Seasoned skippers and Yachting Monthly experts give their advice on a whole range of issues for the cruising sailor
Have a fool-proof berthing plan
Pilots sit exams on a subject known as ‘human factors.’ Why? Because it’s humans that tend to mess up, rather than the machines they control. Sailors are no different.
We are fallible creatures, easily absorbed into one element of a complex task, sometimes with bad consequences.
Nowhere is this truer than when manoeuvring in a marina under the stress of challenging conditions.
A difficult approach to a berth can quite easily become a target in the mind of the helm, ‘a point to aim for’. This is invariably a bad idea.
By focusing our attention on hitting the target, we succumb to a kind of tunnel vision; our mind prioritising where we want to be, rather than balancing the forces acting upon the boat that dictate where it will likely end up.
A degree of experience certainly helps in these situations, but there is a simple way to heighten your senses to the reality you’re facing before it’s too late.
As close as possible to the berth, but still in an unconfined space, hold position in one spot and consciously take in each of the forces acting on the boat in turn.
How much power are you needing to use to stem the tide? Then, take the boat through a full 360-degree circle. What does it take to get the bow through the eye of the wind and how much space do you think it requires?
Through this simple exercise it generally becomes clear if the berth you are looking at is actually a workable target to aim for.
If it is, your plan will be one informed by a solid appreciation of the elements – the hardest thing to calculate when your mind is focussed solely on manoeuvring the boat into its final berthing position. Happy landings!
Surviving a storm
Like most cruising sailors I’ve had my fair share of heavy weather but one event stands out above the others.
We were halfway between Iceland and Scotland. The Northern Lights were on display, the boat was sailing nicely on a broad reach.
Dawn came and the sky began to cloud over. I looked at the barometre; it was falling.
I tapped it and it fell further – this was not going to be good.
By nightfall we were riding out a Force 11.
At one point I was thrown across the cockpit landing on my ribs, and to judge by the pain, something had been broken,
Later, with the storm boards in place, something similar happened when I got flung across the saloon.
All the while I could feel the boat rising with the seas, the keel losing its grip in the breaking water on the crests, then the stomach-churning slide down the wave and into the next one.
Looking back on this storm survival, I reckon it was the boat that saved us rather than seamanship.
My best guess is that with all the sails furled and the wheel lashed alee the boat lay at an angle to the approaching waves, creating a slick, which absorbed some of their energy.
The lesson here? The boat can take a lot more than you can but she’ll need some help.
We keep our boat in Greece, sailing for the summer half of the year and storing it ashore for the winter half.
Every autumn we clear the decks, leaving everything below, including the boom and fenders. We have found through bitter experience that halyards left on the mast will flap, no matter how well they are attached, needing replacement in the spring.teak
Replacement of the halyards by mousing lines is a well-established practice, but over the years we have refined the procedure so that now I can change all six in little more than an hour.
Years ago I bought a reel of polypropylene line from a farmers’ supplies shop and for about 10 years this was what we used, cut and heat-sealed to 30m lengths.
By the end of this period the polypropylene was looking very ragged as the surface layers began to break up and oxidise.
We then bought 200m of 4mm braided line, which lasted well.
When it comes to mousing halyards, I simply join the ends of the halyard and mousing line using a short piece of soft iron wire pushed through the lay of the ropes.
The ends are hooked together and squeezed close with a pair of pliers. This method has never failed, passes over the sheaves without snagging and takes about a minute.
Some of our halyards are now nearly 20 years old and still in good condition.
Teak decks have a tendency for the bond between the wood and the caulking to fail.
This admits water, causing the deck to lift from the GRP, at which point it’s time for replacement.
At some point a teak deck may need to be completely recaulked – not a pleasant job.
The evil day can be postponed by picking out patches of detached caulk, cleaning the groove and recaulking.
How do you know where the caulk has failed?
Watch while the deck dries out after a shower. Those tell-tale ellipses that are the last to dry are the places where the caulk is failing.
How to re-caulk? That’s a whole ’nuther skipper’s tip. Nobody said teak decks were easy!