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Freshwater Flush

Casey’s Flush-O-Matic in action (top); the bits needed to create it (below)

Casey’s Flush-O-Matic in action (top); the bits needed to create it (below)

As warm-water sailors, we do not winterize our boat. However, we do store it out of the water for hurricane season, and as part of our decommissioning procedure, we run the engine on the hard to pass freshwater through the raw-water circuit and flush out salt and guard against corrosion. I also run the engine prior to launching to avoid any nasty surprises.

The trick to running an engine with the boat out of the water is figuring out a way to feed it cooling water. Over the decades I’ve done this many ways. The fitting illustrated here is by far the easiest and most foolproof method I’ve come up with. It works best with a basket strainer that has a removable lid and is located higher than the raw-water pump.

You’ll need the following components: a garden-hose end fitting with a shut-off valve, a molded U-shaped automobile engine hose, a hose barb and a single hose clamp. Once assembled, connect the fitting to a garden hose, hang it over the lip of the open strainer and open the valve enough to fill the strainer canister to overflowing. Start your engine and adjust the valve to keep a trickle of water overflowing the top of the canister. This assures an uninterrupted flow to the engine’s raw-water pump. Your automatic bilge pump will deal with the overflow.

You’ll need to increase the flow rate as the engine’s throttle is advanced, and someone should monitor the flow while the engine is running to make sure the canister is full.
– Don Casey

Unwrapping a Spinnaker 

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When racing or cruising while flying a spinnaker close to or dead downwind—especially offshore, where a boat tends to roll more—there is a real risk the spinnaker will collapse, wrap itself around the headstay, and then refill with wind above and below the wrap. The wrap may start at just one or two turns, but often will increase to five turns or more. Here’s a trick I learned from a Capt. Walters, who used to skipper all of John Watson’s Palawans during the 1960s. To unwrap a spinnaker, all you need do is sail slightly by the lee. The wrapped chute will then magically unwind itself. When sailing by the lee, of course, it’s a good idea to have a preventer rigged from the end of the main boom as far forward as possible so there is no danger of gybing. If a preventer is not rigged, be sure to put your best helmsperson behind the wheel. I swear this system works. Over the years I’ve seen spinnakers unwrapped this way about half a dozen times. In every case, it was a complete eye-opener for the entire crew. – Don Street

Revive a Drowned Outboard

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Dropped your dinghy’s outboard motor overboard? No need to panic. First, get the motor out of the drink quickly and rinse it thoroughly with fresh water; most importantly, do not let it dry. Once the water begins to evaporate, corrosion will set in and can cause permanent damage, especially if the motor was submerged in saltwater.

Remove the spark plugs, fuel lines and carburetor, liberally applying WD-40 as you go to drive out the water (“WD,” after all, stands for “Water Displacement”). Spray inside the cylinders or, better still, rinse the chambers with methylated spirits. Remember, water is the enemy. After removing the carburetor, carefully wipe it clean and douse it with WD-40.

Hand-crank the engine while it’s disassembled—this will physically force out all the water left in the cylinders. With no spark plugs or compression, this is surprisingly easy, so don’t snap the pull cord. When it feels sufficiently purged, crank it some more. Install new spark plugs and reassemble the rest of the motor. Double the oil mixture in some fresh fuel and cross your fingers for the moment of truth: if it fires, let it run for at least 20 minutes.

No luck? Disassemble everything, repeat the water-removal process and leave the parts and motor out to dry in the warm sun for a while (don’t put anything in the oven, as is sometimes suggested). After a few hours, re-assemble and try to start the motor again. Even if the outboard does come back to life, get it to a professional (especially if it’s a newer four-stroke model) for a more thorough servicing. – Andy Schell

Club-Foot Conversion

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I share a 1995 Beneteau 42s7 with a friend. We (and most of our other sailing friends) are getting on in years, so we’ve made some changes to help make the boat easier to sail. One of these was adapting a club-footed jib to fly in the boat’s large foretriangle to ease line-handling when sailing upwind around Narragansett Bay and the islands south of Cape Cod.

The position of the anchor well prevented us from adding a simple connector on deck to receive the forward end of the jib-boom. We solved that problem by having a welder create a custom horseshoe-shaped bracket that we mounted on deck right behind the headstay. We cut down a spinnaker pole to make our jib-boom and connected it to the bracket with a standard trailer hitch and ball. We made a simple traveler out of Dyneema line and had a new jib made to fit the rig, which we can now control with one sheet and an outhaul. Both of these lines are led forward to the front of the boom, and then aft to the cockpit.

Our new jib really works! The result is a great sailing boat that is now very easy to single and doublehand. – David Hurd

Storing Wine Aboard

A boat’s motion will help age young wine

A boat’s motion will help age young wine

Wine connoisseurs will always agree that life is too short to drink bad wine. But wine can be difficult to keep on a sailboat. Boxed wines have obvious advantages. They are easy to store and the vacuum bag inside the box keeps wine airtight, even after opening. If you like, you can discard the box, but beware of chafe when storing bags on their own. In Central America, we’ve found wine sold in liter boxes similar to juice boxes. These keep well aboard, even if a box gets lost in the bilge! Some, of course, spurn boxed wine and swear by corked bottled wine. With care, this can also be stored safely.

Wine changes composition with light or UV infiltration, so it should always be stored in a dark place. Corked bottles must be stored on a slant or on their side so the corks stay moist and don’t dry out. Consistent temperature and high humidity are good for wine. Cooler is better, however, and in the tropics, cooler is a challenge. Usually it is coolest in the bilge below the waterline.

Odors can permeate a cork, a box or a bag, so you should never store wine in an area with strong fumes. Obviously, you should keep it well away from your engine and generator. You should also be aware that even onions or garlic can have adverse effects.

A boat floating is constantly in motion. If storing fine well-aged wine, you should try to limit its movement by storing it amidships near the boat’s centerline. But really you are best off drinking the wine promptly. If you want to keep wine aboard for long periods, it’s best to store young, less expensive wine. The boat’s motion helps to age the wine and may actually improve the flavor. –Jan Irons

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Sail Cover Tactics

Getting a sail cover on and off a mainsail is often harder than it should be. Once it’s off the sail, it can be hard to tell which end goes where, and when you spread it out to check, the wind will wrestle you for control of it.

When taking your cover off, start at the mast and work your way back to the end of the boom. Unbutton the fasteners underneath one by one as you neatly flake the cover back on to itself. This way there’s never any loose fabric for the wind to get hold of. When you’re done, you’ll have neat slab of material that’s easy to roll up and stow away. To cover your sail again, just reverse the process. Start at the back of the boom and unroll the cover as you move forward, buttoning the fasteners underneath as you go. Once you’re in the habit of doing this, you’ll never curse your sail cover again when the wind gets blustery. – Charles J. Doane

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The Sandpaper Files

If there’s one thing I hate more than varnishing it’s not having all the tools at hand to do the job right. Besides brushes, old cans of varnish, new cans of varnish and thinners, there is the sandpaper. I own every grit paper from 60 to 2,000 and used to keep it tucked in various nooks and crannies in tool lockers throughout the boat.

I finally got smart and went to an office-supply store, where I bought a plastic accordion file organizer with multiple pockets and a cover with an elastic closure. These are perfectly sized to hold full sheets of standard-size sandpaper. I bought one with a dozen pockets, but they come in a variety of pocket counts. I labeled each pocket with the grit count and in a matter of minutes had my entire inventory of sandpaper stored in one location.

I can easily check if I’ve got the right amount of the right grit for the next job and can also store small leftover scraps or portions of sheets so I don’t waste anything: no more hunting around in multiple locations to see what I’ve got. Since the organizer is plastic, it can even weather a little rain if left on deck in a moment of forgetfulness.
– Zuzana Prochazka

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Deck Dam

When Mark Edwards, a rigger from Auckland, New Zealand, molded the deck for his 50-footer Relapse, he deliberately included raised toerails that trap water on deck for most of the length of the boat: as in, all the way back to the fill-point for the water tanks. When he wants to catch water, he first lets the rain wash the deck clean, then he creates a dam just aft of the fill with a baggy filled with sand. On a single day last sailing season he collected 320 gallons of free water, or as Edwards put it, “showers for a month.” – Kimball Livingston

Alternator.Irons-2048

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. – Jan Irons

1201.Outboard-2048x

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

SnubberHiRes

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.

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

Range-lead-marks

Inshore Piloting

When 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. s

Fine-tuning Tracks Inshore

Tracks inshore

It’s fun to look back over a summer’s cruising after it’s been saved as a track on your chartplotter. The track can also be useful for insurance purposes; I’ve even seen it produced in court cases. This legal tactic, however, can also backfire, so if you’re of a litigious nature you might prefer to leave it switched off. The track really comes into its own when piloting out of a difficult harbor you managed to enter successfully a little earlier. You know you got in, so there must also be a way out. To be sure of a graceful exit—tide permitting—all you need to do is follow the same track out again. This works well, so long as the plotter is set up appropriately. The screen grab shows two versions of the same track. The coarse setting is clearly useless, while the fine version will lead you safely back out between the drying banks toward open water. It’s all down to setting the instrument to record the necessary data with sufficient frequency, i.e., with the plot set to record at a shorter time or distance interval than out at sea.

Steering by Numbers 

Steering

Keeping a tiller-steered yacht on course in an awkward sea at night can be like trying to achieve a straight, level flight on a gusty day in a World War I biplane. In fact, teaching a novice to steer a compass course has driven strong men to drink. If you’re searching for a simple answer to keep you off the bottle, try this: when the boat wanders, if the number against the lubber line is higher than the one that’s meant to be there, turn to port. If the number is lower, come to starboard. With a wheel, it’s easy. Just imagine you’re steering the lubber line itself. First, locate the number that should be against it, then turn the wheel in that same direction. The lubber line will follow. Trying to steer to a compass heading with a tiller can be especially daunting for many novices. For some, the numbers game can be a real help.

Reversible Weather Cloth

WeatherClothTip.pinney

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

Storing Rode On Deck

RodeTip-HighRes

This is a trick I learned crewing for a fellow in Florida who always stored not one, but two, rope anchor rodes on his foredeck while cruising. He even kept them there on offshore passages, lashing the coils of rode to stanchion post bases, and never had a problem. The big advantage of doing this, if you have a boat with a belowdecks rode locker rather than a modern anchor well, is that it saves you the bother of pulling all the rope down the hawsehole.

If you’re cruising somewhere with lots of mud on the bottom, storing your rode on deck also keeps all the mud that clings to it out of the interior of the boat. Unlike a chain rode, which can be easily rinsed off as it comes aboard, a rope rode tends to want to stay attached to its mud, at least as long as it is wet. Much of the mud will fall off after it dries and turns to dirt, and if the rode stays on deck, the dirt will too.

When I was cruising on Crazy Horse, my Alberg 35 yawl, which I always anchored on rope, I often kept my rode on deck when cruising up and down muddy rivers and creeks. Like my old skipper, I just kept it in coils on the foredeck, although some people may prefer to store it in a bucket or a bag. –Charles J. Doane

Steering by Numbers 

Steering

Keeping a tiller-steered yacht on course in an awkward sea at night can be like trying to achieve straight, level flight on a gusty day in a World War I biplane. In fact, teaching a novice to steer a compass course has driven strong men to drink. If you’re searching for a simple answer to keep you off the bottle, try this: when the boat wanders, if the number against the lubber line is higher than the one that’s meant to be there, turn to port. If the number is lower, come to starboard. With a wheel, it’s easy. Just imagine you’re steering the lubber line itself. First locate the number that should be against it, then turn the wheel in that same direction. The lubber line will follow. Trying to steer to a compass heading with a tiller can be especially daunting for many novices. For some, the numbers game can be a real help.

Palming It

Carry both a left- and right-handed palm in your ditty bag—that way no one can beg off plying a needle when the time comes

Carry both a left- and right-handed palm in your ditty bag—that way no one can beg off plying a needle when the time comes

Every cruising boat should carry a sailmaker’s palm along with a kit of essential sail-repair tools. Most people are right-handed, hence the palms you find in most sailors’ kits are for right-handers. But there may well come a time when you have to stitch up a long tear in a large sail—and if the only other person on board is a leftie, then you’ve just sentenced yourself to a long and tedious stint with the needle. As a leftie myself, I added a right-handed palm to my kit to make sure that no one has any excuse not to join in the sail-repair fun. –Peter Nielsen

Anchoring: Anti Chain-Pyramid Rod

A rod is a useful tool for knocking down chain piles while weighing anchor; a washer bolted to the end provides a better grip (inset)

A rod is a useful tool for knocking down chain piles while weighing anchor; a washer bolted to the end provides a better grip (inset)

Like most long-range cruisers I carry a lot of anchor chain, but I was having a problem with pyramids in my chain locker. When weighing anchor my chain piled up beneath its deck pipe, sometimes reaching up high enough to block it, so that the chain being fed in would suddenly jam the windlass gypsy. This locked the windlass so solidly it could not turn in either direction, often just as my anchor was breaking free from the bottom. With my boat thus adrift, I had to scramble to unlock the blockage, which usually entailed removing the windlass deck pipe cover with a pair of Allen wrenches.

To prevent this, I first cut a small access hole in the deck just abaft the windlass and installed a deck-fill fitting with a cap. This allowed me to ram a wood dowel in there to knock down the chain pyramid while weighing anchor. After breaking several sticks, I devised the perfect anti-pyramid rod instead. A local machine shop wanted $100 to fabricate a stainless steel rod, so instead I did some scrounging and found a perfect rod in a scrap pile outside a rigging shop—a 5ft 6in x 5/8in thick-walled galvanized pipe. The friendly shop-owner wouldn’t take any money for it.

I tapped and threaded the inside diameter of the pipe to accept a case-hardened bolt I had laying around in a spares can. I also found a heavy galvanized washer that just fit through my access hole at the windlass. I bolted the washer to the rod end to serve as a little claw to help push, rake and swipe the chain pile forward, aft and sideways to spread it more evenly around the locker. This simple device has been a godsend, enabling me to weigh anchor quickly and confidently every time. –Tor Pinney

Rain-Catch.tip

Foredeck Rain-Catcher

Sometimes it can be difficult to refill water tanks while cruising. Local water may be unsuitable, expensive or simply unavailable. Watermakers can also come up short, as you shouldn’t run harbor water through them. That’s why it is smart to carry a rain-catcher. I’ve always had a large deck awning for my ketch, Silverheels, that doubles as a high-volume rain-catcher. However, it’s too cumbersome to put up and take down again during short layovers.

To solve this problem I devised a small easy-to-deploy Sunbrella awning/rain-catcher that I can string up over the foredeck in a minute. What it lacks in capacity it makes up for in the frequency of use. I often put it up right after anchoring, just for the night, or even when a single rain squall is approaching. Of course, it also shades the forward deck hatch when the sun is shining. Mine measures 5ft 6in x 6ft, with a half-dozen tie-down grommets, battens and lift rings at each end, and a hose barb fitting secured through a reinforced hole. –Tor Pinney

Shower Can 

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For years I’ve been using a 3-gallon insecticide spray can as a portable pressure-water dispenser. You’ll find these in any hardware store. Simply replace its long gardening spray nozzle with an ordinary kitchen hand-spray nozzle and it’s ready to go. I use mine primarily as a cockpit shower, but it works just as well in a shower stall belowdecks. You can also use it for other purposes, such as rinsing off your dodger, solar panels, snorkel gear and dishes. I painted my can flat black and usually keep it on deck where the sun can heat up the water inside during the day. On cloudy days or in cool weather, I heat up water on the stove and pour it in. One pot of boiling water added to two gallons of cool water produces a perfect bathing temperature. My shower can provides me with hot showers at anchor or underway, indoors or out, without having to run the engine to heat up water. –Tor Pinney

Anchor Rode Side Roller

SideRoller.HiRes

The vertical windlass on my boat is designed to handle only one anchor. Like many cruisers, however, I carry two bow anchors and occasionally need to use both. The problem is my windlass, like most vertical windlasses, feeds just one anchor rode through a deck pipe built into its casing. To use the windlass to handle a second anchor rode from a separate deck pipe, I had to lay aside the primary rode and hand-feed the secondary rode on to the windlass gypsy. On my boat this entailed pulling out the length of rode to be used and piling it on deck where it could then be hand-fed onto the gypsy as the windlass lowered the anchor. This was awkward and, frankly, dangerous, because one slip could result in my hand getting caught in the machinery. Weighing anchor was slightly less perilous, but just as awkward, because I had to tail the rode by hand as it came around the gypsy, pile it on the deck, and then afterward hand-feed it back through its deck pipe into the chain locker. To fix the problem, I came up with a simple solution that employs a vertical anchor roller on the port cap rail, positioned so that the secondary rode coming from the starboard deck pipe passes around it and then to the windlass gypsy at the correct angle. The windlass can now draw the secondary rode out of the chain locker as easily as it does the primary rode. I still have to tail rode by hand when weighing the secondary anchor. But thanks to my rail roller I can do it while positioned above the starboard deck pipe and feed the rode straight into the chain locker without the intermediate mess of piling it on deck. Best of all, my hands are always safely distant from the turning windlass.
–Tor Pinney

How’s your prop? 

Prop

Come on now, be honest, when did you last take a critical look at your propeller? The ocean is full of floating debris we can swipe with this comparatively delicate item. Usually, we hear the bang, grit our teeth and, if the engine hasn’t leapt off its mountings, declare that all is well. I was alarmed to learn recently that the facts are as follows: even a minor distortion on the tip of a blade can reduce a prop’s efficiency by 10 percent. I knew that a foul prop could have catastrophic effects on power, but a bit of a ding? Inspect it seriously next time you’re up on the hill. When in doubt, whip it off and have it sorted.

Clash of Spreaders

Spreaders

As yachts proliferate and berthing space stays the same, we are often asked to raft up. This can be highly convivial or a complete pain. Whatever the social scene, though, we all take so much care of our lines and fenders we often forget the oldest advice of all—look aloft! If your spreaders are directly alongside a neighbor’s, shunt your boat forward or aft a few feet. The situation may look innocuous, but when Fred the fisherman roars by at 0500 dragging half the harbor behind him for a wake, yachts have been known to shake hands via their rigs with expensive results.

Great Circle 

Great-Circle

An unexpected bonus for users of GPS on ocean passages is that many sets will read out a great-circle course on request. Some do not even need asking. Just install a waypoint at your destination, make sure the “Nav setup” is delivering the goods, punch in “Go To,” and the black magic within will give you your best course. It will even tell you how far you have to go. The old battle for ocean sailors with trigonometry or dog-eared gnomonic charts is over at last!

Heaving a line

01-LEAD-Heaving

Even if your boat does not have a dedicated heaving line, the time will inevitably come when you have to throw a rope ashore or to another boat. No sensible reader of SAIL would do as this crew did. But neither should we rely on a coiled rope to run out cleanly, however neat it may look. Always re-coil the line clockwise, then split the coil into two. Two-thirds in your right hand and one third in your left (assuming you’re right-handed), at the same time, securing the end of the left-hand section somehow. Heave the right-hand coil first, then immediately follow it by half-throwing the left-hand package. The inertia of the first will carry the second with it. You’ll be surprised how far you can manage. Practice helps—before the pressure’s on.

Potato to the rescue

Potato

Here’s a bit of homespun wisdom from the deep-sea brigade. We all have—or certainly should have—plenty of clean softwood bungs on board to stuff into failed skin fittings. However, I am assured by a pal known more for his ocean miles than for his compliance with the latest safety fads that if none fit your stern tube after the shaft has fallen out, all is not lost. Rather than groping for the VHF and clamoring to be saved, this redoubtable mariner raided the potato locker, selected a suitable candidate and rammed it up the stern tube just like small boys used to do with their headmasters’ exhaust pipes. It saw him back to the nearest boat hoist without any further trouble.

A quick fix 

Quick fix

Here’s a quick fix when your position is changing rapidly relative to your surroundings or your GPS is down in rough weather and you don’t fancy a trip below. An instant position line may well be available using a known object that can be conveniently brought directly ahead or dead astern for a few moments. Read its bearing off the steering compass. Hold that heading and grab yourself an equally accurate crossing line by sighting a second item “coming on” down the mainsheet traveler. It’s precisely abeam, so it’s plus or minus ninety and you have a perfect cut. You can even pre-plot it so that all you have to do when the beam object comes on is note the time and the log reading. If you’re serious about piloting, you’ll also check the depth. So long as it all stacks up, you’re home free.

Dropping the bucket

01 Bucket

When you need a bucket of clear seawater, make sure you have a longish lanyard and tie it to the boat. The pull can be considerable, even at speeds of as little as 5 knots, if you achieve the result you are looking for. To secure a full fill every time, gently throw the bucket rim-down into the sea. Too many people just drop it in and hope for the best. Also, be sure and buy a quality bucket from a quality merchant. Lightweight plastic rubbish is fit only for the kitchen. Go for heavy rubber. A good bucket is a friend for life. 

Y-Valve Intel 

Y-valve

Last summer I had to replace my holding tank diverter valve while away on a cruise. The tank hadn’t seen much use, and when I needed it and gave the plastic lever a mighty heft, it snapped clean off. I tried everything to find a substitute lever, but to no avail, so off I went to the local “swindlery” to stump up for an all-new unit, followed by a gruesome day turning wrenches under the head. Alas, all this could have been easily avoided had I read the instructions that came in the box with the original valve. “Turn it once a week whether you need to or not,” they advised. Otherwise, it will jam up as sure as sunrise. So take a leaf from my book of shame. I now throw that Y-valve over every time I go on board, and it’s as sweet as a nut.

Quick Fix Practice

Fix

As an examiner for the official cruising scheme in the UK, I’m often disappointed at how long some Yachtmaster candidates take to plan and plot an old-fashioned three-point fix. “Back in the day,” this kind of routine chartwork typically took a couple of minutes, and if you need more than five to do it now, I’d highly recommend having a look at your technique. It’s easy to get rusty, and we’re all guilty of leaning on our digital nav aids; however, the time may come when you’ve no other option. Part of the problem is lack of facility with the hand-bearing compass. This is a skill of its own, and I keep in trim by rattling off a few bearings every so often. Just for fun, I sometimes plot them electronically rather than on the paper chart. It won’t work on a bulkhead plotter, because few of these allow more than one line to be left on the screen at a time. Running raster-chart software on my PC, though, lets me plot as many as I like. Shown above is a fix I plotted last summer

Check the Bow

Look-behind-you-

Modern yachts steer well in reverse. Older types can be the stuff of nightmares. Whether yours handles like a Formula 1 racer or an 18-wheeler with a flat, when proceeding astern it pays to take a second or two from looking where you’re going and check the swing of the bow. Nobody can judge the rate of turn simply by looking over the transom. But a glance at the bow pulpit as it sweeps its way across the background immediately makes the situation crystal clear. The technique has saved me many a dust-up in a tight marina.

One coat or two? 

Don’t forget your prop when applying antifouling

Don’t forget your prop when applying antifouling

“To antifoul or not to antifoul, that is the question…” We aren’t discussing the bottom here. That goes without saying. The question is the propeller. Will the paint interfere with its electrolytic balance, or will the stuff simply fall off as soon as the prop starts spinning? Perhaps, you’re thinking, the best bet is to bite the bullet and use one of those expensive dedicated propeller systems. However, I bring good news, my friends. After a few false starts 50 years ago, I now paint my propellers with a single coat of good-quality self-polishing antifouling paint. It doesn’t fall off, and neither does the propeller. You’ll meet hosts of unbelievers throwing up their hands at this policy, but I’ve been pursuing it all my life. My props manage fine, and mine is always the cleanest in the yard when the boats come out.

Sitting out a squall

04-squall

Experience has taught me never to ignore a squall like the one shown above. If it’s on a steady bearing and closing, I’m going to get hit. Generally, it’s safe to assume the wind will pick up 10 or 15 knots when it arrives, however, a real zapper will crank things up even more. A sound plan is to grab the oilskins in good time and then roll up the genoa before you have to. If sea room and weather gauge are no issue, be ready to bear away and run the boat off the breeze until it eases. This can knock 10 or 15 knots off the apparent wind and save having to reef the main. Watch out for a veer as well. If the squall’s on a front, the wind may clock to the right as it passes.

Break her out 

There’s more than one way to free a well-set anchor

There’s more than one way to free a well-set anchor

Many years ago I rode out a bad gale in a spot where the holding ground was such good clay that I had major problems breaking out the anchor afterward. A pal had the same issue last summer. Our circumstances were different, but we both reached the same conclusion about what to do. I’d had no windlass. He had a powerful electric capstan, but not even that would shift it. Most textbooks say motor ahead over the anchor to break it out. This generally works, but you may end up charging around with an anchor under the boat. Both of us succeeded by heaving the cable up short, then motoring hard astern. This usually breaks out the hook, and it’s a whole lot tidier than motoring over the top of it.

Cleating a Line

02-Cleating

 The one certainty when it comes to making fast to a cleat is that there are a number of equally good ways of doing so. In deciding which approach to use, the right questions to ask are:
• If I secure the line like this, will it be impossible for it to come off by mistake?
• Will it also be impossible for the rope to jam up under load?
• Have I put the turns on so that, as I begin to take them off again, the rope can be surged under load if required?
Three “yes” answers, and whatever system you’re using, you’ve got it right. Use a locking hitch if it helps. Don’t bother if there’s no need unless you’re on a training vessel where it makes sense always to use one system so that all hands know what to expect in the dark of night.

Bandits, 10 o’clock

01-LEAD-Bandits

A notably unambiguous way of communicating the relative position of another vessel, a buoy or a landmark at sea is to use the old clock-face connotation favored by World War II aviators who had a lively interest in instantly spotting the chaps intent on shooting them down. The average skipper relates more quickly to, “Ship at around two o’clock,” than, “Ship, five-and-a-half points on the starboard bow.”

Sleep Easy with Lee Cloths

lee-cloth

The ideal sea berth is a settee just wide enough to turn over in. If you’re anything like me and find the deep and dreamless hard to come by on a one-night passage, it must also feature a good reading light. Beyond that, vital above all things is a proper lee cloth (unless you’re lucky enough to have genuine lee boards). Cloths must be deep enough to hold you comfortably with enough spare material to secure the base well under the bunk cushion. To work properly, they must also feature a stiffish batten along the top. Finally, the lines that hold them up should tie off within easy reach of the incumbent and be tensioned downward so you can pull yourself in. Sweet dreams! 

Follow the Moon

Moon-crescent

If you operate in an area of significant tides, it’s worth noting that the biggest rise and fall, in theory at least, comes when the sun, moon and our own Earth are all in a line—i.e., at a full moon or new moon. In practice, the real-time movement of water tends to lag behind the ideal by a day or two, so on a totally moonless night, the tides are actually still making up. It’s the early waxing crescent that pulls the big ones with it, although you don’t get long to look at it in this phase, because it’s almost directly lined up with the sun, which sets right behind it. So long as you already know the times of the big tides, which will be more or less the same every month, who needs a tide table?

The 60-Mile Rule

60-mile rule

By some quirk of mathematics, with a one-degree course error, a yacht ends up a mile to one side of a destination 60 miles away. Two degrees sets her two miles off. Five degrees will result in five miles (5.25 to be exact). The system keeps going—more or less—up to 15 degrees, at which point a 16-mile sideways error is reported. Thereafter, you need a calculator to work out the result. It’s easy to steer three or four degrees consistently off course, so be sure to remind the person on the helm to pay attention! An undiscovered compass deviation can do the same at a stroke, so don’t forget to “swing” it from time to time as well.

A Roly-poly Roadstead 

In an open roadstead, you may need to take steps to keep the noise down

In an open roadstead, you may need to take steps to keep the noise down

The trouble with an open roadstead like the one above is that anchored or moored, boats tend to roll. My wife hates it, and I’m not keen myself. Noise and motion are the two main issues. Motion is complicated, and without sophisticated “flopper stoppers,” there’s not much help for it. Noise is much easier to contend with; however, even after sorting the locker doors and securing that rogue beer can, the boom will still often flop from side to side. Worse yet, if you hang hard enough on the mainsheet to shut it up, the topping lift will then want to sing in the wind. The best answer is to ease the sheet, secure a spare length of line to the boom, tighten it down to a stanchion base and then set up the mainsheet again. Do you have a spring-loaded vang? Try easing the topping lift until the boom hits the spring. If you don’t and you find yourself having to face the choice of either the swinging boom or your boat’s own version of Bach’s Air on the G-string, there’s one more thing you can try. Take the main halyard to the boom end and flip a few wraps round the topping lift to upset the harmonics. Works every time!

Save those Laces 

Leather conditioner is also good for leather laces

Leather conditioner is also good for leather laces

Leather laces on deck shoes may look good, but they aren’t always the success their makers imagine. They seem either to be so stiff that they come undone no matter how you tie them, or they snap at what sailors used to call the “nip,” what might more clumsily be referred to as the “point of chafe.” The answer in both cases is to abandon shoe polish and treat them liberally with a good-old leather conditioner. If you can’t find this in today’s synthetic world, go to a motorbike shop and relieve the proprietor of a small can of leather dressing. Keep the laces well-greased (it’s great for the leather shoes too), and if they’re over-long, snip a couple of inches off one end and re-lead them so a fresh length takes the strain. While you’re at it, don’t let them work into a permanent twist. This will only further weaken them. 

The streaks of foam on the backside of this wave travelling from left to right are a sure sign of a counter-current running from right to left

The streaks of foam on the backside of this wave travelling from left to right are a sure sign of a counter-current running from right to left

The Shape of the Sea 

The photo above is a classic case of wind-against-current. You’d expect things to be rough, and they were. In lesser situations, you can still tell when the tide has turned, or spot a useful eddy, if you educate yourself about the shape of the sea. When the breeze blows against any sort of stream, even one running at a knot or less, the front of each wave (the downwind side) will be steeper, and small streaks of foam will run actively down its back toward the wind (in the direction of the current). This observation works in deep water, too, as anyone can testify who has crossed the Gulf Stream or hit the equatorial counter-current when they should have been enjoying a favoring 2-knot shove.

Twisting Away

Twist

 The professional skipper of this yacht has shaped his sails perfectly in search of that most elusive aspect of sail trim, known as a “twist.” The upper parts of both the jib and main are setting farther from the boat’s midline than the lower parts, yet the trim is right. Twist is needed to cope with the higher wind speeds aloft, which result in the apparent wind being less affected by boatspeed. Specifically, less wind bend aloft means the apparent wind up toward the masthead is further aft. By twisting the sail to accommodate this change in apparent wind, more forward drive is accomplished. Proper twist also results in less heeling force up high—just where you don’t want it. To dial in the right amount of twist, check your genoa telltales. If the upper ones lift before the lowers when you steer above the course with the sail trimmed right, you’ve too much twist, i.e. the top of the sail is angling too far to leeward. Move the sheet lead forward to increase the downward force on the leech, pulling it closer to the centerline. If the lowers lift first, shunt the lead aft until the twist is spot-on, and your telltales are all breaking in unison for maximum speed and minimum heel. That done, adjust your mainsheet and traveler so the leech of the main parallels that of the genoa.

All for one and one for all 

A while back there was an interesting exchange of ideas about domestic batteries on the owners’ site for my boat, a Mason 44. The Mason crowd are a switched-on bunch, and the string got complicated, but the conclusion that worked best for me was this: if you only have a single domestic battery, life is easy, if sometimes dim. Where there are two or more, don’t mess about replacing single units if you suspect you have a dead one. Bin the lot. Forget high-tech power pack “solutions.” Replace the whole bank with a set of cheap, honest, lead-acid, sealed-for-life, deep-cycle units from a reputable manufacturer. They’ll last five years at least if looked after (mine are now on year eight). You’ll never again have to chase a dodgy cell that’s pulling all the rest down with it. Go on. Stump up. It’s the only way to happiness.

Steer into the Seas 

Helm your way through rough seas, don’t just plow through them like an automaton

Helm your way through rough seas, don’t just plow through them like an automaton

Any sailor’s natural mindset is to steer straight along the shortest distance between two points. In heavy beam seas, though, this can be uncomfortable or even dangerous. When the course puts you more or less side-on to a steep sea, the boat is classically at risk, and you don’t have to be knocked flat for there to be trouble; even a modest walloping can throw crew overboard. The answer lies with the helm and, if appropriate, a readiness to shut down the autopilot. When you see—or feel—a nasty one coming, steer up to take it on the shoulder or down to put it on the quarter. That keeps the boat on her feet and ensures the safety of all aboard. Plowing on like an automaton can be a road to disaster.

Warm her up 

02-Warm-Up

Sometimes lessons about boats arrive from unexpected directions. Like many a modern yacht, mine lacks the benefit of a proper engine temperature gauge. I wish it had one because although there’s a buzzer for when things go to the bad, it would be much healthier to monitor the heat all the time. Back home, my car, which also runs on diesel, has a temperature gauge. So does my neighbor’s. I’ve been astonished at how long the oil-powered unit takes to warm up, especially on a winter morning. Unlike my wife’s gas-powered beast, 10 miles is not unusual. My pal’s diesel is the same. Because running a cold engine hard shortens its life (and in the absence of proper data), I now treat my boat engine the same as I do my car and let it have a good 10 minutes under modest load to warm up thoroughly before giving it the gun.

Veteran bareboat charterers know to take a close look at their boats before casting off lines

Veteran bareboat charterers know to take a close look at their boats before casting off lines

It’s always chartering season somewhere. If you’re an old hand, you won’t be disappointed if you discover your dream boat suffers from a few defects. First-timers, though, might be in for a shock. Boats that appear superficially OK often fall short in two areas. First, make sure the furling headsail is working properly and that, in the event of a stack-packed main, you have a full set of securely installed battens. Next, if you are staying overnight in the marina before leaving, unplug the shore power before bedtime and then check the batteries and fridge in the morning. If the voltage is less than around 12.3 volts, complain. Charging systems and battery banks will often be well past their sell-by dates. Find out if everything is working properly while you still have access to shore power. It won’t be so readily available later on. 

Filters with a view

Diesel filters tend to live in dark corners, making the glass bowls thoughtfully supplied by manufacturers to give us a heads-up on the state of our fuel about as easy to read as a wet Wall Street Journal. I’ve long taken to shining a tiny LED torch through mine from behind as I peer in hopefully from the other side. All is revealed! Unfortunately, over in the European Union, metal filter bowls are now specified to minimize fire risk. If yours includes one of these dismal fail-safe devices, you might consider swapping it out for the see-through version. And, lest I be accused of recommending irresponsibility, here’s my risk assessment: Would I prefer the remote contingency of an engine-room fire fueled by diesel spilled from a cracked transparent filter bowl, or piling my yacht up on a lee shore because I couldn’t tell my fuel was contaminated?

Mystery Stink! 

Not all foul smells come from the holding tank

Not all foul smells come from the holding tank

A few seasons ago I became convinced my holding tank was leaking. Up forward, where it lives, a distinct whiff of rotten eggs was starting to pervade. I ripped out the furniture for an inspection only to discover all was nice and dry underneath. Following the pipes leading to and from the wretched thing revealed no serious trouble either. Not knowing what else to do, I blitzed the thing with eco-disinfectant, but the smell still hung around. It was only later that I discovered the over-sized battery for the windlass and bow thruster, which live under the same bunk, was bulging. It was replaced with the one you see pictured. The smell departed overnight. A battery in that state is not only a nuisance, it is explosive and highly dangerous. If you smell eggs, don’t make the same false assumptions I did. Check your batteries first.

Vents Suck

There’s a right way and a wrong way to position your vents

There’s a right way and a wrong way to position your vents

 Ventilation is critical to the health of a wooden boat, particularly when she lives on a mooring, and while no GRP yacht ever sank through mildew, we still like to keep our vessels nice and fresh belowdecks. It’s therefore worth bearing in mind that well-designed yacht vents from aft to forward, not the other way around, as you might expect. On my anchored yacht, the ventilator shown above has been deliberately turned toward the bow “against the grain,” so to speak, to ram some dry air into the shower compartment. However, it will be swiveled aft again when I dinghy ashore. Not only will it be less vulnerable to rain ingress, the low pressure on what is the downwind side most of the time will suck stale air out of the forward part of the boat as fresh pours in through the ventilators aft.

Winch Wisdom

Throw in an extra turn to ensure your sheets stay put

Throw in an extra turn to ensure your sheets stay put

Many of today’s boats—mine included—don’t have enough cleats on the cockpit coamings to secure all the sheets when they come off the winches. This is natural enough given the rise of the self-tailer, which is perfectly capable of holding things together, so long as the rope remains in the jammer. If it doesn’t, though, it can come adrift with horrid consequences. The simple solution is to get into the habit of flicking an extra turn around the winch barrel after you’ve finished winding. That way nobody can knock it out by accident, and the direction the rope is already taking encourages the tailing jaws to hold on.

Don’t Let it Flood

01-LEAD-High-Res-29382-Hanse-315-GSP

Turning over the engine activates the saltwater pump. The water then makes its way via the heat exchanger to the exhaust system. With the engine running, pressure from the exhaust literally blows the water out, silencing and cooling the exhaust at the same time. Unfortunately, if you are trying to start a reluctant engine—after bleeding the fuel system for example—you may find yourself cranking it a longish while to get it going, and during this time there’s no exhaust-gas pressure. As a result, you can occasionally end up with water running back into the cylinder head with horrible results. The solution? Shut the seacock before potentially prolonged cranking. Just remember to open it up again as soon as the engine fires!

Stop the Screaming

200825-TOTW-2048x

I’ve noticed that shortly before the alternator drive belt on my Yanmar stretches so much it screams a few seconds after the engine fires, the rev counter also becomes sticky on startup or stops working altogether. The reason for this is that it’s driven electrically by the alternator, making it a great early indicator that the belt is starting to get slack. Now I know if the counter starts to act up it’s time to tighten the belt before it starts screaming, and I lose all charge.  

Be a Happy Captain 

A happy captain (yes the author is smiling inside!) makes for a better, safer crew

A happy captain (yes the author is smiling inside!) makes for a better, safer crew

I expect that, like most skippers, you leave a standing order when you go off watch that you are to be called for almost anything. That said, we should all remember those days when we were on the other side of this equation, and “Do I call the boss or not?’ became the question. Your crew know you’re tired and want to look after you, but they also don’t want to get a rattling for being slow to give you a shake. You can help them by making a point of being positive and jolly whenever you turn out for a shout. Even if the ship in question is five miles off and heading away from you, make the right noises, have a mug of tea and then potter off back to your bunk. If you show signs of being grisly, no matter how you might be feeling, they’ll hesitate next time, which means you can’t trust them, and you won’t sleep at all. It’s a downward spiral avoided by a kind word.  

Ease 'Em Off

The down side to jacklines—catching on battens

The down side to jacklines—catching on battens

When I came alongside my moored boat after some recent storms I noticed she’d ridden over her buoy and scraped her topsides when the tide had run against the gale. I had only myself to blame for this. I’d been lazy. For years, I’d intended to follow the example of one of my neighbors to minimize this nastiness. It didn’t cost him anything to grab someone’s unwanted fender from the local skip and slip it over the rough parts of his mooring. It’s a bit late now. I guess I know what my next job is! 

A Grind-free Mooring

A simple way to prevent a mooring ball from scratching your boat’s topsides

A simple way to prevent a mooring ball from scratching your boat’s topsides

When I came alongside my moored boat after some recent storms I noticed she’d ridden over her buoy and scraped her topsides when the tide had run against the gale. I had only myself to blame for this. I’d been lazy. For years, I’d intended to follow the example of one of my neighbors to minimize this nastiness. It didn’t cost him anything to grab someone’s unwanted fender from the local skip and slip it over the rough parts of his mooring. It’s a bit late now. I guess I know what my next job is.

Bight

Keep clear of the bight 

When I was a youngster on a small sailing ship, the bosun once bawled me out for “stepping in the bight.” I didn’t know what he was talking about. Actually, I was standing in the “V” produced by a heavily loaded line passing around a turning block. If the block had failed, I’d have either been brained by its flying remnants or, if lucky, knocked off my feet with a nasty set of bruises as the line twanged up taut like a bowstring loosen an arrow. The photo above is of a bight in a furling line—heavily loaded some of the time. Imagine if that were a genoa sheet and that undersized block was to fail…

Halo

Don’t do it! 

Thinking of going out tomorrow? If the sky looks like the photo, ditch your plans now. A solid halo on the afternoon sun means a nasty night for certain. If the glass is dropping as well, it’ll probably still be gruesome in the morning. I learned years ago to respect what the sky is telling me, in large part because when I started my sailing forecasting wasn’t anywhere near what it is today. Other warnings include a blood-red sky in the morning or a ring around the moon. Ignore these signs at your peril, no matter what the wind arrows on that colored screen may be telling their more naïve users. 

How do you calculate range under power?

How do you calculate range under power?

Range under power 

Fuel consumption and range is really all about hull speed. This is the maximum at which a conventional sailboat can sensibly be driven and is equal to a constant (1.34) multiplied by the square root of waterline length (LWL).

My boat’s LWL is 37ft. For convenience, I’ll call the square root of this LWL “around 6,” which multiplied by 1.34 means a theoretical maximum hull speed of a little over 8 knots.

Under power with my 55hp Yanmar, if I keep my speed down to the square root of my waterline length in flat water with a clean bottom, I burn around 0.7 gallon in an hour. I know this because I have calculated actual fuel burned between “pressed-up tank” fills, while keeping my speed close to that level. Put another way, that’s 8.5 miles per gallon. My tanks hold 150 gallons—call it 135 to allow a sensible safety margin—so I know that my useful range at 6 knots in calm water is at least 1,100 miles.

Of course, above “root waterline speed,” fuel burn climbs rapidly. Similarly, if I cut my speed to 5 knots, the revs drop right off representing massive fuel savings, while still giving me a respectable 120 miles in 24 hours. Down at 4 knots the Yanmar is literally sipping the stuff. On an ocean passage, especially if my rig were to be disabled, this knowledge could be lifesaving. Even cruising in home waters, especially with a smaller tank, knowing your range can be critical. 

When the teak comes off, all is revealed and the owner’s heart is in his mouth

When the teak comes off, all is revealed and the owner’s heart is in his mouth

My boat has a balsa-cored deck. There are a lot of these around, and owners can suffer sleepless nights worrying about what happens if water gets in. One chap on my owners’ group has been badly smitten. Our members are a hands-on bunch, and I was interested to read an answer to this issue that doesn’t involve mega-buck yard bills. Inspection holes are drilled to determine the extent of the problem. Once defined, so long as it is not too extensive, any rot can be addressed as follows: inject the core with concentrated antifreeze. This mixes with any water in there and kills rot effectively in a way that epoxy alone will not achieve. Dry the whole thing out for as long as you can, then inject epoxy into the damaged sections. With the rot dead and the water largely dried out, the epoxy will do its remarkable work.

Reefing

The Third Reef 

For a really neat reef it’s hard to beat a simple slab system. There’s only one problem—the clew pennants may lead safely aft, but the tack often relies on being physically hooked onto a ram’s horn at the gooseneck. This means turning out on deck just when it’s the last thing you want. This boat has a better answer. Her tack lines lead from the reef points down through fairleads at the gooseneck, thence back to the cockpit via mast-foot turning blocks. All the skipper need do is ease the halyard and haul in the tack line, securing it in the cockpit. He then sets up the halyard and deals with the clew pennant in his own sweet time. This setup is so simple, I don’t know why more builders don’t fit it as standard.

A dipstick  never lies

A dipstick never lies

Lucky dip 

One of the more disappointing features of sailboats is that, after a few honeymoon years, their fuel gauges suffer from a high mortality rate. That’s why you can’t beat an old-fashioned dipstick. Given a sensible allowance for fuel slopping around in the tank at sea, it is the most reliable measure you’ll get. A threaded hole on top of the tank with a piece of rod welded across the plug so it can be hand-tightened onto a rubber washer makes the ideal access point. If you can’t arrange this and the filler pipe has a bend, a flexible steel tab like an engine-oil dipstick will usually get you there. You can calibrate the stick in harbor by running the tank almost dry, then topping it right up, marking it at every five gallons. Nobody did that for your boat’s fuel gauges, and if they’re anything like the one in my car, you think there are hundreds of miles left until the needle suddenly hits the stop. 

Let the boat drift back in a breeze

Let the boat drift back in a breeze

Let her drift 

When you’re anchoring in a strong breeze, don’t feel obliged to “back off” from the anchor under power while laying cable just because textbooks say so. Instead, take off the last of your way with the wind on one side of the bow as you let go. The bow will blow off and the yacht will slide sideways downwind. Once the right amount of cable is down, snub it off and wait. You’ll know when the hook bites because she’ll suddenly head up to the wind. To be doubly sure, now put the engine astern, dig in the hook, then say goodbye to Old Man Trouble.

Sometimes you must consult a higher authority on screw-top wine bottles

Sometimes you must consult a higher authority on screw-top wine bottles

Forget the vintage when the heat’s turned up 

For readers who sail or charter “Down Islands,” here’s a tip from hard-won experience. I once bought two bottles of classy claret down in the Caribbean for my Christmas dinner. Come the day, both turned out to be corked. The stores were shut so we drank rum instead. The social results were similar, but the taste left something to be desired. On a recent trip, my shipmates loaded up a case of California’s finest in Antigua. Just under half were undrinkable. Hoping for better, we raided the likeliest-looking store in the French island of Guadeloupe, only to suffer further disappointment. In despair, we abandoned the vintages and went for honest, screw-topped bottles. The outcome was gratifying, so opt for reliability, even if this puts Château Pétrus off your wine list.

A simple way to prevent a mooring ball from scratching your boat’s topsides

A simple way to prevent a mooring ball from scratching your boat’s topsides

A Grind-free Mooring

When I came alongside my moored boat after some recent storms I noticed she’d ridden over her buoy and scraped her topsides when the tide had run against the gale. I had only myself to blame for this. I’d been lazy. For years, I’d intended to follow the example of one of my neighbors to minimize this nastiness. It didn’t cost him anything to grab someone’s unwanted fender from the local skip and slip it over the rough parts of his mooring. It’s a bit late now. I guess I know what my next job is!

squall

How heavy a hit? 

We can’t miss seeing a squall coming, but it’s not always obvious if it has our name on it. The answer is to treat the thunderhead like a ship on a collision course. If the bearing over a stanchion doesn’t change, we’re in for it. The question is, how big a pasting are we about to receive? A useful rule of thumb is that if the horizon underneath the cloud disappears, we can expect rain for sure and probably a blow lasting anything from five to 20 minutes.

If the boat is reaching or beating and there is plenty of searoom, you can minimize the grief by bearing away when the breeze pipes up so as to reduce the apparent wind and the heeling. 

Demand-more-nasty-lead-2048x

Struggling with furling genoas is a systemic issue on some yachts. My own boat has a 44ft LOA and a 130 percent masthead genoa. I carry my AARP card with pride, yet furling the sail in 20 knots without a winch isn’t a problem because I don’t use cheap furling-line blocks, and they are arranged in a close to a straight line a possible. If you need a winch on any boat less than 45ft, something is wrong. Usually, the difficulty lies in the furling line lead—too many poor-quality blocks, especially that final one that turns the line through 120 degrees into the cockpit. People rig these to guide the line to a winch they really shouldn’t need. Get rid of it and award yourself the joy of a straight pull! I recently found the furling drum on a charter yacht had been so thoughtlessly installed that the line was hobbling through 50 degrees around a solid rod. The answer was to whip the gear off and turn it so the lead came sweet.

Safety on the cheap 

This looks like a job for the “extra-long” line!

This looks like a job for the “extra-long” line!

Every cruising yacht should carry one or two extra-long lines. Shock-absorbing, super-strong nylon is the favorite, but cost may dictate that you use whatever you can lay hands on. The lines may not see daylight for years until some unforeseen contingency turns up. But on that day, nothing else will do, as they can, for example, be bent to the end of an anchor cable that suddenly seems too short, or serve as a life-saver in a monster raftup. I once used mine on a simple dock under a mountain when a katabatic wind fell off a glacier at midnight and started to rip the pontoon off its moorings. I ran my super-long line ashore to a tree, brought the end back to the windlass and cranked it tight. The line saved my boat and the dock as well.

Search online and you’ll find ridiculous deals on ropes. I just found 300ft of 5/8in nylon with four tons breaking strain for under a hundred bucks. 

How to sell your boat

If you’re trying to sell your boat, make sure it looks shipshape

If you’re trying to sell your boat, make sure it looks shipshape

When I was looking to buy a used boat a few years back, I was horrified at the state of many of the yachts I came across. Do people try to sell their homes with a pile of rusty motor parts strewn around the front room or a heap of soaking bedding moldering in the master bedroom? Speaking with brokers about this, the better ones refuse to keep boats in slum condition on their books. Others, however, don’t seem to care. Presentation matters if you want to get anywhere near your asking price. Even if you can’t be fussed to have varnish looking like the hatch pictured above, at least spend a weekend tidying up. Buyers will think you seamanlike, and your boat will both have a flying start and shift every time in preference to that same model in the next berth offered by the Dumpsters’ Union.

How heavy a hit?

Squall

Squalls! We can’t miss seeing them coming, but it’s not always obvious if they have our name on them. The answer is to treat the thunderhead like a ship on a collision course. If the bearing over a stanchion doesn’t change, we’re in for it. Then the question is, how big a pasting are we about to receive? A useful rule of thumb is that if the horizon underneath the cloud disappears, we can expect rain for sure and probably a blow lasting anything from five to 20 minutes. If the boat is reaching or beating with plenty of sea room, the grief can be minimized by bearing away when the breeze pipes up so as to reduce the apparent wind and the heeling.

Be thrifty with propane 

Save water and propane by measuring your tea and coffee portions

Save water and propane by measuring your tea and coffee portions

If you like to cook on board, the propane tanks supplied as standard with many modern yachts won’t get you far. Whether we bake bread or not, the one thing we all do is boil the kettle. Years ago I realized that if I counted the number of strokes on my galley foot or hand pump that represented a mug-full, then tipped the right amount into the kettle, I’d use enough propane to boil it and no more. If you only have pressure water you’ve no chance, but old-fashioned manual pumps are simple enough to install. I keep a charcoal inline filter on mine and always use it for drinking water, so no matter where I filled my tanks, I’m guaranteed a decent mug of coffee.

Mark up for the crane driver 

Do yourself a favor and mark your boat’s lift points

Do yourself a favor and mark your boat’s lift points

How many times has a crane or travelift driver who doesn’t know my boat asked me where I want the slings when he’s about to lift her out? Next time you’re successfully hauled, make a note in the back of the logbook of where the slings landed. This might be in relation to stanchions, rigging or any other immovable reference point. When the time comes around again for the crane, stick an inch or two of masking tape at the right spot. The driver will be grateful, and you won’t end up with a bent prop shaft and heaven knows what else in the way of collateral damage.

The plotter’s track function can help you in tight harbors

The plotter’s track function can help you in tight harbors

Fine-tuning a Sure-fire Solution 

It’s fun to look back over a summer’s cruising by way of the track my chartplotter has recorded. Where the track really comes into its own, though, is piloting out of a difficult harbor into which you have successfully maneuvered. You know you got in OK, so to be sure of a graceful exit—tide permitting where appropriate—you’ve only to follow the same track out again. Be warned, though, that this works only so long as the plotter is set upright. The screengrab shows two versions of the same in-and-out tracks on my Raymarine unit. The coarse setting shown in purple is useless, while the finer, black version leads me straight back out through the drying banks. It’s all down to setting the instrument to record frequent data. In short, to succeed in close quarters, the plot should be set to record at shorter time or distance intervals than out at sea.

dipstick

Lucky dip 

After a few honeymoon years, a boat’s fuel gauges, often inaccurate at best, tend to suffer from a high mortality rate. When push comes to shove, you can’t beat an old-fashioned dipstick. Given a sensible allowance for fuel slopping around in the tank at sea, a dipstick is the most reliable measure you’ll get. A threaded hole on top of the tank with a piece of rod welded across the plug so it can be hand-tightened onto a rubber washer makes the ideal access point for the stick. If you can’t arrange this and the filler pipe has a bend, a flexible steel tab like an engine-oil dipstick will usually get you there. You can calibrate the stick in harbor by running the tank almost dry, then topping it right up, marking the stick at every 5 gallons. Nobody did that for your boat’s fuel gauges. If they’re anything like the one on my car, you think there are hundreds of miles left until the needle suddenly hits the stop.

There’s a good reason to run the engine for a while before departing

There’s a good reason to run the engine for a while before departing

Take no Chances

This is my stern with the engine running slowly in gear against the lines. We all know that when we’re charging batteries this lets the engine warm-up thoroughly. However, I have a different reason: I just changed the fuel tanks and return feeds. I once did this and let go my lines straight away only to have the engine stop two minutes later. I’d somehow made a mistake with the valves and was left with a full fuel-bleeding job with empty filters. Most of us with more than one tank change them in harbor. The entrance is exactly where we don’t want to lose power, so I always give the unit a 10-minute run in gear just to make sure that if it does pack it in it’s not for lack of fuel.

Overlaying radar on the chart helps to interpret the display

Overlaying radar on the chart helps to interpret the display

Interpreting radar 

The biggest problem most of us face when interpreting radar is lack of familiarity. We go about our daily business most of the year, then come aboard, hit the fog and turn it on. Unfortunately, unlike GPS, AIS and the rest, radar is more of a conversation between the operator and the instrument, so it’s not surprising we have trouble interpreting the picture. When I’m motoring, I, therefore, make a practice of keeping my radar transmitting even in good visibility and running an overlay on the chartplotter to keep me familiar with its drawbacks. The image above, for example, clearly shows that what the radar sees may not stack up with what the chart is telling me. Note how the trace seems mysteriously to end halfway up the coast. So it does, but that’s because the echo returning from high cliffs in the south gets lost when the land falls away to lower-lying estuarial terrain. The echo ends either because the flat shoreline isn’t providing a good enough target, or because the coast falls below the scanner’s visual horizon. Whichever was true on this particular day, it reminded me to consider the quality of a target when looking for it on radar

A half-hitch before the rolling hitch adds security