SEAMANSHIP: Hang tight
Priority number one when I’m out cruising is to stay on board my boat. Using a safety harness after dark, or when conditions are strong, is important, but even the best harness only guarantees you stay attached to the boat. It’s no fun being dragged alongside. Also, accidents can happen in the most benign conditions. A sailor from my marina drowned one lazy afternoon in a safe harbor when an unexpected wake from a powerboat pitched him overboard.
The old rule of “one hand for yourself” is a good one, but it only works if there is something to grab. When my wife and I were looking for a new boat, we made sure there were adequate railings and hand holds, both below and above decks. I even added guards around the dorades, principally to give us extra hand holds in one critical area. But when the designer from the canvas shop was going over options for our new dodger, he pointed out a weakness I had missed. The dodger, of necessity, was going to cover up the aft handrail on the cabin top. In many situations one is most vulnerable when moving from the cockpit onto deck. When the new dodger was installed, there would be nothing for us to grab at this critical juncture.
Our canvas man suggested putting handrails on each side of the dodger. We had never seen these before, but it made instant sense, and my wife and I now regard this as one of our best upgrades. We feel much more secure going forward in all conditions, even when we are just standing on deck. The dodger handrails also happen to be directly opposite our boarding gate and are great to grab when we are boarding or leaving the boat.
Handrails can be incorporated into any new dodger or can be added to old ones. I have one caveat. The tubing for the dodger frame must be strong; ours is made of strong stainless steel tubing. I would steer clear of some of the light aluminum frames I’ve seen around. – Rod Glover
MAINTANANCE: Trailer Treatments
If you’ve hauled your boat out on its trailer for the winter, don’t forget to give it the attention it deserves. First, thoroughly wash down both the boat and trailer with fresh water and lubricate all the appropriate fittings on the trailer. Don’t forget the tires. I see many boats well secured on their trailers, but with the tires taking all the weight. The correct procedure is to jack up the trailer so the tires are clear of the ground, then block up the trailer frame to keep the tires clear when the jack is removed.
Stay clear of the trailer when you are jacking it up; if possible, use a jack with a long handle or extension. Also, use proper blocking materials and make sure the blocks are located on secure ground and can’t tilt to one side if the ground becomes soft. When in doubt, put a wide piece of thick plywood under the lowest block to spread the load.
Tires always last longer when protected from UV light. I put dark plastic bags over my trailer tires during the winter, but I make sure there is good ventilation so the hubs don’t sweat and rust. Putting custom canvas covers over the wheels in the summer also keeps sunlight off them.
Also cover the trailer hitch and winch; I cut and shape large plastic bottles into hats that cover the units. I also put a shaped plastic bottle over my padlock to keep it from rusting.
You should cover the boat and make sure the structure supporting the cover is strong and well padded so it doesn’t chafe through under the pressure of the winter wind. If the boat is stored near a house where it can be seen daily, do yourself a favor and choose a cover color that doesn’t clash with its surroundings. If the boat is stored next to the garden, for example, chances are good no one will complain too much if you put on a green cover. – Dick Everitt
NAVIGATION: Neon true
When the sloop Blew Moon sailed into La Cruze, Mexico, one black blustery night with a malfunctioning engine, she had trouble keeping clear of other cruising boats already at anchor. Although they all were showing proper anchor lights, many of these blended in with the white background lights along the waterfront. Those mounted at the masthead were often lost in the stars.
But some boats in the harbor were also displaying a blue neon light at deck level, and these made them stand out clearly. The lights come in many lengths and are available at any automotive store. I’ve found a 10in neon tube provides plenty of light and makes me stand out in the darkness. I always hang mine, a 12–volt unit from Pipedream, at the end of the boom and run the wire to a 12-volt socket belowdeck. There are many different units available at automotive stores; a 10in unit costs around $15. – Patrick Childress
SAILS: Cover tie down
If you leave your boat at anchor or in a slip for long periods of time, there’s a good chance the sail cover, and perhaps even the sail itself, will get chafed if the wind blows for any length of time from an unusual angle. Rather than worrying about it, get proactive and tie down the cover. Get a length of line and tie it at the gooseneck. Then move out toward the end of the boom and tie a series of half hitches around it as you work your way along the boom. When you have finished, the line around the cover will help keep it from being whipped around and possibly damaged. – Charles Mason