Know Your Knots – or Have the App!

-By Tradewinds Member Tim G.

Hey Matt

Had a great day sailing on Wind Song on Sunday.     Setting out from the dock, we knew we would be putting in the 2nd reef right away due to the projected gusty winds.

As we reviewed the running rigging, the 2nd reef sheet was not fed through the clutch so we wouldn’t be able to secure it – the port winch would be taken by the mainsheet.

We tried to fit the reef sheet through it’s clutch, but it was too large to feed through so we found a thinner sheet and fed it forward though the clutch to a point forward on the cabin top.

We reefed in the 2nd reef, and then secured the thinner sheet around the reef sheet with a rolling hitch (our memory refreshed via the ASA app on my iphone) and then tightened and clutched the thinner sheet.

ASA APP 2 3 4

It worked like a charm and we had a blast sailing in 25+ gusts around the GG bridge and back thru the slot.

Cheers, Tim

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Major Difficulties Start with Small Errors

I am always amazed at how often a small error committed on a sailboat results in major difficulties.


Correct Lead


Incorrect Lead – The Dock Line May Jam!

A couple of weeks ago, while crewing for another skipper, I was assigned the task of releasing the bow line in preparation for departure.  Unfortunately, the cleat hitch had been set up incorrectly.  Instead of leading the line to the shoulder of the cleat furthest from the origination of the line, the hitch was put on from the closest shoulder.  It was then wrapped all the way around the cleat before the “crossing” turns were put on.   The net result was two lines trying to occupy the same limited space under the cleat and jamming against one another.  The line was jammed so badly the line needed to be cut to release it.  In this case, not a major difficulty, just an expensive dock line needing replacement.  What would the result have been if that line needed to be released in a hurry because of an emergency?

About two in the morning, while on a broad reach in 25-30 knots of wind, a jib sheet pulled itself out of the self tailing jaws, unwound itself from the winch and went flying, right through the jib track fair lead, stopper knot and all, and into a nasty tangle at the clew of the jib.  We were not able to untangle the mess at night on a pitching deck.  Fortunately, we were able to furl the jib and sail the rest of the way to Monterey on mainsail alone.  The crew member responsible learned a valuable lesson that day.  Two wraps on a winch are not enough on any boat bigger than 25 feet!  We were on a 43 foot boat with winches designed for four wraps.  Anything less was dangerous!  As I reflect on that incident, I realize how lucky we were.  The sheet went straight forward.  It could easily have whipped across the cockpit instead.

Ever seen what happens if you let go of a steering wheel while going astern?  Broken steering cables, steering quadrants torn from their mounts, and rudder posts broken loose from the rudder are all possible results.  All problems that are major and easily prevented by keeping one hand on the wheel at all times.

BurntShorePowerThis one caught me by surprise.  Actually, it’s not one, it was three!  Three times in the past two weeks the shore power on a Tradewinds boat has been plugged in incorrectly.  Two of them the same day!  This picture captures the result of those two.  Apparently, instead of being plugged in properly, the plug was rotated one third of the way around and “forced” into the socket.  In each case, the “Reverse Polarity” light was lit, indicating a problem, and in each case it was either not seen or ignored.  Fortunately, the problem was found before the boats caught fire, however, as you can see, it wasn’t far from happening.  The right way begins with disconnecting properly.  Start by locating the boat’s Reverse Polarity light.  If there is one, it should be near the AC Main switch.  Turn off the boat’s AC Main switch.  Turn off the AC power at the dock box.  It is now safe to disconnect the shore power cord.  To connect to shore power reverse the above sequence.  Plug the shore power cord into the boat (and the shore power box if needed).  Both AC switches, boat and shore, must be in the off position while these connections are made.  Turn on the switch at the shore power box.  Last, turn on the boat’s AC Main switch.  As you do so, make sure the Reverse Polarity light does not light up.  If it does, immediately turn the boat AC Main switch off and recheck all connections.  If the problem continues, DO NOT hook up to shore power, and notify the Tradewinds staff immediately.

When I first started at Tradewinds I wondered why, and maybe was a bit irritated by how anal the instructors were about the little things that couldn’t possibly be that big of deal.  Now I understand.  Attention to detail on the little things can and does save lives and equipment.

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Warm Bread, Hot Tea, and a Good Story

A few days ago I spent the night on my boat, waking at six in the morning to the smell of baking bread.  There are very few aromas in the world that smell better!  All I could do was get up, make a hot cup of tea, smell the baking bread, and enjoy the sunrise.

Speaking of tea.  A little over a year ago I spent some time in Victoria, British Columbia.  I came away with an appreciation for fresh tea.  Not the stale tea bags you see in the grocery store.  I’m talking fresh, loose leaf teas found in specialty tea shops.  Since then, I have acquired some favorites.  Step on my boat and one of the things you are bound to notice is the selection of teas for various occasions.  My favorite for everyday use is Keemun, a smooth, rich black tea from China.  For something a bit different try Lapsang Souchong, a very smokey black tea reminiscent of a camp fire in a pine forest.  How about a nice Chocolate Mint tea.  Add a bit of honey and enjoy.  Then, there are the green teas with names like Dragon Well and Jasmine Pearls, an interesting tea that is dried with layers of jasmine petals.  Add some hot water and the aroma of jasmine fills the room.  Whichever is your favorite, enjoy it with a good story.

While on the subject of good stories, a friend recently mentioned he has gotten into reading the novels and short stories of Jack London.  At the time, I wasn’t aware that Jack London was quite a sailor, and wrote a number of stories about sailing on San Francisco Bay.  I have to admit that I am now hooked.  A great story to start with is “Small-Boat Sailing”.  As an added benefit, all of Jack London’s works are available online for free.  I personally added them to my Kindle library and am working my way through them on lazy days.

So, what does all this have to do with sailing and skipper’s tips.  The only time you can smell bread baking in Marina Bay is when the wind is out of the North or North West.  There is a bakery about a mile away, and if the wind is just right the smell of warm bread comes wafting through the marina.  Wind from the North is the first sign winter is approaching!  I personally take that first North wind as the sign to start paying a bit more attention to those Small Craft Advisories San Francisco is famous for.  During the summer, a Small Craft Advisory is the sign of a great day of sailing.  During the winter, a Small Craft Advisory is accompanied by shifting, gusting winds, and often storms.  Always treat a Small Craft Advisory in the winter with respect.  When you see one, maybe you should put some breakfast rolls in the oven, grab a hot cup of tea and a good Jack London story and enjoy the day at home instead of on the water.

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Keep Your Skills Fresh

Here’s a quick tip for you.  If you want to keep your sailing skills fresh, take out a Capri once in a while.

First, it’s amazing how much feedback you get on a small boat with a tiller.  Second, some maneuvers that might be a bit challenging to practice on a larger boat can easily be perfected on a smaller boat.  Two examples include anchoring under sail and sailing into a side tie (make sure to fender up).

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Med moored with the fleet in Komiža, island of Vis.


It’s been four years since our last charter: Rory and I were overdue for another. We were already going to be in Italy with our old sailing buddies Craig & France, so scheduling a charter in Croatia was an intriguing add-on. In the last decade of the 20th century the Yugoslav wars, including the Croatian War of Independence, shattered this coast into half a dozen independent states. None of us have ever visited a country living so close to the aftermath of war; it will be interesting to see how the people and the places have recovered twenty years on.

The Moorings base is in the village of Marina, 30 km west of the old Dalmatian city of Split. An overnight ferry from Italy got us to Split early on the morning our charter was to start. Most charterers arrive at the airport a few km away from the base, but Moorings arranged a shuttle to pick us up from the ferry terminal. Now, about provisioning…

For our last charter in Belize, we used the full-provisioning plan (3 meals a day for 7 days, times 4 people, equals 84 servings), which was less than ideal. First of all, their US-centric menus often have little or no basis in cruiser reality (somebody thinks I’m going to fire the oven for an hour in high summer, on a boat with no AC? Get a grip). More to the point, it was way more food than we could eat, so much so that we ended up giving about a third of it away to a local family. Charitable giving is a good thing & I am all for it, but seriously?! I was determined to do the provisioning myself and buy only what we needed.

From what we had read about cruising in Croatia, it was clear that dining out was going to be the order of the day for most of our lunches and dinners. So, after poring over the Moorings provisions lists and browsing their online market, I settled on a personalized plan. Have them deliver the basics: breakfast foods (eggs, bacon, muesli); condiments; a few snacks; the starting point for a couple of simple dinners (rice, pasta); and the heavy stuff (drinking water, beer, wine). Then, hit up a market for fresh food, and embrace the notion of eating like a local!

Armed with a list and a few shopping bags, France and I headed off to the market across the street while the guys did the captain’s briefing. In a small park nearby was a produce stand, so we took a good look at what they had before going into the market. Inside, we bought fresh chicken, Dalmatian ham and prosciutto, local cheeses, yogurt, breads, crackers and a jar of something that might be pasta sauce, except I don’t know enough Croatian to read the label; but the picture looks promising, it’ll be fun to find out what it is! On our way back to the boat, the produce stand: tomatoes, garlic, grapes, cucumbers, melons, peaches, lemons, limes…

This worked very well. In every town we stopped, there were plenty of shops nearby to pick up whatever else we might need; and finding a café on the waterfront for coffee and pastries became an early-morning habit. It was especially fun to browse through farmer’s markets and bakeries; and the tiny brick-&-mortar markets (Studenac and Tommy Market were two chains we learned to look for) were always an education.

A stall at the farmer’s market in Stari Grad.

The only real fail on my provisions list was drinking water. I ordered what Moorings considered “essential” for 4 people (a dozen 1.5-liter bottles), but it was nowhere near enough in the heat of July — we bought another 24 bottles over the course of the week. [Before you ask, the water in the tanks waspotable. Nominally.] And of course, the one case of Karlovačko beer that I ordered wasn’t going to last more than a day or two; but it was just as much fun to see what local brew was on offer at each town! I honestly regretted ordering more than a bottle or two of wine from the charter company, because vineyards are everywhere in Croatia: the big islands we stopped at had at least one winery within motor scooter distance, whose wares you could sample and buy; and every town had at least one good wine shop.

Our boat Carina was a Beneteau 42.3, double helm, 3 cabin, 2 head, rated for up to 8 people. Comfortable for 4 adults and maybe a couple of kids, but I can’t imagine trying to cram any more bodies onboard than that! On Carina, the portside aft cabin was for stowage: 4 sets of luggage, unneeded clothes, cases of water, cases of beer. Craig and France got the vee berth because it’s got more room to move around in and better ventilation. Plus, it’s a better cabin to be in if you like to sleep in — you’re all the way forward, so the early risers can rattle around the saloon or the cockpit without bothering you any more than necessary. Rory and I, early risers both, took the starboard aft cabin that connects directly to the larger of the two heads. A little cramped & stuffy, but we can live with it for a week, and how much time are we going to spend below decks anyway?

Day 1: Marina to Solinska Bay, Drvenik Veli: 43° 26′ 7.32″ N, 16° 8′ 52.04″ E

One of the departing charterers told us about a great spot for the first night’s anchorage: protected bays, you can get a good set on the hook well before sundown, take a dip and relax… the island of Drvenik Veli. Once out of the deep inlet that Marina is nestled into, a lovely beam-reach sail to get there; and Solinska Bay was everything he claimed and more. I found it hard to believe that the Adriatic Sea could be as warm as the Caribbean — it is at least 20 degrees of latitude farther north, after all — but it’s as warm as any place in the tropics that we have ever been. Swimming in this balmy clear water is sheer heaven. And the hills around us are fascinating: covered with an endless web of ancient dry stone walls enclosing — what? Grapevines and olive trees? Livestock? Or were they built just to get all those rocks out of the way? All of the above, probably. A staggering amount of work by a long-dead people, before our very eyes…

Solinska Bay, Drvenik Veli.

There were a handful of boats already anchored for the night, so we dropped the hook a reasonable distance away. Our nearest neighbor was a German flagged boat, with a crew who, like many Germans, were very comfortable in their own skin. Which is to say, they liked to hang out in the buff. So we took to calling everything we did without benefit of clothing, German fill-in-the-blank. “Hey guys! nice deserted cove, time for some German swimming!” “Eyes forward, I’m going to take a German shower off the transom!” A sly wink at my heritage! Our only other close company was a fishing family who tended nets in their skiff, well into the evening and at first light too.

Day 2: Drvenik Veli to Vela Travna, island of Vis: 43° 1′ 10.04″ N, 16° 10′ 42.25″ E

Very light air & a long way to go: we leave at dawn. We stopped at the town of Vis on the north side of the island long enough to have a late lunch and pick up a few things at the market; but elected to look for an overnight anchorage on the sparsely-populated southern shore. Vela Travna is a tiny bay, whose equally tiny settlement has the distinction of housing a restaurant run by a well-known local author. [Even famous authors need a sideline.] No swinging room in this narrow place, so we had to set a stern line on shore. Which in practice meant, load the dink with our secondary anchor, clamber up a jagged wall of rock and find a place to drop the Danforth so that it will dig in behind a ledge and hold all night.

I wasn’t hungry — my shrimp salad at lunch was huge — so I decided to stay on board and keep an eye on the stern line while the rest of the crew went ashore for dinner. In spite of the bobbing and weaving normal to an anchorage at sunset, it is holding fast; we’ll sleep soundly tonight.

Vela Travna, island of Vis.

Days 3 & 4: the quay at Komiža, island of Vis: 43° 2′ 39.45″ N, 16° 5′ 13.33″ E

Oh brother, here it comes: the dreaded Med moor. Craig and France had taken an advanced anchoring class before a charter in Greece, and we all knew the technique in theory: circle the harbor, choose your spot, drop the hook and set it, power in reverse to the quay, tie off your stern lines, snug up the bow and you’re in. But knowing what kind of crowds we would be dealing with in high summer (most of whom have more experience Med-mooring than we do) had me, at least, a little nervous: should we practice before we leave San Francisco? what do we do if we screw up, because being stupid Americans who are used to docking in between fingers or at an end tie at the very least, we will… OMG OMG OMG.

Not to worry: all the harbors we saw have it down to a system that is as easy as it gets. You motor slowly in; there is a Harbor Guy on the quay waving you to the space he wants you to back to, and in some cases, a second Harbor Guy in a RIB ready to assist from the water. You back to the quay with your windward stern line pre-set; hand it to the shoreside Harbor Guy, who loops it through a ring and gives it back to you to cleat off. Then he hands you a small line which, wonder of wonders, is attached to a laid mooring line which you pull up from the water as you walk forward: snug it up and cleat off at the bow. Snug up another stern line to leeward, set the gangplank and bingo, you’re done. This is easy!! Laid lines are undoubtedly a lot easier for the Harbor Guys too, because it eliminates the possibility of boaters crossing their anchor lines, with the resulting next-morning departure snafus.

We hadn’t planned to stay here more than one night, but Komiža is delightful, lots to do and see here. Plenty of nice restaurants and cafés; a great little beach within walking distance; scooters to rent to tool around the island on. And just hanging out on the quay is a hoot!

One of the beaches in Komiža.

The city quay is kind of like a campground in its relaxed friendliness, and a lot like the UN — our next-door neighbors were Norwegians, Italians, Aussies, Germans, Swedes, Brits; a rotating cast of characters with new stories to tell every evening. A people-watching gold mine! Med mooring isn’t as cheap as anchoring out, but it comes with two advantages: all the fresh water you want (showers in the head for everybody!), and power for the onboard AC — which in this heat is huge. When we realized that we could crank up the AC and sleep in comfort all night, top up the water tanks in every harbor, we decided that Med mooring was the only way to go.

On the quay at Komiža. The Harbor Guys squeezed in another boat to starboard.

It was in Komiža that we got to try the Dalmatian specialty, peka — lamb or other meats, potatoes, carrots, onions, zucchini, drizzled with olive oil and cooked in a covered iron pot on a bed of coals, with coals piled on the lid as well. Not something I would normally think to order on a hot summer night; and you had to call the restaurant at least 3 hours ahead, as it takes every bit of that time to cook it properly. But after we had placed our order of grilled lamb chops on a waterfront patio one evening, the waiter came back to our table and asked if we would like to switch to lamb peka, as they had an order ready to serve that had been cancelled. Sure, why not? And all I can say is… if you get the chance, order it, no matter how hot the weather. Fabulous! We also had blitva — Swiss chard sautéed with potatoes, garlic & olive oil. Also wonderful, I will have to look for a good recipe when I get home. Local cheese drizzled with honey to start (gotta remember that too); house-made blackberry liqueur as a digestif… I could so get used to this.

Days 5 & 6: the quay at Stari Grad, island of Hvar: 43° 11′ 3.10″ N, 16° 35′ 34.19″ E

After a couple of days and nights enjoying the food, the beaches and the atmosphere at Komiža, it was time to move on. First up, the famous Blue Cave on the island of Biševo. We had stopped by there on the way to Komiža two days before, but the crowds on shore and the jam-packed mooring field made us think that early morning was a better choice. Especially since, if you get there early enough, you can go inside in your own dink instead of having to pay for the privilege of riding in a boat operated by a tour company. Heh heh.

After our early visit to the Blue Cave, we headed northeast to the island of Hvar. The town of Hvar, which from everything we’ve read is Party Central, didn’t call to us, but Stari Grad did: deep inside a well-protected inlet, with plenty of quay to tie up to. We were slightly disappointed in our first glimpse of the too-new waterfront — “Croatia as interpreted by Disneyland,” said Rory — but a short walk away from the quay led us into a maze of narrow alleyways, just like you would hope to see in one of the oldest cities in Europe. As for the newness around the edges of town: the bunkers lurking in the hills were all the explanation we needed. Yikes…

Stari Grad, island of Hvar.

We stayed here for two nights as well, but not for lack of trying to go elsewhere. After the first night we headed north to the island of Brač, where there were dozens of little bays to duck into, and a hillside monastery that Craig and France wanted to visit. We found a tiny bay all right, perfect for lunch and a swim; but the idea of climbing these arid hills on a hot, still afternoon was — waitasec, I see stormclouds forming at the eastern end of Brač, and ominous rumbles of thunder. Is it headed our way?

After a few flashes from the darkening sky, we decided that rather than searching for a safe place to wait it out on Brač, our best choice was to head to a known harbor; so we dashed back south to Stari Grad. A good thing, too: what had been a very light breeze ramped up to strong gusts and a spattering of rain, and suddenly we were on an overpowered boat. Reef the main! furl the jib!! It was with relief that we tied back up to the city quay. That was exciting… so, who’s up for a restaurant and a ramble through town?

Day 7: Stari Grad to Marina: 43° 30′ 45.59″ N, 16° 6′ 55.74″ E

The thunderstorm of the day before was long gone leaving very light winds, so we had to motor most of the way; but we had enough time to fit in a stop at Nečujam Bay on the north side of the island of Šolta, for lunch and a good long swim in this amazing water. Didn’t want to climb back on board… But we followed the fleet back to base, and finished our Croatian cruise by nailingthe Med moor at Marina Agana. Hah!

* * *

Travel notes: Midsummer in Croatia is hot. Really hot. Our ‘travel clothes’ — pants with zip-off legs, polo shirts, teeshirts, all made of fast-drying synthetics — never got worn. Cotton and rayon were the only bearable fabrics when we weren’t swimming. No worries about stuff not drying; it was so hot that anything pinned to the lifelines was dry by nightfall.

Water shoes are essential. A sandy beach is a rarity, rounded pebbles are a gift, rough rocks are the norm. With or without sharp or squishy marine life attached. After a couple of days of fighting with flip-flops that wanted to float right off my feet, I bought water shoes from a street vendor. Classic Crocs did the trick for Rory.

A typical Croatian beach: lots of bathing beauties, but no sand.

Most bays you will anchor fairly close in, as the depth drops off rapidly from shore. Little to no tidal currents in the Adriatic; recommended scope was 3:1 of the all-chain rode. We generally did not have a problem with holding, but on this rocky bottom we made a point of diving the anchor every time it was deployed. The only issue we had with any of our day anchorages was crowding — as much as you might want to check out what’s on shore, sometimes you have to accept the fact that there isn’t enough room to anchor safely.

If you want to tie up to the city quay, show up early and secure a spot well before sundown. By late afternoon, it became a bit of a circus to watch boats come into harbor and circle looking for a spot; and watch the Harbor Guys scramble to squeeze in as many boats as they could.

Equipment: If you want to get a good look at anything, bring your own binoculars — the ones on board are completely useless. Other than that, the boats were very well equipped. The cruisers’ guide 777 Harbours and Anchorages, which covers the coasts of Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro and Albania, was tucked into the nav station along with local charts; an excellent resource. No cockpit grills in Moorings’ Croatia fleet, but one much-appreciated luxury was the portable ice maker: once we decided to spend our nights on a quay, it was in constant use.

Except for toothpaste, sunscreen, the bar of body soap/shampoo that goes everywhere with us and REI’s indispensable jungle juice (98% DEET), we are coming around to packing minimal toiletries and buying as we go. Easier to lug around in general, easier to go through airport security, and there are plenty of little stores that are happy to sell you whatever you need.

All in all, Croatia was a welcome surprise: friendly people, excellent food, and hundreds of places to explore on and off the water. We barely made a dent in the Dalmatian islands; and were nowhere near Dubrovnik and the charter bases at the southernmost tip of Croatia… Many more adventures to look forward to in this part of the world!

All photos ©2015 Peggy Droesch

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Foggy Visions, Zombie Boats and Teachable Moments


I’m new to sailing. I started five years ago with cruise and learn ASA courses in the San Juan Islands, purchased a cap-sizable dingy three years ago, and started sailing regularly at Tradewinds two years ago. I find it fascinating; every time I sail I enjoy successes trying new things and sailing better. And every time I sail, I find out there are more things I don’t know.

This last Wednesday, October 14th, my crew and I learned a lot of new things. It was the third trip outside of Golden Gate for me this October. On the first trip there were multiple small pods of humpback whales along the San Francisco entrance channel and pods of feeding humpbacks in front of the entrance to Pillar Point. On the second trip, we were intercepted by a very large number of sea lions, hundreds and hundreds of them, headed in toward the Marin headlands at a high rate of speed. Don’t know why. Looked like a party. Shortly after they passed us, they all turned around and headed back toward the Farallons.

Whales near Pillar Point

Sea Lions

The winds were predicted to be very light this week but we went anyway. We had a crew of five including two people making their second trip outside the Gate and one person who had not been out before. Last week’s weather prediction was about the same, very light winds, but we had fine sailing, starting just about the time we met the sea lions.

On this trip we had hopes of seeing more wildlife and that the winds would be stronger than predicted. None of that happened. There was nothing out there, except one Coast Guard cutter idling along the shipping lane and us. No big boats to avoid going under the bridge, no fishermen anywhere, just bright sunshine and a hazy horizon. So we played with the chart plotter, changing screens, learning to bring up information about objects on the chart, identifying ships using AIS, and learning to drive the boat with the autopilot.

For a one day float plan I use Buoy 46026 as my general outbound destination. It is about as far out as you can travel on a short Fall day and be back by sundown. The course takes you south of the potato patch, north of the San Francisco entrance buoy, and you cross the north bound shipping lane at a reasonable angle.

So off we went, looking for whales, playing with the chart plotter and commenting on how empty it was that day. No boats anywhere except the cutter. Eight autopilot miles later we found ourselves dead center in the middle of the only four fishing boats visible anywhere. And just beyond them, the pilot boat is precisely in front of us, just parked there. What are the chances? We set that course at Point Bonita.

About the time we passed the pilot boat, the teachable moment  hours started. The pilot boat immediately moved south to meet an outbound container ship. We already knew about that ship from querying the AIS symbol on the chart plotter. People grabbed binoculars to watch the pilot transfer from ship to pilot boat but were disappointed. It happened on the other side of the freighter. And look, the ship symbol is turning north on the chart – toward us. It isn’t evident by watching the ship until several minutes have passed, the AIS symbol told us first. Then a couple more minutes were needed before we determine what to do, which was to continue our course across the shipping lane and let the container ship pass behind us.

Container Ship

And now more decisions need to be made quickly. Ahead of us the fog is looking much darker. Are we just getting closer to it or is it moving toward us? There is another AIS identified ship coming at us from the north that we can’t see in the fog. Then we hear a garbled message on the handheld VHF sitting on top of the chart plotter. Did anyone understand the message? I thought I may have heard the word “sail” or “sailboat”. That message could have been for us, but how do you respond to a weak, unintelligible message? There was no introductory call notifying us it was time to focus on the radio, just a quick message that no one understood. Chalk it up on that long list of messages not received because it could not be understood nor was it repeated.

It doesn’t matter. It is time to turn around to move away from that ship’s path. We are nearly at our planned time limit so we decide to just head home. But where is that southbound boat anyway? AIS tells us it is larger than the ship that just passed behind us. We can still see her, but this new boat is not visible and the range rings on the plotter tell us she is just about the same distance away, on the other side of the separation zone – about a mile away. We can hear her fog horn booming.

Low Visibility

The wind comes up, enough to sail but that’s a bad choice. The wind was the lead edge of the fog bank which arrives quickly and then the wind drops.  Sail halfway up, sail all the way down. Radar up and operating. After a few minutes the fog thins and we have several hundred feet of visibility. Back to the more familiar chart plotter with five sets of eyes on the water.

In a short time we are in a good position, out of the shipping lane, and crossing that big empty area we traversed on the way out. Visibility is limited but acceptable. Then out of the fog, a white sailboat, sailing deeper into the fog, appears off our starboard bow and passes behind us like a ghost. They had altered course to pass behind us. A few minutes later a large blue trawler appeared off the port bow. We turned to parallel her course since they seemed to be pulling something from the stern of their boat, we slow, and pass far behind her. There was a lot of separation and time to adjust course in both cases but only because everyone was alert and watching.

Trawler in the Fog

It seems incredible that with the great open spaces we observed on the way out that two boats intersected our course so closely on the way in. The skipper is still entertaining thoughts of Zombie boats that only exist in the fog. One of the crew tells him there are books written on that subject.

In retrospect, sound signals should have been used. What’s that rule again? It would have been nice if the other boats had used them too.  And in retrospect, maintaining sound signals for an extended period of time, say the two hours back to the bridge, would have been a considerable chore using the little hand pump horn on our boat. It seemed to be good for only one prolonged blast per charge. Just operating the horn would occupy a crewmember. What if it was a small crew? What would be the best way to allocate resources?  If the fog had been really thick, it would have taken many more hours. It’s time to think about supplementing the sound options before the next trip out.

As we continued inbound our visibility increased to a comfortable distance so it was a surprise when we heard the fog horn of another inbound freighter just south of us in a white fog bank. She didn’t become visible until she was inside the one mile range ring. The white fog suddenly became darker and then the top of the ship came into view. Quite a spectacle, the effect caused the boat to seem oversized.  We never did see the southbound freighter that prompted us to turn around.

All in all, it was a great day for learning. The conditions were severe enough to make everyone take acute notice. The pictures of rapidly changing conditions that we now have in our head will stay with us for a long time. In the future it will be easier to visualize more difficult conditions and what we might need to know if we ever encounter them. The skipper spent a lot of time contemplating possible maneuvers should conditions worsen near the bridge where traffic lanes narrow and the traffic increases. There really is a lot of room but not if you can’t see (or hear) what is coming and they can’t see you. Only the big ships used sound signals that day. Reviewing radar notes is high on the priority list.

One final surprise occurred just after we passed under the bridge under sunny skies with great visibility. The wind came up (no surprise there) and we prepared to finally do some sailing. Just before we came about to hoist the mainsail, we heard another booming fog horn right behind us and everybody scrambled to find out how we missed seeing a ship that close. We couldn’t see a ship! There was a dark fog bank under the bridge. But there was no AIS signature on the chart either! That was everyone’s introduction to the fog horns on Golden Gate Bridge. Good day for learning.

Ed F.

Sparks, NV

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Tack, Tack, & Tacking a.k.a. Five Tips to Improve Your Tacking

Tack, Tack, and Tacking … so confusing.  Are we talking about the lower, leading corner of a sail, the side of the boat the wind is coming from, or the process of turning the boat through the wind so that the windward side of the boat moves from one side to the other.  Three different definitions according to how it’s used in a sentence.  It used to be so easy.  In the olden day, on ships with square sails, the tack was the line used to pull one of the clews of the sail forward on the windward side of the boat.  That’s it.  One definition.  Then came triangular sails.  No longer was there two clews, with one of needing to be tacked to windward.  Now, the same corner of the sail always pointed to the wind, so that corner became the tack, and the windward side of the sail became the tack the boat is on (port or starboard), and tacking became the process of turning through the wind so the tack changed from port to starboard or starboard to port.

On the other hand, do we really care.  After all, what’s in a name.  Isn’t it more important to be able to smoothly and efficiently sail the boat?  Yes, it is, and if sailing the boat involves going to windward, then every definition of tack comes into play, and its your ability to tack that counts.  So lets talk about that.  How do you improve your tacks?

Tip 1:  Control the angle of the tack.  Under normal conditions, most boats today require a turn of 80 to 110 degrees to tack.  Stop the turn as soon as possible.  Don’t tack through too wide of an angle.  Unless you are tacking for the purpose of turning around and going the other direction the goal of a tack is to help move to windward.  Turning too far during a tack only takes you away from that goal.  Get the boat moving as fast as possible a few degrees away from a close haul to build as much speed as possible then turn only as far as the boat requires to fill the sails on the new tack.

Tip 2:  Control the “flogging” sail.  A sail that is madly flogging does nothing good.  Casting off the working sheet too soon allows the sail and sheets to flog.  Flogging sheets damage boats and hurt people.  Flogging sails create wind resistance and slow the boat.  Don’t release the sheet too soon.  Wait until the sail slightly backwinds (begins to move to the other side of the boat) then release the sheet, making sure it runs free.  A slightly backwinded sail stops the flogging, and helps speed the boat through the turn.  Immediately trim the sheet on the other side (more on this in Tip 5.)

Tip 3:  Whenever possible, glide directly to windward during the tack.  This tip only works in moderate wind conditions.  Instead of making a single turn of 90 degrees (plus or minus), break the turn into two parts.  Turn until the boat is head to wind and straighten, allowing the boat to glide for a couple of boat lengths.  Before your speed is lost, continue the turn to complete the tack.  If the wind is blowing too hard, or the waves are too big, doing this will quickly slow the boat to the point you won’t be able to complete the tack.

Tip 4:  A turned rudder creates drag.  Turning the rudder turns the boat.  However, it also creates drag, which in turn slows the boat down.  Use as much rudder as is needed to complete the tack smoothly and efficiently … no more.

Tip 5:  Trim the sheet before the sail fills.  Trim the jib for the new tack as quickly as possible.  There are a brief few seconds after the jib backwinds and before the jib fills on the other side.  During this time, do your best to release the sheet allowing it to run free, and trim it on the other side.  Try to get it completely trimmed before the boat turns to the point the sail wants to fill.

Here is a final thought.  Before any tack, trim both main and jib as efficiently as possible to maximize the speed going into the tack.  The boat will be moving slower exiting a tack than it was going in, so get both sails re-trimmed as efficiently as possible to regain lost speed as quickly as possible.

As with any other skill, practice makes perfect.  Use these tips during practice and your tacking will improve!

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Emergency Preparedness

  • “The boat’s on fire!”
  • “The steering wheel isn’t working at all!”
  • “I think the steering cables broke!”
  • “The jib is tangled up and I can’t furl it!

I really dislike all those doom and gloom skipper’s tips out there, however, there have been a number of incidents on the bay and around the docks recently which have driven home to me the importance of safety and being prepared for whatever might happen!  Every single safety and preparedness item listed here was needed as a direct result of one or more incidents on the bay this summer.  Each quote above represents an incident I was personally involved with this summer.

Every Tradewinds member knows that all boats are equipped with certain safety gear that should be checked each time before sailing, and I’m sure we all do, however, do we really or are we just going through the motions?  Here are several items taken directly from the Tradewinds Pre Check List and what to do about them.

  • Anchors and Ground Tackle.  Not only should you verify there are anchors about, figure out what will be needed to deploy one or both of them.  Check the windlass … how does it work and does it work properly?  Is there a pin holding the anchor in place?  How do your remove it.  Is the rode made properly fast to the boat?  This summer, deploying an anchor during an emergency saved vessels from nasty consequences on three different occasions that I am personally aware of.  Broken steering cables in one instance, a broken rudder in one, and a fouled jib with a flooded motor in the other.
  • Emergency tiller.  Where is it?  How is it assembled?  Where is the rudder post?  Can it be used with the wheel in place or does it need to be removed?  How?
  • PFDs.  Are they the proper size(s) for all parties on board?  Where are they?  How do you put one on?  How are they adjusted?  Is the Throwable PFD easily accessible to the helm station?  If not, it’s useless.
  • Fire extinguisher(s).  Where?  In good condition?  How do you remove it from it’s holder?   How do you use it?  Remember that if you need a fire extinguisher it is going to be under some very trying circumstances.  Actions that seem easy when not under pressure can seem nearly impossible when an emergency strikes.  Very recently, I received a call regarding a fire on a boat.  I responded quickly, however, before I got there the skipper had emptied two fire extinguishers on the fire and gotten everything under control.  I would hate to guess what would have happened had the skipper not known where the fire extinguishers were located, and how to use them.
  • Visual distress signal.  Where?  What kind(s) are there?  Flag? Flares? Smoke? Signal mirror?  Do you know how to use them?  Which would best draw attention to your situation?
  • Sound signal.  Again, where is it?  If it’s not in the cockpit with the helmsperson, it’s not in the right place.  Also (and this is one of my pet peeves), do you have both the air bottle and the inflator pump.  I would hesitate to guess the number of times I have found these two items in totally different locations on the boat.  They should never be more than six inches apart!  Either one is useless without the other!  Always test the sound signal before leaving the dock.  Blow the horn … does it make noise?  Does the inflator work properly?
  • First aid kit.  Where is it?  Is it sufficient?  Before you even get on the boat, learn how to use one.  Take a first aid class.  Here’s one to think about.  Recently, there was a report of a person in the water near the ferry building.  The vessel notifying the coast guard informed them that they really didn’t want to pick them up because they thought the person was intoxicated.  The Coast Guard was close by, only taking a few minutes to get there.  When they arrived, they found the victim was not intoxicated, he was suffering from hypothermia!  Do you know the symptoms and the treatment?
  • Thru hull plugs.  Where are the thru hulls?  Where are the plugs?  I personally like to have two sets on board.  One correctly sized plug wired to each thru hull, and one additional set of plugs just in case.  Recently, a 40 foot sailboat sank off Berkeley, because it was “taking on water.”  I don’t know the source of the water, however, I have wondered if the use of a plug might have been all that was needed.

Safety Preparedness also included inspecting critical systems and parts, which is what SAFETOGO and COOL are all about.

  • Standing rigging.  Inspect the stays and the shrouds.  Check the turnbuckles.  Fish hooks in the wires?  Cracks in the swages? Too loose?
  • Running rigging.  What does each line do?  Check for chafe.  Clutches and cleats working properly?
  • Steering.  Don’t just check for the center point of the rudder.  While turning the wheel, does it feel right?  Is it loose?  Too much play?  While backing out of the slip is the rudder firm or does it pop back and forth like the cables are loose.

Here is a final thought.  Sometimes, challenges happen in singles while out sailing, however, often times when one thing goes wrong, something else (or two somethings) are going to happen to make it even more challenging.  For example, the jib gets fouled on the forestay and the outboard motor floods and won’t start.  Or, a boat’s rudder post breaks at the same time as the jib sheet gets fouled on the propeller.  In a matter of seconds, steering, propulsion, and sails are all lost.  Are you ready to handle that kind of an emergency?

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Furling Line Overwrap

Twice in the past two weeks I have received after hours calls on the emergency line with the same problem, an overwrap in the jib furling drum preventing the jib from being rolled up.  In both cases, the boat was docked safely and the overwrap taken care of, however, prevention would have eliminated quite a bit of anxiety on the part of the skippers.

Most cases of jib furler overwrap are caused by either by allowing the furler to “free spool” while the jib is deployed or by leaving slack in the line after the jib is out.  To prevent an overwrap, put a little restraining tension on the furling line as the jib is deployed.  Don’t let the jib come out too fast.  Once deployed, remove all slack from the furling line before cleating it securely.

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Use a Separate Line

I had the opportunity to watch a near catastrophe the other day!  A sailboat was tied to the leeward side of the “D” dock pump out station in some moderately windy conditions.  When done, the skipper (who was single handing) was setting up lines to cast off.  He removed the stern line and held it in his hand. Then, he removed the bow line and was trying to hold both lines while he jumped aboard.  At this point all lines were off the dock and the wind was pushing the boat away from the dock, pulling the skipper with it.  At the last second, he made a wild dive for the boat and was able to scramble aboard through the open life lines.  I’m sure he had some bruises to contend with, however, another two or three seconds and the result would not have been as positive!

Fortunately, at Tradewinds, everyone knows there is a better way.  Use lines that can be “slipped” so you can handle the lines from the boat, not the dock.  Double up the lines, so that they go from the boat around the dock cleat and back to the boat, allowing you to climb aboard with the boat still secured to the dock.  However, even that can present challenges when the wind really starts to blow, because as you release the line to double it up, the wind can still blow the boat away.  There is still a point in time where the boat is not completely secured to the dock.

Which brings us to the tip.  Start with two secured breast lines … one bow and one stern.  Don’t double up the working lines.  Use separate lines.  Leave each working dock line in place while setting up a second line to run from the boat to a dock cleat and back to the boat.  Adjust and secure these lines, then remove the original lines.  At no point is the boat not secured!

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