Techniques & Tactics

RODE WARRIORS: Painting Your Anchor Chain

Marking a chain anchor rode

There all sorts of ways to mark an anchor chain so that you know how much rode you've let out when anchoring. Some people sew tufts of fabric webbing to the chain links at appropriate intervals. Some people attach colored wire ties to the links. Others trot down to West Marine and buy packs of those yellow plastic tags with numbers on them. There are even a few privileged souls who have machines installed on their boats that automatically measure chain for them as it goes overboard.

But most folks, I'm guessing, just paint their chain, dabbing on stripes of red pigment with a spray can every 25 feet or so.

So here's a tip for all you chain-dabbers: next time you want to freshen up the paint on your rode, the first thing you should do is dive into the nearest dumpster and extract a few empty cardboard beer cases.

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FURLING HEADSAILS: Stowed Properly, Please

Shredded furling headsail after a storm

This is a common sight in marinas and mooring fields after some heavy weather blows through. Conscientious sailors either don't have time to strip their sails off their boats, or they figure the weather won't really be that bad. So they furl their headsails and take a few extra wraps around the clew to make sure the sail is secure. All is safe, they figure. But when they return they find their headsail somehow managed to shred itself anyway.

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BECUE YOUR ANCHOR: Unsticking a Stuck Hook

Becued anchor

Speaking of fouled anchors (see the last paragraph and photo of my last post), here's a neat little trick I learned while sailing with Don Street aboard his antique yawl Iolaire in the Fastnet Race. We were becalmed off the south coast of England, confronting a soon to be extremely contrary tide, and were wondering if we might soon have to anchor to keep from losing ground. Because we’d be anchoring in very deep water in uncertain holding ground, Don absolutely insisted we “becue the anchor” to prepare it for launching.

None of the crew had any idea what he was talking about. Needless to say, he was very happy to demonstrate.

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CAPE HATTERAS: Transit Strategies

Cape Hatteras satellite image

Thousands of vessels sneak past Cape Hatteras each year without mishap, but you should never assume its reputation as the Graveyard of the North Atlantic is undeserved. To get an idea of how dodgy a place it can be, you need only contemplate the fate of the various nav aids that have been stationed at the end of Diamond Shoals, which jut out some 13 miles beyond the cape itself.

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Passing under the Cape May Bridge

Funny thing about sailboat masts and bridges: no matter how much clearance you actually have, when you're standing in the cockpit looking up it always looks like you're not going to make it. Of course, the people who think to put bridges in our way do try to provide information on how much space is under them, even at various states of the tide. But still every so often the situation is ambiguous, and you're not sure your mast will fit. Lots of people just hold their breath and take their chances in these situations, like these folk in this video here.

If you watch closely, you'll see they get some sensors scraped off their masthead. Which, obviously, is not the worst-case scenario.

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50th Anniversary Omega Speedmaster chronograph

This is my Omega Speedmaster, a fancy mechanical chronograph that my wife gave me for my birthday a couple of years back. It is, in fact, a special 50th anniversary edition of this legendary time piece, released back in 2007, when I myself turned 50.

Watch fanatics will at once remember the Speedmaster as the first and only watch ever worn on the moon. NASA conducted extensive tests back in the 1960s to discover which watches could function reliably outside spacecraft during space walks, and the Speedmaster was the only one that passed muster. It was thus duly anointed as NASA's official space watch. Later, when the shit hit the fan on Apollo 13 and the power went down, the crew used their Speedmasters to manually time the rocket burns that brought them safely back to Earth.

But what I really want to discuss is not the watch itself. Instead, please focus on the telemeter bezel ring circumnavigating the watch face.

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CELESTIAL REASONING: Quick & Dirty Noon Sights

Taking a noon sight

You may recall I threatened to abuse you with knowledge of celestial navigation back when they shut down the Loran system in February. I have long preached the wisdom of learning and practicing a bit of celestial nav, and once upon a time I actually practiced what I preached (as you can see in the photo up top, which is of me shooting the sun on Crazy Horse while en route from the Cape Verdes to Antigua in 1997). I still keep a sextant onboard, but I realized when I sat down to compose a celestial diatribe to share with you that it actually has been many years since I ever used it. Before lecturing you, therefore, I figured I best brush up a bit and so liberated my old Plath Navistar Pro from its tomb aboard Lunacy while sailing from Tortola to Bermuda last week.

I was amazed at how much I had forgotten. Fortunately, too, I was amazed at how much I remembered again after I pondered over my sextant, my old celestial nav workbook, and the Nautical Almanac for a while. In the end, it was reassuring to know I could still more or less figure out where I was without any help from satellites.

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RADAR LOVE: Random Tips for Singlehanders

Charlie Doane loves his radar

Lunacy is the first boat I've ever had that is equipped with radar. Initially I didn't use it much. I know some curmudgeons who still swear it's their first choice when it comes to navigation electronics, but in the age of GPS this just seems perverse to me. Interpreting glowing globular clusters for clues as to my whereabouts has never been one of my special talents. I'm also not much good at reading chicken entrails.

During solo offshore passages, however, I've come to worhsip my radar. It solves the biggest problem any singlehander must face, which is SLEEP. As in how to get some without just rolling the dice on whether some huge freighter is going to run you down like a bug.

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