September 2010 Cruising Tips

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Line items 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. – Connie McBride

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, where I live, 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. – Rod Glover

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. –Tom Cunliffe

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. – David Schmidt

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