Flake Your Main – The Right Time and Place

Ask three sailors for the proper time and place to flake a main, and you are liable to get a confusing array of answers.  Even sailing instructors vary on the process and timing, however, basically there are two options.  1) flake the sail neatly as the main is lowered to save time at the dock during clean up, and 2) get the sail down as fast and safe as possible and clean up the flake at the dock. Often the method taught includes a decision making process.  If it’s calm, choose option 1.  If there are substantial wind and waves, option 2 is better.

During the time I have been sailing, I have personally witnessed only one actual crew overboard.  The cause?  Option 1!  During nearly windless conditions, the main was being lowered.  Three crew members were working on getting the sail neatly flaked while dousing.  The boat rolled one way while the boom swung the other and I heard myself yelling “man overboard” as I watched in slow motion the feet and legs of one of the crew disappearing from sight.  Everything worked out in this case.  The crew was in the water for less than five minutes.  We had warm dry clothes on board to change into, and there were no injuries other than to his pride.  It could have been much worse.

What is the best way to douse and flake a main?

  1. Get the motor started and head into the wind with just enough speed to have solid rudder control.
  2. One crew should be stationed forward of the mast, facing aft, left hand ready to guide the starboard side of the sail, right hand ready to guide the port side of the sail.
  3. As the halyard is lowered, the crew at the mast pulls a fold into the luff of the sail between the tack and the first sail slide.  The sail will let you know if the fold should go to port or starboard.  If, for example, the first fold goes to port, then pull a fold to starboard between the first and second slides, then back to port between slide two and three, repeating the port/starboard folding process all the way to the head.
  4. As the luff is being folded (more correctly, flaked), allow the leach to spill onto one side of the boom.
  5. Once the mainsail is all the way down, secure the boom.
  6. Now the crew working at the mast can move to the side of the boom the sail is spilled over and begin to quickly “roll” the sail “like a sleeping bag” until it is rolled onto the top of the boom.  Put on enough gaskets (the nautical term for sail ties) to secure the sail to the boom and head for the dock (or anchorage.)
  7. Once tied securely to a dock, flake the leach to match the luff and secure.

A some points to consider.  First, get the sail down as fast and safe as possible. Second, don’t expose any more crew than is necessary.  In many cases only one person on deck is needed.  Third, flake the sail nice and neat after return to the dock.

Following this process may prevent an embarrassing and potentially dangerous situation from happening on a boat over which you have responsibility.

Posted in General, Skipper's Tip | 1 Comment

Reefing Under Sail

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to watch one of the Tradewinds boats from a distance “struggling” in 25 knot plus winds at the eastern entrance to Raccoon Straight.  My initial thought was that the boat was in trouble, so we started in that direction to lend assistance.  As we got closer, we realized the motor was running, the boat was head to wind, and the crew as struggling to get a reef in.  It wasn’t fun to watch.  Both sails were being trashed by the wind (we needed to restitch the jib UV cover the next day) and the resulting reef was very poorly set.  Watching it reminded me of one of my mentors as I was learning to sail who had a favorite saying … “If you can’t reef under sail, San Francisco Bay will eat your lunch, and you have no business sailing there!”

As an instructor teaching Bareboat and Advanced Coastal Cruising classes, I have come to realize the truth and wisdom in this statement, and sadly, how may sailors out there can’t do it when it is actually safer, easier, and much less noisy than turning on the motor and pulling up head to wind.

To put a reef in under sail, come close hauled, trim the jib, and release the main. While the main is released, the boat will heal less allowing you to comfortably ease the halyard and put in the reef.  Typically the reef tack is set first, followed by the reef outhaul, and then the halyard is adjusted.  It is truly as simple as that. The only challenge is understanding the exact process as it applies to different boats.  Some boats have two lines (tack and outhaul) for each reef.  Some have a single line that sets both tack and outhaul.  Some have a hook and ring at the tack.  Some boats are so simple as to have a roller furling main that just needs to be rolled up a bit.  Regardless of the set up, sail close hauled with the main released and reefing will be a snap.

What happens if you are sailing short handed and your crew is scared and not able to help.  It’s not quite as quick and efficient, however, try reefing while hove to.  Generally that can be accomplished without the help of an untrained crew member.

One final thought.  Remember the rules of the road.  Reef while on a starboard tack and you will generally be the stand on vessel.

Posted in General, Skipper's Tip | 7 Comments

Does your automatic PFD really work?

Brandy & Matt:

I want to share an experience with you that you might want to pass along to other Tradewinds skippers and members.

In 2007, I bought an inflatable PFD because I was going offshore to help a friend move his Morgan 45 from Colon, Panama to Cartagena, Colombia.  I had been using a Type III vest while day-sailing on the Bay, but I upgraded to a Mustang automatic inflatable PFD.  Happily, over the past 5 years that I’ve been wearing my Mustang PFD, I’ve never had to rely on it.  But I’ve always wondered — would it really work in an emergency?  About a month ago, I happened to check the pull-date on the CO2 cartridge and realized that it was woefully out-of-date.  I went to the local West Marine and bought the replacement kit.  But still I wondered…

Yesterday evening, along with my sailing buddy Mike D., we tested our automatic PFDs in our backyard pool.  I’m happy to report that they worked!

Photo #1 is “the jump” from the side of the pool.  We wore t-shirts and swim shorts because that’s probably what we’ll be wearing when we go sailing in the BVI this fall.  We wanted the test situation to be sort of realistic.


                Photo #2 is the initial inflation.  I’m happy to report that it took only 2-3 seconds before I found myself in a rapidly inflating PFD.  You’ll notice that the right sides of both my PFD and Mike’s PFD are inflating first.  The inflating noise was surprisingly loud, as was the ripping sound of the velcro seams opening.  It all happened very fast — and that’s a good thing!


                By photo #3 you can see that our PFDs are fully inflated.  There was a lot of buoyancy, especially neck support.  That’s very reassuring.  Our noses and mouths were well above water level.


We quickly found the orange whistles that are permanently attached to the PFDs.  Also, I figured out how to turn on the strobe light pretty easily.  Mike discovered that he had never put batteries inside his strobe.  Oops…

What are the lessons that we learned and want to pass along to other Tradewinds skippers?

* DATES. Check the expiration dates on your PFD cartridges!  The pamphlet says to replace the CO2 cartridges every three years. (Note: This can vary by manufacturer & model)

* REPLACEMENTS. Buy a back-up kit.  If your PFD inflates while sailing (or in an emergency), you’ll want to rearm your PFD as soon as you’re back on board.  Keep the extra kit in your sailing bag.

* EQUIPMENT.  Inspect your unfolded PFD — find the manual pull tab, find (and use) the mouthpiece for re-inflating the PFD, test your strobe light.  Get comfortable with your equipment!

* STROBE.  Put batteries in your PFD’s strobe light!  As they say, “batteries not included…”  Probably put fresh batteries in your strobe light when you replace the CO2 cartridge.

* TRY IT. It was VERY reassuring to experience the PFD inflating so fast.  I hope that I never end up in the cold water of the Bay, but if I do then I know that my neck and head will be above the waterline within seconds.

Best wishes!                      – Peter D.

Brandy and Matt,

I would like to add one thing to Peter’s note….my pfd was a bit loose (the way I normally wear it for comfort!)…when it inflated, it pulled away from body a bit, so it actually forced my chin up and my head back. It was secure, but I think I had less mobility in my head/neck than Peter….picture 3 shows this if you look closely….

It was a good safety exercise….and a rush!  (Safety first, fun second!)


Mike D

Posted in General | 4 Comments

Control Your Jib Sheets

Summer is here!  Our typical summer wind patterns are filling in, with their associated positive and negative sides.  To the positive, the sailing has been phenomenal!  If you haven’t gotten out on the water, GO!

Cracked Panels

Here is a big negative.  In the past month we have needed to replace several clear plastic dodger window panels!  The cause is simple.  Not controlling jib sheets during tacking, crew overboard practice, reefing, and furling operations.  High winds and luffing jibs cause sheets to flail wildly.  When this happens, bad things result.  I personally have seen a broken nose, black eyes, split lips, lost eye glasses, and a number of broken dodger windows.  Here’s how to avoid all of these problems.

*Note from Matt: Don’t forget the missing dorade covers that disappear off the decks for the same reason! It’s also been the cause of bent/broken deck hatches in the past – the lazy sheet can get caught under the lip of a hatch and ends up getting lifted with all of the force of the wind in the jib on the next tack.

While tacking, take the jib sheet out of the winch cleat, but do not release the wraps immediately.  Start the tack and wait until the jib begins to back-wind slightly before releasing it.  Trim immediately on the opposite side and the sheet will not have a chance to flail.

When reefing or furling in high winds, DO NOT try to furl while on a close haul or close reach.  Instead, bear away to a deep broad reach.  Ease the main and allow it to blanket the jib.  The process of rolling the jib up will now be easier and won’t involve any flailing sheets.

*Note from Matt: This should be S.O.P.! Practice it every time you furl a sail. You know that point on a run when you are steering down wind and it’s hard to keep the jib full of wind because you turned downwind just a little too far? That’s the main blocking the wind – and it’s the perfect time to furl the jib. There’s almost no wind in it, it’s not flogging, it should roll up easily and neatly with minimal effort!

If you are doing crew overboard practice, furl the jib first (while on a broad reach,) and practice on main alone.  No flailing jib sheets!

As an added benefit, luffing jibs and flailing sheets are very noisy.  Loud noises on a sailboat result in uncomfortable and/or fearful crew.  Control those sheets and your crew is going to have a much better time.

Posted in General, Skipper's Tip | 1 Comment

Docking & Communication

I had the opportunity a couple of weeks ago to observe a skipper trying to dock a 30 to 35 foot sailboat. I say trying because it took 4 missed approaches before number 5 finally worked, and even that one required a bit of help from a stranger on the dock.  What was the problem?  From where I stood, it appeared that the skipper didn’t know where he was in relation to the dock.  The result was a some very colorful “sailor talk”.  There were a couple of passengers on board that boat, who looked to be novices.  I hope they had a great sail that day, because it was obvious they were not very comfortable with the end to the day.

On another note, over the past 10 years, I have spent a lot of time in airports, and flying. I am always amazed at how the pilots “park” those great big aircraft within inches of where it needs to be.  This is especially significant when you realize  the pilot can not see the spot on the ground being aimed for.  How do they do it?  Easy … they have ground marshals … using a few very simple hand signals … guiding them in.

So, how does this relate to docking a sailboat?  When coming into a dock or a slip, I can rarely see my “end point”.  However, it’s very simple to have someone on the bow (braced safely) using hand signals to guide me in.  For example:

  • Right arm up and down … turn to the right
  • Left arm up and down … turn to the left
  • Arms (and hands) closing together over the head … getting closer and closer
  • Arms crossed over the head … you are there

Use these, or set up some signals of your own ahead of time, and the next time you are coming into a dock or slip give it a try.  The end result is less stress for all concerned, and anything that reduces stress is worth it!

-Submitted by Tradewinds Instructor Don Gilzean

Posted in Skipper's Tip | Tagged | 2 Comments

Am I Ready for the Next Class

As an instructor, I hear this question quite often.  Unfortunately, there is no easy answer, because each of us is different.  We sail different amounts and do different exercises while sailing.  We learn at different speeds, and we have different backgrounds and goals.  There are however a few general guidelines to follow to help answer that question.

First, if you haven’t practiced, you probably are not ready!  I see this regularly.  A student passes Basic Coastal Cruising and immediately signs up for the Bareboat Cruising class scheduled for two months out, with every intention of getting out and practicing.  Unfortunately, “life happens,” and that person doesn’t make it out sailing.  Bareboat will not be a pleasant experience for anyone on the boat, least of all that student.  I know this because of having seen it as an instructor, and experiencing it myself.  I was that student who struggled in Bareboat due to lack of practice in appropriately sized boats.

So, what constitutes practice in appropriately sized boats?  Just going sailing will get you part of the way, however, to really get the most out of your practice sessions, set up some “exercises” to perform.  If your last class was Basic Coastal Cruising, sailing a 25 foot boat with an outboard is not going to prepare you for Bareboat.  Get out on a 27 to 34 foot boat with an inboard and practice the skills on it.  Take 30 minutes of your sailing day to do some docking and motoring drills.  While under sail, do a series of tacks and jibes.  Keep your tacks tight and controlled.  Turn from a close haul to a close haul.  Start practicing jibes from a broad reach to a broad reach, and as you improve tighten the turns up … deep broad reach to deep broad reach, run to run, and finally run to wing on wing and back.  Heave to a couple of times.  Put in and shake out a reef a couple of times.  Try putting in a reef close hauled on the jib alone, and another reef while hove to.  Finally do a couple of crew overboard drills every time you sail!

Do this process during a half dozen sails, while on an appropriately sized boat, and you will be ready for the best learning experience in the next class.

One final thought.  Don’t forget to practice the knots from all of your  prior classes. Knowing how to tie the proper knot in the proper circumstance is important, and may save your life someday.

Posted in General | 1 Comment

Prop Walk – by Bill Yawn


Recently while reading a book on advanced docking techniques it was observed that the explanation of prop walk was described as the same effect of a rotor tiller moving across the ground.  In other words the blades on a rotor tiller spin biting into the earth pulling the device and operator in one specific direction.  This description is misleading and inappropriate for an advanced docking book.

Let’s take a look at the real factors that cause prop walk.  This explanation will lightly touch the theory; however, references will be listed at the end of this article for those that want to work this out mathematically.

Beginning with the Basic Coastal Cruising class students have been taught that two methods are used to determine prop walk on a vessel.  First, we put the boat into reverse gear and observe which direction the stern moves.  Second, while in reverse propulsion observe on which side of the vessel is the prop wash observed.  Most vessels have a right-handed propeller [the prop turns to the right in forward when observed from the stern] and when in reverse to the left which results in wash being pushed upwards and on the starboard side of the vessel.  This action moves the stern of the vessel to port.

Aircraft pilots know the term prop walk by other names such as p-factor, asymmetric thrust and asymmetric disk loading.  Okay, why jump from the water to the air?  Good question.  The aviation world has done a better job of explaining this turning tendency of aircraft and the explanation also applies to our watercraft.  When a single engine aircraft starts its take off and all the way to level flight the pilot has to push on the right rudder peddle to overcome the left turning effect of prop walk.

Key word in the above paragraph was “level flight”.  If the plane is in level flight there is no p-factor [asymmetric thrust] or prop walk.  The same applies to our boats.  If the shaft exits the vessel level or perpendicular to the water, resulting in the propeller being perpendicular there is no prop walk.  [Please keep in mind that hull shape also helps increase or decrease the effects of prop walk.]

Not all boats produce the same amount of prop walk and engineers can design in or out this effect.  If you have operated Lionheart you know this boat has a huge amount of walk to the port; while Galen, Redeemed and Whale Song have very little walk.  Prop walk is wonderful if used correctly.

There are two results of prop wash caused by prop walk and these will be discussed later but first and succinctly the cause of prop walk.  On our vessels the shaft exits the boat at an angle to the surface of water and as such the propeller is also at an angle.  This results in the starboard side propeller blade being at a greater angle to the water than the port side.  In aviation terms the starboard side has a greater angle of attack than the port side.

Being that the starboard side has a greater angle of attack [AOA] it travels faster in relations to the relative/apparent water speed as the port side.  Okay hang on, one blade does not physically move faster than the other but in relation to the relative/apparent water it does.

[From the FAA website:  http://www.faa.gov/library/manuals/aviation/pilot_handbook/media/PHAK%20-%20Chapter%2004.pdf ]   Comments in […] are my inserts to make the statement relate to our vessels.

“When an aircraft [boat] is flying [backing] with a high AOA, the “bite” of the downward [upward] moving blade is greater than the “bite” of the upward [downward] moving blade. This moves the center of thrust to the right of the prop disc area, causing a yawing moment toward the left around the vertical axis. To prove this explanation is complex because it would be necessary to work wind [water] vector problems on each blade while considering both the AOA of the aircraft [propeller] and the AOA of each blade.

This asymmetric loading is caused by the resultant velocity, which is generated by the combination of the velocity of the propeller blade in its plane of rotation and the velocity of the air[water]  passing horizontally through the propeller disc. With the aircraft being flown at positive AOAs, the right (viewed from the rear) or downswinging [upward] blade, is passing through an area of resultant velocity which is greater than that affecting the left or upswinging [downward]  blade. Since the propeller blade is an airfoil, increased velocity means increased lift. The downswinging [upward]  blade has more lift and tends to pull (yaw) the aircraft’s nose to the left [boats stern to the left].”

This explains prop walk and now let’s look at the resulting prop wash and what effect is has.  Back to the earlier observation that on a right handed prop the wash is seen on the starboard side of the vessel.  This wash pushes on the starboard side and helps move the stern to the left.  Another phenomena that helps push the stern to the left [while in the slip] is the wash that pushes against the slip finger.

For those that want to work this out using vector analysis please visit: http://www.av8n.com/how/htm/yaw.html#8-5 section 8.5 and http://www.meretrix.com/~harry/flying/notes/pfactor.html

There is also prop walk when the vessel is moving forward but most of us unconsciously correct for it by applying a bit of left rudder.  On a right handed prop the forward walk is stern to the right.  If you want to test this statement put the boat in forward and get it up to 5 knots and steer the boat on an absolute straight course.  Now without turning the wheel shift into neutral and the boat will slightly make a turn.  This is because while motoring forward you have trimmed out the effects of prop walk.

Bill Yawn holds a USCG Master’s License and a Commercial Pilots License and is a retired industrial engineering manager.

Posted in Skipper's Tip | Tagged | 3 Comments

Interesting Email Chain – Weather Forecasting Discrepancies!

From: Gary G
Sent: Thursday, April 28, 2016 12:37 PM
To: Matt K
Subject: Weather forecasts

Hi Matt,

I’ve noticed a dramatic difference in weather forecasts recently for Richmond in particular between the Weather Underground and the Richmond NOAA site on our Tradewinds page.

For example as of noon Thursday (today) WU has Saturday’s forecast for Richmond as:

Sunny. Gusty winds diminishing in the afternoon. High 79F. Winds N at 20 to 30 mph. Winds could occasionally gust over 40 mph.

While the Richmond NOAA forecast is: Sunny, with a high near 75. Calm wind becoming north northwest around 6 mph in the afternoon.  

I realize that art and science are both at work here, but these differences are significant. Aside from picking the worst and being relieved when it doesn’t happen, I don’t have an explanation for students to help them develop their sailing plans.

As always, your insights are appreciated!  -Gary

From: Gary G
Sent: Thursday, April 28, 2016 3:02 PM
To: Matt K
Subject: FW: Weather forecasts

Hi again Matt,

I see now a few hours later Thursday afternoon that the forecasts are moving closer together for Saturday. Is the answer to why the forecasts were so different because they each update on different schedules and also use different analytics?  Is there a site that you prefer when making weather related decisions for Richmond and the Bay? I used look at Weather Underground but now I’m not so sure. Again, thanks a lot for your time!  -Gary

From: Matt K
Sent: Thursday, April 28, 2016 3:10 PM
To: Gary G
Subject: RE: Weather forecasts

Is the NOAA forecast you are looking at for a much larger area? That usually accounts for the difference, the NOAA forecast is averaging a large area like “SAN PABLO BAY SUISUN BAY THE WEST DELTA AND SAN FRANCISCO BAY NORTH OF THE BAY BRIDGE” and the WU forecast is for a much smaller area.

Matt Kepner

Tradewinds Sailing School & Club, Inc.

From: Gary G
Sent: Thursday, April 28, 2016 3:29 PM
To: Matt K
Subject: RE: Weather forecasts

Thanks Matt. I was looking at the NOAA site listed as Richmond Weather (it lists its focus as 2 miles S Richmond). I asked the question because the two sites were so very different earlier today, and I saw a similar thing at one point last week. Thanks for getting back to me. Cheers! Gary

From: Matt K
Sent: Thursday, April 28, 2016 3:35 PM
To: Gary G; Larry M
Subject: RE: Weather forecasts

Hmm you are right, there is still a large discrepancy.

Weather Underground:

Saturday 0 % Precip. / 0 in

Sunny skies. High 78F. Winds N at 15 to 25 mph. Winds could occasionally gust over 40 mph.


Sunny, with a high near 76. North wind 6 to 11 mph increasing to 13 to 18 mph in the morning. Winds could gust as high as 23 mph.

Maybe our resident weather instructor has some input as to how to help explain this to the students?

Matt Kepner

Tradewinds Sailing School & Club, Inc.

Matt and Gary,

Great observations by Gary and great thinking by Matt.  I think you’re both on the right track.

The Monterey office of the National Weather Service uses raw data from several numerical models, plus local knowledge, plus whatever happened yesterday, and then they write the forecasts from scratch.  As Matt pointed out, the NWS writes Zone Forecasts that cover a large area…not quite mesoscale, but not neighborhood scale, either.

Weather Underground uses their own proprietary numerical modeling plus the same models as the NWS and it also uses a network of personal automated weather reporting stations to provide empirical data.  The WU forecasts are probably rarely modified by humans…it’s mostly the output of their computers.

There are some other important differences between NWS and WU:

  • WU uses a 4 km grid in their analysis; NWS uses a 5 km grid.  The smaller grid requires more processing power and generates a more granular forecast.
  • WU constantly adds weather station empirical data and updates every 15 minutes…NWS updates every 4 hours.  More computing power.
  • WU uses radar and satellite imagery to determine current state of sky conditions.  NWS relies on reports from local airports.  More computing power
  • WU is in this for the money and they sell forecasts (for a lot of money) to private interests.  NWS is public service of the US Government.  WU needs to provide detailed and accurate forecasts.
  • The NWS and its sister agencies (Ocean Prediction Center, National Hurricane Center, etc.) produce weather products across several continents and oceans.  WU only concentrates on those areas that have rich commercial potential, shown on the map below. The white boxes indicate their forecast maps.  There’s a lot of area left over that NWS covers but WU doesn’t.  It’s a little bit like using PC Metro for your cellphone carrier.  God, they’re great in the city but then they suck real bad once you get east of Sacramento.

Does this help explain why there would be differences?

Let’s get Gary looking at the Area Forecast Discussion.  It’s the best way to get plugged into the larger picture of what’s going on in our area.  You’ll find the AFD for SF Bay Area here.

Jeez, this is a lot more interesting than what I’ve been working on today.  Thanks for including me!

Larry M


Posted in General | 1 Comment

Skipper’s Tip – SHIPS!

We’ve all watched as they slink slowly and silently across the bay.  Some of them are a few hundred feet long and others over 1,000 feet and for the most part small boaters stay out of the way.  Some never give them a thought; others are curious about what is happening on the bridge, where they came from and where they are going.  Maybe a few of us wish we could be aboard.  By now you have surmised that I’m talking about the ships that decorate the San Francisco bay.

A dream came true for me recently as I was given the opportunity to observe the San Francisco Bar Pilots in operation.  The assignment was to meet the Bar Pilot at 0600 at pier 58 in Oakland for a 0730 departure.   The trip from Oakland 58 would take us out to the pilot boat approximately 10 miles off shore.  Climb the ladder down to the pilot vessel and wait for another ship that would arrive at the sea buoy at 1430 and ride it back into Oakland 58.  Waiting on the event to take place, I was like a kid anticipating the arrival of Christmas.

Before going further I must thank everyone involved with helping set this up and this includes personnel at the USCG Regional Exam Center in Oakland, CA as well as the San Francisco Bar Pilots and staff involved.  A special thanks to pilots Captain John Carlier and Captain David Pate.  This trip was related to my USCG Auxiliary duties at the Regional Exam Center [REC].

My work at the REC had given me an insight on the experience and knowledge required to be accepted to the Bar Pilot training program. I had an appreciation for their skills and professionalism that had been previously observed.  However, I must admit that I was blown away with the courtesy they gave me, the professionalism I saw firsthand, the ever real and present dangers they accept as just part of the job.

Greetings were exchanged in the parking lot of Oakland 58 and port security gave the pilot and me a ride to the ship.  Pulling alongside the MSC Vittoria, a 1065 feet container ship, we departed the van and the action started.  The pilot quickly ascended the ships ladder to the first deck. As soon as his foot hit the deck one of the mates radioed the bridge “pilots aboard” and we moved almost at a run through sections of the ship to an elevator that was the size of a phone booth.  The pilot, mate and I squeezed into the elevator and were lifted to the 5th floor [deck].  Down a hallway and up two flights of stairs and entered the bridge where the captain immediately greeted the pilot.  The pilot explained my presence.

My first impressions were that there was no chitchat, very friendly but professional, and the bridge was spotless clean.  The captain welcomed us aboard and offered to provide us water, coffee, or tea.  We passed on his offer and then the pilot and captain began a pre departure dialog and exchanged paperwork.  My other impression was the cleanliness of the bridge area.  Boarding the ship we moved so quickly I never had time to look around but now the pace for me slowed and I had time to observe my surroundings; there was not a smudge anywhere on a window, no marks on the floor, no dust anywhere.  Looking at the massive control panels they were spotless.

From the time we arrived on the bridge the helms person was at the helm waiting on orders.  The helm for the ship is the size on my Subaru Outback, about 18 inches in diameter.

The pilot set up his navigational instrument and walked out on the wing overlooking the water.  Picking up his radio called the tugs [Sandra Hugh and Revolution] on channel 13 and advised them that the working channel would be 11 and asked them to connect up to specific positions on the ship.  He then switched channels to the Vessel Traffic Service, channel 14, and advised that the MSC Vittoria was preparing at Oakland 58, turning at Schnitzer’s, intending to take the Delta Echo span of the bay bridge and west bound after departure.  Traffic acknowledged his transmission and advised that our traffic was a tug and barge operating in the area of the bridge.

The pilot asked the captain if the bow thruster was operational and could it be operated at 100 % power.  An assurance was given by the captain that it and all equipment was completely functional.  The pilot asked the tugs to start pulling at specific power settings and he slowly increased the speed of the bow thruster.  Very slowly we inched off the dock and the ship slid out from under the massive cranes on the.

When the pilot was satisfied with our position in the channel, Oakland Estuary, he requested the helm amid ship and dead slow ahead and immediately the pitch of the engine noise changed and the mate responded with “dead slow ahead”.  The helmsman responded “rudder amid ship”.  Each command by the pilot is repeated by the person receiving the request and repeated again when completed.  The pilot thanks them after each acknowledgement.

MSC Vittoria was now heading up the estuary toward Jack London square as it was port side to the dock.  This means it will go to an area known as Schnitzer’s turning basin. As we enter the area there were tugs and ships moored on either side of the area that reduces the operational area.   The ship is 1065 feet long and the turning basin not wide enough for the ship to make a perfect 360 degree turn so as she comes around the pilot has to direct the tugs and helms person on repositioning the stern and bow to miss all obstacles.  As the bow is almost around the bow lookout radios that it looks like we will hit a moored vessel and the captain relays this to the pilot.  The captain advised that he thinks we will miss by “x” number of feet and the pilot agrees; however, the pilot gives orders that repositions the ship for extra clearance.  The ship is now pointed down the channel and underway making way towards the bay bridge.

The pilot releases the tugs and thanks them for their outstanding work.

With a slight pause in the action I ask how much visibility is lost off the bow of the ship since she is loaded and how much effect does the wind have on him. He explains that he has a ¼ mile blind spot in front of the vessel and that wind has a large effect on the vessel.  He goes on to explain that of course the tidal current has a huge effect on the ship but since the ships now days are so long and deep in the water [our draft was 42 feet] the ships act as a dam across the channel.  Because the turning of the ship takes a while water pressure builds on one side of the ship and decreases on the other side because of the damming action.  So all the time the vessel is turning he is using his experience and “mariner’s eye” to keep track of several visual ranges to make sure he is always in control.  He also keeps a lookout for other traffic especially pleasure boaters that think they have room to pass in the tight areas.

He explained how they have practiced on the simulator at Cal Maritime Academy in Vallejo trying to determine the best method of making this turn and developing their skill set.

As the pilot navigates the Vittoria out of the Oakland Estuary toward the bay bridge a passenger ferry passes us on the port side and completely disappears into our blind spot for what seems to be minutes.  The USCG cutter Hawksbill is also in-bound and overtaking us.  The Hawksbill radios to the pilot their intentions to pass on our starboard side and the pilot radios back that he agrees with starboard side.  [The Inland Navigational rules require intentions and agreement.]

Passing other container ships along the dock the pilot explains that until we clear the docks he will keep his speed below 5 knots because of suction from his ship would pull the other ships off the dock.  As a ship passes through the water the water is displaced with the hull of the ship and when the ship passes the void is immediately filled in with the displaced water.  On a fast moving ship this suction is enough to break the mooring lines of vessels.

Be extra careful when passing a ship in a narrow channel.  While working for Vessel Assist I had a boat under tow and had to pass a ship in Redwood Creek.  The pilot aboard radioed that he would slow as much possible for me but be careful as Redwood Creek is very narrow.  As I approached the stern of the ship my vessel and the towed vessel started to be pulled towards the stern and the water level dropped by 3 feet on the bank as the void was filled.

At the entrance to the Oakland Estuary is ATON’s 7 and 8.  The pilot radioed our position to the VTS and immediately ordered several degrees to starboard.  With this maneuver it looked as if he was going to pass the east side of Yerba Buena Island; however, he explained with the flood tide we were going to be pushed hard to port and he was setting up for the current.  Just as he said the current hit the boat and we started a slow turn to port that set him up to pass under the Delta Echo span of the bay bridge.  Perfection is beautiful to watch.  He explained how he was watching the center span of the bridge where it covered a point on the land and how if he kept this range in alignment he would pass comfortably under the bridge.

After leaving the Estuary our speed continued to build until 11 knots was established.  Our course was to take us through the Deep Water Traffic lane and out under the Golden Gate.  We had almost no traffic leaving until we passed Mile Rock where we passed a “small” tanker [only about 600 feet long].  Our speed was now 14 knots and we headed out to pilot boat Drake waiting on us near the sea buoy.

Drake is the newest pilot boat and is 104 long with two 1,100 hp diesels.  Last year there were approximately 4,500 transfers from ships to the pilot boat.  The boat’s station is near the sea buoy and remains on station for 6 days during the summer and 4 days during the winter.  At the end of the tour it is replaced by another pilot boat and crew for 6 or 4 days.  While on station the pilot boats provide a platform for the pilots to wait on the next vessel; this saves on another vessel having to follow each ship out to retrieve the pilots.  The boats are set up with sleeping berths and a fully functional galley with a chef.

If being on the pilot boat sounds like easy duty keep in mind when you are at home nice and warm in bed sleeping the crew can be dealing with 30 foot seas, rain and 50 knot winds.  Think about transferring from one ship to another at night in those conditions or even keeping your lunch down.

We are close to the Drake and I hear the radio call.  “MSC Vittoria this is pilot boat Drake on 13, over.”  “This is Vittoria, over.”  “Vittoria please rig you ladder at XX meters above the water starboard side, come to course xxx degrees and reduce your speed to 8 knots, over.” We swing to the new heading and the pilot is packing his bag, on with the float coat, shakes hands with the captain and turns to the exit and is gone.  I’m fast behind him; this seems like a race. I think to myself is he trying to leave me? We are led down the stairs, down the hall, down the elevator to a different floor to another hall to a catwalk and cross over the engine to the deck.

WOW…  That was a huge engine and dwarfed a person next to it.  Wish I had time to look around.

Out on deck the pilot disappeared down the ladder with me in trail.  For days prior I had thought about how to go down the ladder and how to make the transfer to the pilot boat, but we were moving so fast I forgot to think about the transfer from ship to pilot boat.  As I approached the pilot boat I heard the pilot say time your step across; I did and stepped over to the Drake.  Immediately we went inside as the captain of the Drake pulled us away from the ship.  I was home for the next 5 hours.

Aboard the Drake everyone came up to me and introduced themselves and let me know if I needed anything just ask.  From the wheelhouse I was lead to the pilot’s lounge.  After being introduced to the chef he handed me a menu and asked that I pick what I wanted for lunch and in the meantime to make myself comfortable and if I needed a snack to help myself to what he had prepared.

I told the chef that I could not decide between two choices and to surprise me.  He did, I was served both, beef stroganoff and corn beef and cabbage with sides.  The meal was fabulous.

This was the crew’s 5th day of their 6 day tour and they were looking forward to their 6 days off.  However, looking around the vessel did not look like it had been at sea for 5 days and the crew looked fresh and was busy performing their duties.  Not the way our school boat looks after a 3 day ASA Advance Coastal Cruising class.

During the next few hours I chatted with the pilots, taking notes and waiting on my ride back to Oakland.  For me this was not a joy ride, but a fact finding mission having to do with my activities in the Auxiliary. Nevertheless, it will take weeks for my grin to leave me.

While waiting I phoned my wife to let her know everything was going well.  She had been watching on the AIS online and told me that my ship/ride back to Oakland was at Half Moon Bay making 15 kts. North.

In a short time the container ship Chuanhe was spotted heading our way.  When the Chuanhe was 5 miles away one of the pilot boat’s crew came back to the lounge and advised the pilot of the ships position.  I watched the pilots looking for my queue to get my float coat on but they continued to chat.  Moments later I heard the captain on the pilot boat call the Chuanhe and advised the ship to steer a new course of xxx degrees true and a speed of 8 kts and which side to prepare for boarding.  About this time an iron cloud passed by our windows and the ship was here.  The pilot boat made a 180 degree turn and started picking up speed very quickly.  As our speed began to match the ship’s speed the pilot was out of his seat, float coat on and up to the wheelhouse.  I was in trail again.

When we got to the wheelhouse the captain had pulled alongside the ship, matched her speed precisely. A crew member had opened the wheelhouse door and was ready to give us assistance, if needed, as we crossed over to the ship.  No ladder this time, the ships crew had opened an access hatch in the side of the ship at “almost” our deck level.  I watched as the pilot timed his step across the 4 foot wide Grand Canyon with the Pacific Ocean passing underneath at 8 kts.  My turn, I heard someone say time your step with the wave action and go.  I did and I was aboard the ship.  At all times I felt safe in these activities.

The radio call went out “the pilot is aboard” and the race was on to the bridge.  This time we climbed up an inboard ladder through small hatches to another deck level.  This level had what I will describe as a tunnel, bow to stern, with exposed ship ribs and passage ways designed into them.  The openings were small enough that I had to step sideways in, duck my head and step through.  This process was repeated every 8 feet for about 100 feet and then up another ladder into a hallway, the elevator, hallway, a flight of stairs and onto the bridge.  Again, there was no time for sightseeing.

Greetings were exchanged between the pilot, captain and me.  Paperwork exchanged and the pilot asked if all systems were fully operational and was assured they were.  The pilot proceeded to ask for a course change, called VTS and advised we were inbound from the pilot’s station to Oakland 58 intending Delta Echo span of the bay bridge and east bound traffic lane.  By now his personal navigational system was operational and he asked for additional speed and a course change.

The captain had bottled water brought to us and asked if we wanted coffee or tea.

On the trip in I had the opportunity to ask about speed and small boat traffic on the bay. He advised that inside the bay they are limited to 15 kts. log speed and that most pilots keep the speed up to maintain better control of the vessel.  He also stated that with the new more environmental friendly fuel they are required to burn in shore they are having engine failure at lower boat speed so the speed has to be kept higher to avoid shutdowns.  He said that at times they will have a tug hooked to the stern of the ship and the tug running in reverse to slow the ship down so the ships engine could be operated at higher RPM to avoid engine failure also to help steerage.

I told him that in the past month I had heard several calls to traffic that a ship had lost power.  He advised that in the past month he had 5 engine failures.

Before I asked about the speed he had directed the captain to have an anchor watch set to immediately deploy the anchor on his command in the event of a failure.

I asked the pilot at what point does he [pilot] began to feel uneasy about a pleasure craft in front of him.

He smiled and stated he starts to get uncomfortable when he wakes up in the morning.  Pleasure boaters don’t take time to learn the ships patterns on the bay and don’t anticipate the speed at which they travel.  He compared it to watching a fighter plane land and then a 747; both are almost at the same speed but the 747 looks slower.

The pilot likened operating a ship on San Francisco Bay like driving a high speed ski boat on a small pond full of rowboats.

By now we are at the Golden Gate Bridge and there are two sailboats crossing our bow.  He points to the one on port just beginning to cross our bow and advised that the boat will probably tack out of our way anytime and as if the sailboat heard him the boat tacked.  The other boat continued in what the sailor thought might be the right course; however, the sailboat was heading straight into the east bound traffic lane in our path.  The pilot said that he had to turn the ship but he would do so as slow as possible to let the sailboat have time to move.  A few seconds later the sailboat started its engine and a visible wake started coming off the boat as it moved.  The pilot advised he would use the whistle but wanted to give the pleasure boats time to react.

As we approached the Bay Bridge we could see tugs Revolution and Liberty waiting on us just the other side.   On the south side of the bridge tug Revolution came up to us and was assigned to attach to the stern and drag [meaning out of gear and let the ship drag the tug to help slow us down] and Liberty attached to our bow.

Chuanhe continued underway toward Estuary 7 and 8 as the pilot adjusted the course to compensate for tidal currents and changes in the direction of the channel.  The ship slid in between 7 and 8 at 6 knots and the pilot ordered the stern tug to increase the drag and engines dead slow ahead.  He advised me that speeds above 4.5 knots will cause the docked ship to be pulled off their moorings from the water rushing to fill the void as our ship progressed.

Inside the Estuary, heading toward Jack London Square / Schnitzer’s turning basin, the channel makes a “dog-leg” to the left.  The pilot advised he was going to use bank suction to facilitate the turn in the channel. [Remember back when you were traveling along the freeway and a bus or semi-truck passed you.  Your vehicle was first shoved away from the front and then pulled back toward the passing vehicle.] Bank suction is the same principle.  When the ship’s bow gets close to a bank it is shoved away from the bank and as the stern passes close to the bank the stern is pulled toward the bank.

The ship was approaching ATON # 10 on the red side of the channel and the pilot ordered rudders amid ship.  Bank suction slowly started turning the ship to port.  At the right moment the pilot requested 10 degrees to starboard and the ship stopped the turn exactly mid-channel, perfection.

We were now at the Schnitzer’s turning basin and the pilot again made a difficult maneuver look simple.  By utilizing the tugs at appropriate times, the ship’s propulsion, and his “mariners eye” he made the bow and stern just miss the moored vessels on either side of the channel.  Half way through the turn an impatient pleasure boat decided to squeeze past us and the tug on our bow pushing.  The pleasure vessel completely lost control until the wash from the tug and our bow thruster shoved him into calmer water and coming very close to moored vessels.  Soon the pleasure boat was underway again and hopefully better educated and looking for clean shorts.

For the second time today I was down bound from Schnitzer’s but this time we were docking at Oakland 58.  We are moving toward dock 58 at 2.5 kts. and observations indicated the line handlers and dock crew were set up for dock 57.  As we slipped past 58 toward 57 everyone on the dock quickly started driving toward 58.  The pilot ordered half astern on the engines and requested the tugs to start pulling back hard.  With all this force working it took the ship 1 and ½ times its length to stop and begin backing.

Back alongside 58, the pilot directed the tugs into position and they very slowly inched the ship up to the dock.  Ever so gently the ship kissed the dock and settled to rest.  The order is given and mooring lines are tossed ashore by way of heaving lines.  Once the lines are ashore they are hooked to the front of a pickup truck and pulled over to the bits [dock cleats] and attached.

Paperwork is again exchanged between the pilot and captain, pleasantries passed.  Quickly the ships Mate directed us to the exit from the bridge, down stairs, down the elevator, down hallways, across the top of the engine and out on deck.  We quickly descended the gangway and we were back on the dock.

Back at our cars I again thanked the pilot for all the information he had given me and allowing me to observe him in operation and I was underway home.

Bottom-line(s):  Skipper Tip

  1. Don’t get in the way of ships. They are moving fast and it takes them time and distance to react to an emergency.
  2. Pilots have blind spots in front of the ship and on the sides, especially when loaded.
  3. If you know you are going to cross shipping lanes, listen to VTS to get an idea of commercial traffic routes around you.
  4. Look at the charts for the area you will be in and learn where ship traffic will be operating.
  5. Watch ship traffic and learn their patterns/routes.
  6. Listening to channel 13 will give you a wealth of information on how commercial traffic communicates with each other and other valuable information.
  7. Listening to the pilot communicate with the tugs will give you good information on the operation.
  8. The pilots are highly skilled professionals, patient with pleasure boaters and have a huge responsibility to deliver the ships to a specific destination on time and without incident.
  9. If you need to communicate because of some emergency the best channel to reach the pilot is channel 13.  If you have listened to VTS on 14 you will know the pilots number already.   Be very succinct and precise in your communications.
  10. Oh yes:  Stay out of their way.

Maybe these ten items are a bit much just for a short sail on the Bay?  Consider Navigation Rules, Rule 2 (a) Nothing in these Rules shall exonerate any vessel, or the owner, master or crew thereof, from the consequences of any neglect to comply with these Rules or of the neglect of any precaution which may be required by the ordinary practice of seamen, or by the special circumstances of the case.

This statement does not address skippers or crew with exceptional skills, this rule applies to ordinary practices and applies to all of us.  In other words we need to know what is happening on the waters around us and apply our skills.

Submitted by Tradewinds instructor Bill Yawn

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Skipper’s Tip – Jib Furling

Furling the jib can be easy and painless, or it can be hard work and even dangerous, depending on how you approach it. Here’s a tip that will help you keep it calm, under control, and less of a workout!

Quite often, we ask our members for steps to jib furling and the first response they give us is “head into the wind”. We also observe this behavior on the water on a regular basis. If you head into a good, stiff summer breeze to furl the jib, it will take the wind pressure off, but it will also cause flogging. When the jib is flogging, we are reducing it’s life. Jib sheets are also flogging and can break dodger windows, are hard on blocks & rigging, and are a danger to crew. What if we did the opposite and furled the jib on a run?

Pick your time and place in advance. Don’t wait until you are in close quarters with no maneuvering room. Head down-wind, almost on a run. Have you ever tried to steer downwind and constantly found yourself heading back up to keep your jib from collapsing? This is because you are using the main to cover it, or blanket it from the wind. On this point of sail, the jib is collapsing because there is almost no wind getting past the main into it. You should be able to furl the jib with very little effort. Be sure to tail your sheets to keep them under control and furl the sail nice and tight. Remember, the helms-person must be focused on steering, it is easy to commit an accidental jibe on this point of sail with a lapse in concentration.

Happy Furling!

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