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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Smooth Throttle Control

It’s a very, very, rare occasion that requires surging the throttle back and forth from low to high to low to high to … (I’m sure you get the idea.)  Sadly, you see it all of the time.  For example, while pulling into a slip, too much throttle is applied in reverse bringing the boat to a stop with only a third of the boat in the slip.  To correct, a burst of throttle in forward gets the boat moving again, only to realize things are going too fast and a burst of throttle in reverse is needed to get the boat to a stop!  Wouldn’t it be much easier to know how much throttle is required to smoothly bring that particular boat to a stop in a specified distance from a given speed?  Here are some great practice exercises to help you gain the transmission and throttle control to make docking appear effortless.

Following the rule of always learning new skills in the safely of open water, the first exercise uses the practice buoys set up inside Marina Bay.  At a speed you would use to approach a slip during docking, set up on a course to pass five to ten feet away from the buoy.  When you are about a boat length away from the buoy, shift into reverse, leaving the throttle at idle.  Now sit back and see how far it takes to bring the boat to a stop.  The goal is to stop with the buoy directly beside you and the helmsperson.  If you stop too soon, try shifting a little later the next time.  If you slid past the buoy, a bit of throttle or an earlier shift to reverse should help.  By using an object in the water, you are much more likely to be able to tell when the boat reaches that point of being fully stopped and not yet beginning to back up.

Once comfortable bringing the boat to a smooth stop in open water, move to a side tie.  The “D Dock” pump out station is a perfect spot.  Again establish a good fairway speed.  Set yourself up to travel parallel to and five or ten feet off the dock, and try to stop directly beside pre-chosen spot on the dock, such as the second cleat.  Do this exercise on the leeward side of the dock and the wind will help you depart so you can come around and try it again.

Move back out to the practice buoy.   Pretend it’s the end of a dock finger.  Set up on a course to pass the buoy 25 or 30 feet away (about the distance from the dock in a normal fairway approach to a slip).  Make a 90 degree turn “into the slip” represented by the buoy, and smoothly bring the boat to a stop with the transom directly beside the buoy.  If you have been making your turns into an upwind “slip,” try several times approaching from the other side, turning into a “downwind slip”.  When you feel you have it nailed, transition to the same maneuver down a fairway and into a real slip.

Once you are feeling good about your skills, repeat all of the above while operating astern propulsion … that’s boat talk for backing up.

Try different variables … e.g. different boat speeds and/or wind conditions.  Practice and experimentation will show you the best combination of shift timing and throttle control to smoothly dock in any set of conditions.  No more transmission crunching, jerky, hair raising revs of the motor!

Note from Matt: Speed control is critical and covered very well by Don in this article. Here’s another tip to help you with that perfect docking when you return: Before removing any lines from the boat, while it is resting in it’s slip, get a point of reference for your return. Is the cleat on the dock lined up directly with a stanchion, a boat cleat, or a bimini frame? Getting this reference point before you leave will help you when you return, so that you know exactly where to stop the boat in the slip. Object to your side are much easier to see and use as references than points out in front of the boat.

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Jibing the Jib

I recently received an email from a friend asking for a bit of sailing advice.  The email read “What is the best way to manage the jib during a jibe?  It embarrasses me that I probably have been taught how to best do this, but I can’t recall and on several occasions I’ve managed to wrap my jib around the front side of my forestay … creating a real mess of things.”

I have a feeling that if you asked this question of six sailors in a bar you would probably get seven different answers.  Part of the problem being that differing conditions require different solutions.  Here are some techniques that work for me.

The first thing to recognize is that the main is your primary concern.  Get it right, then worry about the jib.  As far as the jib is concerned, timing is important.  Release the jib sheet too soon and the jib blows around the front of the forestay, potentially getting tangled into the mess my friend described.  Wait too long and you end up with a back-winded jib.  Wait too long and forget to straighten the rudder and you end up hove-to.  Unfortunately, the right timing may involve more “art than science.”

Before going further in discussing the jib, lets walk through the steps of jibing the main.  While not an absolute requirement, often a jibe is completed from a broad reach on one tack to a broad reach on the opposite tack.  Assuming that’s the case, the helmsperson starts the process by asking the question “Ready to Jibe?”  This should be a question and a request to get ready.  It is never a statement that the jibe is commencing!  After everyone acknowledges readiness, comes the command “Jibe Ho!”  In other words, start hauling in the main boom.  Two things to keep in mind at this point.  First, the boat can turn much faster than the main can be trimmed!  Second, the harder the wind is blowing the more difficult it will be to trim the main while on a broad reach.  To handle both of these concerns, the helmsperson should begin a SLOW turn away from the wind and then stop turning when the boat is on a run.  Do not turn too far.  A good way to judge the point to stop turning is when the jib begins to hang limply in the shadow of the main.  The main sheet trimmer should now be able to bring the boom to the centerline of the boat for completion of the jibe.  Once the boom is centered, the helmsperson can continue the turn, allowing the main to “come across”.  Once across, it’s critical the main be allowed to run smoothly and freely.  Three wraps on a winch will not allow freedom.  Ge the sheet ready to run free.  Not allowing the main to run freely may result in the turning force on the sail overcoming the ability of the rudder to stop the turn, forcing the boat to spin quickly into the wind (broaching) even to the point of laying the mast horizontally on the water while its happening.

How about the jib … what do we do and when?  Much of the answer depends on how many crew are available and what point of sail you want to end up on.

  • If the same person will be doing the main and jib, I personally prefer leaving the jib alone until the main is across.  As soon as the boat is stable on it’s new course and the main properly trimmed bring the jib across.  Depending on the point of sail (run or broad reach,) the jib may backwind for a short while, but oh well.
  • If there is an extra crewmember or two, try bringing the jib to a wing-on-wing position when it goes “limp” behind the main.  It can be very satisfying to hear the thump of the jib filling with wind just before the main comes across and runs smoothly to the correct trim on the new tack.
  • If you the goal is to end up on a run, leave the jib alone and jibe to a wing on wing position.

Practice those last two methods in safe conditions (read mild wind and wave conditions) and when you need to jibe, you will be ready.

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Hold Me Close!

The typical “thing” to do with a boat as you ready dock lines and fenders is to continue motoring around while getting everything in place.  This has always made me a bit nervous, especially if I have inexperienced crew.  With inexperienced crew often times they are at the wheel while I am the one doing the work.  After all, I know how far down to hang a fender and how to tie the proper knot to hold it in place.  When I see another boat circling like this I tend to stay far away.  A moving boat has the potential of hitting things.  Interestingly, I have never seen a boat hit something while holding position.

Here is a nice easy solution.  While in safe, open water, point your stern directly into the wind.  The natural “weather-vane” effect now holds your bow in place.  Put the boat into reverse at a low RPM.  Just enough to keep the wind from blowing you forward.  In most cases, leaving the throttle at idle is enough.  The boat may drift slowly in the direction of the prop walk, however, it won’t be very noticeable.  Now, turn the wheel over to the inexperienced crew to monitor everything and let you know if a problem develops.

As a test, I practiced this maneuver the other day and moved less than 50 feet over a five minute span of time.  Plenty of time get everything ready without the dangers associated with working on a moving boat.

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Some Thoughts About Docking with a Current

Here are a few figures for you.  1.7 feet, 2.5 feet, and 5 feet.  What do they represent?  How many feet are traveled in a one second period of time at 1 knot, 1.5 knots, and 3 knots.

For a very long time, I avoided the docks in Ayala Cove.  All it took was one near catastrophe and I wanted nothing to do with that place.  My primary concern was the current.  A finger of land on the western side of the cove projects out into Raccoon Strait.  During an ebb, that finger grabs the current deflecting it in a counter clockwise circle around the cove, directly under the dock.  The current runs lengthwise down the dock, perpendicular to the direction of the slips, quite often at a substantial pace.  This morning, the ebb in Raccoon Strait peaked at nearly 3 knots!  I’m not sure how much of that 3 knots deflects under the docks, however, from past experience it’s a lot.  Enough to create visible current trails coming off docks and pilings.

When reading about and discussing docking you often hear of the importance of having steerageway, which is maintaining enough speed through the water to steer with.  But, how fast is the vessel really moving through the water to obtain steerageway?  Every boat is different, however, if steerage way is obtained at 1.5 knots the vessel is moving through the water 2.5 feet per second.  At 2.5 feet per second, it is going to take nearly 15 seconds for a 36 foot boat to travel one boat length.  If you have a one knot current coming across your beam, what will the boat do during that 15 seconds?  At one knot the current moves the vessel at 1.7 feet per second, for a total of 25 feet of sideways movement.  A three knot current will push you sideways 75 feet!

If you are entering a “single wide” slip in a 1 knot current and can get the boat half way in the slip, you probably are ok.  The current is going to push you into the dock finger the entire length as you motor forward.  As long as you are well protected with fenders you are good.  What happens if you are going into a “double wide” slip.  You just ended up in the slip next to the one you were aiming for.  Not a problem if there isn’t a boat already there or a piling in the middle.

The above scenario considers what happens from when the bow enters the slip.  That’s not very realistic because you must also consider the  approach to the slip.   If you start 10 feet out, you are going to slide to the side 8 feet in a 1 knot current, nearly 25 feet in 3 knots, before you get into the slip.  You are not going to end up where you want unless you plan for it.

What’s to be done?  Start by knowing your boat!  Know how much speed through water it takes to maintain steerageway.  Know how far it takes with no current and no wind to turn 90 degrees (e.g. from fairway to slip).  The only way to get that knowledge is practice.

As for the actual docking,  plan your Location … Orientation … Transition ahead of time.  Whenever possible, approach into the current.  At Ayala Cove, that means traveling parallel to the dock and making a 90 degree turn into the slip.  When you make the turn into the slip, make it “just a bit” later than if there were no current, allowing the current to push you “backwards and sideways” into the slip.  How far is “just a bit?”  It depends on how much current and how far off the dock you are.  In a one knot current turning 8 feet later than normal might be just right.  Get close enough to look for evidence of current.  Are there current trails coming off the end of the dock fingers and pilings?  What are the bubbles and debris in the water doing?  Try measuring the distance the bubbles and debris move over a five second period of time.  Your boat is going to do the same.  Check the tide tables ahead of time and know what to expect before you get there.  Try a practice approach or two or three.   These are “double wide” slips.  Is the current going to push you into the dock or away from it into the next slip?

In summery.  Know what to expect ahead of time.  Verify that conditions are what you expect and plan your L.O.T. accordingly.  Don’t fight the current, you will lose.  Allow the current to help you.  Work with it to accomplish the goal you are striving for.

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Is it “Fake” or “Flake”? – by Capt. Craig Walker

It’s funny how these two terms came up so much over the last two days.

Right on the heels of a lengthy instructor meeting discussion on encouraging our students and members on the proper method for “flaking” sails, the question came up in my Advanced Anchoring class:  “Which is correct, ‘faking’ or ‘flaking’ an anchor rode on deck” in preparation for anchoring. I’ve heard this question before and my answer has always been, “I believe the two words are interchangeable”. I promised to get more proof before the end of the class and stated: “my preference is to say that we ‘flake’ a sail and ‘fake’ a coil of line on deck.

Anyway, here is the definitive (sort of) word on the subject:

As a noun, one definition of fake is: a coil of rope ready for running. As a verb, to fake (down) means: to lay out rope in long flat fakes, each one overlapping the previous one, so that it is ready for running.[1]

Okay, now let’s look at the word flake: as a noun, one definition of flake is a single turn or several turns of rope in a coil, more properly called a fake. The term is controversial. In his standard work on knots, Clifford Ashely states that “the dictionary form of fake is unknown at sea… that a flake is a single turn in a coil, and that flaking is coiling in various ways.” On the other hand, reliable references declare that flake is a mispronunciation of fake. Rear Admiral Austin M. Knight, author of Knight’s Modern Seamanship, 1941, uses only fake, which seems to be the choice for most 20th century sailors. As a verb, flake is a variant of fake which usually means coiling by forming a series of loose figure eights.[2]

Figure 8 Flake

[1] Reference: The Sailor’s Illustrated Dictionary, Thompson Lenfestey, Pg. 159.[2]Reference: The Sailor’s Illustrated Dictionary, Thompson Lenfestey, Pg. 169.

Note from Matt: Flake it or Fake it, your choice – but please take the time to stow our sails properly and help us make them last longer!

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Thru the Eyes of a Five Year Old

We can all benefit from a lesson here.  The granddaughter of one of the boat owner’s provided him with a pre-cruise check list written from her perspective.

sailing check list. jpg

In case you are having problems reading it, here is the list.

  • Warm coats
  • Warm hats and gloves
  • Coloring stuff
  • Leap Pads (google it if you don’t know what it is)
  • Snacks
  • Sunscreen
  • Life Jacket
  • Camera

I love the original artwork for each item listed.  When you think about it, what more do you need for a fabulous day on the water?  It’s sailing season … get out there and enjoy it.

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Leeward Side Tie Docking with a Bow/Waist Loop

Here’s a docking maneuver that is simple to do and works great.  Use it when making a side tie docking on the leeward side of a dock that is to the same side as your prop walk.

Rig a line from the bow cleat to the waist cleat (the technical term for the cleat located approximately amidships).  The line should be on the same side as prop walk and have enough slack to easily go around a cleat on the dock.

Approach the dock at an angle (30 to 45 degrees works).  Stop the boat within a foot or two of the dock with the bow line handler right next to a dock cleat.  The line handler then uses the tip of a boat hook to loop the line around the dock cleat.  Relax and take your time.  If the boat starts to drift away while getting the line on, just put the transmission in forward (with the wheel turned to the dock) briefly.

Once the line is around the dock cleat go into reverse at a low RPM to remove slack from the line.  When all slack is gone prop walk will begin pulling the boat towards the dock.  Be patient and take your time.  It’s best if you can do this maneuver at idle speed.  As long as the stern is moving slowly to the dock you don’t need more throttle.

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