Techniques & Tactics

HAUTE BOAT CUISINE: How to Eat Well on a Cruising Boat Without Really Trying

canned food

Yes, I have done this, and that is me in that photo up there, eating cold ravioli straight out of a can. That's my old buddy and shipmate Dave Lankshear (he got shipwrecked in Spain with me many moons ago) spoon-feeding me; this during a small gale we sailed through on a 15-day passage from Bermuda to the Azores on my old Alberg 35 yawl Crazy Horse. But no, I have not done this very often, because usually, even on a boat as primitive as Crazy Horse, it is possible, and not too hard, to eat pretty well while cruising.

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NEWPORT 12-METER JUNKET: With A Little Help From My Friends

American Eagle deck

I should have learned this lesson a number of years ago, but now I'm quite certain I have learned it for good. For the second time in my life this past Friday I was lured aboard one of the several 12 Meters that sail out of Newport as part of a business team-building/schmoozing exercise and made the grave mistake of raising my hand when our skipper asked if anyone coming aboard had any sailing experience. Never again!

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MARINE LIGHTNING PROTECTION: Getting Z-Z-Z-Zapped on a Sailboat

Lightning strike

I have to admit I don't normally think about this too much. As is true of many sailors I suspect, I have subscribed to the philosophy that lightning and its effects are so random and poorly understood that you can get royally screwed no matter what you try to do about it. Which is a great predicate, of course, to going into denial and doing nothing at all. But the death in Florida last summer of Noah Cullen, a most promising young man who presumably was killed in a lightning strike while out singlehanding on his pocket cruiser, got me pondering this in a more deliberate manner. On doing some research, I found there are some hard facts out there that are well worth knowing.

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KNOT OF THE YEAR AWARD: The Obscure But Ultimately Very Useful Halyard Knot

Halyard knot

That's right, sports fans: it's awards season! In the always hard-fought Cordage Utility category the ballots have been counted and the surprise winner this year is the mysterious halyard knot. Unknown to many sailors, the halyard knot is nonetheless an elegant compact knot that is particularly handy to know about if you need to bend a line on to some sort of shackle or clip (a halyard shackle being the eponymous example) on a more-or-less permanent basis, but are too lazy (or ignorant) to be bothered with actually splicing the line on to said bit of hardware.

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GALERIDER DROGUE: For Steering and Heaving To

Drogue test

You probably won't be too surprised to learn that I've been thinking about jury-steering systems ever since my little adventure back in January aboard the catamaran Be Good Too. One thing I've wondered is whether we might have managed to save the boat if we'd had a proper drogue onboard to try steering with. If we'd been able to neutralize the effect of the bent port rudder, which was constantly steering the boat to starboard, by either losing the rudder entirely (not really feasible) or by letting it swing freely (which would have been easy if we'd known the rudder was bent before we "fixed" it), I'm quite certain the boat could have been steered with a properly sized drogue. The more pertinent question is whether or not a drogue could have overcome the steering bias created by the damaged port rudder to allow us to control the boat in spite of it.

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DOUSING THE MAINSAIL: Do It After You Park The Boat

Unfurled mainsail

I do a fair amount of singlehanded coastal cruising during the summer, usually just going out for a quick overnight whenever an opportunity presents itself. When departing my mooring at Portland Yacht Services (or any mooring for that matter), it has long been my practice to raise the mainsail before dropping the mooring pennant. That way I can get sailing ASAP, usually immediately. When anchoring or picking up a mooring, however, my habit for many years has been to douse and stow the mainsail first, then secure the boat.

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RETRIEVING LOST HALYARDS: A Cheap Trick That Works

Lost halyard drawing

I wrote about this once in a print magazine, and some people were skeptical. But I'm telling you--it really does work. I've done it twice at sea successfully; no fuss, no muss. If you lose a halyard up your mast, this is how to get it back from deck level without having to climb the mast.

There is one prerequisite. You need a spare halyard with a shackle on it that is in reasonably close proximity to the one you were stupid enough to let fly up the mast. Given this, retrieving the lost halyard should be easy.

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RUNNING INLETS: How Not to Fall Down and Get Hurt

Inlet 1

I'm thinking about this (again) after watching an exciting video (see below) of a sailboat wiping out trying to enter an inlet at Zumaia in northern Spain. The photo above shows a different boat entering the same inlet successfully, which should give you an idea at a glance of how hairy this can be when conditions are uncooperative.

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HEAVY WEATHER HELMING: Sculling Waves

Steering downwind

Back in the early days of singlehanded ocean racing, the winners of races like the Vendee Globe and the BOC Challenge were often the guys who slept the least and steered the most. Autopilots were useful in calm to moderate conditions, but once the waves were up you needed a live body on the wheel or tiller to achieve the fastest, smoothest ride. These days, however, the most sophisticated autopilots have "fuzzy logic" software and three-dimensional motion sensors and can steer in strong conditions just as well as, if not better than, most humans.

This sounds like a great excuse to spend less time on the wheel, assuming your boat has such an autopilot, but in the hairiest situations it's still best to have a person in control. Modern autopilots can learn a boat's handling characteristics and can sense a boat's bow or stern rising to a wave, but they can't perceive what's going on around a boat. Once you're in a big seaway where waves are routinely breaking, it's best to have a helmsperson who can see and hear the rough stuff and steer around it. Also, of course, an autopilot needs electricity to function. If you've lost power, or have little to spare, you need a human on the wheel.

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