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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Sailing Trivia – Tides

Tides (from low-German ‘tiet’ = ‘time’) are the rise and fall of sea levels caused by the combined effects of the gravitational forces exerted by the Moon and the Sun and the rotation of the Earth.

Most places in the ocean usually experience two high tides and two low tides each day (semi-diurnal tide), but some locations experience only one high and one low tide each day (diurnal tide). The times and amplitude of the tides at the coast are influenced by the alignment of the Sun and Moon, by the pattern of tides in the deep ocean and by the shape of the coastline and near-shore bathymetry

The semi-diurnal range (the difference in height between high and low waters over about half a day) varies in a two-week cycle. Approximately twice a month, around new moon and full moon when the Sun, Moon and Earth form a line (a condition known as syzygy) the tidal force due to the sun reinforces that due to the Moon. The tides range is then at its maximum: this is called the spring tide, or just springs. It is not named after the season but, like that word, derives from the meaning “jump, burst forth, rise”, as in a natural spring.

When the Moon is at first quarter or third quarter, the sun and Moon are separated by 90° when viewed from the Earth, and the solar tidal force partially cancels the Moon’s. At these points in the lunar cycle, the tides range is at its minimum: this is called the neap tide, or neaps (a word of uncertain origin).

Spring tides result in high waters that are higher than average, low waters that are lower than average, ‘slack water‘ time that is shorter than average and stronger tidal currents than average. Neaps result in less extreme tidal conditions. There is about a seven-day interval between springs and neaps.

-Ian Joseph, Tradewinds Instructor

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Skipper’s Tip – VHF

With approximately 59 VHF marine channels available to us there is often confusion as to what channels are to be used.  Hopefully this tip will clear some of the fog.

If the vessel has a VHF marine radio we are required to monitor channel 16.  Remember the Good Samaritan law where we are required to lend assistance to a vessel in distress?  This applies to distress messages heard over VHF as well as visual.  We also monitor 16 for navigational information & announcements.

Channel 16 is used for hailing and distress ONLY.  This means NO chit-chat and NO radio checks.  On 16 [pronounced “one six”] we can make distress calls for help, provide urgent navigational information, and make contact with another vessel.  After we make contact with another radio/person we must switch to a working channel to carry out the conversation.

Working channels available to us [pleasure vessels] are 68, 69, 70, and 71.  On these channels we can conduct boating information only.  A conversation such as “Joe order us a pizza and let’s go to the ball game tonight” is not an acceptable message as this does not directly relate to boating.  Also be aware channel 71 is sometimes used by Vessel Assist and tugs helping in ship movement.

A very useful channel is 14.  This is Vessel Traffic Service [VTS] for San Francisco bay inland.  Channel 12 is for VTS off shore.  This is useful to us for the tracking of commercial traffic movement.  Most all commercial vessels are required to check in with VTS prior to movement and as they pass certain waypoints.  With knowledge of vessel movement we can better access traffic that may be crossing our path and determining hazards.

An example for the use of channel 14 is when crossing the slot in fog.   If you  monitor 14 you will know if passenger ferries or ships are sharing the fog with you.

Channel 13 is used to communicate “bridge to bridge” .  This refers to ship’s bridge and not highway drawbridges. [ Some highway draw bridges monitor 13.]  This is useful if you need to communicate with a commercial vessel.  Use of this channel should  NOT be taken lightly and used ONLY in the event of an emergency or hazard to you or the other vessel.  Communications must be professional and concise.

An example of the use of 13 is if you lose power in a ship’s channel and there is commercial traffic bearing down on you, you could contact the Master on 13 to advise them of the situation.

Keep in mind that all communications on channels 13, 14, and 16 and some others are being recorded.

Submitted by Tradewinds Instructor Bill Yawn

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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.

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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.

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