PxPixel
Cruising Tips: Sailing Through Reefs - Sail Magazine

Cruising Tips: Sailing Through Reefs

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.
Author:
Publish date:
Reefs demand respect; always wait for daylight before running a reef break

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.

Photo by Peter Nielsen

Related

3DiNordac_webheader

3Di NORDAC: One Year In

One year ago this month, North Sails launched a cruising revolution with the introduction of 3Di NORDAC. The product promised to deliver a better cruising experience for a market that had not seen true product innovation in over 60 years. Today we’re celebrating the team that ...read more

HB96k_EP

Sea Eagle’s HB96 inflatable SUP

What SUP?Dinghies and kayaks are all very well, but there’s nothing like a stand-up paddleboard for exploring interesting new shorelines while giving you a good workout. Sea Eagle’s HB96 inflatable SUP makes a fine addition to your boat’s armory of anchorage toys, either on its ...read more

DSC_0031-43

Charting the USVI and Spanish Virgins

When my friends and I booked a one-way bareboat charter with Sail Caribe, starting in the U.S. Virgin Islands and finishing in Puerto Rico, we were a little nervous about what we would find in the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria—even seven months later.When our plane ...read more

SailRepairKit

Know How: Sail Repair Kit

Despite your best efforts, there will inevitably be times when your sail gets damaged while at sea and needs to be repaired. First, no matter what the job, you will need to do a quick damage assessment, a task that requires a flat wooden surface, sharp scissors and a helping ...read more

01-061018ROAC-8149

Coming of Age at the Atlantic Cup

Midway through the final race of the inshore portion of the 2018 Atlantic Cup, the three boats in the lead—Mike Dreese’s Toothface 2, Mike Hennessy’s Dragon and Oakcliff Racing, representing the Long Island Sound-based sailing school of the same name—suddenly broke free from the ...read more

01_silken_2018-03-08-0052

North U’s Regatta Experience Program

“Want to check the keel?” North U Coach Geoff Becker calls to me from back by the transom. We’ve just suffered our worst finish in the regatta and are absolutely flying on our way back to shore, spinnaker up and heeling at an angle that feels like maybe we’re tempting fate. ...read more

Navy-Sand-Dune_1080

Tucket Footwear’s Giller Shoes

Just for KicksMove over Crocs, there’s a new plastic shoe in town. Unlike the aforementioned fashion crimes, Tucket Footwear’s Giller shoes are made for boating. Water will get in, yes, but it will also run straight out again via rows of “scuppers” in the uppers and a dozen drain ...read more

01-m3113_git170829-294

France’s Maxi-tri Ultime class

It’s hard to believe how far foiling has come since the Moth class figured out how to reliably take to the air in the early 2000s.Was it really only in 2013 that the America’s Cup was dragged kicking and screaming into the foiling world by Emirates Team New Zealand back in San ...read more