Techniques & Tactics

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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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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You may have seen this video a couple of years ago back when the collision, during Cowes race week, took place. They're having a trial about it now, as the skipper of the yacht, a Corby 33 named Atalanta of Chester, insists that he was not negligent. Watching what happened per the viddy, I'd say what it was, in law-school lingo, was negligence per se. As in: you should never try to cross in front of another vessel, particularly one that is much, much larger than yours, unless you are about 1,000 percent sure you're going to make it.

But the skipper on trial, Royal Navy lieutenant Roland Wilson, presumably is not a total punter when it comes to boathandling. His defense seems to be that the ship, the Hanne Knutsen, a 120,000-ton tanker, gave confusing sound signals as it was turning while trying to avoid another disabled boat.

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COCKPIT CONTROL LINES: Fight the Spaghetti Madness

Cockpit lines

Just as all roads once led to Rome, many cruising sailors now believe that all working lines should lead to the cockpit. The result, unfortunately, is often a pile of multi-colored spaghetti that is hard to manage and actually makes it more difficult to sail your boat.

On aft-cockpit boats the most common scenario now is that almost every line coming off the mast or deck forward of the cockpit is led back through blocks and organizers to a battery of rope clutches arrayed around two winches on either side of the companionway under the cockpit dodger. The more active lines are usually the mainsheet, two control lines for a main traveler situated just forward of the dodger, the main halyard, and one or more mainsail reefing lines (for either a slab-reefed main or an in-mast furling main). Less active lines led to this same location may include one or more headsail halyards, perhaps a dedicated spinnaker halyard and a spinnaker pole downhaul, perhaps one or more topping lifts (one for the main boom, plus one for the spinnaker pole), plus maybe a mainsail outhaul.

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SALVAGE LAW: Do You Get to Keep an Abandoned Boat?

Boat on beach

I've been posting a bit lately about abandoned boats, and my SAILfeed colleague Clark Beek has rightly pointed out that it is high time I bloviated on the subject of salvage rights. Many people believe that if you find an abandoned boat it automatically belongs to you, and yes, I intentionally played into and exploited that popular misconception in the title of my first post on Wolfhound, the abandoned Swan 48 now adrift 600 miles east of Bermuda. But in fact the law isn't that simple.

Salvage law is very old and dates back to medieval times, when men went to sea primarily to engage in commerce. A vessel in trouble often carried cargo worth as much or more than the ship itself, and the men attracted by her distress were just as likely to plunder her as to save her. Thus the core principle of salvage law has always been that honest men who risk their own lives and vessels trying to save other vessels should be very well rewarded.

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BILGE DRAIN: A Useful Hole In Your Boat

Bilge drain (from outside)

You usually don't think of a hole in your hull as being a good thing, but sometimes a properly organized one can save you a lot of trouble. Back when I owned Crazy Horse, my Alberg 35 yawl, a boat with a full keel and very deep bilges, I wished I had a bilge drain like the one pictured above every time I hauled the boat. There was always a fairly large pool of water at the bottom of the bilge that pumps couldn't pick up and that I could never reach to bail out by hand, and I would have loved being able to simply drain it out when the boat was blocked up on the hard.

If your boat has a keel-stepped mast with internal halyards, a bilge drain, whether the bilge is deep or shallow, is practically a necessity. Store such a boat on the hard with its mast up, and all the rain entering the mast through the halyard exits gets routed right to the bilge. If you don't get it out somehow, it will freeze up and possibly cause damage if you are in colder climes, or it may simply flood the boat wherever you are. Your bilge pump can save the day, IF there is power to run it, but the more foolproof solution is to simply leave a bilge drain open so the rain can run out on its own.

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ANCHORING TIP: Store Rope Rode On Deck

Sailboat foredeck

I didn't come up with this idea myself. I learned it crewing for a guy down in Florida who always stored not one, but two rope anchor rodes on his foredeck while cruising. Even on offshore passages he kept them out there, with the coils of rode lashed to stanchion post bases, and never had any problems.

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 somehow getting all the rope down the hawsehole. Chain is heavy enough that it will just fall down there on its own, but rope wants encouraging. Either you need a crew member below pulling the rope down into the locker as you raise your anchor, or you have to shuttle back and forth between the foredeck and locker doing it yourself.

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SWAN 48 DELIVERY: Wrong Way To The W'Indies

Swan 48 Avocation under sail

Editor's Note: Those studying my recent account of Lunacy's passage from Puerto Rico to Bermuda may have noticed that we did NOT find that abandoned Swan 48, Wolfhound, ex-Bella Luna , that I blogged about earlier. Ah, well... You can't always find that needle in the haystack, but I can deliver on my promise to tell you about the time I delivered a Swan 48 down to the islands.

I HAD OFTEN delivered boats from the northeastern U.S. to the West Indies in early November. I had also done northbound trips from the Indies to New England in the spring. But I had never before been asked to take a boat south to the Caribbean in early April. Why, pray tell, would anyone want to do this? The answer, not surprisingly, involved a racing schedule.

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Dinghy stowed on deck

ATTENTION EARTH PEOPLE! As I write this I am approaching Bermuda, blasting along but 70 miles out on what seems a perpetual close reach, due for a landing sometime in the wee hours tomorrow, of which more later. What I really want to spout off about right now are inflatable tenders. I was thinking about this as we were preparing to leave Puerto Rico, while regarding our neighbors on a 45-foot Bristol next door, who were about to depart for Annapolis. They had just stowed their RIB tender for the passage, and it took up all of their foredeck. I mean ALL of it! On Lunacy, meanwhile... well, you see that photo up there?

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