Nautical Terminator – Hull Down (Part 2)

We promised last time to apply our understanding of the old phrase “hull down” to modern circumstances. The issue arises when making offshore passages. Clearly, single-handers are in violation of Rule 5 of the Colregs because they cannot maintain a watch at all times. But as the majority of long distance cruisers sail with only two crew, when one is asleep and the other is attending to repairs, navigation, or the last chapter of that pot boiler, a proper lookout is not being kept. According to Tradewinds’ respected instructor of offshore passagemaking, Craig Walker, violating Rule 5 “means that if there were a collision, the vessel and skipper not having a look-out would bear at least a portion of the liability for the accident. That said, we need to use our best judgment regarding reasonable risk.” Like the mariners of old, we must determine how long it will take for that ship just appearing on the horizon to come close.

            Although container ships generally cruise at a speed in the high teens or low twenties, it is possible for the largest to attain speeds up to thirty knots. So if a sailboat and such a ship are heading directly towards one another, the closing speed could approach 38 knots. The ship’s bridge will be 125 or more feet high, and doing the math from our last issue we can see that that height together with our height of eye will mean she will be visible over the horizon at about 16 miles. At 38 knots our closest point of approach will occur in about 28 minutes. A fishing vessel with a height of only 30 feet may be steaming at 10-12 knots, yielding a potential closing speed with us of 20 knots. We will be able to see her at about 10 miles, so a collision could occur in the half-hour range. (Similar considerations along with some others apply to radar as it is also limited by the curvature of the earth. It should be a supplement, not substitute, for the human eye.)

            The same calculations affect being seen as well as seeing, giving the advantage to a tri-color light at the masthead which adds an extra six or seven miles’ radius of visibility as opposed to deck lights.

            Of course in all of the above we are assuming smooth seas, perfect visibility, and excellent eyesight, so it pays to cut these times at least by half. Stay alert out there.

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Nautical Terminator – Hull Down (Part 1)

In a recent column we mentioned the phrase, “hull down.” In the great days of sail, this was the lookout’s way of communicating the distance to a ship he’s sighted, just coming over the horizon. So how far away is a ship that’s “hull down?”

            The formula is the same simple one we use in piloting to tell how far off we are when “dipping a light” on a lighthouse. The square root of the height of our eye above the water in feet times 1.17 yields the distance to the horizon in nautical miles. If we use 16 feet as the height of eye—about the height of the forecastle head (bow) where we’ll have our lookout—we get a result of approximately four and a half miles (SQRT 16 = 4 x 1.17 = 4.68). Eric Hiscock’s “Beyond The West Horizon” sounds like a romantically distant place, but it’s only as far away as Angel Island. Now, to get the distance to the lighthouse, or in our case the mast of the enemy, you add the figure above to the result of the same formula when applied to the estimated height of the sails we see.

             The mast of a full rigged ship will be, say, 150 feet tall (it could be more—HMS Victory had a mainmast that rose 205 feet above the waterline, for example). Doing the math (SQRT 150 = 12.24 x 1.17=14.3) and adding the height of eye figure above (4.68) we get around 19 nautical miles. On a windy day when they’ve doused their royals and topgallants, she’ll be somewhat closer when we first see her, about 16 miles. If we move our lookout up to the fore-top, he’ll be somewhere in the vicinity of 80 feet above the water. We’ll see her sooner if we have our man there, at about 23 miles. The range on a clear day, then, is between 16 and 23 miles. If we’re sailing towards one another the closing speed could be as high as 16-18 knots, so we’ll be within an hour or a little more of her. Beat to Quarters! On the other hand if she’s chasing us and closing at only a knot or less, it could take a day or more to reach us. When the sighted ship is “hull up” it means that the lookout can see the forecastle so she is much closer, so we can do the same calculations as above, but instead of using 150 feet for the top of the mast, we’ll use about 16 as the height of the bow.

            There’s a modern use for this ancient observation technique that we can benefit from, which we’ll get to next time.

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Nautical Terminator – Points

            Our contemporary way of reading a compass is called the “three-figure” method, referring to the three numerals called out to the helmsperson by the navigator, as in “steer three-two-zero.” Early compass cards, however, were divided not into 360 degrees but into 32 points, each one equivalent to 11 degrees, 15 minutes, about the best the early ships could steer. Compass bearings were “East-Southeast” or “West by North.” Now you might think “West by North” would translate to 315 degrees, halfway between west at 270 and north at 360. But that’s “Northwest.” Instead, “West by North” is one point north of west or 281.25 degrees. The sequence from West to North in points is: W, W by N, WNW, NW by W, NW, NW by N, NNW, N by W, N. Film buffs may notice that Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” is not on this list, because, as the master of mystery knew, there is no such direction.

            Later, things got uglier when, as navigational skills improved, points were divided into halves  and quarters, yielding indecipherable directions like “East by North ¾ North.” Reciting these divisions was called “boxing the compass,” and I’m relieved it was in most instances replaced by our modern (actually ancient Babylonian) 360 degree system so I don’t have to know it. On my good days, I can count to 360.

            Relative bearings in points were, for example, “two points on the starboard bow,” which translates to 022.5 degrees relative to the ship’s heading. Four points adds up to 045 degrees, voiced as “broad on the starboard bow;” 090 is “starboard abeam;” and 135 would be “broad on the starboard quarter.” A vestige of this practice can be found in the transition between the arc of sidelights and stern light that occurs at 22.5 degrees abaft the beam. Why not an even number? Because 22.5 degrees is two points abaft the beam.  

            So now you know just how to talk on those “sail like a pirate” days: “Aaaargh, matey, she’s hull down, one point forward of the port beam. Steer Southeast by East, sir.” Folks, just a little of this sort of thing will make a lasting impression on your shipmates. Trust me.

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Nautical Terminator – Curse Like a Sailor

The other day at a Tradewinds instructors meeting, the estimable Craig Walker, a true gentleman and our most accomplished teacher, opined that we should not be cursing during class. Now, on the one hand, I completely agree that our instructors should maintain a professional demeanor at all times, one that would not be out of place in church. On the other hand, this admonishment flies in the face of all we know about the sport. When a neighbor, and for some reason this is funnier if it’s a woman, has a habit of expressing herself with rapid fire strings of expletives, do we say her language is sugary? No, we say it’s salty. Do we say she curses like a golfer? Heavens, no. She curses like a sailor. Even nerds recognize this, and if you don’t believe me, Google “make Siri curse [space].” Google will fill in “like a sailor.”

            Here at Tradewinds, during my first class more than two decades ago, I was taught that there were actually two sets of commands to learn. The much loved instructor Ron Pook informed us that when cruising, it’s “trim the main, please.” But when racing, the proper expression is “Trim the !#%@$ main!”

            Truth is, sailors don’t really have a whole catalogue of curses that differ from those of the lubbers. It seems it’s the frequency of their use that distinguishes the sailor from the landsman. Of course, there are two familiar sailor’s exclamations that we all know: Popeye’s “Well, blow me down!” and Long John Silver’s “Shiver me timbers!” It is, I’m sorry to report, not completely clear that either one was ever actually in common use by the sailors of yore, but both can be traced to 19th century literature. “Blow me down” has come down to us in the still often used phrase, “I was blown away.” I don’t think the sense of it requires much investigation. “Shiver me timbers” is a little less obvious. To “shiver” is to splinter, and is related to the word “shiv.” Of course “shiver” also meant “shake.” Either way, one’s timbers may get shivered by a cannon ball from a hostile vessel.

            I’m hopeful that Craig will permit our saying, “Blow me down! That was an awesome tack!”

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My Grand Adventure – by Tradewinds Member Peter D.

Peter D.

Hello everyone!

I’m back in Sacramento after my grand adventure which included 700+ nautical miles of open ocean sailing from NW Spain to Madeira.

Here’s one version of the tale, although my sailing buddies Mike Duda and Tom Flynn may remember things differently.

Tom, Mike, and I met up in the coastal port city of Vigo on Spain’s northwest coast.  We had booked berths on the British adventure yacht Hummingbird run by Rubicon3:   We read about these adventure sailing trips in Herb McCormick’s article in the May 2018 issue of Cruising World:   I wanted more open ocean time and, besides, the high latitudes were less interesting to me than discovering the wonders of Madeira, called “the pearl of the Atlantic.”


Hummingbird is a Clipper 60, one of eight nearly identical boats built for the 1996 around the world race.  She also competed in the 2000 and 2002 iterations of those races. Originally called Blackadder (for you British comedy fans), the boat is 59’ 11” long, with a beam of 15’ 7” and draws 7’ 3” (draft).  It’s a clipper rig which means that it carries two headsails (a Yankee and a staysail) in front of the mast.  When these boats retired from racing, they were sold into private hands.  Rubicon3 now owns three of the original Clipper 60s, plus one other boat.

Nameplate in the Galley
Finding Hummingbird in Vigo

Hummingbird is a tremendously powerful and fast boat with bigger winches, more sail area, larger lines, and more gear than the 35’ – 45’ boats that I normally day-sail on San Francisco Bay or on charters.  The result is that safety is genuinely important and Rubicon’s crew trained us well.


There were eight of us onboard for this adventure (October 29 to November 10).  Four were British: 2 paid crew (Vince the skipper, Rick the mate) and 2 crew-in-training (Huw & Hannah want to become future mates and skippers for Rubicon).  The other 4 paying crew were Americans, including the 3 of us from California and Ben, the East Coast guy.  Many of you know that Mike Duda has been my best-guy-friend since we met during our first week at Saint Mary’s College in September 1967.  We graduated from SMC in 1971, after spending of those years as roommates.  We’ve sailed a lot together.  Tom Flynn also lives here in east Sacramento and like us is also an SMC alumnus (Class of 1969).

Three Gaels, Avoiding the Gales


There’s an old saying that sailors don’t have plans, merely intentions.  Weather, calendars, and unexpected events disrupt rigid plans, so you go with your intentions.  Our adventure demonstrated that enduring truth.  We went onboard about noon on Tuesday October 29, finding Hummingbird in a recreational marina in the port of Vigo.  It was drizzling and we soon learned from the skipper and mate that a large weather system was roaring down out of the Atlantic, poised to smack western Europe.  The original idea was to spend 3+ days training by day-sailing in Vigo bay so that we could learn the boat and get comfortable with each others’ skills.  There’s plenty to learn on a big boat!

But we faced this choice.  If we stayed several days to train, then we were likely to be pinned down for a week by the bad weather.  But if we learned some basic safety lessons, we could leave in another day and sail fast down the Spanish and Portuguese coast, staying a day ahead of the advancing front.  There would be several places that we could bail-out if needed (Porto, Lisbon, Lagos, or even Cadiz).  We readily agreed that we’d come for an adventure sail, so let’s go.


On Wednesday October 30, we day-sailed down Vigo bay to a a marina at the small town of Baiona, near the bay entrance.  Lots of learning along the way.  Dinner onboard and the last hot showers for many days.  Thursday October 31 we worked on more safety lessons, unpacking and restowing the drogue, practicing a Man Overboard (MOB) retrieval using a harness & halyard, and hoisting the bright orange storm sail. Unspoken was everyone’s hope that we’d never be in conditions where we needed to use those new skills .

The Drogue
The Storm Sail
Mike at the Helm

Then after lunch it was off the marina dock, heading out to sea in a drizzle adorned by a vibrant rainbow!  Nice omen.


Friday and for the next few days, Hummingbird ran south along the coast, <20 nautical miles off the mainland.  The skipper’s strategy was to keep the boat moving fast, so sometimes we motorsailed.  The combination of the powerful diesel and sails kept our boat speed above 7 knots (SOG) most of the time.  The sail plan was usually the main with a single-reef, the #2 Yankee, and the staysail.  In the hourly log, you’d write MR1, Y2, s/s for that sail plan.  We weren’t more than 20 nm off the coast which we couldn’t see because of clouds, mist, and drizzle.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t that cold, so wearing foul weather gear and gloves was more for avoiding the damp than staying warm.

Somehow my anti-seasickness patch fell off from behind my ear and I re-discovered just how miserable I can be.  The mate sent me below to my bunk to sleep.  Time to replace that Scopolamine patch, thanks Mike!  By Saturday afternoon I was feeling semi-human again, able to help stand watch and help with chores (but not cooking the curry…).  Hydration, small bland meals, and what the Brits called biscuits (yeah, they’re cookies) kept me going.  On Saturday afternoon we’d reached the latitude of Cabo de Sao Vincente, where the Portuguese coast turns sharply eastward, running towards the Mediterranean.  Decision time.  The skipper convened the crew to discuss options and again unanimously we agreed to head for Madeira instead of heading into a harbor.


After we changed course and started heading southwest out to sea, the weather went from drizzle to mostly cloudy to partly cloudy to gloriously blue.  The Atlantic Ocean is really deep out there and the surface looked almost purple.  A few shy dolphins briefly swam alongside, not in our bow wake, but dropped away after a short look at us.  The wind increased to about 20 kt, the swells got taller and longer, and the boat settled into a lovely rhythm that used the swells instead of getting smacked as we had along the coast.  Monday was superb sailing, one of the best days I’ve ever had on a boat.  Because Hummingbird doesn’t have an autopilot or wind vane, it’s hand-steering all the way.  In those conditions with well-balanced sails, however, steering was a joy, merely helping the boat sail fast and straight.

Tom Getting Schooled on Steering by Rick (mate)


Yeah, it’s a cliche, but when you see a smudge on the horizon after 4 days at sea, it’s an honest thrill.  I happened to be on the helm Monday afternoon when someone caught sight of Isla Porto Santo, one of the small (but inhabited) islands of the Madeira group.  It was our target and there it was.  Land ho!  The 2 crew-in-training had been navigating with sextants (but the sky was overcast), one true bearing on Berlenga Island days ago, and just old-fashioned dead reckoning.  After days since their last reliable fix, they brought us within 10 nm of what the GPS downstairs was reporting.  That’s fine work by Huw and Hannah!

Navigation Station has GPS, but not for Huw and Hannah
Dead Reckoning Our Way to Isla Porto Santo


By 8 pm Monday the skipper had safely anchored us in about 7 meters of water outside the breakwater of Porto Santo.  Portuguese sailors had accidentally discovered this island in 1418, over 600 years before us!  They were blown to the Madeira island group in a storm; we got there on purpose.

Porto Santo is Rightly Proud of It’s 601-Year History

Hummingbird  is (correctly) a “dry boat” underway for safety and reliability reasons.  But now the hook was down and we celebrated our passage with beers all around.  The next day ((Tuesday November 5) we moved the boat to the anchorage inside the breakwater and it was time for “shore leave.”  Hot showers, walks into town, cold beers at the marina’s bar.  Tuesday was also my 70th birthday which we celebrated with a hot breakfast and shots of smuggled bourbon.  Thanks Mike!  Many of the other transient boats were there on their way to the Canary Islands, to join this year’s version of the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC), the annual group pilgrimage from Europe-Africa to the Caribbean for the winter.  Plenty of crews had painted their boats’ names and logos on the seawall.  

Porto Santo Seawall Art
Breakfast After Bourbon Shots at 8am


Because we’d left Vigo-Baiona earlier than expected and because we made our 724 nm passage in just 4 1/2 days, we had time to sail around the Madeira islands for the next few days.  The rugged cliffs of Baia d’Abra were stark and sheer.  Only one other boat anchored there with us overnight.  That part of eastern Madeira looks like the Baja California coast.  The resort marina at Quinto do Lorde has a fancy hotel, shops, restaurants, showers, laundry, and a bar.  If you’ve been to Ensenada’s Marina Coral, you’d recognize Quinto do Lorde.  We enjoyed restaurant dinners, the chance to hang out with an espresso or cappuccino, and did I mention the hot showers?  We didn’t take Hummingbird  to the port of Funchal because there was no room in the marina for a 60’ boat, and anchoring was going to be rolly at best.  The QdL marina was just fine as our temporary home base.


Our skipper worked his magic, getting rare landing permits for us on Isla Deserta Grande, a nature reserve island about 14 nm from Madeira island.  Knowing that it would be our last sailing day, I jumped at the chance to set up the headsails (Y2 & s/s), help hoist the mainsail, hoist the headsails, trim and re-trim, then reef the main.  On a big boat, it’s a complicated set of procedures with little room for error.  Clarity is as important as teamwork.  On the boats that I normally sail, there’s room for making minor mistakes without getting hurt or hurting your crewmates.  But handling sails on a big former racing boat requires close attention.  And grinding.  Then more grinding.  And grinding some more.  For a 70-year old guy who weights 140 pounds on a good day, that’s real work but what a pleasure to sail from Madeira to Deserta Grande.  We were allowed to go ashore after anchoring (I managed to get a quick swim in the Atlantic).  Exploring even a tiny part of the protected island with the Portuguese nature ranger was a hugely fascinating experience.  Few sailors get permission to go onshore; almost none from California.  Carlos the ranger was surprised.  We were delighted.

We left the island’s precarious anchorage about 4 pm to sail back to our QdL marina berth.  The winds dashed down the steep cliffs until we got clear of the island.  And then I (selfishly) took the helm for at least 2 1/2 hours of our 4-hour trip back.  While underway, Mike prepped for the risotto planned for dinner. I kept steering.  Just after dusk the white light of the Madeira lighthouse winked at us, right where it was supposed to be.  Reassuring as we pushed along at 8 kt in the dark.  After putting us alongside the dock (“pontoon” to the Brits), Vince the skipper went below to make the risotto we enjoyed for dinner.  Now that’s a guy who can do it all!


Sunday morning the 2 crew-in-training left at 5 am for the Funchal airport and their flight back to the UK.  We finished packing our duffels, had our last breakfast, and stepped ashore at 9 am, leaving the crew to finish their chores before turning over the boat to the next Rubicon crew expected in a few days.  We spent the night in Funchal (the much greener end of the island).  Tom flew back to SFO on Monday morning.  Mike and I stayed in Lisbon as tourists until Thursday when we took our own 13-hour flight nonstop back to SFO.  I’ll spare you the backstory (bad pun…) about the intestinal bacteria that came home with me.  Thank you Kaiser Permanente for the  tests and antibiotics.  I’m regaining weight.

We covered 815 nm from Vigo to Madeira, including that 724 nm passage.  In terms of latitude, going from Baiona to Porto Santo is the equivalent of going from Brookings, Oregon (just north of the California state line) to Encinitas, California (just north of Del Mar in San Diego County).  For you navigation geeks, that’s nine degrees of latitude (from 42 degrees, 7 minutes at Baiona to 33 degrees, 3 minutes at Porto Santo).

Rubicon’s motto is “SAIL. TRAIN. EXPLORE.”  They delivered on every point.  We were safe and returned with sailing skills that we’ll be using on SF Bay and coastal trips.  Two thumbs up!

It was truly a grand adventure on a solid boat with fine crewmates.  Grateful.

Peace and all good.                                                         – Peter

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Nautical Terminator – Nautical Mile

By Tradewinds instructor Tony Johnson

As we all learn in our first navigation class, a nautical mile equals one minute of latitude. Therefore, the distance in nautical miles between the equator and the poles is, by definition, 90 degrees times 60 minutes, or 5400 nautical miles, which is very close to 10000 kilometers. This seems pretty plain, until we come across the inconvenient fact that the earth is not a perfect sphere. It’s bloated at the equator, and so is what is called an oblate spheroid. It’s a bit squashed, in other words, which means that at the poles, the radius of the earth is 6356.752 kilometers, and at the equator, the radius is 6378.137 kilometers. After various mathematical analyses in the 19th century, an Englishman named Alexander Ross Clarke came up with the spheroid, referred to by scientists as the “figure of the earth,” which became the standard way of conceiving of this shape. The investigations continue to this day and get pretty arcane. WGS 84 (World Geodetic System of 1984) is the datum for the GPS units currently in use.

Here’s a funny result of this bulge: If you are standing at the equator, your weight is reduced by centripetal force. You’re being flung into space at 1000 miles an hour, just as you would be on a playground merry-go-round. However, the centripetal force is a very small percentage of the force of gravity, so you stay on the planet, but weigh just a little less. Or you would, except for that bloatedness. Because the world is thicker at the equator, there is more mass pulling you towards the center of the earth, increasing the earth’s gravity and mostly offsetting the opposing force throwing you away from the earth. The end result is that you weigh only about .5% less at the equator than you do at the poles.

That oblateness also messes with the nautical mile. If you take this shape into account, one minute of latitude at the equator is 1842.9 meters; but at the north pole it is 1861.7 meters. In 1929, the First International Extraordinary Hydrographic Conference in Monaco decided to standardize the distance at 1852 meters or 6077 feet, which we often round to 6080, as the length of the nautical mile. This compromise between the distance at the equator and the poles works out to be the length of the nautical mile at 48 degrees of latitude.

Related image
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It’s Getting Dark Earlier

In my opinion winter has arrived.  It’s not really winter until December 21, however, for me it’s winter when we move off daylight savings time back to standard time.  That’s the point it starts to get frustrating getting back to the dock before the sun sets!

So here’s a little trivia for you.  On Saturday November 11, 2014:

  • Sunset at the Golden Gate is 5:01 PM.  Legally, sunset is the point in time that the very top of the sun disappears below the horizon.  It’s the time international regulations require navigation lights to be turned on.
  • At 5:28PM, the sun will be 6 degrees below the horizon.  A point in time called civil twilight.  You can still see fairly well, however, it’s dark enough that planets and stars are beginning to be visible.  This is the point in time most States require you to turn on the headlights of your car.
  • At 5:58PM, the sun will be 12 degrees below the horizon and night officially begins.

As you can see, there is almost an hour of “twilight,” which begs the question, when does Tradewinds policy require you be secured at the dock, anchor, or on a mooring?  That’s easy.  When regulations require navigation lights Tradewinds requires you to be secured for the night.  One more small complication.  Sunset at the Golden Gate is 5:01.  In Marina Bay, we are east of the Golden Gate and there are hills between us and the setting sun.  Sunset here is about 10 minutes earlier.

I’m already tired of these short days!  Come on equinox!

Note from Matt: Don’t forget to leave time to fresh-water flush the head systems and clean the boat up while you still have some light. Many members have missed cleaning requirements because they tried to do it in the dark this time of year. You’ll know because of the email or phone call from Matt or Brandy on Monday morning! Our formula is that on average, you need 1 minute per foot of boat per day for cleanup (30 minutes for a 30 foot boat if you were out only one day, 60 minutes if you were out over night). Figure 20 minutes to visit  the pump-out and motor to the slip, on November 11, you should be motoring back into the marina by 4:10 at the latest.

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Clipper Round the World Yacht Race – by Mike Holmes

Have you ever thought of quitting your job, buying a boat and sailing to exotic locations around the world? If you love being on the water as much as I do, I’m sure you’ve had these thoughts more than once. I’ve found myself in the fortunate enough position to be able to do something almost like that.

I started my sailing journey only two years ago, signing up for the package deal of ASA 101, 103 and 104 with Tradewinds. I really enjoyed the coursework, instructors and fellow classmates. My favorite course would have to be 104 Bareboat, nothing beats spending the night on the water.

Although I am somewhat new to sailing, I am no stranger to being on the water. I used to race 100mph race boats with the American Power Boat Association, I spent two months in the South Pacific on the California Maritime Academy’s T/S Golden Bear, and I worked two years as a professional deckhand on a 257’ megayacht, cruising the Caribbean, Mediterranean and crossing the Atlantic twice.

However, I find the most pleasure in sailing. It is technical, physically and mentally demanding, and is something that you can do with family and friends. Whether dinghy sailing, cruising in the Bay, buoy racing on a Wednesday night, or sailing offshore, there is always something to learn. I’ve always dreamt of crossing an ocean on a sailboat, and now that opportunity has presented itself.

Last year I decided it was time for a career change and some time off. Maybe this is an early mid-life crisis? I left a good job to go sailing on the other side of the world. I signed up for the 2019-2020 Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, which takes amateurs with little or no sailing experience and trains them to be ocean racers. The race takes place from September 2019 to August 2020, starting and finishing at St. Kathrine’s dock in London. There are eleven teams in identical (one-design) 70’ racing yachts. Each is crewed by twenty amateur crew with a professional skipper and mate. The circumnavigation is broken into eight legs. I will be doing leg five, the Asia-Pacific Challenge, sailing 6,000+ nautical miles from Australia to China in January/February 2020.

Prior to the start of the race, crew have to complete four weeks of mandatory training in the United Kingdom. At the start of my third week of training I was in a new group and started talking to a man next to me. I couldn’t believe it when he said he was from California and it turned out he is on the same race team as me, WTC Logistics. Even more astounding is that he mentioned he learnt how to sail at Tradewinds! What are the odds of that!

Want to know more about my adventures? Follow along on my blog and don’t forget to subscribe to get the latest updates:

My continued journey in sailing would not have been possible if it wasn’t for the great staff and instructors at Tradewinds. I owe them for getting me hooked on sailing!

Fair winds and calm seas.

Mike Holmes

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Watch the Stern

First a “tip” then the detailed explanation with some practice exercises.

The Tip: While docking in a slip (once the bow is in the slip) and when doing a fairway rotation, focus primarily on where the stern is with observation sweeps forward to ensure safety of your boat and crew.

The Detail: Next time you are sitting on the patio enjoying a break after the day’s sail, pay a bit of attention to the returning boats pulling into their slips. I used to be amazed at how often the boat would be half way into the slip when it’s brought to a stop, then the helms person has to “push” it the rest of the way in. Depending on wind direction, this can be easy, or down right painful. There are a number of reasons this happens, however, here is one of the biggest.

With any boat, there is a blind spot in front of the bow. A container ship’s blind spot can extend for a quarter of a mile in front of the bow. With the sailboats in our fleet, it’s not unusual for that blind spot to extend nearly the length of the boat. Which means, almost as soon as the bow is in the slip, the end of the slip begins to disappear under the bow. It doesn’t take long before it gets hard to judge position in the slip and the boat is brought to a stop … usually too soon, although occasionally it can be too late.

Here’s how to stop that.
1. Before departing the slip, make a mental note of where you are standing in relation to something on the dock finger directly beside you … the stern cleat for example.

2. Also before departing, make a note of where the main dock meets the gunwales on each side. With an unfamiliar boat, you might even put a spot of blue painter’s tape at the location on each side.

3. While returning to the slip as the dock begins to disappear under your bow, start watching the stern more than the bow. Look for that dock cleat at the stern of the boat. It’s much easier to judge speed and distance in relation to it, than to the dock in front of you. Don’t ignore looking forward, it’s important to know what’s happening up there. Try looking at the stern cleat relationship for 4 or 5 seconds, the glance forward for 2 or 3 seconds. If you do, you will be able to hold the boat in place, rather than the 5 foot forward/backward surging you often see.

While we are on the topic of watching the stern more than the bow, try doing the same during a fairway rotation. Say you are on a 40 foot boat in a 60 foot fairway. As you start the rotation, the stern is going to be close to the edge of the fairway, 5 or 10 feet maybe. The bow is 50 feet or more from the other edge. It’s much easier to judge distance at 5 feet away than at 50 feet away. As the turn gets get going, the bow swings closer and closer to the far dock. If you spend all of your time watching the bow, the tendency is for the boat to drift further and further towards the bow side of the fairway. If that side is to leeward, you have now placed yourself against a leeward shore, and you are in danger of getting pinned against the boats on that side.

Instead, as you do the rotation, watch the relationship of the stern to the dock. Keep it at 5 feet, and the bow will never get closer than 15 feet in the above example. And, you can tell when 5 feet becomes 10 feet. Use astern propulsion to keep you back … then, once the 5 foot relationship has been restored, go back into forward and let the prop wash take you the rest of the way around. Again, focus primarily on the stern, with safety/observational sweeps forward.
Instead of trying something new in close quarters, practice this maneuver out at the practice buoys in Marina Bay. Start by using the most wind sheltered buoy, turning to leeward and to windward, and then move to the ones more in the wind so that you can see what happens in varying wind conditions.

With any boat, there is a blind spot in front of the bow. A container ship’s blind spot can extend for a quarter of a mile in front of the bow. With the sailboats in our fleet, it’s not unusual for that blind spot to extend nearly the length of the boat. Which means, almost as soon as the bow is in the slip, the end of the slip begins to disappear under the bow. It doesn’t take long before it gets hard to judge position in the slip and the boat is brought to a stop … usually too soon, although occasionally it can be too late.

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That Just Doesn’t Seem Like the Right Thing to Do!

August can be an interesting time at the Tradewinds docks.  Lots of wind, accompanied by the normal “too much wind docking entertainment.”  One particular August Saturday saw the day end with two boats “parked” at the exact same spot, laying across the dock fingers of multiple slips (Windfall, Megalina, and Seabreeze).  Fortunately, not at the same time.  About 15 minutes apart.  Also fortunately, without any damage to anything.

The first was a power boat about 45 feet long with twin motors.  Unfortunately, one of the motors wasn’t working and the remaining one was putting some rotational torque the wrong direction from the way the boat needed to turn to get out of trouble.  Add to that the wind and the result was a boat beam on the wind, getting blown sideways down the fairway … a dock behind and rocks in front.  Several people on the dock stepped up and got the boat safely against the slips, bow pointed more or less out.  We were able to get a line across from the opposite dock and use the line to get the bow pointed to the dock which was fortunately vacant.  The line was used to guide the boat safely into a side tie there.

Not fifteen minutes later, a 35 foot Beneteau with twin rudders and a sail drive missed her fairway, and ended up beam to the wind drifting sideways down the same fairway, directly towards the exact same spot.  Try as he might, the skipper was unable to get the bow to come up into the wind so that he could drive the boat out in forward.  Those of you that have ever driven a boat with twin rudders and a sail drive know there is no prop walk and no prop wash to assist the boat during the “fairway turn” that was needed.

The problem in both cases … the wind was blowing the bow of the boat the wrong way.  The broken motor in one case, and the twin rudder sail drive combination in the other made it virtually impossible to get the bow to do what needed to be done.

The solution?  Let the wind do to the bow what it wanted to do, blow down.  Then, exit the fairway in reverse with the wind holding the bow steady.  It goes totally against what feels like the right thing, however, in the case of at least the sailboat, it was the only solution that would have worked.

Watching these two incidents got me remembering all the times I have seen a boat blown into the mud, rocks, or a dock because the skipper kept trying to tack away without sufficient speed to complete the maneuver.  In a case like that maybe a jibe would have been a better solution.  Or, if there is sufficient room, just straighten the tiller, drive toward the “bad place,” get some speed and tack.

The tip here?  It isn’t to let the bow blow down or to jibe instead of tack.  The tip is … If something isn’t working because some “force” or other won’t let it, then see if there is a way to turn that force into something that helps instead of hinders.  Don’t be that person who keeps doing the same thing over and over hoping for a different result.  Keep your mind and options open.

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