece of line from the end of your boom to the bridle eye. Use a preventer to wing out the boom perpendicular to the boat as you ease the mainsheet. Be sure your topping lift is strong enough to absorb the energy of the flopper-stopper: attach the main halyard to the end of your boom to back up the topping lift if necessary.

When the boat rolls up, the device will hinge open and check the boat’s roll. When the boat sinks down the hinges will close. The next upswing will open it again. You’ll be amazed how easy to use and how effective this device is. – Andy Deering

Log time

I have found it is very useful to carefully record all inspections, repairs and gear upgrades or replacements in a maintenance log. My log has so much information that I can look in it and see when the useful life of my batteries might be coming to an end. Reviewing log entries on a regular basis has minimized, and sometimes even eliminated, unnecessary effort and expense.

When setting up your maintenance log, be sure to include categories for all the gear on your boat. And when you write up an entry, always include the important “what-if I need replacements; who are the contacts,” in your narrative.

I have also established a routine maintenance log inside my general maintenance log which I use to track when it is time to maintain or inspect a particular piece of gear. If you believe nothing can happen to your equipment, then you probably won’t need a log. However, the truth is that all gear needs some maintenance, and performing work before a piece of gear fails, breaks or wears out is the best way to keep things working properly.

Always use the detailed maintenance schedules in the owner’s manuals for your onboard equipment. Put these schedules in your routine maintenance log (see right). This section includes generators, watermakers, A/C units and everything else that requires some sort of regular maintenance schedule.

I spend more time inspecting gear and equipment on my boat and recording what I’ve discovered in my log than I do actually replacing or repairing things. That’s fine with me because I know that if I stay ahead of potential problems, I’ll have more time to go sailing. – Bob Tigar

A stiff putty knife can make a perfect crease in a piece of fabric

A stiff putty knife can make a perfect crease in a piece of fabric

Hemming Canvas

  For my winter canvas work projects, a 11/2 in hem gives me a perfect base for installing grommets, snaps or turn-button fasteners. A proper hem not only reinforces the edge of the item, it also makes it look nice.  But getting a 11/2 in hem requires that you make a 2in hem allowance because the raw inner edge is turned under 1/2 in.

Before making any hem, you need to crease the canvas at the fold and then feed the material into the sewing machine. The traditional way to crease a hem is to either drag the fold perpendicular to the edge of a table or use the back of a pair of scissors to crease the fabric at the desired fold location. I like to use a stiff putty knife because a relatively light amount of finger pressure can create a lot of pressure at the end of the blade. This allows me to press a crease into the canvas with a modest amount of effort.

There’s also the added benefit of a putty knife’s width. If you use a putty knife with a 2in-wide blade, you have a measuring and pressing tool all in one. All you have to do is make the width of the fold the same as the width of the blade, and then press in the crease with the blade edge.

Use the putty knife to work the crease in 10- to 12-inch sections. If you continue until you’ve creased the entire hem, you should get a straight and uniform hem every time.

You can crease the turned-under 1/2 in of canvas either before or after you crease the main hem. To do so, simply make the turnover section width a quarter of the blade width. If you aren’t sure of your ability to estimate, you can make a 1/2 in mark on the putty knife blade. If you really want to do it right, engraving the blade at the 1/2 , 1, and 11/2 in marks will give you a first-rate canvas tool. – Don Case

Slip-sliding away

In theory, plastic sail slides should always whizz up and down the mast track like the proverbial rat in a drainpipe. But after a winter layup, things may get sticky. The answer is definitely not a squirt of oil from an aerosol can, because that’s usually messy. And it doesn’t last long.

Instead think first about heading for the hardware or furniture store. Until recently, the best product was a “dry” silicone spray lubricant designed to make curtains slip sweetly on their rails. Now there are specially designed marine products that can do the same job, and perhaps even a bit better.

Applying either sort of product to the slides will make them slippery again and allow you to smoothly raise and lower your mainsail. Prices will vary, and of course the choice is yours to make. Whatever product you decide to use, be sure you do something—before you find yourself caught in a bind. – Tom Cunliffe

Grommets tearing your tarp up? Put a ball in it instead

Grommets tearing your tarp up? Put a ball in it instead

Tennis Ball Grommets

When covering my boat for the winter, I like to use heavy gray-green poly tarps, as they are inexpensive and last several years if they are protected against chafe and are properly secured. I’ve learned that just tying down the cover won’t keep it from catching wind, so I also fill jugs with water and tie them to the edges of the cover. That way when a gust lifts the cover, the weight of the jugs immediately pulls it back into place.

There is just one problem with this setup: the weight of the jugs tends to tear out the tarp grommets over the course of the winter. I tried putting in stronger grommets, but they didn’t last much longer than the originals. Plastic tarp clips don’t work very well either. Not only are they hard to install on the heavier tarps I prefer, but the plastic fractures during the winter.

The ultimate solution was to get some old tennis balls, which I rolled into the edge of the cover and tied in place as shown in the photograph. The balls spread the loads created by the harsh winter wind without ripping the tarp and do no harm to the gelcoat on my topsides. A similar arrangement should also work well if you want to use a poly tarp as a low-budget awning when out cruising. – Bill Bleyer

Servicing Dinghy Valves

The valve in pieces (left); tape the valve so you don’t lose the stem (right)

The valve in pieces (left); tape the valve so you don’t lose the stem (right)

A well-built Hypalon inflatable dinghy can last well over 10 years if properly cared for. In many cases, the first thing to fail isn’t the fabric but the fiddly little spring-loaded valves used to keep the boat inflated. Typically, the small diaphragm inside the valve deforms and won’t seat properly, or the valve stem separates from the diaphragm and shoots off into the stratosphere.
This happened to my faithful Avon dinghy recently, and I was relieved to find a valve rebuild kit  (Avon Part #V00001) that soon had the dink holding air again.

With a large crescent wrench or a big pair of channel-lock pliers, it is easy to remove the outer valve body from the inner part and then insert the new valve stem. The tricky part is when you push the inner part of the valve into the inflatable compartment and then turn it around so you can screw the little diaphragm on to the bottom end of the valve stem. It’s not very hard to accidentally unlock the stem while trying to do this, in which case it will shoot off into the interior of the compartment, where it can be difficult or even impossible to retrieve.

The best way to prevent this is to stuff the valve with a bit of paper towel and then cover it with masking tape so the valve stem can’t spring free. With the stem thus restrained, screwing on the diaphragm and reseating the inner part of the valve becomes a good deal easier, and you’ll soon have your dink floating again. – Charles J. Doane


Refrgerator-Cooling-CoilCOOLING COIL

When we replaced our 15-year-old refrigerator compressor, I noticed a great deal of corrosion caused by an occasional leak from the unit’s seawater cooling plumbing. To eliminate this problem on the new unit I was installing, I fashioned an 8-inch diameter coil from a 10-foot-long piece of copper tubing and installed it into our freshwater tank. I drilled two holes in the inspection plate for the ends of the coil to pass through and connect to the 5/8-inch hose that runs to the refrigerator’s compressor. I then filled the coil with water and hooked it up to the reefer’s circulating pump, and the freshwater tank became the perfect heat sink. There was no more saltwater corrosion, and I was able to eliminate a through-hull. (The cost does not include the circulation pump, which was already installed).

Wind shadows

Sailing is always more fun when you can look ahead or astern and see puffs of wind coming across the water toward you. Learning how to react in these conditions isn’t hard, particularly when the puffs arrive, as they often do, in a repetitive pattern. Being able to spot puffs is the first step. When wavelets on the water’s surface are roiled by increased wind, they change shape which, in turn, changes the reflected light patterns on the surface. A puff is easy to spot because the surface of the water in the area of the puff is darker than the water around it.

If you are sailing to windward and a puff is coming directly downwind toward you, the wind direction inside the puff will be different from the ambient wind. In almost all cases the wind will shift ahead of you, and you will either have to fall off or tack. If you do decide to tack, there’s nothing wrong with doing so before the puff arrives. If you are sailing downwind and a puff is overtaking you from astern, the best thing to do is trim the sails properly, steer so your course is aligned with the direction of the puff, and then hold on and enjoy the ride! – Charles Mason




Rummaging through an auto-wrecking yard one Saturday, I came upon a handy trouble light under the hood of a Chevy truck.  It throws a bright light, has a 6-foot retractable cord on a reel, and is great for peering around dark nether regions in the engine compartment.



We don’t always hear the bilge pump when it comes on, so a simple LED light wired to the automatic bilge switch and mounted in a conspicuous location (in our case right between the instruments in the cockpit) solved that problem. Now a red light comes on to alert us when the bilge pump cycles on.



Using the handheld monitor for the remote-control camera we’ve mounted in the cockpit, we can check on outside activity without having to go on deck. It’s comforting to be able to take a look outside while anchored—or at a dock—if you think someone (or something) might be coming aboard.  I found online an inexpensive camera with monitor that was marketed as a reversing camera to be attached to a trailer hitch.  – Terry J. Kotast

Get into the Watchkeeper’s Head

Don’t be subtle when avoiding commercial traffic

Don’t be subtle when avoiding commercial traffic

Approaching the bows of a big ship like this it isn’t hard for us to determine whether or not a collision risk exists. It may well be that a small course alteration on our part will deal with it. The trouble is, while we may be able to see the ship’s bearing slowly changing and be confident that, if all else fails, we can make a major alteration late on, the watch officer can’t read our minds. He’s standing up there thinking, “What’s this yacht up to?” To set his mind at rest, it’s far better to make a major alteration—perhaps show him the other side of our bow—so that he’s left in no doubt. It’s kinder, and it’s safer in the end as well.

—Tom Cunliffe

Instrument Repeater

At anchor, whenever the wind came up in the middle of the night I’d be forever making trips to the cockpit to check out the wind speed and direction.  I installed a repeater at the foot of our berth, so now I can check out the situation from the comfort of my bed.



It has other names, but whatever you call it, it is a weight hooked to or lowered on your anchor chain.  It sits on or near the seafloor after the anchor has been set and the result is a smaller swing radius and a better angle of pull on the anchor.  Sentinels can be pretty expensive, but ours is a rectangular piece of lead (2in x 2in x 12in). I found it in a salvage yard and attached an inexpensive small bow roller to it.





Anchor Snubber Hook

Early in our cruising life we discovered that a regular chain hook and rope snubber didn’t always hold up to the task of taming the chain in pounding waves.  We fashioned a new, deeper hook out of ½-inch stainless, with the slot being over 4 inches long. To date, no amount of hobby horsing has caused the hook to disengage.   – Terry J. Kotast

Stronger Anchor Snubber

The combination of low wear, fiber construction and large reinforced sewn eyes on each end makes a nylon crane strap an ideal anchor snubber. We use a 2-inch x 10-inch strand rated at 6,000 pounds breaking strength.

Transom Windlass

transomHow to take the strain out of dealing with a stern anchor. Long-distance cruisers need be prepared for all eventualities, including sometime deploying a stern anchor—for example if you’re cruising in Pacific Northwest or the Baltic where anchorages are often steep-to and it’s common practice to anchor from the stern and tie your bow off to a rock or tree on the shore, or in the Mediterranean where you often have no alternative except to go bow- or stern-to a quay.
Except on smaller boats, though, it can be a real bear to haul up a stern anchor and rode by hand, especially when you’ve dropped it in deep water as in many Pacific Northwest anchorages.
I saw this nifty arrangement on a Norwegian boat in St. Lucia at the end of the 2015 Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC); a nicely fabricated anchor roller and electric windlass combo that makes it a breeze to deal with a heavy stern anchor and its rode. If you use a stern anchor often, it seems logical to do this, yet this is the first boat I’ve seen with a windlass on the transom. —Peter Nielsen

Freeze Free

If you don’t maintain your padlocks, one day you will find your outboard so securely locked to the rail it will take a hacksaw to get you back in business. Here’s how we keep this from happening on our boat.

Every six months we soak all our padlocks in white vinegar. This dissolves corrosion and salt buildup. If there is a lot of corrosion, we will soak them for an hour or more. The first time we tried this we had to soak several locks all day! Make sure the locks are fully immersed in the liquid and that they are open so the liquid will reach all the internal components. It doesn’t hurt to turn them over occasionally. Take a wire brush and remove any external corrosion from the lock bodies while they are still in the vinegar bath.

Afterward, let the opened locks dry completely in the sun and then lubricate them according to the manufacturer instructions. I lost my instructions years ago, so I spray Sherwin Williams’ Tri-Flow Superior Lubricant into every cranny. Before doing so I put the lock on a paper towel, because the excess lubricant can be quite rusty. When you are finished, wipe off all the excess.


You can find Tri-Flow at most stores in the Ace Hardware chain. Lock repair people also recommend WD-40. Work each lock several times, and resoak and relubricate as necessary until the device works smoothly. Lock maintenance is a regular item on our monthly checklist when we are living aboard. That way, when we leave our boat in the Caribbean for a period of time, we know that when we return our locks will work just as well as they did the day we left them. – Jan Irons

No More Cotter Pins

Standing at the bow of Eurisko, our Creekmore 34, my heel always scrapes the turnbuckle for the cutter stay when I operate the windlass. For many years I inevitably returned to the cockpit after setting the anchor with a bloody foot where the cotter pin had gouged me. Though my husband, Dave, tried to bend the offending pin out of the way, it wasn’t until we rerigged the boat that he thought up a permanent solution.
Working on customer’s boats, Dave had seen cotter pins that were turned and twisted by turnbuckles until they broke. So when it came time to buy cotter pins when we rerigged our boat, he balked. Instead he bought a spool of seizing wire.
Typically used to mouse shackles (as on anchors), seizing wire is a great substitute for cotter pins. The wire cannot twist or bend; there are no loose ends to snag sails, lines and feet; and the rig looks “finished.” The turnbuckle can’t turn without the wire first breaking, which isn’t likely to happen. Both my foot and I appreciate the improvement. – Connie McBride

Headsails Furled Tight

SAIP-110200-ODct-03Lots of folks think all they have to do to make sure their furled headsails don’t unravel in a big blow is take a few extra tugs on the furling line so the sheets get wrapped clear around the rolled-up clew a couple of times. But in fact the trouble almost always starts north of the clew.

Unless a headsail has a high-cut clew, as on a yankee jib, the sail above the clew normally gets furled much more loosely than the sail below the clew, because of the sail’s asymmetric shape. This is the area that is most vulnerable when the wind starts howling. Walk through a marina after a storm, and any shredded genoas you see will have all suffered damage above the clew.

There is an easy way to prevent this. Just as you need to move your sheet lead forward as you reef a furling genoa to maintain a proper shape under sail, you should also move the lead forward as you furl the sail. You needn’t do this every single time you furl. But if you know some heavy weather is headed in your direction, you’d be well advised to take the trouble to do it right and furl it tight. – Charles J. Doane


Winterizing a Freshwater-Cooled Engine

ttwHere’s a way to run an engine with the boat ashore. The intake through-hull was tapped for a ½in NPT to garden hose adapter. The hose is run aft to another adapter in the bottom of a 5gal bucket positioned under the exhaust. Just fill the bucket and start the engine. Last spring it was used to break in a new Beta 20 diesel; the water was still cool after 15 minutes running. This fall the engine was warmed up before pumping out the lube oil, then after draining the water two gallons of antifreeze were dumped in the bucket and the engine run until the exhaust turned pink. This avoids adding
antifreeze below decks via the raw water intake hose or the strainer.

-Jay Paris

Open the Slot

HR2-1211-ODlead-slotMany cruisers tend to over-trim their sails when sailing to weather in light conditions. They dial in the same narrow headsail sheeting angles they normally use when sailing in stronger conditions, get frustrated by the lack of boat speed and quickly decide it’s time to start motoring. Next time the wind goes soft, instead of submitting to this self-fulfilling prophesy of slow-going, try opening up the slot between your mainsail and headsail.


Use your traveler to pull the mainsheet’s attachment point well to windward of the boat’s centerline. This will allow enough room to ease the sheet a bit and still keep the main boom at or very near the centerline. By easing the sheet, the outhaul, the main halyard and the backstay (if you can), you’ll impart a fuller, more powerful shape to your mainsail. With the boom on the centerline, you’ll also have room to ease the headsail sheet a bit and increase that sail’s power, too. You’ll be surprised to see how well you can sail “close-hauled” with a lot more space between your main and genoa. In the photo you see here, we were sailing at an apparent wind angle of 30 degrees, maintaining speeds of 3-5 knots in 5-9 knots of apparent wind. It’s much nicer than motoring, I assure you. –Charles J. Doane

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.

Stern Anchor

This custom stern-anchor storage system features a pivoting anchor roller and spools of rode mounted on the stern pulpit

This custom stern-anchor storage system features a pivoting anchor roller and spools of rode mounted on the stern pulpit

If you’re getting into serious cruising, there will be times when you want to set a stern anchor. Usually this involves emptying fenders, lines and whatnot out of a cockpit locker until you unearth the kedge and its rode. Then you have to haul the anchor into the cockpit and untangle its rode before deploying it. Retrieving and stowing the anchor is just as cumbersome. No wonder stern anchors are a last resort for many casual cruisers.

A 30-foot charter boat I sailed in the Med had a wonderfully simple arrangement: a Danforth anchor hooked on the stern pulpit with 20 feet of chain and 100 feet of nylon rode tucked into a plastic jerrycan with the top cut off. This also was attached to the pulpit. This setup was perfect for Med mooring, as the helmsman could drop the anchor and control the rode while coming bow-to a jetty. When leaving, we just pulled the boat out from the jetty by the stern rode.

That was fine for unambitious coastal cruising with nights spent in sheltered harbors, but high-latitude cruising demands a more rugged approach, like this smart custom pivoting stern-anchor roller I saw on a German boat in Chile. The Bugel anchor’s short chain leader could be connected to either of the big spools of nylon residing on the stern rails. When retrieving the anchor, the rode is rolled up until the boat is over the anchor. Then if the hook cannot not be broken out by hand, the rode is led over the nylon roller on the top rail to a primary winch. Simple, elegant—just do it.  –Peter Nielsen





When furling your headsail in high winds, you may run out of furling line before you run out of sail (left). When close-hauled in light wind, don’t strap your sails too tight (right)

When furling your headsail in high winds, you may run out of furling line before you run out of sail (left). When close-hauled in light wind, don’t strap your sails too tight (right).

Furled Too Tight

On a good day a furling headsail is like magic. You pull on the furling line and your sail is neatly rolled away until you need it again. At some point, however, most of us have rolled up our headsail in such high winds that it furls much more tightly than usual and we run out of furling line before the clew of the sail is wrapped away. This leaves a scrap of sail to catch the wind just when you don’t want more windage.

Lots of people think the only way to solve this problem is to unfurl the sail, drop it, and then roll more line on to the furling drum. With many furlers, however, you needn’t unfurl the headsail at all. If you can unbend the end of the furling line from the drum without disassembling it, it’s easy to make adjustments. Just remove the line, manually twist the headsail (with the sheets still attached) until it is completely furled, then reattach the end of the line to the drum. Be careful not to roll up the sail and sheets any more than necessary. Having too much line on the drum may cause it to jump out and bind when the sail is unfurled again. –Connie McBride

Inshore Piloting

When it comes to shooting a narrow channel, range marks beat electronics every timeWhen you’re close inshore, the benefits of a plotter require close examination. A large screen mounted on the binnacle has obvious benefits when you’re entering a well-buoyed harbor. Piloting through rocks, on the other hand, where sailors have been operating for centuries, may be a different matter.

Before GPS, local pilots set up simple ranges that allowed them to thread hair-raising channels in safety. A range is bombproof, all you have to do is keep the back mark in line with the front mark and it’s happy days.

Trying to steer through a tiny gap using a 3-D vector chart is, by comparison, a bad joke. The pilots who set up the ranges weren’t interested in peripheral dangers, they just wanted a safe route through narrow channels. An electronic chart may pinpoint every last brick, but such obsession with unnecessary detail often obscures the one thing you really want to know.

The problem with ranges has always been identifying them for the first time, and this is where the plotter can help. From safely out at sea, steer toward the range line. When the plotter says you’re on it, eyeball the bearing and find the markers. Once identified, forget the electronics and go with the old-fashioned navigation technique of surveying your surroundings. If the pilot who set the range up got it wrong in the War of Independence, he’d have been strung up in the town square. The guy who muddled the electronic chart has no such direct action to concentrate his mind.  —Tom Cunliffe

Headsail Furler Roll Up

The first bareboat I ever hired in the Virgin Islands, many moons ago, was from a small hole-in-the-wall charter outfit with a rather motley fleet of vessels. Much to my surprise, the old Cal 29 I was issued performed flawlessly until the very last day of my charter, when the headsail furler froze up solid with the genoa all the way out in a brisk tradewind breeze in the middle of the Drake Channel. After flapping my arms helplessly for a few minutes trying to get the furler unstuck, I arrived at a very elegant and simple solution. Instead of using the roller-furler to wrap the headsail around the furling rod on the headstay, I used the boat to do it.

This is easiest, of course, with an engine. In my case, I started up the iron genny, took the sheets off the real genny, and just drove the boat in tight circles until the sail was all rolled up. I then reattached the sheets, returned the boat to the charter company, and wished them luck with the repair.

Without an engine, assuming you have a boat that can sail through the eye of the wind under main alone, you could do the same thing by tacking and gybing around in circles. It ain’t a pretty way to stow a sail, but it works well enough in a pinch.

—Charles Doane

No Wire Nuts

Wire nuts are fine for shoreside domestic use, but should never be allowed anywhere near salt water, and especially not on a boat. Using them in a damp bilge is especially foolish

I see wire nuts on boats all too often. Many times they are installed by an owner as a temporary measure, “just to make sure it’s working,” or by electricians more used to working on houses than boats. Just to be clear—wire nuts have no place afloat, and if I see them soon after stepping aboard a boat, I know there is almost always more bad news to come.

Wire nuts and seawater make poor bedfellows. Wires that are simply twisted together can easily work loose as a boat moves and vibrates. And when water finds its way in (as it soon will), the inferior metals in the wire nut quickly corrode and increase electrical resistance.

Perhaps most importantly, you often find these connections very close to bilge water, potentially creating a path to ground and a distinct possibility of electrolysis, leading to the swift destruction of underwater metals and the depletion of the boat’s batteries.

I’ve even seen wire nuts used on 120-volt cables, a practice that can potentially kill someone. All wire connections should be made with crimped marine-grade terminals. If there is any possibility of them getting wet, they should also be covered with adhesive-lined heat shrink.


Watch out for stanchion bases failing; they become unsafe and can lead to deck leaks

Stanchion Blues

Stanchions are a weak point on many boats, which is kind of ironic, since their sole purpose is to support guardwires to keep people on board. Sometimes their mounting holes are drilled through deck core and not properly sealed, which is why you often find large areas of soggy core around stanchion bases; any hole through deck core needs first to be drilled oversize and plugged with epoxy resin, and then drilled again through the epoxy plug. This ensures water cannot migrate into the core.

On many older boats you’ll notice a pattern of stress cracks in the gelcoat, radiating out from around the stanchion bases. All too many builders failed to provide adequate backing plates for the stanchion bases, leading the deck to flex as strain is put on the stanchions from people clambering aboard or from fenders tied to guardwires. The inevitable result? A weakened laminate, and often, deck leaks.

This is an ugly example—the owner has tried to stop the leak with a smear of goop, and you can see the cracks in the gelcoat around the base. The only fix is to remove the base, grind out the cracks with a Dremel tool and fill them, make a proper backing plate, and rebed everything really well.



SAIL-anch-3to111Anchoring Hints

Go for a heavy anchor—in any given anchorage a heavier anchor will perform better than a lighter one. If you are outfitting a boat for cruising or looking to upgrade, why not increase the size your anchor at the same time?

It can be difficult judging the distance to your neighbors in deep anchorages, since more rode means you need to be farther away from nearby boats. Try a range-finder app or even a laser rangefinder.

Use binoculars with a range finder (such as our Fujinon 7X50 binos) to judge neighborly distance.

Use GPS and Radar to plot the positions of nearby boats.

Judge neighborly distances in boatlengths. If your boat is 33ft, you can guess the distance to a nearby boat by counting how many boatlengths away you are.

Ask neighbors how much rode they have out to make sure you will not hit each other.

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Paul Shard

Recycling Bag

The recycling bag, positioned outboard, is a good place to stow unwanted trash until your next port of call

The recycling bag, positioned outboard, is a good place to stow unwanted trash until your next port of call

We recycle everything when coastal cruising or island hopping. We do not like to carry disposable plastic water or drink bottles on our boat. I normally assign a drink bottle to each crew member, identified by color or a number, and then let them be responsible for refilling it and keeping track of it. We always try to minimize the amount of recycling that we have onboard in the first place, but a sailor’s got to have beer, thus must carry cans or bottles. We use the Soda Stream machine to make our own sodas, and we use refillable drink bottles for water and drink mixes. We usually end up with plastic, glass jars, wine bottles and a more than a few beer cans.

I stow all of the recycling in an out-of-the-way spot in a homemade recycling bag. This is made of a sturdy mesh material sewn into a 2ft-by-3ft bag with grommets at the top and about halfway down to hold it in place. We place ours on the outside of the stern rail so that it hangs more over the water than the boat. That way, if anything drips, it falls into the sea. I have mine zip-tied onto the rail right now, but ideally, if it was fastened in such a way where you could carry it to the recycling center, that would be best. If you can’t sew one yourself, keep an eye out for any old mesh bag that could be adopted for this use.

Bill Cullen

Safety: Twist and Shout


Here’s a maneuver that can make it easier to get someone who is not injured out of the water. First, have the person in the water is face you, and then ask them to raise their arms straight up and cross them over their head. When their arms are crossed, grasp their wrists firmly with your hands—put your right hand on their right wrist and your left on their left. When you pull up on their wrists the lifting motion will also twist the person around 180 degrees. The rotation will leave them facing away from you, but it will then be easier for them to assume a seated position on the edge of a deck, dinghy, or dock.





How to Wind Winches

If you have invited guests aboard for an afternoon sail or for a cruise and you know they have limited sailing experience but want to be involved on deck, here’s a way to get them working that lets you be sure things are in order. Cut out some circular plastic rings that will fit snugly around your winch bases. Then put a series of arrows on the upper ring face—you can either use decals or draw them with an indelible pen—pointing in a clockwise direction; the same way a sheet is wound around a winch. You can also put the arrows directly on the deck, but that’s a more permanent arrangement.

Once it is obvious everyone knows the right routine with the winches (you should include some hands-on instructions about the proper hand positions), you can quietly remove the rings and put them below until the next group of friends want to go out and help you sail the boat.


Reel Length

Having a long length of line ready to use at short notice is always a good idea when cruising. You never know when you may have to run out a long mooring warp or set a kedge anchor. The trouble is that such a seldom-used line often ends up under piles of gear in the cockpit locker. This is a bad arrangement, because when you want a long line you often need it right now. You don’t want to waste precious time burrowing for it.

This sailor has probably learned that lesson the hard way, which is why he has installed this spool of strong webbing on the stern rail and has made sure that it is ready for instant deployment.

Extending Whisker Poles

A standard spinnaker pole is as long as the J measurement on your boat – that is, the distance from the base of the mast to the forestay chainplate. This is purely a racing rule requirement; longer poles are penalized under PHRF rules. If you’re cruising, your whisker pole can be any length you like.

On a couple of occasions when I’ve wanted to run downwind with poled-out headsails instead of a spinnakers, I’ve found J-length spinnaker (whisker) poles to be too short to get the tack of a 140 or 150 percent genoa out far enough. I don’t like the sail to be too full; it tends to flap around as the boat rolls, which it will if you’re running in any kind of a seaway. I usually roll up the genoa until it sets fairly flat – I would do this in any case in strong winds — but that means I lose valuable sail area if the wind is light.

Some cruisers carry an over-length whisker pole – about 1.25 times J – to use in light airs, but unless your boat is big enough to carry two poles easily (not a bad idea if you can get away with it), that adds deck clutter you could do without. This is where a telescoping pole, slightly longer than J, comes in handy. The pole will extend half its length again, which is extremely useful in light airs. I’ve winged out an asymmetric spinnaker with a fully extended telescoping pole attached to its clew, and it’s amazing how much more power you get. Only do this in very light wind, though, because a fully extended pole can’t take too much punishment. Forespar does not recommend that you use its telescoping poles with a spinnaker, as they aren’t designed to handle the tack loadings; Selden says it dpends on the pole section, boat displacement and other factors. Bottom line: if you destroy your expensive telescoping pole while using it with a spinnaker, don’t count on any sympathy from the manufacturer. Even if you’re just using the pole with a headsail, if it comes on to blow you’ll have to reef the pole along with the sail.

A telescoping pole costs more than a regular pole and weighs more too, unless it’s carbon fiber. Both Forespar and Selden make good telescoping poles, but only Forespar makes a carbon one.

Floss Your Scuppers

Especially during the off-season, deck and cockpit scuppers tend to get clogged with debris, usually leaves. Wind-driven rain and snow have a diabolical way of getting into things, even on a boat under a cover, and much of that moisture eventually finds its way into the scuppers. A stopped-up scupper can lead to an accumulation of water, which will help create mildew and mold. The worst-case scenario is freezing, after which the frozen water will expand and may cause damage. Keeping scuppers open and unobstructed should be a priority. That’s why I like to floss mine when paying the periodic visit to my boat in its yard during the winter. There are different ways to do this, depending on how your scuppers are configured. But a few lengths of light line with weights on the end (perhaps left in place over the winter), or a length of wire (a straightened coat-hanger, for example) should be all you need.


Fog Navigation

The only time the classical navigator deliberately missed a landfall was in fog. So long as the desired harbor didn’t have a rocky entrance, the best technique was to find a safe depth contour leading to the dock on the chart while still out at sea, then steer off to one side or the other. When the contour came up on the depth sounder, you’d know which way to turn and could run along it to safety.

The sailors of old would use soundings to help them pick their way through dense fog

The sailors of old would use soundings to help them pick their way through dense fog

With GPS, it’s tempting just to bang in a waypoint and go for it. A plotter makes it even easier, and there’s nothing wrong with this. However, there’s no sinking feeling like being in a dense fog and having the plotter go blank. Even contemplating this brings skippers out in a cold sweat.


The answer, as always with GPS, is to have a contingency plan. If you’re homing in on a harbor wall and the electronics start looking like a deflated football, plot your last known position on the paper chart, and then either turn out to sea and wait, or steer positively to one side and watch the depth. Like sailors from the beginning of time, it won’t matter if you don’t know exactly where you are. When you find the 20ft line, you will at least know which way to turn. —Tom Cunliffe

Waterproof Logbook

Making changes to your boat to reduce the need to go below can be easy. One simple change is to create a waterproof logbook that can safely be left on deck in any weather without fear of damage. A side benefit is that it is inexpensive as well.

Use a spreadsheet software to create a logbook format you like. I purchased waterproof copy paper online and headed to my local copy center for printing and binding. After laser printing (Inkjet printer ink is not waterproof) 10 sets of logbook pages on my paper, and properly collating them, I had the shop bind them with a hard plastic back, clear plastic front and plastic GBC spiral binding. The result is a customized, inexpensive, waterproof logbook which stays on deck at all times. If you are obsessive, you can also obtain pens with waterproof ink from the paper vendor.

Industrial Strength Safety

Rope clutches, or stoppers, are wonderful items to have on board. Not only are they quick and easy to operate, they eliminate the need for extra winches. But each one must be labeled so the trimmer can see immediately what line that particular stopper controls.

When San Francisco sailors Russ Irwin and Fay Mark labeled the clutches on their brand new 52-footer New Morning, they wanted to be absolutely sure there could never be a situation where someone might be confused about which lever was controlling which line. Their solution; put the same label on both the top and the underside of each lever. Smart idea.

Shipping News

When our wind generator stopped spinning in Fiji, we wanted to have parts sent to us by the manufacturer. Then several friends told us they were having trouble getting gear sent from overseas; the problems ran from having packages stopped in customs to shipments that never even showed up. So instead of having our purchases mailed directly to us at our marina, we asked a local chandlery that receives regular shipments from overseas whether we could have our order shipped to them. The chandlery agreed. They told us what information had to be on the shipping label—our official customs arrival number, for example—and recommended we have the package shipped by DHL, the carrier they use on a regular basis. When our package arrived, it quickly cleared through customs and was delivered right to the chandlery. If you can arrange to have a local business receive parcels from a marine business or manufacturer overseas, you may also be able to avoid a lot of the red tape you’d otherwise have to deal with.

Quick Compass Check

compassHere’s how to “swing” your compass with no special equipment.

  • Have your mate stand in a likely “non-magnetic” spot with the hand-bearing compass.
  • Steer slowly in a circle while he/she sights on some conspicuous object a couple of miles or more away.
  • If the bearing alters, stand somewhere else. If it stays steady, you’ve found a place with no deviation.

You can now check any heading by comparing the steering compass with the hand-bearing compass in the magic position. Any discrepancy is deviation.

Diesel in the Air

Spilled diesel fuel leaves an unpleasant odor that can nauseate some people, especially if they have to be down below in heavy weather. It’s tough to get rid of the odor once it takes hold. I tried oil-absorbing rags, bilge cleaner, and whatever else I could find on board, but the smell remained. Then a retired diesel mechanic stopped by the boat and, without missing a beat, told me to get some liquid Calgon fabric softener. It was, he said, one of the tricks of his trade. I followed his advice, and when I wiped down the affected areas, the fumes disappeared and the boat was once again livable. A few months later a local charter company called me about a diesel spill on one of the boats they manage. I recommended Calgon and even gave my bottle to them to use. It worked perfectly again, and the boat’s owners were thrilled.

Fresh herbs from an onboard garden

Fresh herbs from an onboard garden

Make a Boat Garden

There’s nothing better than having something fresh from the garden on your dinner table, but aboard a sailboat that’s at anchor or underway that can be a challenge. We really do miss fresh basil and rosemary, but the cute planters that work well in a marina aren’t easy to deal with at sea.
Aboard Mermaid, we’ve found that modified plastic milk or juice jugs work great. We cut a section off the top but leave the handle intact. Putting holes in the bottom for drainage would allow mud to drip out on the decks, so we put a layer of wine corks in the bottom and fill the container with soil. Laying in extra wine for corks is just a sacrifice you’ll have to make. We’re experimenting with using the innards of disposable diapers to soak up excess water, but the jury’s still out on that.
We hang the jug planters from the lifeline with carabiner hooks when we are at anchor and move the plants to a shower stall underway. We’ve learned the hard way that most plants don’t care for saltwater spray. We cruise the tropics so rain and sun are both plentiful, and the “garden” is easy to maintain. I love picking some fresh herbs from my boat garden.


The Trim Stripe

The stripe points the way to good sail trim

The stripe points the way to good sail trim

Even if you’re a cruiser, and therefore not as anal about sail trim as the typical racer, you probably like to get your boat sailing as well as possible, right? It’s one thing to get your genoa’s luff telltales flying in unison when you’re hard on the wind, but gauging trim when the sail is eased on a reach usually involves some trial and error in moving the genoa sheet cars forward. There is an easier way. Next time you send your genoa in for servicing, have the sailmaker add a trim stripe to the clew. This is oriented so that a line extending from it bisects the genoa at mid-luff. Adjust your sheet car so that the sheet and trim stripe form a straight line, and your headsail trim should be just about dead-on.




Keep Your Eyes Moving

SAIP-080500-SSCT-02Becoming a good helmsman is similar to becoming a skilled driver or pilot. In all three cases the best operators follow a routine that lets them continuously check many variables: the outside environment—the road, the airspace around them—the navigation instruments, and other important inputs, such as how much “pull” the machine might have when it goes into a turn.

Since these principles also apply on a boat, it’s important to establish a routine that’s comfortable for you and then practice it until it becomes second nature. Specific details might vary depending on boat size and the location of the helm, but here’s a basic routine.

Start by looking at the compass or the bow of the boat to be sure you’re headed where you want to go. Next look around you to see whether another boat is close enough to warrant some sort of evasive action. Then look up at the sails to ensure that all are properly trimmed for the conditions and the course you are steering. If the trim isn’t correct, you can make the adjustment yourself or ask a crewmember to do it. As part of your routine, confirm that the sails are not being chafed or damaged.

Next, take a look around the deck to make sure everything is in place. Finally, return your eyes to the compass or bow and start the routine all over again. When you have established a pattern that works for you, your scan will become automatic. When that happens, you’ll be a better and more confident sailor.

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.

Stowage for Clothing

Providing proper stowage for clothing often seems to be way down the priority list on a cruising boat; most cruisers give a higher priority to stowing food, spare parts, and tools. But what happens to your clothes if there is no closet, dresser, or even a single drawer for them to occupy? Often they wind up in a locker with a front-opening door and lie there, loose on the shelf. While you may have stacked them neatly, they soon become jumbled when a shirt or a pair of shorts is extracted from the bottom of the pile. Over the years we have tried various strategies to bring some order to stowing our clothes, but most have proven to be unsatisfactory. Boxes don’t breathe, baskets waste precious space, and both hide their contents.

Finally, my long-suffering mate had had enough of seeing her lingerie hanging out with a rougher crowd, and she began storing it in a zippered net bag—the kind that’s used to protect delicate items in a washing machine. The net bag worked so well that she bought one for her bathing suits, and then one for her blouses. Soon all her clothes—and not long after that, all of mine—were happily ensconced in ventilated, visible, and accessible net bags. Best of all, the clothes stay unruffled, even after we’ve been crashing to weather for a few days.

No stowage arrangement we’ve tried or seen works as well for clothing. A shirt that may not have been worn in months can be located and retrieved quickly, without difficulty, and without disrupting the adjacent items. We’ve refined the process a little by grouping our seasonal clothes together and moving them to a less-accessible space until they’re needed again. The bags are cheap, durable, and washable. If you’re less than happy with the way you now stow your clothes, give the nets a try.

Tack for a Gybe

Certain techniques on a small centerboarder can land you in the drink if the wind is strong and your reactions are slow. One technique that works in any kind of wind—and on any size of boat—is to tack onto your new heading instead of gybing. Visualize it like this: Imagine you’re on a heading of zero degrees on starboard tack, with the wind coming from 170 degrees, and you need to come onto a heading of 270 degrees. Instead of turning to port and gybing, turn hard to starboard. As you come through the wind, tack the headsail across—the boom will take care of itself. Then you can come onto the new course and trim the sails to suit. I’ve used this technique many times, with much less noise and concern than a normal gybe.

Going Sideways

It’s no secret that bow thrusters are a big help when you’re maneuvering in close quarters, which is why they are becoming common on boats in the 40-foot range. One reason for this popularity is that the units themselves have gotten better. But it’s also true that freeboards are getting higher and many of us either are getting older or are sailing with fewer crew. My 47-footer came with a bow thruster, and I quickly learned to appreciate it. It’s simple to use: hit the button and the bow goes right, hit the button and the bow goes left.

But I soon discovered another level of use. Everyone knows that a thruster moves the bow when the boat is stopped. And everyone knows that you use a thruster to hold or move the bow to port or starboard against the wind. But not everyone knows that the thruster can be used to make the boat go sideways. Here’s how it works.

Let’s say you’re in a marina and the wind is blowing from your port side, pushing you into the dock, and you want to get away from the dock without damaging the starboard side of the boat.

After you’ve gotten the dock lines on board, you might think about pushing the thruster button to push the bow to port, away from the dock. The problem is that only the front half of the boat will be clear. The twisting motion caused by the keel—as the bow goes to port, the stern goes to starboard—will start to press the stern firmly against the dock.
There is another way. First turn the helm hard to starboard (toward the dock) and accelerate forward under power. Simultaneously, push the bow thruster button to port, which will push the bow to port and away from the dock. This may seem counter intuitive, but it works. As you turn the helm to starboard, the leading edge of the rudder is pointing to port. The prop wash against the rudder along with the forward motion will move the stern to port and away from the dock, while the thruster’s push to port keeps the bow from swinging to starboard and into the dock. As the boat starts to move forward, it will also be moving sideways to port and clear of the dock. Obviously, you need to practice this maneuver to learn exactly how your boat will react.

If you’re turning and the stern is about to bump into something, you can quickly check that motion by using the thruster to move the bow in the same direction the stern is moving. You are, in effect, getting the boat to move sideways even as it is moving forward. When you get these procedures and their timing down correctly, you’ll add a whole new dimension to using your bow thruster to help you maneuver confidently in close quarters.

Spinnaker Net

Like most cruisers, I was happy to ditch my symmetric spinnaker and defect to a more easily handled asymmetric kite, but I can’t deny that the symmetric sail has its advantages. It works better on downwind runs with the apparent wind at 140 degrees or more, and on most older boats it has the considerable virtue of already being on board (no need to spend money) and is probably lightly used.

One reason cruisers fear these sails is the dreaded spinnaker wrap, which is much more likely to happen with a symmetric kite. One way to avoid a wrap is to rig a spinnaker net. I saw this one on a Cal 40 that was being prepared for a trans-Pacific race. It was a simple affair, made of webbing and attached in this case to the genoa halyard. It would be easy enough for a cruiser to fabricate a net that fits over a rolled-up genoa. I’d like the peace of mind at night and when sailing shorthanded. A net would also be useful in light air and a big swell, when the boat’s rocking often causes the spinnaker to collapse and refill—prime conditions for a spinnaker wrap.

Knot Log Drain

If you’re like many boatowners, you’ll only learn that the hoses connecting your cockpit drains to the transom through-hulls have failed when you see your floorboards afloat. The hoses most often fail over the winter when the freezing cold helps crack them open, and it always seems to happen during particularly windy winters when your cover rips or shifts out of position so as to allow rain and snow into the cockpit. You may also have a keelstepped mast that likes to funnel water into your bilge during winter rain storms, regardless of how secure your cover is.

My O’Day 31 has twice been flooded like this over the winter, and both times removing the freezing cold water from the bilge was a nightmare. After the second time, it dawned on me that an easy solution would be to just leave the impeller assembly for my knot log out of its hole for the winter. This way any water that accumulates in the bilge can drain right out. I ran the idea by my yard crew, and they said they recommend the practice. I also decided to put a plastic pot-scrubber ball into the hole to keep critters out. So far the system seems foolproof—although I still make sure to check my cover periodically.


I was powering at low rpm when my wife asked, “What is that high-pitched sound?” I thought it was a belt, but when I went below and looked in the engine box all seemed fine. The noise seemed to be coming from behind the engine, so I lifted the small hatch over the PSS (Packless Sealing System) unit and found that the shaft, boot, and clamps were too hot for me to touch.

I immediately knew what had happened. I had been diving to change the shaft zinc and clean the hull, and I had spent a lot of time around the shaft. Some of my air bubbles had traveled up the grooves in the Cutless bearing into the stern tube. The rising air displaced the water there and air instead of water had filled the bellows hose and shaft collar of the shaft seal. With no water lubricating the rotating bearing, things inevitably got hot. To solve the problem, I gently pulled and compressed the rubber bellows boot to break the air seal. A gush of water came in and cooled down the parts.

If you have this system, remember this when you go back into the water after a haulout, or if a diver spends a lot of time near the prop and shaft. If you have an older setup, as I do, always “burp” the bellows on the shaft seal to make sure it is filled with water. PYI ( has installed a hose nipple on all PSS units built after 2002 that can either vent the air or inject water from the engine.

SEAMANSHIP: Snatch and Release

If you anchor out a lot, as I do, eventually you will be in a situation where the flukes get snagged on something: a rock ledge or an abandoned cable are typical culprits. You’ll know you are hooked when you shorten up on the anchor rode and it will not break out, even when you power ahead over it. To retrieve the anchor you need to reverse the digging-in process and back the hook out the same way it went in. To do this, I use a 1/2 in nylon retrieval line and a length of chain 18in to 24in long, with links between 3/16 n and 1/4 in, formed into a loop at the end. The length of the line can vary, but a good rule of thumb is to have one at least twice the water depth.

First, slide the chain and retrieval line down to the crown of the fouled anchor and then take a gentle strain. If the rode is all-chain, make it as vertical as possible before sliding the retrieval loop down to the anchor crown. This will help keep it from getting hung up.

Always pull from the direction the wind was blowing from when you anchored. If the wind was northeast, for example, take the strain when you are heading in a northeasterly direction. For maximum maneuverability, detach the anchor rode from the boat, tie its bitter end to a good-sized docking fender and put it in the water. Never run the engine at more than half speed. Finesse rather than brute strength seems to work best. Start with the engine in gear at idle speed. If nothing happens go to quarter speed and, if necessary, half speed.

Some crews like to attach a trip line to the anchor before they set it. My view is that the freestanding retrieval line does the same thing, and avoids having multiple lines and buoys. However, if you use a fisherman’s anchor, a preset trip line might be a good idea because its stock will prevent a retrieval chain loop from moving up the shank to the crown.


According to veteran ocean cruiser and racer Don Street, every sailor who considers himself competent should also be an MBLU (Master of the Bastard Lash-Up), an accreditation he first learned to appreciate when he was a young crewmember aboard a Navy submarine.

As an example, Street likes to tell about a delivery he made aboard a 40-foot ketch sailing from North Carolina to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. After several days at sea, the wind dropped completely and in order to keep to his schedule, Street turned on the gasoline auxiliary. But six hours later the engine’s water pump packed up and there was no replacement on board.

But there were several five-gallon jerry cans of fuel on deck and that was all Street needed for an MBLU solution. After emptying the contents of one jerry can into the main fuel tank, he cut off its bottom, turned it upside down and lashed it into the shrouds, making sure it was low enough that the shortest crewmember aboard could pour a bucket of water into it.

Next, Street collected all unused hoses and hooked them together to make one long hose running from the spout of the can to the engine’s salt-water intake. With three other crewmembers on board, Street then established a schedule: one hour on watch steering—and pouring a bucket of seawater into the jerrycan every minute—and three hours off. With the engine running at 1500 RPM, the system worked fine until the wind finally returned and he could hoist the sails again. Street concedes this might not work with some of today’s engines. But that’s not his main point. Every problem has a solution—just as long as there’s an MBLU on board.

Coastal Cruising: Reel length

Having a long length of line ready to use at short notice is always a good idea when cruising. You never know when you may have to run out a long mooring warp or set a kedge anchor. The trouble is that such a seldom-used line often ends up under piles of gear in the cockpit locker. This is a bad arrangement, because when you want a long line you often need it right now. You don’t want to waste precious time burrowing for it.

This sailor has probably learned that lesson the hard way, which is why he has installed this spool of strong webbing on the stern rail and has made sure that it is ready for instant deployment.

The most accurate tool for estimating your distance to a solid target is radar. When you have to traverse a narrow channel close to the shore with off-lying dangers and you can’t line up two objects to see you through, select the most appropriate range setting, then set the variable range marker (VRM) to a safe distance from whichever shore seems likely to offer the best radar target. You can then sail or motor along and be sure of your distance off. Double-check everything, make sure you have a bailout plan in case the radar goes on the blink, then forge ahead while keeping the VRM just touching the echo of the shore.

A Good Night’s Sleep

I’ve spent months anchored in places where wakes and wave conditions can make life a misery for the unprepared. But this simple stopper device that you can build in less than an hour from scrap materials will stop your boat from rolling and make the experience a pleasant one no matter what the conditions are. Here’s what you need.

•Two 18in x 12in pieces of plywood with a thickness of 3/8 or 1/2in. Aluminum plate is better, but more expensive.

• 20ft of 5/16 or 3/8in non-stretch line

•A weight (heavy belt or mushroom anchor) to hang below the flopper stopper to hold it down.

•A drill and 7/16 or 1/2in bit.

•Some seizing twine or light cord.

Drill bridle holes in each piece of plywood that are big enough to receive the line you will use. Place the holes about two inches above the centerline of the plywood. Drill three more holes in the bottom of each piece of plywood about 1 1/2in from the bottom. Put a hole at each end and put the third in the center of the piece. The two outer holes are used for the hinges. Next loosely tie the two bottom edges together so they form a hinge. Make sure they will hinge open and shut smoothly. Make the bridles by cutting two pieces of line 6ft long. Mark the center of each and then run the two ends of the line through the bridle holes; pass the line through the holes from the outside to the inside of the plywood and put a strong knot in the ends. Make a small eye in the middle of each bridle line and tape it. Whip the two eyes together and your bridle is ready.

To deploy the stopper, hang the weight from the holes in the center of the stopper’s bottom edge and then tie an 8- to 10-foot piece of line from the end of your boom to the bridle eye. Use a preventer to wing out the boom perpendicular to the boat as you ease the mainsheet. Be sure your topping lift is strong enough to absorb the energy of the flopper-stopper: attach the main halyard to the end of your boom to back up the topping lift if necessary.

When the boat rolls up, the device will hinge open and check the boat’s roll. When the boat sinks down the hinges will close. The next upswing will open it again. You’ll be amazed how easy to use and how effective this device is.

Evaporation is Cool

When I heard the skipper of a 42ft powerboat complaining that one of his five air conditioners had failed I wasn’t terribly sympathetic. Many sailboats, even in Florida, don’t have air conditioning. Our boat has a single unit that keeps us comfortable, but there’s little spare capacity.

To help cool the boat down quickly on a hot day, I regularly spray water on the deck. It’s not the water temperature that cools the boat, but rather the heat that is removed by evaporation. On a typical summer afternoon much of the heat load comes from solar radiation. Because of the sun’s angle, most of this radiation is through the deck. My dark blue hull will be close to ambient temperature, but the white areas on the deck will be hot, and the sand colored anti-skid areas even hotter. Even on a 90-degree afternoon in Florida, the difference between the air temperature and the dew point will be large enough so that water will evaporate quickly. If you aren’t convinced, spray some water on your deck and see. Of course, spraying water will not cool down your boat’s interior, but the evaporation will reduce the heat load, which will help your air conditioner cool down the interior temperature.

Whether it’s an official range that is marked on a chart or just two sticks in the sand that you have set up yourself to help get your dinghy through a narrow cut in a reef, a range is an important tool for the sailor. A range works because the two vertical poles or objects are aligned to create an unmovable line of position. Ranges work best when the aftermost stick, tree, church steeple or whatever, is taller than the marker that is in front of it. In a pinch, though, any two fixed vertical objects along a line of position will do.

When we are cruising we find ourselves constantly using ranges and have developed a rule that has served us well over the years: chasing the marker that is closest to us. For example, if the closer marker—generally also the shorter one—moves to the left of the taller marker behind it, we will “chase” it by altering course to port until we again have both markers in alignment. If, on the other hand, the closer marker is to the right of the marker that is farther away we turn to starboard until both markers are aligned again.

At anchor, many cruisers will take bearings on both the port and starboard side of the boat to check if they are dragging. This method is fine for estimating your location, but you could move as much as 100 feet and still not really notice. The system we use at anchor can tell us if we have moved as little as 10 feet. Here’s how it works:

First, we note the boat’s most frequent heading. Then we find two objects ashore abeam of us and on the same side of the boat that are lined up when the boat is on that heading. Any stationary objects, trees, rocks, radio towers, the top of a hill, will do. If possible, we prefer to choose two lit objects, because they can be used at night. For example, when we anchored recently in Isla Mujeres, Mexico, during a gale, the range we used was a streetlight and the window of a house.

When we are sure the boat is on the same heading used when we established the range, we look at our range and note whether the closer range marker has moved forward of the one behind it. If it has, we know that either the rode has straightened out or we are dragging anchor. If we see that the closer marker has moved aft of the farther one, we know we have moved closer to our anchor, either because of current or possibly a decrease in wind velocity.

During that gale in Mexico, the wind was strong enough to keep a steady tension on all four of our anchors, and when the forward range began to move ahead of the one behind it we knew that at least one of the anchors had dragged. Fortunately, by walking forward on the deck until the two range markers were again aligned, we knew that we had moved back just 10 feet.

Always look for potential range markers around you and practice using them in all conditions. Doing so will improve your navigation skills and, when you are anchored, they will provide accurate information on where you are and whether you are staying in one place.

Hatch Screens

If you cruise where there are mosquitoes, you need to get serious about keeping them out of the boat. On our boat the hatches had wire-mesh screens that were too porous to be effective, and two of these were directly over our bed, so we knew we needed something better. Specifically, we needed an effective screen that wouldn’t interfere if we had to shut the hatches quickly in a sudden downpour. We also wanted devices that would stay put in a breeze when we were anchored and would be easy to stow when it was time for us to head to sea.

All our hatches open to a 45-degree angle, so we figured a set of wedge-shaped “tents” of screening would do the job nicely. We bought some mosquito netting (originally part of a hammock) and measured and cut the material so each tent fit rather loosely. We made the two seams that come down from the upper corner of each tent using sewn-on tape.

After that we sewed a sausage-like hem of marine canvas around the bottom of the netting to hold each tent in place once it was draped over the hatch. Using a funnel, we filled the hem with clean sand we had rinsed in fresh water.

It took us about an hour to make each hatch net, and they have worked out very well. The ventilation is first rate, the tents look smart, and they have done an excellent job of keeping insects out of our lives.

Waiting to Inhale

A decade ago, while thumbing through a cooking magazine, a photo of a bicycle pump caught my eye. It turned out to be a vacuum pump that could do the same thing as a big, boxy kitchen vacuum sealer costing more than $100. But it was small, hand-operated and cost just $20. I researched the Pump-N-Seal food saver online and then ordered one. It has been an inspired addition to our cruising galley.

Here’s how it works. First, use a push-pin (one is supplied with the pump) to puncture the center of the lid of any sealing jar; empty pickle jars are ideal. Next, cover the hole with a tiny Band-Aid-like seal (also supplied) to create a multi-use check valve. Positioning the suction-cup base of the pump over the tab, you push down on the spring-loaded plunger a few times to pump the air out of the closed jar. Simple as that.

Before the Pump-N-Seal, opening a container of nuts onboard committed us to gorging on them before they went stale. Now we eat or serve just what we like. As long as they’re stored in a metal-lid jar, we can simply close the lid and pump the air out when putting them away. Our boat spends hurricane season on the hard in the tropics, and we often leave “opened” cans of nuts in the galley while we’re away. We return to find them as fresh as ever.

Coffee lovers can also benefit by storing their ground coffee in a vacuum-sealed jar. Likewise, expensive spices maintain their potency when stored in a vacuum. Vacuum-packing flour, beans and pasta protects them from weevils and other insects. It protects meats and poultry from freezer burn, and keeps crackers, cookies and chips nice and crisp.

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

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.

GPS and Great-circle Courses for Ocean Navigators

Most GPS receivers are capable of delivering the bearing to a waypoint as either a rhumb-line or a great-circle course. When sailing along the coast or making an offshore passage, the two are synonymous for all practical purposes. However, when making an east-west ocean passage well away from the equator, following a great-circle course—so far as wind and wave permit—could save a day or more. Thanks to your GPS, you need not immerse yourself in tortuous calculations involving spherical trigonometry or plot new courses repeatedly from a gnomonic chart. As long as you have specified great-circle course on the setup page, you have only to create a destination waypoint, hit the go-to button, and read off the course. The figure you get will be the great-circle heading from your current position.

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.

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.

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.



This anchor chain was seen on a charter boat I sailed some time ago. If your rode looks like this, give yourself a good kick in the backside. Not only does it look awful, but in our case the friction in the rusted links caused the chain to kink and hockle as it was hauled out of the chain locker. Usually, you can extend a chain’s life by having it re-galvanized. This chain was too far gone for that, as many of the links were wasted from rubbing against each other without the protection and lubricating effect of galvanizing. Note also the rust flakes surrounding the anchor roller—if you’ve ever tried to get rust stains out of gelcoat, you’ll know why that’s bad news.

Pilotage: Keep on track

For close piloting inshore, it is important to steer down a straight track from one navigation mark to the next. Merely aiming the boat will not be enough if there is any crosscurrent. As soon as you round a mark, line up the following one with some convenient object behind it. This will establish a natural range. As long as you stay on the range with the objects in line, you must be on the straightest track. Casual ranges are not always obvious, but anything at all will do—even a distant cloud if there isn’t much wind and the leg is a short one.

Cleat Cover

Most well-equipped sailboats have mooring cleats located amidships. They’re great for spring lines and other items, but they can also snag a sail, a sheet or even someone’s foot. An easy fix calls for some foam, a marking pen, a measuring tape, a sharp knife, a saw and a drill.

First measure the length and height of the cleat’s horn and then cut a block of foam that is 6in wide and 4in longer and a 1/2 in taller than the cleat. Cut the block in half. With the pen, trace half the length of the cleat on top of each foam block; repeat on the bottom. To ensure a tight fit, make the width dimension just slightly wider than the actual width of the cleat horn.

Next cut out the inside of the block. The distance from the deck to the top of the cleat horn is the maximum amount you should cut. Also, be sure there’s a solid lip to hold the cleat horn when you slide the foam over it. Do the same thing with the second block and then test your work by sliding the pieces together over the cleat. Continue shaping until both pieces fit together snugly.

To hold the blocks together drill two holes through each of the blocks and then connect them with two lengths of bungee cord. When they are measured carefully and cut correctly the two blocks will fit snugly over the cleat and you won’t have to worry about it catching something you don’t want it to. Of course, you will have to do the same thing to the cleat on the other side of the boat.

Keep on track

For close piloting inshore, it is important to steer down a straight track from one navigation mark to the next. Merely aiming the boat will not be enough if there is any crosscurrent. As soon as you round a mark, line up the following one with some convenient object behind it. This will establish a natural range. As long as you stay on the range with the objects in line, you must be on the straightest track. Casual ranges are not always obvious, but anything at all will do—even a distant cloud if there isn’t much wind and the leg is a short one.

Running Off

If something goes wrong on the foredeck, the natural instinct for many sailors is to luff up head-to-wind until the situation can be resolved. The problem with this course of action is that on most displacement boats it does no one on board any favors, putting a strain on the forestay when everything starts shaking, and increasing the apparent wind.

As long as you have sea room to leeward, it is a far better course of action to run off instead. Doing so shelters the headsail in the wind shadow of the mainsail. This in turn will collapse the headsail and leave it hanging. There’s no mind-jarring clattering about the deck because the apparent wind will magically drop as well. Getting the boat into this position makes dealing with a fouled headsail furler, subduing a cruising chute that has gone berserk or fixing anything else that might be shaking around much less stressful than trying to do the same thing while plunging directly into the wind and oncoming seas.

Know Your Racing Flags

Everyone knows the Answering Pennant (AP or “Cat in the Hat” flag) means racing has been postponed and that the “P” flag means a standard starting sequence. But what about the “M” flag, an “N” flag over an “A” flag, or an answering pennant flying above Pennant 2?

Sail Saver

If you have older Dacron sails, a good method of preserving them while improving their working ability is to treat them with a fabric spray (the type used for tents, shoes, or furniture). Most likely you will see a difference right away. During rainy weather the sails will shed water better, keeping them lighter and better shaped, and that can really make a difference in your boat’s heavy-weather performance. The fabric treatment also makes the sailcloth more pliable and easier to flake and fold. Several of my friends now regularly treat their sails and have commented that it is inexpensive for a couple of spray cans, and it is the most cost-effective performance enhancement they can lavish on their boats.
A Cutter that Cuts It

For many cruisers, a cutter rig is the one that works best—so long as the staysail is cut for windward work, fairly flat with its draft well forward. A staysail also needs a good sheet lead. Sheet tracks and leads for many staysails seem to be placed more for convenience than effectiveness and often fail to take into account the staysail’s dual role.

On most cutters, the staysail is used with a larger headsail primarily when close reaching. When sheeted inside another headsail, the staysail must be trimmed more tightly than its companion, requiring a track fairly well inboard. However, when used by itself as a heavy-weather windward sail, a staysail may require a more open sheet lead, especially as few cruising boats are capable of pointing really high. At these times it is better for the track to be farther outboard.

The problem with staysails is that most are so small they are close to storm-jib size. If the inner forestay is attached to the mast at the upper spreaders, the sail may also have a short luff, and it is the luff of the sail that powers a boat to weather. For this reason, many cruisers have adopted what some call a Solent stay, which is attached to the mast and deck only a couple of feet behind the headstay. This allows for a staysail of sufficient size to power the boat upwind and in most cases does not require the running backstays used with most other cutter rigs. The downside is that you do have to change sails if you actually need a storm jib.

Karate Corner

Good communication between people on the bow and helm is very important when coming into a crowded anchorage or harbor. I used a system of hand signals for many years, and communications had been pretty successful other than the occasional confusing moment—for example, are your fingers pointing because that’s the direction to steer or because there is something in the water?

Then one day we watched a speedboat race on a TV sports channel. It wasn’t the standard dash around buoys, but a time trial in a narrow figure-eight channel that ran through a swamp. The boats were so fast that the driver could react quickly enough only if he followed hand signals given by the navigator next to him.

The navigator held his hand out ahead of him as though he were ready to make a karate chop on a board. When a course correction was needed, he would point his arm in the direction he wanted the driver to steer and then make a rapid chopping motion with his hand. We tried this on our next cruise to the North Channel of Lake Huron, and it worked very well. We use the chopping motion to indicate what direction to steer and simply point, without chopping, to indicate a hazard ahead. A clenched fist followed by a pointing finger indicates a rock or obstruction. When we’re pulling up the anchor, an arm pointed in a specific direction shows the general direction of the rode and anchor. A fore-and-aft chopping motion signals that the anchor is under the boat and it’s time to put the engine in reverse. Once your team knows the routine, you can start chopping and stop shouting.

Light line only

Many years ago an acquaintance was nearly strangled when his knife, which he wore on a strong lanyard around his neck, got tangled up in the anchor chain as he was easing a 45-pound hook over the bow roller. It could have ended badly had he been alone. It’s certainly a good idea to attach lanyards to valuable items like flashlights, knives, shackle keys, and so on so that you don’t lose them overboard, but make sure the line is weak enough so it will snap easily if whatever it’s attached to gets caught up in a flailing sheet or anchor rode. One way to do this is to connect the implement to the lanyard with a plastic clip. Better to lose a knife than a hand or a life.

Will we collide?

To evaluate the risk of a collision, check whether the vessel in question is maintaining a steady bearing relative to you. Initially, you can do this by keeping your head still and seeing whether the other vessel remains in place over a particular stanchion, shroud, or other likely reference. If you’re not sure if the vessel is moving, take a bearing with a compass and keep checking as the range closes. You might even use the electronic bearing line on your radar. In confined waters, it is easier to tell whether the other craft appears stationary relative to its background. While difficult to prove mathematically, this old rule of thumb works every time unless the other craft is almost on the beach. If the other vessel stays in front of the same distant field or headland as you approach, you are on a collision heading, so watch out.

Passive radar reflector

Wooden boats with wooden masts make poor radar targets; the same is true of fiberglass hulls with carbon-fiber masts. Even boats with aluminum spars are notoriously unreliable targets, which is why all sailboats should carry passive radar reflectors. Yet few boats have these permanently mounted. Instead, most rely on corner reflectors to reflect a radar signal directly back to the scanner that transmitted it. These work well on many navigation buoys, but size is important: a 12-inch corner reflector is theoretically less than 1 percent as effective as a 36-inch reflector.

How to be seen

We all hope the lookouts on those huge container ships will see our little sailboats in rain, mist, and low light. Should we find ourselves in trouble, we pray that our rescuers will be able to make us out in the breaking waves.

Some sailors have long recognized the value of being highly visible. Many ocean-racing boats have brightly colored hulls and decks. In New Zealand, sailors are strongly advised to sew bright orange stripes on their sails. Yet most cruising sailors own boats with white sails, white or blue hulls, and gray or white masts and so are difficult to see at sea.

It is very easy and inexpensive to dramatically improve your boat’s visibility. Whether you’re bluewater cruising or just daysailing around the coast or lakes, it’s worth the effort. Painting the top few feet of your mast international orange will make the boat much more visible from a distance without affecting its aesthetics. I painted the top 4 feet of Hawk’s masthead. It’s very visible in profile, but from the front and back, the mast section is much narrower and a 6-foot stripe would be better.

Fender Boards

When you go alongside a high dock or wall, you need to protect your fenders. This means having fender boards that are rugged enough to do the job and not just look nice. Always carry two fender boards, and if there is space I carry three. There is no need to make theses fancy; mine are 6-foot-long 2×6-inch planks. I’ve drilled two 1/2 –inch holes through the full width of the boards at each end. To hold the boards in place in front of the fenders I run tie lines through the drilled holes and then use figure-eight knots to secure the lines on the underside of the fender board.

Trip Lines

If you ever had your anchor catch under a rock or other obstruction, you’ll be glad you rigged a trip line. But if you ever have someone else’s anchor buoy and trip line wound around your propeller, you’ll curse trip lines and all who use them. In crowded anchorages, trip lines often cause more problems than they solve. It is not unheard of for a boat to swing over its own or someone else’s anchor buoy, getting the line caught around the rudder or propeller and tripping the anchor unintentionally.   If you absolutely must use a trip line, make it a long one; secure it to the anchor rode at intervals with a light, easy-to-snap string, and make it fast to one of the bow cleats. That way, the worst that can happen is that the trip line may get twisted around the anchor rode as the boat swings to a reversing current or wind shift. You may have a bit of fun sorting out the tangle when it’s time to leave, but that’s nothing compared to the joy of having your trip line wound around your own prop.

Beware of Buoys

“Just head for the buoy up ahead and make sure you leave it to the starboard.” An instruction like that is asking for trouble, especially if a novice is steering. All it takes is a bit of cross current and the boat will be gradually set off course, all the while pointing faithfully at the buoy; it may even be set onto the very hazard the buoy is marking. When you steer toward a buoy always note the compass heading and be ready to compensate for a cross current if the compass heading changes.

A “Burned” Impeller

Impellers for the engine’s raw-water pump don’t last forever. Even if they aren’t destroyed by having been run dry following a blockage in the raw-water line, they still deteriorate over the years. If you’ve never had to change one, try installing a new one when the boat is safe on it’s mooring, and then go out and buy a new spare. You might be surprised by what you discover.

• Some raw-water pumps require a fresh gasket each time the impeller is changed. Do you have a gasket on hand?

• Does your screwdriver fit the machine screws that attach the cover plate?

• Might you lose a screw in the bilge? It’s so easy to do. If so, can you reach it or should you carry a couple of spares?

• All this is vital knowledge when you have to do the job heeled over in rough seas on a dark night.


Ladder Line

A walk down any dock reveals numerous ways to secure boarding ladders. Most of them are improvised from bits of string, Velcro, and elastic straps, and many exhibit the use of knots that can be hard to untie in an emergency. A SAIL reader has come up with a safer way. He mounted a clamcleat on the stanchion and tied a short length of line around the handrail directly above it. He loops the line around the last rung of the ladder in the raised position and secures the free end in the cleat. The beauty of this simple solution is that the ladder can be dropped in a jiffy with a simple flick of the wrist.

The Towing Bridle

Some boats can’t tow directly from a cleat because of its self-steering. Other boats have difficulties with backstays. The answer is to rig a simple towing bridle. Even when the stern is unencumbered, using a bridle has the advantage of spreading the load between at least two points. Make it up so that one end can always be slipped when necessary, then secure the tow rope to the bridle with a bowline. The towed boat cleats it off so that the line can be released in an emergency. Take the strain gradually, and don’t let any dangling rope be sucked into your own propeller.


Snapshackles are suppose to stay closed, but unless they are specifically designed to lock shut, they can open unexpectedly. If you aren’t sure whether your snapshackle will stay closed—after all, the sudden opening of a spinmaker-haylard snapshackle can be very exciting—tape the shackle shut with electrical tape. When you want to open the shackle, cut the tape with a knife.

Ready to Run

Where do you keep your kedge anchor and rode? Ten to one it’s all tanged up in the middle of the cockpit locker, and it will take at least ten minutes of fiddling and cursing to get it ready to deploy. If you’re sailing in waters where you might need to set a second anchor in a hurry, you should consider emulating this cruiser and keep a spool of strong webbing rigged on your stern pulpit. It can serve as a towline, a long mooring warp, or a kedge rode—just shackle on the anchor and a short length of chain. When you’re done with it, wind it back on its spool.

Fresh Water

Design a shade awning so that it is also efficient collecting rainwater. First shape the awning with a belly on each side where water can collect; a rope running along each side of the awning forms a gutter. A shallow funnel is sewn into the lowest part of each belly, and 1-inch plastic fittings provide the attachment points for drain hoses. The system is designed to handle the large volumes of water often produced by short, but very wet tropical rainsqualls. Small-reinforced canvas loops are sewn in place near the hose fittings and along the gutter. These serve as attachment points for tie-down lines and limit the amount of flapping.

The drain hoses slide into the inside of the tapered hose to ensure a tight fit, and both hoses are long enough to reach the water-tanks fills on either side of the boat. The long hoses allow the rainwater to route into one or both tanks.

Cleat Surrogate

If you think you need to tie up to a short pontoon, you’ll have to rethink your usual arrangement of dock lines. You’ll have to lead the stern line forward—which is far from ideal—and take a short spring line from a midships cleat to the same dock cleat as the stern line. Use two bow lines, if possible, to keep yawning to a minimum. If your boat doesn’t have a midship cleat, resist the temptation to tie the spring to a stanchion or shroud except as a very temporary measure (and never let a boatbuilder see you tie a dockline to a stanchion).  If you can, fasten a block or shackle to the toerail and make the springline fast to that.

Reef Untangler

We love our slab-reefing setup but constantly had problems with the reefing getting tangled up around the end of the boom. The solution was simple. We always carry a couple of spare battens inside the boom, and we discovered that leaving one poking out prevents this from happening.

Lasso the Buoy

In the course of our circumnavigation we’ve often encountered mooring buoys that don’t have pick up lines. We sail doublehanded, so these can be problematic, especially if it’s windy. Here’s how we deal with them. One of us stands near the bow with a long line that is lead outside the lifelines with one end secured to a bow cleat. We coil the line and divide the coil between both hands, with a bight of line hanging free between the hands. As the helmsman steers the boat slowly alongside the mooring buoy, the other throws the line neatly over it, effectively lassoing it with the bight. Keep hold of the unsecured end of the line, harden up on the line as much as possible, and then cleat it off. The boat will settle to the buoy, and you can rig another line through the eye on it at your leisure. You can always use this trick to snag a cleat when coming alongside a dock—for instance, if the wind is blowing the boat away from the dock and you don’t want to make a risky jump ashore.

River Anchorage

When anchoring in a river, take note of the prevailing and forecast wind directions. Will the wind at any time oppose the current? If it does, the boat will not lie well to its anchor. It might even sail around enough to pluck the hook out of the bottom. If at all possible, choose a section of the river where the prevailing wind is blowing across the current. The boat will tend to lie with its bow into the current and you’ll sleep more soundly.

Improve Off-wind Performance

If the wind comes forward of abeam, the genoa sheets’ lead will now be too far outboard. Ease the barber-hauler line and take up on the genoa sheet. This will pull the clew in to somewhere between the inboard and outboard positions, wherever the sail works best.

If the boat has a reaching strut, you can set it up on the leeward side of the mast and sheet the genoa through the jaw at the outboard end of the pole. This will get the jib clew farther outboard than the barber-hauler will, opening up the slot even more. Another alternative is to sheet the genoa to the end of the main boom. However you do it, getting the headsail’s sheet lead outboard will improve your off-wind performance.

How to Throw a Rope

You should be prepared to make contact with a MOB without special equipment: this means throwing a line as effectively as possible. Quickly form four or five small loops in your throwing hand. Then make four or five loops in your other hand; arrange the loops in the order on which they will leave your hand when the line is thrown. Throw the small bundle of loops first. They will pull the second group of loops from your stationary hand. A sideways throw can work well and improve accuracy.

Ease the Main

When maneuvering under mailsail alone, don’t expect your boat to sail properly upwind with the sheet trimmed in hard. You do this when flying a genoa to avoid backwinding the main, but without a headsail the main is cutting clean air. Close-hauled under main alone, it’s best to steer about 45 degrees of the true wind, then trim the main to the breeze as though you were reaching. The boat will end up pointing higher and sailing faster. It won’t be going sideways, either.

Headfoil Damper

Roller-furling extrusions tend to pump in high winds when the weight of the sail has been removed. Here is a wonderfully simple way to correct this problem. Make or buy a 2-foot length of luff tape with grommets on either end. With the genoa halyard at the top grommet and a line running from the bottom grommet to the base of the mast, insert the luff tape into the extrusion slot and raise it halfway up the headstay. Tension both lines as necessary. The first time we prepared for a hurricane we had to improvise a damper by tying a bowline in one end of a piece of line and clipping the halyard to it. We wrapped the line around the forestay once, and then twice more about 2 feet farther down. We raised the line about halfway up the headstay and then secured the halyard and the line. Our rig has never been as quiet as it was during that hurricane.

Wax your Bottom

We sail in the Pacific Northwest and use our inflatable dinghy year round. We had a real problem with marine growth on the dinghy’s bottom until we tried waxing it. We’ve found that waxing the bottom lets us keep the dinghy in the water for up to four weeks without problems. Then all we need to do is lift it out, wash it clean, and, after it dries, re-wax the bottom. I prefer to wax the bottom of my inflatable, in case I need to patch it, rather than paint it with anti-fouling. For longer-term wet storage, though, you might have to consider painting the bottom.

Beat the Blind Spots

I once saw a one-design racing sailboat sail directly into an anchored motorboat. The racer’s deck-sweeping genoa obscured the crew’s view of the powerboat until it was to late to avoid it. I’ve come close to taking out navigational marks for the same reason— they were hidden in the big blind spot created by my genoa. The solution to the problem is plain. If you’re on a racing boat, detail one of the crew to be the lookout. If you’re on a cruising boat, use a higher-clewed sail. There is another blind- spot to the windward when you’re close-hauled and steering from the leeward rail. Don’t forget to stick your head up every few minutes and have a look around.

Avoid Damage Aloft

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.

Who has the Right of Way?

A useful aide-memoire for crossing another vessel in daylight when both boats are under power–in a harbor, for example–is to ask yourself which sidelight you would be seeing if it were dark. If the answer is a red, or port, running light, you must take care and stay our of the other boat’s way. A green light would indicate that you are clear to go. So if you would see a green, or starboard, running light, you can continue carefully on your present course.

Chain Collar

If your anchor is hooked on an underwater cable or snagged under a rock, you may be able to free it with a chain collar. Loop a piece of chain about 12 inches long around the anchor rode and join the ends with a shackle. Harden up on the anchor cable until it’s vertical and then slide the chain collar down it on a length of line. The aim is to get it over the shank of the anchor and down near the crown. If you ease off the anchor cable and heave up and down on the collar line, you may be able to pull the anchor clear of the obstruction. If it proves stubborn, try pulling on the retrieval line from the dinghy as the boat settles back on the rode; the change in angle maybe all that’s needed to coax the anchor free.

Letting go the Sheet

Releasing a loaded-up sheet from a winch when a boat tacks can be just cause for nervousness. Sailors who have just moved up to big keelboats often underestimate the loads on a sheet. On a boat up to 40 feet or so, the safest way is to first ease off a few inches, keeping the flat of one hand pressed against the turns as they surge round the winch drum. Now take off a turn or two, always leaving a couple on the drum for safety, and wait for the sail to begin to lift at the luff. As soon as this happens, pull the turns positively upward off the drum, keeping your grip directly above the axis of the winch. The turns will whip off cleanly, they will never foul, and your hands will be safe.

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 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’ll 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 though 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 last longer than paint.

Cut the Cheese

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 be free in a hurry. Cheese lines are prone to kinking and need to be thoroughly shaken out before you get underway, or there’s a good chance they’ll snarl up just when you least want them to. Cheese lines are also great dirt traps, as you’ll find out if you’ve left one on your cabintop for a few days.

Stanchion Safety

When 200 pounds of force is applied to the top of a 30-inch stanchion, as much as 3 tons of pull can be exerted on the stanchion’s base. That is more than enough to rip poorly mounted bolts up through the deck. Make sure all stanchion bases have oversized metal backing plates (not just shoulder washers), and check all the bases periodically for distortion. If the base socket holds the stanchions in place with set screws, replace them with bolts that pass through the stanchion wall.

When a lifeline fails, the cause is usually corrosion. Although coated wire is popular for lifelines, the plastic that covers the wire can hide the corrosion. That is why 1 X 19 stainless-steel rigging wire is superior. If you’re still using coated wire, examine it carefully for the telltale brown stains that cast doubt on its reliability. Gate hardware is also susceptible to failure. If you eliminate it, your lifelines will be strengthened; the downside is that it might be harder to get onboard.

Lifelines must never become slack. If the turnbuckles have lock nuts, secure them with Loctite and replace the copper pins. Spread open the ends of the pins and then cover them with tape.

Sail Saver

If you have older Dacron sails, a good method of preserving them while improving their working ability is to treat them with a fabric spray (the type used for tents, shoes or furniture). Most likely you will see a difference right away. During rainy weather the sails will shed water better, keeping them lighter and better shaped, and that can really make a difference in your boat’s heavy-weather performance. The fabric treatment also makes the sailcloth more pliable and easier to flake and fold. It’s a cost-effective performance enhancement to lavish on your boat.

Signal Advantage

If you have an on-the-water emergency during the day, keep in mind that a mirror is a very effective signaling device. If the weather is clear and there is sunlight, the reflection from a mirror can be seen up to 100 miles away. While it does need sun, a mirror doesn’t depend on batteries, satellites, or the electronic watchkeeping of a potential rescuer. Reflecting sunlight into the eyes of a person on another boat or plane should get their attention. You could heliograph an SOS code, but simply keeping the beam on your target should quickly lead the person on the other end to conclude that the flash he is seeing is not a chance occurrence.
Specialized signal mirrors come with aiming devices, but any handheld mirror will work if you do the following: Hold two fingers in a “V” at arms length with your target inside it. Now hold the mirror against your cheek just below eye level and adjust the mirror angle so the reflected sunlight shines over your fingers. Turn the mirror so the sunlight plays back and forth across your fingers, and it will also move across the target inside the “V”. Keep at least two signaling mirrors on board. Put one in your ditch bag and the other on shelf near the companionway.

Anchoring: a Shorter Scope

It is well known that three times the depth of the water is a good starting point for determining the scope you need when anchoring with a chain. This rule is not cast in stone, however, and you might safely opt for less scope if space is tight, so long as your anchor seems well set, conditions are not extreme, and you will be aboard at high water. This can be particularly useful when swinging room is tight and the tide is due to fall during the night, because you know that your scope will increase for some hours before it begins to decrease once more. If your anchor is holding at bedtime, it should hang on until morning light.

To Flash or Not

Flashing white lights are far more noticeable than fixed ones and can be much brighter for the same average power drain. However, it’s dangerous and illegal to show anything that can be confused with a navigational aid, so flashing lights of any color mustn’t be used anywhere in coastal waters. The situation on the high seas, where there are no navigational aids, is not well defined. The International Rules state that the use of flashing lights for drawing attention to a vessel should be “avoided.” But if a vessel also carries the required lights, and if the flashing light does not interfere with them being seen or with the watchkeeper’s vision, their use isn’t actually prohibited. Unofficially, slow-flashing white strobes are used for various eye-catching purposes– on scientific and fishing drift buoys, for example. Masthead strobes are more likely to be noticed than ordinary navigational lights, and at a much greater range, so it’s understandable that singlehanders sometimes use them on the high seas, in addition to the regulation lights.Flashing white lights are far more noticeable than fixed ones and can be much brighter for the same average power drain. However, it’s dangerous and illegal to show anything that can be confused with a navigational aid, so flashing lights of any color mustn’t be used anywhere in coastal waters. The situation on the high seas, where there are no navigational aids, is not well defined. The International Rules state that the use of flashing lights for drawing attention to a vessel should be “avoided.” But if a vessel also carries the required lights, and if the flashing light does not interfere with them being seen or with the watchkeeper’s vision, their use isn’t actually prohibited. Unofficially, slow-flashing white strobes are used for various eye-catching purposes– on scientific and fishing drift buoys, for example. Masthead strobes are more likely to be noticed than ordinary navigational lights, and at a much greater range, so it’s understandable that singlehanders sometimes use them on the high seas, in addition to the regulation lights.

Quick Anchor Ranges

To make a quick check whether you got a good bite after dropping the hook, look for a simple range—say a piling on a dock and a tree on shore, or a flag pole and a nav aid—that is roughly parallel to the wind or current. It will be readily apparent if your boat is still on the move, long before it might otherwise become apparent on a chart plotter. Assuming your anchor does hold, you can also this as one of your three ranges after taking a fix before settling down for good.

Rig Your Galley for Heavy Weather

If you’re on passage and expecting a blow, it not enough to secure things on deck and shorten sail. You need to also prepare your galley. Specifically, set aside a few meals that will be both nourishing and easy to consume, so that you won’t have to go digging around in cupboards or the bottom of the fridge when the boat is thrashing about so that it feels like you’re inside a washing machine. In terms of menu, think dog bowl food–pre-made items that can be easily reheated (nothing beats a nice hot meal when you’re cold and wet!) and then eaten out of a single dish with a spoon.

Push Yourself a Little

All to many sailors fire up the auxiliary and head back to short as soon as the wind either dies or comes on stronger than they’re accustomed to—which is too bad. There’s nothing like battling through a calm or a bit of a blow for bolstering both your skills and your confidence. With that in mind, think about how your and boat would respond in more extreme conditions, give your boat a good going over to make sure it’s ready for a little more wind, in particular. And then the next time things get a little challenging, let things hand out a little. You might be surprised at how much fun you have.

Wash away a sticky track

Having trouble with a sticky mainsail luff track, but don’t have any fancy space-age lubricants to help the sail along its way. No worries, try a few drops of dish-washing liquid, applied the length of the groove, or along the sides of the slugs or under the cars. It will, of course, was off eventually. But as a short-term fix, it can’t be beat.

Reef Your Jib Leads

As you roll in some of a roller-furling jib to keep your boat on its feet during a blow, don’t forget to move the jib-lead car as well; otherwise, the increasingly horizontal force that it imparts on the sail will allow the upper part of the leech to curve, or “twist,” excessively off to leeward. Moving the lead forward will allow the sheet to continue pulling down on the sail as well as aft, controlling the amount of twist so that it will continue to parallel the amount of  twist in the main and thereby provide maximum power and efficiency.

Boxing the Winch

To ensure you don’t lose any of those tiny bits and pieces when servicing a winch, cut out a hole from the bottom of an appropriately sized box and  then slip said box over the winch, securing it snugly around the base before disassembly. This is a good idea not just if your boat is in the water, but on the hard as well. It’s amazing how cleverly a pawl or some other tiny but oh-so-vital part can get itself lost among the general detritus of a typical boatyard.

Dead Downwind is Slow

Racing sailors rarely if ever sail dead downwind, and neither should you, especially in light air. Not only will hardening up onto a broad reach and then zig-zagging downwind get you to your destination faster, the sailing itself will be more enjoyable as you harness the power of apparent wind to increase your speed through the water. Don’t worry about “maximizing VMGs” or anything overly technical like that. Just harden up until the boat accelerates enough to create a pleasantly gurgling bow wave. Then as the angle to your ultimate destination approaches what you believe will your gybing angle on the opposite tack (or as you run out of sea room!) put the helm down. As you are doing so, don’t forget to take a look back at the other boats that sailed a straight-line course and are now well astern gazing longingly at your transom!

Let Your Sails Breathe!

In light air, all too many sailors over trim their sails in an effort to eke out that last bit of power, a mistake that is  exacerbated by the fact that taught sheets can create the illusion of lift. The correct approach, however, is to ease your sails out a bit to ensure there is nice, smooth, laminar flow over both the windward and leeward surfaces. Otherwise,  the air flow will detach from the leeward side, causing speed-robbing turbulence. When in doubt, let ’em out! Your sails need to breathe!

Shroud Telltales

There’s nothing like a few inches of yarn tied or taped to each shroud, say, seven feet above the deck, for keeping the person at the wheel in touch with what the wind is up to. In this day of electronic gadgets, it seems more and more sailors are forgoing installing these kinds of tried and true telltales, relying instead on their instruments to show them their apparent wind angles. But remember, sailing is about far more than just numbers. It’s about integrating a variety of different sensory input, and when it comes to apparent wind angle, there’s nothing like seeing the actual wind direction relative to your rig to give you an idea of how you and your boat are doing.

What Lies Beneath

When maneuvering under power or sailing at slow speed, don’t forget that the current can be just as important as your heading and the wind direction. When aiming for a mooring, threading your way through a patch of fishing buoys or conning a well-marked channel, be sure to check to see if any of these fixed objects is leaving a “wake”—a sure sign the water in which they are sitting is on the move. If so, be aware that going “upstream” of this point may be a course fraught with hazard. Also, be sure to have an escape route in mind in the event you find at the last minute that clearing it won’t be possible.

A Preventative Reef

There’s an old adage that says as soon as you start thinking about possibly reefing, it’s time to reef. But why wait even that long, especially when sailing with newbies? If things are looking at all puffy, why not throw in a reef at the same time you’re hoisting your main, as opposed to waiting until that first knockdown? Doing so is simplicity itself, and if those possible puffs never materialize, shaking it back out again will be just as easy. Remember, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with starting slow. Although the sounds or slatting Dacron and water rushing by may be music to your ears, they can be downright terrifying to someone who has never been sailing before. A preventative reef early on could very well mean the difference between your guests never, ever going out with you again or becoming a regular part of the crew.

The Second Time’s a Charm when Docking

There’s no law that says you have to make a dock on your first try, so if things start to look dicey, don’t hesitate to bail out and get yourself all lined up again and then start afresh. Marinas can be funny places, with odd wind shifts and quirky currents, thanks to the presence of the nearby shoreline and surrounding obstructions. Using the insights you’ve gained on your initial attempt can be especially helpful when conning your way into a new slip or dock for the first time. Whatever you do, don’t take a “damn the torpedoes” approach and try to jam yourself in no matter what. Although there’s no shame in a do-over, there will inevitably be plenty of shame to go around in the event things should go truly haywire!

Help out your Trimmers

Grinding in a big, overlapping headsail can be a real, well, grind—especially when short-tacking up a channel in heavy air. To help out your trimmers as they are getting in those last few inches of genoa sheet after coming around onto a new tack, try feathering up a few degrees to take some of the pressure off. Don’t alter course so much that you go back into irons or lose your headway completely. Just point the bow up enough to put a little backwind in the jib. Your crew will thank you for it, and you won’t has to listen to a bunch of mutinous grumbling next time you make the call of “ready about!”

A Hatch Headache Preventer

The sliding Plexiglas hatches over the companionways on some boats can truly be the bane of a sailor’s existence. Who among us hasn’t banged their head rushing topside without checking first to make sure the way was clear? To give you and your guests fair warning that they need to slide a hatch out of the way before going out into the cockpit, try tying a short length of line with a stopper knot in the end of it to the latch fitting at the end. That way, even if you have a cap on obstructing your vision upward, there will be an indicator right in front of your face as you start making your way up the companionway steps, warning you to beware.

Your Fellow Wind Indicators

When it comes to reading the wind close inshore, there are typically any number of indicators to choose from, including flags, smokestacks and waving tree limbs. Farther out, though, one of the best ways of seeing what the breeze is up to is to use the old racing trick of watching your “competitors.” Are the sails on the boats in a bight of land a quarter mile away all hanging limp? Probably best not to go there if you have any interest in going anywhere fast. Similarly, if you’re just drifting, but the boats to windward a half-mile off have started healing dramatically and are clearly sailing on their ear, better be alert and maybe even think about putting in a reef.


Heaving-to in bad weather offshore is something we all read about, but many of us will never do. Since it is such an easy maneuver it seems foolish not to practice in good conditions when nothing will get broken. Simply tack without releasing the jib, and keep the mainsail sheeted. Then put the tiller back over (as if to tack back again) and find the sweet spot that enables the boat to just forereach (crab to windward) with the jib backed. If the wind is up, reefing the main before the maneuver, or easing it slightly, might help. Heaving-to can be a restful point of sail offshore, useful when meals are served, some maintenance issue needs to be resolved, or you just need a rest. Practice makes perfect and knowing how your boat will behave in different situations is always beneficial.

Make it a double

Paint and varnish WILL spill at some point. A large plastic coffee can (empty of course) makes a perfect “holder” for the can or plastic container that is filled with paint. The double can contains any drips, is less prone to tipping over, and also provides a handy place to set down your brush. Plus, if you need to do so, a couple of holes poked in each side of the larger can and a string or coat hanger will allow for hanging off a ladder or rail. Purists might want to find a couple of them and use one for varnish and one for paint, but that is getting picky.

Blade prep

If you don’t carry a knife at all times, you are probably not alone. But you should have one handy in areas where something bad might happen. Stash one securely in the cockpit (somewhere it won’t affect the compass). And tape a sheath knife to the mast or the vang in an unobtrusive place, ready for action. The precious few seconds you save from searching for a blade may make a big difference in the outcome of a crisis.

Get your head out of the boat

We all have our own way of navigating, and no single way is always the best (despite some arguments). With today’s proliferation of electronic gizmos, handheld devices, displays, and autopilots, sometimes it is easy to forget that one’s eyes (and brain) are the best tools on board. And, using multiple sources of data, even from your eyes, is better than just relying on the screen to do the navigating. So, as often as possible, take a survey of the water, mentally checking off the landmarks and navigation aids, and then compare with the chart to see if it all makes sense. A quick look at the depth sounder completes the process. A paper chart is much easier for this purpose than a display screen, as you get a much fuller context of your sailing area. Plus, you can easily check ranges (two buoys or land objects lining up) and see what is coming up on your path without having to zoom out.

Tender Towing

So your engine has failed and there’s not enough wind to sail. Your mooring is in sight, there’s no immediate danger, and you would rather not call for assistance. What now? The solution could be right behind you, if you’re towing your dinghy. Even a 2hp outboard can get a 10,000lb sailboat moving at 2 to 3 knots in flat water. Secure the dinghy alongside the boat’s aft quarter; you’ll need to rig bow, stern and spring lines, and find places on the dinghy to make these fast. Gradually give the outboard more throttle to get the boat moving; once it has some way on, it is quite easy to maintain it. Leave the mainsail up so you’ll be ready in case the wind comes up. You’ll need to judge your approach to the mooring carefully, because it’s hard to slow down by reversing the outboard.

Oil’s Well

On smaller boats—and on some bigger ones—changing the oil and filter can be a nightmare scenario. Sailboat engines are typically shoehorned into their bays and access to service points is seldom as good as it should be. I’ve found the best way to change oil is to run the engine till it’s warmed up, then use a hand-operated vacuum pump with its pickup tube inserted into the dipstick hole. You can get these from any marine store. Changing the filter can be a chore too, depending on how hard it is to reach. Even if you’ve just hand-tightened the filter as recommended, it can be devilishly difficult to loosen it, and often you can’t get a decent grip with a filter wrench. In that case, a large hose clamp tightened around the filter barrel will give the wrench something to bite on. Do not ever succumb to frustration and stick a screwdriver into the filter and attempt to use it as a lever—it won’t work, and you’ll make a hell of mess. Don ‘t ask how I know this. Which leads to another tip—a disposable diaper spread out beneath the filter makes a great oil catcher.

Cleaning au Naturel

Forget expensive and toxic cleaning products. If you have a jug of white vinegar and a box of baking soda on board, you’re covered for most scenarios. A paste of baking power and water will get rust off stainless steel and mildew off fiberglass and other non-porous surfaces. Just scrub and rinse. A 50:50 vinegar/water mix will clean varnished wood and fiberglass, and raw vinegar cuts through grime and is great for wiping down work surfaces. The smell quickly dissipates. Close the heads and galley sink drain seacocks and pour baking powder down them to clean and deodorize.

Heads Up

It doesn’t matter how scrupulous you are about keeping your heads compartment clean if you leave your intake hose and toilet bowl filled with seawater when you leave the boat. Microorganisms in the seawater will die and give off that nasty rotten-eggs hydrogen sulfide odor. If you first pump through plenty of salt water to make sure no waste is left trapped in the hose run, flushing a quart or two of freshwater through the toilet will take care of the toilet bowl and outlet hose, but what of the intake hose? “Headmistress” Peggy Hall suggests connecting the heads intake hose to the sink drain hose (if close enough) via T-fittings just upstream of the respective seacocks; before you leave the boat for more than a day or two, close both seacocks and then pump a sink full of freshwater through the toilet, which will rinse everything out. If you do this every time you leave the boat for more than a couple of days, you can kiss goodbye to stinky heads.

Rinse and Go

As turning blocks age their sheaves can become reluctant to spin freely. Sometimes this is due to wear, especially on plain-bearing blocks, but more often it’s due to buildups of dirt and salt clogging up the workings. These can harden to the extent that the usual perfunctory freshwater hose-down won’t shift them. Gently pour boiling water over the offending block. The heat should dissolve the salt build-up in no time.

Why Sailors should Motor

It’s a point of pride among many sailors to use their auxiliary engines as little as possible, maybe just to get on and off the mooring. The problem here is that your diesel scarcely has a chance to warm up, and diesels don’t like such treatment. Fuel doesn’t combust properly and you end up with carbon buildups in the combustion chambers and exhaust system. A couple of times a season, take your boat out under power and run it hard—about 80% of maximum RPM—for an hour or so to clean your engine out. It will be grateful.

Poling Out a Headsail

Here’s a fuss-free way to pole your headsail out to windward. Set your whisker pole up with a downhaul, topping lift and afterguy. Roll up the headsail and lead the weather sheet through the jaws of the pole; do not clip the pole through the sail’s clew ring. Secure the pole into position by tensioning its three lines, then unroll the headsail and harden up on the sheet. If it is blowing hard, leave a couple of rolls in the genoa so that it sets nice and flat.

Too much leeway?

When you’re under sail, your boat will not be traveling a straight line through the water but will drift slightly to leeward. The amount of “leeway” a sailboat makes is dependent on many factors—wind strength, hull shape, and current— but usually is not much less than 5 degrees if you are sailing hard on the wind. If you aim 5 to 10 degrees upwind of your destination, you won’t go far wrong.

Knotty problem

When you have to make a docking line fast to a ring or bollard, a round turn and two half hitches is better than a bowline. Why? Because you can untie the round turn and two half hitches when the line is under load; try that with a bowline and you’ll soon be reaching for a knife. As a fringe benefit, the round turn also resists chafe.

Rode Markers

Plastic cable ties are available in many colors and can be used to mark your anchor chain and/or rope so you know how much rode you are paying out: one tie at 20 feet, two at 40 feet, or whatever interval works for you. By all means color-code the ties, but leave the tails long so you can feel them in the dark. Thin ties go through a windlass easily.

Spring Time

Single-handed docking is greatly simplified if you use a midships spring line with a loop on its end. Make the spring line fast just abaft the boat’s pivot point; then as you slowly come alongside the dock, drop the loop over a dock cleat. If you leave the engine ticking over in forward gear, the boat will lie quietly alongside while you rig your other lines.

Hanging Around

Believe it or not, one of the most useful items you can keep on your cruiser is a metal coathanger. Cut and straightened, it can be used to unblock a hose, snake an electrical wire through inaccessible parts of a boat, hook lost objects out of a bilge, and catch a loose halyard that swings just out of reach. Oh, and it will keep your coat nicely crease-free!

String Theory

If you thought there already was too much “string” on your boat, think again. Keep a small bag full of odd lengths of 3/16in or 1/4in line—up to 6ft long—somewhere where you can find it in a hurry. You’ll be surprised how many uses you’ll find for short pieces of light line. There’s always something that needs to be lashed down or held up.

Hatch Love

Salt and grime can make your acrylic hatches and portlights look dull so make sure you wash them down with soap and water often. Don’t use glass cleaners like Windex, as they contain abrasives. Faded Lexan (polycarbonate) hatches can be at least partially restored with a gentle car wax compound and a buffer, or a proprietary product like Aurora’s Clear View.

Prop Paint

You don’t want barnacles or slime affecting your propeller’s efficiency, but it’s notoriously difficult to make antifouling paint stick to your prop. Here’s how: rough up the metal with some 80 grit sandpaper, then apply a couple of coats of zinc chromate primer. Then brush on your choice of bottom paint. The primer will adhere to the metal, the paint will adhere to the primer, and the barnacles won’t adhere to the paint.





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One comment on “SAIL’s Tip of the Week

  1. csseiche

    Instead of using a mirror for signalling try using a CD. It's highly reflective made of plastic and comes with an aiming hole in the middle.


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