Fairway Turns – Plan Ahead

If you didn’t think about it 10 minutes ago you waited too long!

When it comes to fairway turns, you never get to select the timing, therefore, always be ready.  I had this reinforced in a Basic Coastal Cruising class yesterday.  We were exploring the limits of the BCC practice area including “destinations.”  While checking out the docks at Sam’s, a boat backed out of a slip in front of us.  In this case, we were able to just put it in reverse and back out, however, in another case a fairway turn might have been required.  Knowing ahead of time what to do “if” something happened prevented the need to make a snap, and possibly incorrect, judgement.  This time, We knew ahead of time we were in the middle of the fairway, with little wind, on a boat with minimal prop walk.  Just the right conditions to back out.  If any of these three factors had been different, a fairway turn probably would have been in order.  Always think about the situation when pulling into a fairway or for that matter, any close quarters situation.  It’s all part of the Location, Orientation, Transition process.  Plan out ahead of time what maneuver(s) you are need to do, and what options are available in the event of a problem.

Let’s say you are in the fairway approaching the slip you plan to dock in.  There are a number of things you should know before you need to.

  • Port prop walk vs. starboard prop walk?  Which direction will you most likely turn while executing a fairway turn?  Turning away from prop walk allows the prop walk to assist in the turn.  Turning the other way is possible if other conditions are there to assist.
  • Is the intended slip to port or starboard.  Turning into a slip located to port means you are most likely set up on the starboard side of the fairway.  If so, you may not have room to make a normal fairway turn to starboard.  Will the boat you are on and the conditions execute a fairway turn the opposite direction?
  • Where is the wind.  Wind from ahead generally helps a fairway turn.  Wind from astern hinders it.   With the wind coming from the side, turning towards the wind is generally easier than turning away from the wind.  When you start the turn, the momentum of the bow will help get the bow through the wind.  Once the bow is through the wind, the wind finishes the turn for you.  All you need to do is keep from blowing backwards.  Turning away from the wind pits several forces against you.  The momentum of the boat is downwind.  The wind blows the boat downwind.  When you think you are “almost done,” and shift into forward throttling up, the boat surges downwind!  As you make the turn trying to get back to the middle of the fairway from the lee side, the stern slides downwind.  There is only a certain about of room downwind before something hard is encountered!  The same problem happens when you back out of a downwind slip, and don’t get the bow oriented a bit to windward.  I personally have seen more collisions at that point of a slip departure or a fairway turn than all other reasons combined!
  • Are you looking for telltales a boat is about to move?  Coolant exhaust, crew at the ready handling dock lines, and a helms-person standing behind the wheel are all clues that something is about to change.

The moral of the story … “stuff” happens, plan ahead to avoid anxiety and possibly expensive damages.

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“Laws” of Close Quarters Boat Handling

We all recognize there are “laws of nature.”   Things like “what goes up, must come down.” Or, “spring follows winter.”  While watching a great number of docking maneuvers the past 10 years I have come to the conclusion there are also Laws of Close Quarters Boat Handling.  There are probably more, however, I think these sum up most of the “situations” I have seen.

  1. No matter what you have been told, it does not drive “just like a car!”
  2. Slow is pro … too slow won’t go!
  3. Given two or more options, a scared helms-person will nearly always pick the wrong choice!
  4. The first and last 100′ are always the most nerve wracking!
  5. Spring is a beautiful time of year … and spring lines are a beautiful things to use!

It’s not a car!  I enjoy teaching teenagers how to sail.  Teenagers young enough to have never driven a car.  They just seem to get it.  They have no expectations as to what the boat is going to do, so they just go with it.  I can’t tell you how many times I have seen an adult put the tiller over the wrong direction, and when the boat turns the wrong way, move it further the same direction. Don’t laugh.  I don’t think I have had more than ten students of all the Basic Keelboat students I have taught that did not do it at least once during class. If you put that same tiller into the hands of someone that has never driven, when the boat goes the wrong way they reverse the tiller, and the next time do it the correct direction.  I believe part of the confusion is boats do not handle like cars.  For example;

  • A car steers from the front while a boat steers from the stern.  If the stern moves to port, the bow moves to starboard.  We tend to look at the bow and think we are steering into the slip when actually, the stern is moving laterally, and the bow is just going along, in the opposite direction, for the ride.
  • With a car, the front end follows the back end.  A boat pivots on a point near the middle of the boat … and, that point moves.  The faster you go, the further forward the pivot point moves.  When stopped, the pivot point on every sailboat is different, however, generally just about the mast.  As a matter of fact, if you visualize the mast extending all the way through the boat and down into the mud your fairway turns will improve dramatically.  The goal of a fairway turn is to turn the boat in it’s own length.  It works on a boat because of the pivot point.  That will never happen in a car, where the best you can hope for is a “doughnut.”
  • By it’s very nature, a boat is never sitting completely still.  Even in a slip with dock lines secured a boat moves.  Take the dock lines off and the boat is at the mercy of wind, current, and momentum.  You might think you are stopped.  You are not.
  • A car has brakes.  The closest thing to a brake on a boat is shifting to the other direction, and when you do, the boat doesn’t just slow and stop.  The stern is going to do some lateral movement, with the bow moving the opposite direction.  As an example shift into reverse and as the boat slows its forward momentum, the stern will move the direction of the prop walk.  Shift into forward while turning and prop wash moves the stern away from the direction of the turn (tries to point you back the direction you came from.)

Enough of the examples … just remember … it’s not a car, never will be a car, and doesn’t handle like a car.

Slow is pro!  Don’t go any faster than you are willing to hit something, and don’t hit anything any harder then you are willing to sign a check for.  Sadly, there isn’t a hard fast “go XX knots” for every set of circumstances.  With no wind and current, it works great to bring the boat to a stop with the pivot point even with the center line of the slip and then “rotate” the boat 90 degrees to line up with the slip.  In that case, zero is a great speed.  Don’t ever try that in wind and current, it doesn’t work well, especially when turning to an upwind slip.  A bit of speed is needed to control the turn, all the while knowing that the faster you go, the faster things go wrong, and the more damage is done.

Speaking of things going wrong, a scared helms-person will nearly always do the wrong thing, and often, that “thing” is more power when less is better.  You see it over and over.  During a fairway turn, the boat reaches a point where it is sideways to the fairway, and begins to blow to the lee side of the fairway, which also happens to be the direction the bow is headed.  The helms-person realizes there is a problem, but instead of just shifting into reverse and “pulling” the boat back to windward, he throttles up in forward trying to spin around before hitting the boats in front.  When that happens, wind and momentum are both pushing towards danger, not away, and unfortunately, even if the bow makes it around in time, the stern swings wide and impacts a boat or two and maybe a concrete post.  How do you overcome the tendency to do the wrong thing?  Plan ahead.  Location … Orientation … Transition.  Where do I want to be?  How should the boat be oriented?  What are the steps to my transition to whatever I am transitioning to?  Using the same example, the transition is from a fairway turn where the boat is rotating in place, to motoring in forward down the fairway.  When you start to transition you should be located on the windward side of the fairway.  You should be oriented straight down the fairway (or possibly with the bow a bit to windward).  Definitely not still pointed to the lee side!  When you have proper location and orientation, the transition is a simple as straighten the rudder, shift into forward, and throttle up.  The more planning you do and the more “this could happen” preparation you make, the more likely you will not get scared, and you will be much more likely to make the right decision under pressure.   As I write this, I am still wet from a small rain “squall” that came across during a docking class.  During the time is took to motor down the fairway between the dock and the rocks, turn into the correct fairway, and negotiate into the slip, the wind went from less than 10 knots from the SW to nearly 25 knots from the NW (right down the center of the fairway).  Ten minutes later, after the next student departed the slip with 22 knots on the beam, the wind shifted again.  Before we could get the boat turned around and back to her slip the wind was back from the SW at 2 knots.  In both cases, our original docking plans needed to be changed during the process.  Planning ahead made for a non issue.

The first and last 100 feet are the challenging part.  Always plan for the first and last 100 feet before actually getting into them.  Again, Location, Orientation, Transition.  Before leaving a slip, know what you are going to be doing every foot of the first 100 feet.  When docking, know what you are going to be doing every foot of the last 100 feet.  An adage to live by is, “if you didn’t think about it 10 minutes ago, you waited too long.”

A spring line is a wonderful thing!  I’m not sure how I handled docking and departing before learning how to use a spring line!  This isn’t the place for detailed instruction of use of a spring line, however, you should be proficient at each of the following spring line maneuvers.  In describing a spring line, aft and forward refer to the direction the line travels away from the boat.  Bow, waist, and stern refer to the boat’s cleat used.

Spring Line Departures:

  • Use an aft bow spring to spring out the stern.
  • Use a forward stern spring to spring out the bow.
  • Use an aft bow spring in a slip to control the tendency of the wind to push the bow to leeward while steerage speed is obtained.

Spring Line Docking:

  • Use an aft waist spring to “pull” the boat to a leeward side tie.
  • Use an aft bow spring and prop wash to bring the stern to the dock.
  • Use a bow/waist loop as a spring to bring the stern to the dock.  This is really two springs in one … a forward bow spring and a forward waist spring.

These are just the beginning … there are other great uses for a spring line. In a  situation where strong wind and prop walk are both “forcing” the bow the wrong direction during a slip departure, an aft waist spring (in the hands of qualified crew) running to a dock cleat at the end of the slip on the side opposite of wind and prop walk forces the boat to turn the correct direction.   The same spring line (again, in the hands of qualified crew) works the other way if backing into a challenging slip location (fender up … the boat will be rotating around the dock!)

Here is a sixth “law” to consider.  The person yelling the loudest is most likely the one that screwed up.  He is trying to get others to fix his mistake, all the while blaming someone else.

Keep these laws of close quarters boat handling in mind and your boat handling skills will improve!

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Leeward Docking at the Pump Out Station

Earlier, we looked at windward docking at the D dock pump out station.  In this installment, we explore docking to leeward of the same dock.  The choice of going to windward or leeward is entirely the skipper’s.  Docking to windward is very easy, however the departure requires some effort.  Docking to leeward can be challenging, but the departures are a piece of cake.

There are two basic techniques while going to leeward.  Interestingly, the boat handling process is nearly identical.  The only difference; with one the goal is to stop the boat parallel to the dock and with the other, try to stop with the bow almost touching and the stern a few feet out.  The primary difference is how the lines are set up and handled.  Both options require a dock line of about the same length as the length of the boat.

TurningTo begin either docking option, approach the dock in forward at an angle.  Depending upon circumstances, the angle can be anywhere from about 20 to 90 degrees.  As the boat nears the dock, start a turn with the goal of bringing the boat parallel to the dock.  To help me know when to turn, I use a simple visual trick.  When the boat visually “touches” the dock, I begin my turn.  When coming straight at the dock, this seems to be the spot that leaves just the right amount of space to complete a 90 degree turn without hitting the dock.  All that is left is figuring out how fast to turn.   Once the boat is along side the dock, option 1 or 2 below comes into play.

Aft Waist SpringOption 1:  Cleat hitch the line to a waist cleat.  Bring the boat to a stop parallel to the dock and get the line around a dock cleat more or less even with the transom.  Secure the line at the waist cleat (or a convent winch) and place the boat in forward at a low RPM.  The force of the propeller against the line moves the boat towards the dock. Slow the approach by turning away from the dock; speed the approach by turning toward the dock.

Bow Waist LoopOption 2:  This option only works when placing the “prop walk side of the boat” against the dock.  Tie a loose loop of line from the bow cleat to the waist cleat. Bring the bow as close to a dock cleat as possible and hold position.  Use a boat hook to place the loop around the cleat.  Reverse at a low RPM and let the prop walk bring the boat slowly to the dock.

Departures can’t be any easier.  Cast off the dock lines and let the wind blow you away.  Once cleat motor off.

My own personal choice is to dock to leeward whenever possible.  I find it easier to dock to leeward than depart to windward.  Your choice is yours, however, as you can see, the choice doesn’t involve “U turns” in close quarters situations.

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Windward Docking at the Pump Out Station

Observing the “D” dock pump out station is quite educational; sometimes its down right humorous.  There are only two sides to the dock, which pretty much limits the number of docking options.  The north side of the dock (typically the leeward side) is pretty straight forward.  There is clear water all around, and it’s just a matter of pulling up to the dock and using one or more lines to keep from blowing away.  Most of the fun happens on the south side of the dock!  That’s are area bounded on three sides by the pump out dock, the cross dock, and the row of boats.  When you really think about it, there are only two options available to dock there.  Either pull straight in using forward or back in using astern propulsion.  Which option generally depends on which side of the boat the waste cap is on.  Waste cap to port?  Pull straight in and lay the port side of tD Dock Pump Out Looking Inhe boat against the dock.  Waste cap to starboard?  Back in and lay the starboard side against the dock.  What could be simpler?

With things as simple as that, why do you see people trying to complete “U turns” inside the area bounded on three sides by the dock, cross dock, and a row of boats? With that question in mind, here are a few techniques to make docking at the D Dock pump out station safe, easy, and not entertainment worthy.

The first thing to keep in mind; if you go in frontwards, depart backwards.  If you approach backwards, depart frontwards.  On a typical Marina Bay day, the wind will push tForward Dockinghe boat towards the dock.  Let it help.  Approach at a slight angle to the dock.  As you get close, turn slightly away from the dock.  Try to end up two or three feet away from the dock with the bow slightly to windward.  Assuming port prop walk, when you go into reverse the prop walk will tend to bring the stern towards the dock and the wind will push the bow in.  Get a line to the dock froReversing Outm the stern and you are good.  If there is any wind, the bow is held in place from wind pressure.

Too depart, use a dock line with no knots, loops, or eye splices.  The line should go
from the bow of the boat, around a cleat on the dock, and back to the bow of the boat.  Place the boat in forward at a low RPM with the wheel turned slightly to the dock.  The force of the bow line and prop wash moves the stern away slowly away from the dock.  When enough of an angle has be achieved, reverse away from the dock, making sure the bow line is clear.

Coming Backin Ininto the dock in reverse is essentially the same.  Go into reverse well clear of everything.  Back within two to three feet of Forward Outthe dock then bring the boat to a stop with the bow slightly to
windward.  Let the wind finish the docking.  Again, get a stern line ashore and let the wind take care of the bow.

To depart, back up on a spring line running forward from the stern.  When the bow has a sufficient angle off the dock, go forward carefully while releasing the line.  Turning the wheel slightly into the dock when transitioning into forward moves the stern clear of the dock.  Immediately straighten the wheel to depart.

These two simple docking/departure techniques are all you need for successful windward docking at the D dock pump out station.  No more do you need to attempt nearly impossible turns in limited space!  Instead, you can sit back and enjoy the entertainment others offer.  Next time, we’ll look at docking techniques for the leeward side.

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Don’t Sail to a Timeline

Sailing to a specific time schedule can be dangerous.  Trying to “get there” at a specific time, or wanting to trim 20 minutes off your sailing ETA may create a situation where you put yourself at risk.

While returning from Drakes Bay during a recent Advanced Coastal Cruising class I made the decision to go through Bonita Channel to get home.  We had been out for three days, and I was really looking forward to getting home as quickly as possible. Bonita Channel is a one third mile wide alternative to the main ship channel as a means of getting through the San Francisco Bar.   It runs between Potato Patch (Fourfathom Bank) and the shoreline of Point Bonita.  During mild conditions it cuts quite a bit of time off the trip into the bay from the north.

The decision to use Bonita Channel was based on conditions as we approached.  We had 3 to 4 foot swells with a very long period.  In other words, it was quite calm, so we made the turn towards the channel.  The approach to the channel is like a continuously narrowing funnel of deeper water between two areas of shallower water. During the 20 minutes following our turn into the approach, I watched the swells build from 3 and 4 feet up to 7 and 8 feet.  The shallow water to the sides was causing the swell to hump up making me a bit nervous, so 20 minutes into the approach I changed my mind and back tracked to use the main ship channel.  Of course, during the next hour I questioned my decision, thinking to myself that going through Bonita Channel would have cut 3 miles off my trip and would have been perfectly safe.

When we reached the point where Bonita Channel joins the main ship channel, I checked out the conditions we would have been greeted by had we gone that way.  At a distance of 1/2 to 1 mile, it’s hard to judge height, however, I would estimate there were 3 foot breakers rolling across the channel for most of it’s length.  Being hit on the beam by 3 foot breaking waves for a mile isn’t my idea of a fun time.  In this case, the correct decision was made!

Sailing on San Francisco Bay involves a constant series of choices like the one above. Choices like: I’m not going to do a complete checkout of the boat because I’m running late and there is never a problem; or, the shortest route takes me through those small kids on dinghies and I don’t really want to take the time to go around; or, following the west side of the channel is faster, but the east side keeps me clear of the tug harbor and the marina exit; or, I think I can make it in front of that tug pulling a barge and I’ll be late if I give way and go behind.  Don’t fall into these traps.  Be willing to make the best decision based on circumstances and be willing to revise choices mid sail as changing circumstances require.

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Have a Fender at the Ready

Someone asked me once where I get the ideas for the skipper’s tips.  My answer was, “watching the docks.”  If you watch, it doesn’t take long to see something tip worthy.  On any Saturday you will see at least one instance were someone has to fend of from the dock, another boat, or a concrete post.  Generally body parts are used for the purpose.  Once in awhile a boat hook will be placed into service.  Neither is a good idea.  Body parts break and boat hooks are not at all secure.  Here is a better way!

Part of the Tradewinds pre-cruise check list is to verify the location and number of fenders.  Don’t check that item off the list until you have placed one fender “at the ready.”  What’s that mean?  Remove it from the lazarette or untie it from the stern pulpit so that it can be placed into service as a roving fender without delay.  Never depart a slip, begin a docking, or operate in close quarters without having a fender ready to fend off in the event of a mishap.  I assure you, sooner of later you are going to need it!

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Have You Heard From My Husband?

Kind of a strange way to start a conversation, however, that’s just what happened the other day.

It seems a club member was missing.  He had left the house the previous morning for a day sail.  He called in that afternoon indicating they were having some engine problems, his cellphone was almost dead, and he would be calling the Coast Guard.  That was the last she had heard and his phone was going straight to voice mail.  Needless to say, she was quite worried.  To compound the problem, she did not know who he was sailing with, where they were sailing from, the name of the boat, or their destination.  She had no idea where to even start so she called the Coast Guard and Tradewinds hoping we could tell her what was going on.  We couldn’t tell her (or the Coast Guard officer who called later), because he wasn’t on one of our boats.

In this case, there was a happy ending.  He was sailing with a friend on a boat that isn’t part of the Tradewinds fleet.  The boat did have motor problems, however, they were able to make it to a marina where they spent the night.  The boat was repaired the following day and they make it back to their home marina.  Unfortunately, because his cell phone was dead he wasn’t able to contact her with an update.

Much of her concern would have been eliminated had he filed a float plan with her before leaving.  If you aren’t sure what information is required, there is a great example of a float plan on the Tradewinds website.  It can be completed online, saved as a PDF file, and left where a concerned person can find it.

During the Advanced Coastal Cruising class, a float plan is required.  Anytime a Tradewinds boat goes outside the gate, a float plan is required.  Tradewinds does not require a float plan in any other circumstances, however, common sense does.  Never leave the dock without filing a plan with your loved ones.  At a minimum, include the following information:

  • Vessel name and description
  • Skipper’s name and contact info (including the skipper’s emergency contact person and contact info is also a great idea)
  • Crew members names and contact info
  • When are you leaving
  • Where are you going
  • Planned stops along the way
  • When will you return
  • Any backup plans you might have

One more thought.  I know where I am and that everything is OK … my loved ones don’t, so any time I leave the dock, I have in my possession a satellite based GPS tracking tool. I can use it to check in when out of cell phone range.  With it, I’m able to send a simple message to let my wife know I’m OK, and what my exact Latitude and Longitude are.  Using it has greatly reduced my wife’s worry when I am out enjoying this great sport.

Note from Matt: Here is a link to a fillable .pdf float plan from the USCG Auxiliary: http://floatplancentral.cgaux.org – along with instructions! Fill it out, download the completed document, and email it to someone who will want to know your whereabouts if you are late!


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Staying warm on over-nights!

I recently received an email question from a member who was planning on taking guests out over night during a cold spell. The Q&A seemed blog worthy, so here it is with minor editing to protect the guilty!

Hi Matt,

I am taking Aquamarine for an overnight this weekend with another couple. They just emailed me to ask me what the heating situation will be (an apt question, given the below-freezing temperature expected). My response was – warm clothes, warm covers, and someone to snuggle.

But that got me thinking – does Tradewinds have a recommendation on boat heating? What I have in mind, in particular, is a technique that a friend uses – **edited out so as not to give anyone a bad idea**. “A” for creativity, but highly suspect when it comes to safety or effectiveness.

What would be your recommendation?


Hello I.,

One of our boats actually has a diesel heater, so it is an option when you have your own boat as well.

Electric heaters will work fine if you are overnight at a dock with AC power available, and we have heaters available to check out in locker #1 behind the office. Don’t try it on the boat’s inverter, however – only if you are actually plugged into shore power! Also be careful where you place them, I’ve seen damaged wood and upholstery.

As far as using propane on the boat (stove, oven), there are multiple reasons I would not be a fan. One is safety. Another is that we don’t charge members for propane, we just take the tanks and fill them. If I learned people were using the stoves as heaters, I’d probably have to implement a way to do that.

On the safety side, propane is heavier than air. Never leave it on without someone watching it. If there is a leak, or if the flame goes out with the burner on, it will fill the boat from the bottom up. Sleeping people will breathe it and die, and if anything should spark (automatic bilge pump coming on), boom!

Warm clothes and sleeping bags is the best bet. I wouldn’t be opposed to a small camping heater with its own small propane supply, I think Coleman makes something like that. Of course it should only be on when people are awake, and you have to careful where you place it so the heat doesn’t damage varnished wood or cloth surfaces, etc.

I think you’ll also find that a closed boat with 4 people on board warms up pretty well. By early morning, you may be cracking your cabin window to get some cool air.

Hope that helps!

-Matt K

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Chartering in Greece – By Lee Jones

Matt,  My partner Dena and I took courses at Tradewinds this past summer, to prepare for a bareboat charter in Greece in September.  Dena took the Basic Keelboat to increase her comfort level as first mate.  I took exams for BKB, Coastal Cruising and Bareboat, in addition to a day on the water to challenge in for Bareboat, to get my international proficiency certificate.  If you would like to post our photos and a brief story, here is my submission: 

Greece Charter

Lee and Dena

Lee and Dena

Lee Jones and Dena King enjoyed a week long bareboat charter with The Moorings out of Lefkas, Greece in September, thanks in part to courses taken at Tradewinds this past summer.  Dena thanks Steve Damm for getting her through Basic Keelboat , where her days on the Bay in 20+ knots in Capri 22’s more than prepared her for the Ionian Sea on a Beneteau 43.  Lee thanks Tony Medunic for the practice Med mooring approaches in the Richmond inner harbor in 22 knots of wind, where maneuvering astern in tight quarters is a daily event in Greek sailing.  The Ionian Sea offers short passages between the islands of Lefkada, Ithaca, Kefalonia and others, with many small harbor towns offering great food and entertainment ashore 

Thanks to Steve, Tony and your staff for providing great sailing experiences that helped us make this sailing trip a fun adventure in the Mediterranean.

 Lee Jones

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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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