Being Underway: Advancement to Basics

So here we look at the basics of being underway and what to do even prior to raising the sail but let us first look at what is meant by basics.  To revert to the basics is to not only reflect on the foundations of what you are doing but also become a little humble, and we all need to be humbler in this hyper-intense world.  If we do not practice the foundations of the sailing that we do, we then lose touch.  More, to ignore the basics is to possibly develop a belligerent attitude of “I know what I am doing and my way has always worked.”  Such an attitude is not conducive to learning, and the wise person is always open to learning.  A belligerent attitude can actually be dangerous for sailing a boat.  In a way, to be aware of the basics is to have continual correction in that it opens up new ways of improving skills, and this is not just for sailing but for any aspect of life.


Tradewinds always stresses the basics in whatever one does and even suggests taking courses, such as docking, more than once.  The special aspect of being a member of Tradewinds is that a person can pay one fee and sail every day of the month on any of the boats and only with practice do we get better, especially while keeping the basics in mind.  So here is a scenario:

A long-time member, who started with the smaller Capris, has been sailing larger boats for some time.  This same person will often say in conversation that s/he has not sailed the Capris for some time and that maybe has even forgotten how to start the engine.  Actually, this person might even brag of not going back to the basics.


From my point of view, anyone who wants to continually improve skills needs to take out these Capris every few months to make corrections in obvious flaws, and we all have flaws no matter how good we think we are.  More, by sailing these smaller boats it will make you better on the larger boats in that wind awareness, currents, tides, etc. are more pronounced in that you are closer to the water with not such a powerful engine.


So back to leaving the dock, one truly needs to know the force and direction of the wind well before raising the sail.  Always have wind awareness.  You might be leaving while being close to another vessel to the leeward, and that could mean a rub or even crash.  In leaving a berth with the larger boats that have much freeboard there is always a danger of being blown to the other side of the fairway or even to the same side that you left.  Such a basic is often forgotten by many, just as many of us forget to lock the house prior to leaving or forgetting to turn off the stove.  Also, with any kind of docking or departing one must relax, and this does not mean slouching.  To relax is to see one’s whole surroundings and it is what I call part of the moving meditative form of sailing, of which I would like to write about another time.


Along with the wind, one needs to know the direction and strength of the currents and when is low and high tide.  Do check the tide book or better, have someone come on board prepared with the various currents in different places throughout the bay at the different times.  If you are sailing with a steady crew, such could be one of the jobs giving purpose.  When sailing each crew member must have purpose; it makes a crew stronger and better at sailing as well as creates good discourse.  Having such a purpose as knowing the tides and currents leads to conversation and that person becomes a kind of quartermaster, always letting the crew know what direction and force the water is moving.  The new sailor gains much from talk of better sailing.  Of course, the skipper needs to be well aware of this but another mind at work can only enhance the sail, and the skipper might learn something as well.


Now speaking of purpose, at all times there needs to be a lookout.  Even when all seems smooth, the bay always has surprises, such as flotsam and jetsam.  Basically, flotsam is debris in the water that was not deliberately thrown overboard, often as a result from a shipwreck or accident. Jetsam describes debris that was deliberately thrown overboard by crew of another boat.  Either/or, it is all debris that can cause damage to the boat.  The purpose of a lookout is most important as there is so much movement on the water at all times.  A good lookout sees the boat being set towards an oncoming buoy or sees that tanker, though far away, which is travelling at fifteen knots.  What looks like safe distance can be an illusion.  Also, the lookout starts as soon as the boat leaves the dock maybe letting the helmsperson know when the bow is clear.


Another basic is awareness of lines, to see if any lines are hanging off the boat or are about to fall.  Quite often the jib furling line is loosely wrapped around the stern pulpit; it can fall off and catch on the prop, thus danger.  A good idea is to get all lines that will be used for raising the sail ready prior to leaving the dock.  One never knows when these lines will need to be used in an emergency.  It is for this reason that we attach the halyard to the head of the sail prior to leaving the dock, while putting it under one of the closer sail ties, so that the sail can be released at a moment’s notice.  An awareness that is most important is to not leave lines tangled on deck.  One can trip, or worse, get a foot caught in a tangle.  A good habit is to secure the lines to be ready but off the deck, and this includes the jib sheet.


There are many things to be aware on board, one being to keep fingers away from lines wrapped around a winch.  When raising sails keep the bottom part of the hand above the winch when wrapping it around and stir the line clockwise around as if you are stirring soup or stew.  Fingers can be lost, especially when the sails are full; there is much pressure.  Another good idea is to take off rings and jewelry when working with lines, and that even goes for a watch.  You will be surprised what gets caught on what.


So, what I have for the basics prior to putting up sail are:

  • to know the force and direction of the wind.
  • there needs to be a lookout.
  • awareness of lines.
  • to keep fingers away from lines wrapped around a winch.


That the number four is not the best, especially if you understand the significance of the number in Chinese, I am going to give a fifth one and that is do not rush when setting up the boat and the same for when putting it away.  Get to the boat early and just look at it all and do your check with ease rather than might so that the obvious does not escape you.  This is also the same when putting the boat away.  Sometimes it is good, if you are the skipper, to let your crew leave, after helping you secure the boat, and just stay with the boat on your own sans any distractions.  In other words, be most reflective and you might find a balance, which is what sailing is all about.  Again, I welcome any comments on something that I missed or a correction on anything I have written.  Life is but a learning process, and this is especially true with sailing.

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