This month: carrying a kite; a shorter scope; steering tips; sail saver; using lights on the high seas.
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 could be confused with a navigation 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 navigation aids, is not as 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 navigation 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. A.B.
Carry a Kite
I’ve had great fun over the years flying kites from the transom of my boat in anchorages on both sides of the Atlantic, and I always carry one or two onboard. It’s a great way to keep playing with the wind, even when your boat is parked. The more acrobatic the maneuvers you attempt, the more likely your kite is to take a swim, but fortunately, modern plastic kites can easily survive these dunkings. It’s best to use slightly heavier string so you don’t lose them when hauling them back aboard. Besides providing entertainment, my kites double as safety gear. Flying a kite from a dismasted vessel, or—heaven forfend—from a liferaft, is a great way to make yourself more visible from a distance. Which is why I like to stash an extra kite in my ditch bag whenever I go offshore. C.J.D.
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 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 then 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. T.C.
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 at about $20 for a couple of spray cans, it is the most cost-effective performance enhancement they can lavish on their boats. J.K.
Back on that Digital Course
Steering a compass course is never hard when you’re looking over the top of the compass card, as you do with an old-fashioned binnacle or a typical modern steering pedestal. Since the lubber’s line coincides with the boat’s bow, if it moves right of the heading, for example, it is visually obvious that you steer the bow to port to bring it back onto line.
A bulkhead compass or, an electronic readout can be more difficult, unless you remember this simple rule to get back on track. If the number shown by the compass or the screen of the digital readout is higher than the desired course, turn to port. If it’s lower, come to starboard. The only catch is that if the course is 355 and the compass shows 005, you should think of it as 365. The rest is plain sailing. T.C.
Words from the Wise
“It is critical to remove any tension aboard. This applies to interaction between skipper, crew, and family members. Most tension is the result of fear. The more experience gained, the more comfortable everyone will be aboard. If the captain exudes sincere confidence, the others will also feel more relaxed and secure. On the other hand, if the skipper shows fear, all aboard will be frightened. Confidence is gained from experience. Take as many long and short sails as possible. Each time you go for a sail, try to imagine a situation that could occur and plan a response. Ask all aboard how they think the situation should be handled. Listen to everyone; then act out each of the suggestions until everyone agrees on which technique works the best. This will help reduce many surprises and instill confidence.”—Roger Olson,Plot Your Course to Adventure
Contributors this month: Aussie Bray, Tom Cunliffe, Charles J. Doane, Capt. Jim Karch