I Am Responsible For My Own Safety

Over the time I have been sailing, I have come to the realization I am responsible for my own safety, and that of others I sail with, whether I am skipper or crew.  As crew, if that sounds egotistical, I apologize.  I don’t mean to be.  I firmly believe the captain makes the final decisions, however, I also believe all crew must be aware and keep their captain aware also.

I recently had the pleasure of crewing a former Tradewinds boat “M” while the owners participated in the Baja HaHa.  Overall, it was a great trip, calm conditions, good company, and some fun stops along the way.  So why mention the trip during a tip on responsibility and safety? There were two occasions where observation, research, and discussion prevented at the very least some uncomfortable sailing possible safety issues.

The initial weather forecasts on the first leg from San Diego to Turtle Bay (400 miles down the coast) were for winds of 10 to 15 knots, which is typical. However, it was quite right.  The first night out we experienced conditions that could be described as “lumpy”. Sustained winds of 30 knots with seas 12 to 15 feet.  Nothing the boat and crew couldn’t easily handle, but definitely lumpy.  Those same conditions continued the following day, and were building as we approached the second night.  The updated forecast was for an even more interesting second night.  About two hours before sunset, the captain and crew looked at options, continue or look for an anchorage for the night.  Bahia de San Quintin happened to be about a two-hour sail from our location, so we made the turn that direction, arriving right at sunset.  Eleven other HaHa boats and two local fisherman had made the same choice.  We had a wonderful “sit down” dinner, good fellowship, and a fabulous night’s sleep.  Afterwards, I spoke to several people, and all indicated it was a bad night and they wished they had made the decision to stop.  And, there were some casualties that night.  One boat experienced a broken auto pilot (possibly due to conditions) and ended up “on the beach”.  Everyone onboard is safe, however, the boat is a total loss.  Another boat shredded the mainsail in the high winds, then lost their motor due to conditions causing “muck” in the fuel tank to get stirred up clogging everything.  Again, everyone is safe, however the boat took several days to make Turtle Bay, and the trip was over for them.

Conditions mellowed the next day, and we enjoyed a great sail the rest of the way, arriving in Cabo late morning on the 10th.  Our plan at that time was to sail from Cabo to Puerto Vallarta, leaving either the 12th or 13th.  Talk from the experts on the 10th and 11th indicated there was a small storm southwest of PV, but no big deal.  Because Tradewinds taught me to always do my own weather research, I did just that the morning of the 11th.  Sure enough, there was a storm out there.  It was somewhat more than the experts in Cabo were talking about, but not a problem, with only a 10% chance of developing into a tropical storm (winds over 39 knots).  By afternoon, it was a 10% to 40% chance, and headed directly for the waters off PV at 5 to 10 miles an hour, which would put it right in our path just about the time we would be 100 miles or so off shore.  Again, captain and crew discussed options.  The decision, instead of going to PV right away involved the boat owners sailing a bit north, then west to Mazatlan (over the top of the storm), then drop down to PV.  As I write this, the boat should be enroute to Mazatlan.  Unfortunately, I could not join them because of commitments.  I needed to return home.

Of course, I kept feeling that I was a wimp and should have recommended just doing the trip as planned.  Because of that I have been following the storm’s progress since I got home two days ago.  This morning, the “minor storm” officially made tropical cyclone status, and as such received a name.  Tina and her effects are not going to make the news. She won’t make landfall, so there will be no damage, however, I am very glad I am not on a 42-foot boat 100 miles from shore off of Puerto Vallarta right now.

The moral of the story.  Regardless of your position on the boat, when it comes to safety of yourself and crew, don’t just rely on those claiming to know what they are talking about.  Do the research yourself.  Discuss it with the rest of the crew, and make an informed, safe choice.

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Backing Into a Slip – Where do You Stand?

By Captain Craig Walker

Let’s talk about backing a boat into a slip. But, before we do, why would we want to?

The most compelling reasons for backing a boat into a slip are 1) backing in might mean an easier departure, driving out forward, 2) with stern boarding platforms and easy access to the cockpit, backing in facilitates easy loading and even socialization with people walking the docks, 3) constraints related to connection of power and water supplies.

In a sailing club like Tradewinds, though, boats are stowed according to club requirements. Charter companies that you might visit may use different methods. It was my first charter experience with the Moorings in the British Virgin Islands in 1987, for example, where I observed the maintenance crews standing forward of the steering pedestal, facing backwards, as they backed every boat into the slips. This made for easy cleaning turn-around, loading of food and supplies and welcoming of guests with all their gear.

So, let’s say you want to back a boat into a slip. What’s the best way to do this?

One method is to overshoot your slip in the fairway, go into reverse to stop the boat, get control with the rudder and, in reverse turn the boat into the slip, see Figure 1. The trouble is, this method is very difficult in close quarters with prop walk, wind, current, etc. Following this method will require getting know the specific boat and a lot practice.

Figure 1

Figure 1

A much better method involves getting control of the boat in reverse out in open water, Figure 2, approaching the fairway and slip with slow but sufficient speed to maintain good steerage and then going straight into the slip. Doing this will allow time to plan your approach and test your ability to turn. By maintaining a constant slow speed, prop walk is minimized. Wind and current must still be factored in, however.

Figure 2

Figure 2

So, now let’s talk about where to stand when backing.

The traditional approach has you standing behind the wheel with easy access to engine controls, Figure 3. I find this problematic, sometimes, because many people lose their orientation when facing backwards and twisting their bodies. The ergonomic challenges often lead to “wheel” dyslexia. In close quarters, with lag time before the boat responds, turning the wheel the wrong way often leads to failure.

Figure 3

Figure 3

Another approach is to stand forward of the steering pedestal and facing aft. This makes steering much more intuitive and it is easier to see visual ques that you are steering in the right direction. There is a drawback, however, and that is access to the engine controls. Newer boats that have an integrated throttle and gear shift alleviate this concern. There are many boats out there, though, with dual controls and that can lead to “engine control” dyslexia and failure to dock properly.

Figure 4

Figure 4

Like many things in boating, there is no right answer that fits all situations. The remedy is practice! Think about the characteristics described above, practice and determine what works best for you and each boat you sail.

Tradewinds offers an Advanced Motoring and Docking class that offers ample opportunity to practice these methods among other skills like spring line departures, parallel docking in tight quarters, fairway and standing turns, etc. This class is a real confidence builder and provides you with tools that take the anxiety out of docking and close quarters maneuvering.

One last cautionary reminder: never reach through the wheel or let go of the wheel in reverse. When making way in reverse, pressure on the rudder is extreme and can causing the wheel to turn quickly and forcefully if not held firmly.

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How Well Do You Know the Boat?

This isn’t so much a tip, as it is a challenge. Which boat were you on most recently? Get a couple of blank pieces of paper and a pencil.   Now, draw the boat. I don’t mean an artistic rendering of the boat; I mean a line drawing of her layout and systems.

Put in as much information as you can remember, including:

  • Layout of the interior (power switch locations, AC & DC electrical panels, heads, settees, berths, sinks, stoves, etc.)
  • Location of thru-hulls (mark the purpose of each of them if you can)
  • Location of safety equipment (fire extinguishers, visual distress signals, sound signals, emergency bilge pump handle, emergency tiller, anchors, boat hook, tapered plugs, etc.)
  • Topsides layout (cleats, winches, fairleads, standing rigging, etc.)
  • Running rigging (halyard locations, sheet locations, reefing lines, outhauls, furling lines, how are the clutches and line organizers set up)
  • Oil dip stick, coolant cap, raw water strainer location, primary fuel filter location
  • Anything else you can think of

How did you do? This is all information you should know off the top of your head. Unfortunately, one of the challenges about having 30 boats at your disposal is getting to know them as well as you should. In an emergency, knowing where the thru-hulls and tapered plugs are can be the difference between adventure and disaster.

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What’s in a Small Craft Advisory?

Did you know there isn’t a “standard” definition of a Small Craft Advisory (SCA)?  The criteria used to issue a small craft advisory is dependent upon geographical location and may include wind, wave, and/or ice conditions.  According to NOAA’s National Weather Service, in California (including San Francisco Bay) the criteria is “Sustained winds of 21 to 33 knots, and/or wave heights exceeding 10 feet (or wave steepness values exceeding local thresholds.”  If you have ever taken Advanced Coastal Cruising, you know Tradewinds won’t allow you outside the gate if wind is 34 knots or higher, wave heights are greater than 12 feet, or period (steepness) is less than 9 seconds.  The above NWS guideline is why.  A 42 foot boat may seem big, however, it is still considered a small craft.

Here on the bay, we are spoiled by daily winds in the range of 25 to 30 knots from May through September.  Which means if we wait for a day that is not a SCA  we have to wait until October to go sailing!  If you are like me, you don’t wait.  You relish those days of guaranteed consistent wind, sheltered from the waves and swells that normally accompany big wind!

Unfortunately, sailing all summer during Small Craft Advisories tends to lessen our appreciation of what it really means, leading to an “I sail in SCA days all the time, I can easily handle  it.”  And then we run into a winter SCA!  Small Craft Advisories in the winter ARE NOT the same animal as during the summer.  Winter storms bring sustained winds in the SCA range with gusts often times well into the Gail Force range (34 to 47 knots).  In the winter, conditions can easily escalate in a matter of minutes.  I remember one time on Windfall cursing the fact I had under 5 knots.  Less than 15 minutes later, unable to control a boat under full sail with over 35 knots of sustained wind and much higher gusts I was genuinely afraid for my life (and that of my then 14 year old daughter!)  I also remember another SCA winter day that I made the decision to keep the boat in the slip, drink coffee, and fellowship with some good buddies on the boat, while listening to mayday calls all day long.  In one of the calls, a schooner had lost both masts and was being driven toward Red Rock.  The USCG got to them minutes before the boat would have been driven onto the rocks.

So here is this week’s tip.  Go ahead and brag about your skills by saying things like “If I waited until there wasn’t a SCA I wouldn’t be able to sail until October.”  But, when winter rolls around and you see a SCA in the forecast, consider staying inside by the fire instead of going sailing!

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Skipper’s Tip – Own a Chart!

Submitted by Tradewinds Instructor Tony Johnson

Become familiar with your local waters by owning your own chart, along with chart #1, and studying it in unhurried leisure at home. You will soon become familiar with how charts represent aids to navigation, soundings, the nature of the bottom, and other important information.

Chart #1

You can pick up a copy of Chart#1 at your local West Marine store or order from on-line retailers.

Chart 18649

Chart 18649 – Entrance to San Francisco Bay – can also be purchased from West Marine.

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Skipper’s Tip – Know Your Tide Book

By Tony Johnson

Learn to use the current mini-charts in the back of your tide book to plan your day. They display the behavior of the currents in the Bay for every hour of the tidal cycle. The instructions on page 48 give you the procedure to adjust the figures on the charts to get accurate readings, but here’s a shortcut: If Max Flood at the Golden Gate is about 3.3 knots, or Max Ebb is about 4.5, the numbers in the arrows are correct. If the figures at the Golden Gate are higher, the figures in the arrows will be higher up to 50% at most. If they are lower, the figures in the arrows will be lower. But even if you don’t bother with all the multipliers, the charts give you a quick graphic perspective on what currents to expect during your sail.

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Be Careful Out There

Anybody know what the two busiest boating weekends on the Bay are?

One is Opening Day on the Bay (the last weekend in April.)  The other is Fleet week, which is the first week or two of October.  This year, Fleet Week is October 6 through 9, with the main events taking place on Saturday the 8th and Sunday the 9th.  There are times during these events when it feels like you can walk across the boats occupying the waters of San Francisco Bay.

Here’s a photo of a radar screen taken during a previous Fleet Week event. It’s easy to pick out the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and the land mass that is the San Francisco Peninsula. The black rectangle is the exclusion zone. The rest of the green dots are boats!

Fleet Week Radar Plot

Fleet Week Radar Image

Personally, I think Fleet Week is the “worst” of the two.  Not only are there a lot of boats, they are all crowded into a limited area and large areas of city front are closed, AND everyone is looking up at the air shows!  An absolute recipe for disaster.  I think my favorite example of the challenges Fleet Week can present came when the skipper of a sailboat was arguing with the Coast Guard over the VHF regarding who had the right of way … him or a container ship.  Seems this guy believes he has the right of way because he is a sailboat and the container ship is a power boat.  There was no convincing him that he was wrong.

With that in mind here is a quick review of the Rules, and the actions required by the Give-way and Stand-on Vessels.

  • Not Under Command (don’t see this one very often)
  • Restricted Ability to Maneuver (the Coast Guard may hold this type of traffic during the main events)
  • Vessel Engaged in Fishing (don’t see this on the bay very much)
  • Sailing Vessel (Port Tack gives way to Starboard Tack … If Same Tack, Windward Gives Way to Leeward)
  • Power Vessel (includes sail boats if the engine is engaged)

Rule 16 – Action by Give-way Vessel Return to the top of the page

Every vessel which is directed to keep out of the way of another vessel shall, so far as possible, take early and substantial action to keep well clear.

Rule 17– Action by Stand-on Vessel Return to the top of the page(a) (i) Where one of two vessels is to keep out of the way, the other shall keep her course and speed.

(ii) The latter vessel may however take action to avoid collision by her maneuver alone, as soon as it becomes apparent to her that the vessel required to keep out of the way is not taking appropriate action in compliance with these Rules.

(b) When, from any cause, the vessel required to keep her course and speed finds herself so close that collision cannot be avoided by the action of the give-way vessel alone, she shall take such action as will best aid to avoid collision.

(c) A power-driven vessel which takes action in a crossing situation in accordance with Rule 17(a)(ii) to avoid collision with another power-driven vessel shall, if the circumstances of the case admit, not alter course to port for a vessel on her own port side.

(d) This Rule does not relieve the give-way vessel of her obligation to keep out of the way.

Check out Rule 17, Part b … to paraphrase … if the guy that’s supposed to give way doesn’t … you must get out of his way!  It’s interesting to note the there is no “Right of Way” … there are Give Way Vessels and Stand On Vessels!

Any way it goes, if you are out there during Fleet Week you are going to have a lot of ColRegs practice … know the rules and be careful out there!

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Sailing Trivia – Fathom

by Tradewinds Instructor Ian Joseph

Although a fathom is now a nautical unit of length equal to six feet, it was once defined by an act of the British Parliament as “the length of a man’s arms around the object of his affections.” The word derives from the Old English Faethm, which means “embracing arms.” A fathom (abbreviation: ftm) = 1.8288 meters, is a unit of length in the imperial and the U.S. customary systems, used especially for measuring the depth of water. There are two yards (6 feet) in an imperial or U.S. fathom. [1] Originally based on the distance between the man’s outstretched arms, the size of a fathom has varied slightly depending on whether it was defined as a thousandth of an (Admiralty) nautical mile or as a multiple of the imperial yard. Formerly, the term was used for any of several units of length varying around 5–51â�„2 feet (1.5–1.7 m).

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Some Interesting Weather Links



I copied this weather forecast directly from the weather report for San Francisco Bay this morning.  You can pretty much copy and paste it into every day’s forecast between the middle of June and the middle of September, and you won’t be far off.  With that in mind, it won’t always be summer, and the forecasts will change.  Today might be a good time for you to start learning what tools are available and how to use them.  While putting together an email to send to an approaching Advanced Coastal Cruising class, I realized that the information in the message might be of interest to everyone.

These are some links that I use on a regular basis to assist me in deciding if weather conditions are good for sailing.  You will notice there is a definite lean towards “outside the gate,” however, the links and information can be used pretty much anywhere.  Some of these are already on the Tradewinds site, and you may have already found them.  Some of the other links are not.



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Sailing Trivia – POSH

Posh, an adjective describing stylish items or members of the upper class. A popular story derives the word as an acronym from “port out, starboard home”, referring to first class cabins shaded from the sun on outbound voyages east and homeward heading voyages west. The word’s actual etymology is unknown, but it may relate to Romani påš xåra (“half-penny”) or to Urdu safed-pōśh (one who wears “white robes”), a derogatory term for wealthy people.

The much-repeated tale is that ‘Posh’ derives from the ‘port out, starboard home’ legend supposedly printed on tickets of passengers on P&O (Peninsula and Orient) passenger vessels that travelled between UK and India in the days of the Raj. Another version has it that PO and SH were scrawled on the steamer trunks used on the voyages, by seamen when allocating cabins.

Britain and India are both in the northern hemisphere so the port (left-hand side) berths were mostly in the shade when travelling out (easterly) and the starboard ones when coming back. So the best and most expensive berths were POSH, hence the term. A very plausible and attractive explanation and it would be nice to be able to confirm it. The belief was widespread enough in 1968 for it to have been included in the lyrics of the song ‘Posh’ in the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang:

O the posh posh traveling life, the traveling life for me
First cabin and captain’s table regal company
Pardon the dust of the upper crust – fetch us a cup of tea
Port out, starboard home, posh with a capital P-O-S-H, posh

There is no evidence to confirm this story though and it appears to have been dreamed up retrospectively to match an existing meaning. Whoever thought it up must have been quite pleased with it, and it appeals to enough people to get repeated endlessly. It also panders to the popular craving for the employment of acronyms as the explanation of common phrases – golf (‘gentlemen only, ladies forbidden’), cop (‘constable on patrol’) etc. These are nonsense but they keep cropping up. It’s worth remembering that acronyms are a 20th century phenomenon and researchers are hard pressed to find any examples before the 1920s. The word acronym itself wasn’t coined until the 1940s. Any such explanation of older words, like ‘golf’, or indeed ‘posh’, is sure to be false.

P&O say they have never issued such tickets and, although many tickets from that era still exist, no ‘POSH’ ones have been found. These have the status of an etymological Holy Grail and occasionally someone claims to have seen one. Needless to say that hasn’t yet been backed up with any evidence. Mind you, even if this mode of travel were the source of the phrase, there’s no particular reason that tickets would have been stamped with POSH, so the absence of such tickets doesn’t prove anything. The same goes for the alleged chalking of POSH on steamer trunks. The evidence for this is even less likely ever to come to light. The finding of luggage from that period with the appropriate chalkmarks is hardly evidence, as the marks could have been added ten minutes previous to the find. We would need photographic evidence that could be dated to the period of the Raj – needless to say, no such photos have come to light. The lack of any citation of ‘port out, starboard home’ in any of the numerous letters and literary works that remain from the British Raj is a more convincing argument against that origin.

The true origin of ‘posh’ is uncertain. The term was used from the 1890s onward to mean a dandy. George and Weedon Grossmith’s The Diary of a Nobody, which began publication in serial form in the English satirical magazine Punch in 1888, has a character called Murray Posh, who is described as ‘a swell’. The book is a satire of the times and most of the character’s names are intended to match aspects of their personality, so it is quite probable that the Grossmiths used the name Posh with the meaning we currently know. The said Murray certainly looks posh enough.

By Tradewinds Instructor Ian Joseph

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