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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Skipper Tip, Lee Shores

“Lee Shore” is a term you learn in your very first ASA course, Basic Keel Boat. How often do we really think about our relationship to a lee shore when we are out sailing? Inexperienced sailors in particular should try to be very aware of lee shores and obstacles. More experienced sailors have probably already made a mistake or had a mishap in their past that will keep them well clear.

Always give yourself an out. Look ahead at where you will be and think, “What’s going to happen if I am in that spot and I lose engine power or miss a tack?” If you miss that critical tack and are now drifting downwind, how much room do you have before you encounter an obstacle or run aground? Sailing close to large lee obstacles such as tall buildings or moored Victory-Ships can also do strange things to your wind and actually assist in the missed tack!

Don’t learn the hard way, learn from those who have had the close calls before you! If you have a choice, take the upwind side of the channel or marina entrance, and sail downwind of obstacles if you have the room – except this one, maybe stay upwind of this one…


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Sailors Will Argue About Anything

At a recent instructors’ meeting we had a disagreement or two—nothing serious, but it reminded me of the time a couple of decades ago at a similar such meeting when we spent an hour in heated debate over whether we should teach students to say “Jibe-Ho!” or simply “Jibing!” to initiate a jibe. We have repeated the same argument at the same meeting every few years. I must confess that I am just as bad as the next guy though I have never participated in that particular debate.

Sometimes, there is no by-the-book right answer—although many will claim otherwise, which, of course, is why we have disagreements in the first place. For comparison, on my boat with a familiar crew, the command is often simply “OK.” Everyone knows we’re going to jibe and knows what to do and “OK” is completely sufficient. Many race boats count down jibes and tacks to ensure the timing goes perfectly. That’s not in the “how to sail” books either. At Tradewinds, however, we wish to teach reasonably consistent practices and terms that will work with any crew, so as not to confuse our students—and so our students don’t confuse anyone else. “OK” is not going to get it done.

Once you get out in the world of other sailors you may find that Skipper Jones and Skipper Smith do not do things the same way or give the exact same commands. Does this mean one of them is wrong? Possibly. For example, there is a right and several wrong ways to tie a bowline or a sheet bend. Allowing variation or improvisation is courting disaster. But it is also possible, on some other issue, that neither is wrong. Is there a perfect anchor? Is a full keel better than fin keel? Is a ketch preferable to a sloop? Should all halyards be terminated in eye splices? Which crew-overboard method should you use? How do you coil a line? Do you pronounce it “saloon” or “salon?” Should all lines be led aft to the cockpit? Well…it depends. And not only that, sometimes it is just a matter of what you like or what you’re used to. But most skippers think through this stuff, or at least believe they do, and as a result, they often they get the notion that the other guy doesn’t know beans if they do it differently. The fact that sometimes it is just a matter of the skipper’s preference doesn’t stop sailors from getting in furious dust-ups over these issues.

As a captain of your own vessel, you’ll have to sort all this out for yourself. For my part, for example, I led lines aft on my little Catalina 22 that never left the Bay, but on my ocean-going boat I didn’t do this. I had my reasons for both arrangements but I can see arguments for doing it exactly the opposite way.

I have complete confidence that the methods we teach at Tradewinds represent best practices. I learned to sail here and still follow the instructions I received on day one in 99% of what I do, thirty years and 40,000 ocean miles down the road. I have seen no reason to revise them. There are certain minor things I do differently but that is because on my boat maintenance is my job, not someone else’s. At Tradewinds, with a fleet of boats, we need to equip and maintain our boats the same way so our members and boat techs know what to expect.

However you decide to do things, being a good skipper involves communicating to your crew how you wish things to be done. They won’t necessarily have been taught the same way if they learned from family or another school, or picked it up casually on their own. There is a courteous way to do this without disparaging their skills. And to be good crew, you need to follow the methods the captain requires, and not substitute your own or argue that his methods are improper. “Coil lines that way? Aye, captain.” The ONLY exception to this is when you are asked to do something that you feel is unsafe. Even then, you should ask for clarification before assuming ignorance on the skipper’s part. There might be a factor you aren’t aware of. It’s no good having tension on a boat’s crew, and as surprising as it may be, in all my years of sailing I’ve not experienced it. I’ve been fortunate enough to be aboard boats with crews that can communicate without rancor.

So, skipper, what’ll it be? Is it “jibing,” or “jibe-ho!”?

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From Tradewinds to Boat Ownership – By TW member Art E.

What is it like to go from being a novice sailor, to navigating Tradewinds classes, and then ending up a boat owner? Well, exhilarating, fun, serious, not without some expense, and a few unanticipated outcomes. This is my journey from dreaming about sailing to, as I sit here in my 1986 Pearson 36.2 writing this article, becoming a boat owner. Tradewinds got me here and then I could go to to get fully licensed to drive a boat. It’s  cadre of instructors gave me the skills, knowledge and inspiration that set the heading.

It was 2008 and I was coming up on retirement. I was attending a motivational workshop along with work colleagues. When confronted with the question about what gives my life meaning and to what future action I could commit, I impulsively blurted out that I would learn to sail.

That bold projection was not entirely out of character for me. I’d been physically active all my life, mostly with mountaineering pursuits, and the thought of sailing a good size boat truly inspired me. I f you are looking for a small boat I recommend 1970s Sears 12ft fiberglass jon boat for sale. But how to do it? As I started checking out the various San Francisco Bay sailing schools, Tradewinds—with its range of opportunities and costs—kept popping up. Then, a friend of similar age and interests, having just finished the Club’s Basic Keelboat class, invited me to join him on one of the Capri 22’s. That did it. I  was all in.

Sailing fit me. While most people gain their perception of sailing from magazine covers  featuring turquoise waters and bikini clad 20-somethings, I was influenced by the historic rigor of the sport, the mental and physical challenge posed. As a history lover, I was fascinated by the early sailing skills of the Pacific Islanders, the Arabs who sailed the Mediterranean and beyond, and later the indomitable global courage of the European explorers of the 15th to18th centuries. The historical combination of emerging nautical knowledge, the tenacity, and yes, even the hardships, provided a motivational model for me. Imagine those early years sailing thousands of miles from a safe port to points unknown. Since the science hadn’t  evolved, the destination and the precise route were impossible to calculate. Fearlessness and audacity prevailed.

A stroke of good luck accompanied my journey. While the wives of most male sailors are less enthused about the sport, ranging from indifference to downright resentment, my wife, Kathleen, agreed to take classes and eventually took Tradewinds’ Basic Keelboat through Bareboat Chartering. Little did we realize within a few years we’d need her skills. Out of this, she too got hooked. I recall two moments that solidified her love of the sport. The first was an America’s Cup Race day. We were sailing the Club boat, Satorini, just the two of us, when the race was canceled because of high winds. Reefed, sailing comfortably, we continued throughout the day. That gave her confidence. The second moment was the last day of our Coastal Cruising class. We were docked in Sausalito to take the final exam. Questions ranging from the inner life of diesel engines, to navigation, distinguishing radar images, and route planning were formidable. Kathleen took one look at the questions and laughed. Literally. There was no way she could pass this test, she thought. She nearly aced it. 95%.

Learning to sail was not without its, well, adventures. I can still remember the day we were out on one of the Capris. The wind died, we started drifting dangerously close to the Chevron pier, and I couldn’t get the outboard started. I pulled that starter cord again and again. At the point where we were about 30 feet from the pier, I called the Tradewinds emergency number and got Butch. Calm as could be he said, “Close that choke, open the throttle all the way and pull the starter.” We were back safely in Marina Bay within 30 minutes.

I increased my sailing skills with other Tradewinds’ classes— Advance Anchoring, Docking, Radar, and others. Expanding my membership and moving up in boat size and complexity increased my knowledge of the relative easy or difficulty of each type of sailboat. At anywhere near 15 knots one boat had to be reefed, while another with full sails handled fine in similar conditions. I started thinking furtively about someday owning a boat, wondering about what features I’d want, while at the same time admonishing myself for such luxurious fantasies. Might there ever be a day?

Kathleen and I started Bare Boat Chartering—first to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, then to the Bahamas. Is there a nicer place to sail than the Bahamas? I don’t think so. Meeting other sailors and boat owners at Tradewinds resulted in invitations to sail in the Sea of Cortez and throughout the Caribbean. Family members accompanied us on a Bare Boat trip to the San Juan’s.

Then, suddenly, opportunity appeared. I owned a second home which had been financially underwater for several years. When the market came back and the house appreciated, I saw my chance. My wife was completely supportive. This is an area that can cause relationship difficulties. Typically, (though not always) it’s the guy’s dream and the wife is usually, at best, only lukewarm to sailing. I’m a lucky guy. Proceeds from the house sale gave me a modest pot from which to start looking for a boat.

You might think the San Francisco Bay Area would offer an incredible range of used boats for sale. Well, yes and no.  I set a firm price limit and placed aside a chunk of money to do the unavoidable repairs that come with an older boat. Two principles guided my search. I wanted the highest quality boat and for the price not to exceed the dollar amount I imposed on myself. Casting my net far and wide, I even began to read classified ads in Florida where boats often sell for less. A sailing friend in Los Angeles checked out a boat and, with his recommendation, I actually scheduled a survey. Then, two days before I was set to fly to L.A. for that survey, the Pearson came available here in Sausalito.

By that point I had done a desktop review of scores of boats and had personally viewed 8 to 10 that seemed possible. The Pearson was owned by a Bay Marine Pilot who had taken meticulous care of it. I called Matt at Tradewinds for a referral of a good marine surveyor. And between the evaluations of friends and the surveyor, the boat came out a winner. Pearsons, I started to understand, had a great reputation, far exceeding more popular models on the West Coast. Built in Rhode Island, it’s uncommon to see one in California marinas. The fact that the standing rigging had been replaced one year earlier, there was only about a 1000 hours on the engine, a maintenance log showed frequent attention, and the boat had a fairly new jib were just a few facts that convinced me of its value.

Yes, the inevitable repairs of an older boat started soon after I bought it. Within four months, the main sail had to be replaced. That was three boat-bucks. Later that year, the engine exhaust stopped expelling water and the mixing elbow had to be renewed. Yet, wisely, I had held back funds for these repairs. That made the pain tolerable.

So, why buy a boat when Tradewinds membership is such a good deal? Each individual has to answer that him/herself. I was fortunate to have the cash from selling my second home. Otherwise, I’m afraid taking out a loan would have disrupted the domestic harmony necessary in balancing family finances with boat ownership. It’s a financial commitment, no doubt. The ongoing expenses easily exceed the Club’s membership fees. Yet, the romance of a sailboat crept into my heart. My boat is, as I call it, my sovereign nation, and I rest with the fantasy that at any moment I can cast off the lines and sail anywhere in the world. It’s freedom. It’s pride of ownership. It’s a perpetual challenge. And for a retired person, now in the third act of my life, the physical demands force me to stay in shape while the mental requisites keep the dementia dogs at bay.

It’s raining outside as sit here in my boat. She rocks gently with the incoming tidal surge. I have a small space heater going, coffee is brewing, and there is soft music playing over the boat’s sound system. Another boat leaves the marina and its wake laps up against the stern. Earlier, a Great Blue Heron was perched on my bow pulpit. Moments ago a Pelican dove into the fairway just a few yards away. Since we are sailing in the morning, I just may cook dinner on the boat and spend the night. I’ve heard all the jokes about boat ownership. These come from friends who have hard hearts and little romance coursing through their veins. In response to the tired question, “What are the two best days in a boat owner’s life?” My answer is, “the last day I sailed my boat and the next day I plan to sail it.”

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Getting the Most Out of Your Bareboat Cruising Class

With many things in life, you get out what you are willing to put in.  Sailing classes are a great example.  Over the years, I have had students that have not even cracked the book open, and others who have literally worn out the pages reading and rereading.  Your instructor knows which type you are during the first hour of class.  If you are reading this, you have most likely already taken the Basic Keelboat class (quite possibly more) and decided sailing is something you would like to move forward with.  You might even be that person literally getting ready to take Bareboat Cruising.  But even if you aren’t … even if you have taken Bareboat or Advanced Coastal Cruising or (???) … these tips also work to make your next sailing vacation even better.

There is a very good probability you will not hear from your Bareboat instructor until a week or less before class starts.  Possibly not until you walk through the door of Tradewinds and get introduced in person.  Which means, to do what I am about to recommend will require some effort on your own before class starts.   Always start by practicing your skils, reading the book.  And then … Plan a Bareboat Cruise!  Here’s how.

Each of you have very busy lives, and I know that just getting the time set aside to do a bareboat class is challenging.  This exercise is set up in a way that you can spend as much time on it as you want (or have available to you.)  These are things to consider and research during your planning.  As you go along, answer each question.  Do the research.  I will be providing some suggested resources.  There is no reason to actually buy them, unless you really are planning a cruise to the BVI in real life.  Remember, there are no right or wrong answers.  There are no grades on the exercise.  Just the learning experience, Visit the website & Book lessons

Who, What, When, Where, and Why

Where would you like to go?  We will use the British Virgin Islands so that everyone is on the same page, but there are cruising areas all over the world.

What is your budget?  This one could actually be number 1 on the list.  Probably should be.  If you don’t have a budget set upfront, you will spend more than you want to or can afford and impact the joy of the vacation.

When would you like to go and why?  Some considerations are weather, cost, special event timing (e.g. birthday, anniversary).  How long do you want to be there?

Who will be going?  Is this a special romantic getaway for two, or will it include you and seven of your closest friends?  Kids allowed?  Splitting a boat between 4, 6, or 8 people can dramatically reduce the cost to you.

What kind and size boat will give you the best experience?  Monohull or Catamaran.  35 footer or 50 footer?  Remember your budget … this is a very large piece of it.

Paperwork and documents you might need?  Passports current (if not start this one early), sailing log book and required ASA certifications?  The charter company is going to want to know your sailing background, and in some areas of the world like the Mediterranean, are legally required to make sure you have the needed certifications.

Pick a charter company.  Seems like such an important item shouldn’t be this far down the list, but the answers to most of the above will help direct you to the right company to charter from.

Plan travel to and from.  Airlines, hotels needed pre/post cruise, etc.  Trip Insurance?

Here are a few links to talk about most of the above in more detail.

Have a “Cruise Planning Party.”  or two

In real life, invite everyone that is going on the cruise with you and have some fun together planning and exploring your upcoming time in the BVI.  For a class, it may just be you (or possibly someone thinking about going with you in the future).

What stops would you like to make?  Get the whole group together and look at options.  Which … Islands?  Anchorages/mooring fields?  Restaurants/Bars (remember your budget)?  Onshore sights?  This is where cruising guides come in.  Here are a couple of examples in the form of books (no, don’t run out and buy them for the class).  There are a number of others.

Give Google a chance.  See what guides might be available online.  For example, I pulled these four up with about 2 minutes worth of work.

How are you safely going to get from one location to the next?  Now we are starting to get into the “nitty-gritty” of the sailing itself.  I am a passionate believer that everyone needs to have and learn to use paper charts for navigation.  Look up the charts you might need.  Getting from Point A to Point B might require going down Channel C and around Danger D.  Chart it out ahead of time.  Your time on the water will be much more relaxed and enjoyable.  During class you will learn how.  For now, do your best.  I have no doubt you can figure out most of the hazards on a chart.  Be ready to be flexible with you itinerary.  Maybe you will absolutely love an anchorage and want to stay another day.

In addition to paper charts,  I have come to use electronic devices more and more.

Does the boat have a chart plotter?  Probably would have found this out while picking the charter company and boat.

How about a back up navigation app on your phone or tablet?

Sail Magazine had a great article a few years ago on the topic.  In my opinion it is as valuable today as it was then.

My personal favorite marine navigation apps are iSailGPS for Apple and Marine Navigator (by Ronald Koenig) for Android.  Both are less than $10.00 and use downloadable charts.  NOAA charts are free … others generally need to be purchased.  I don’t rely on these tools for my primary navigation, and neither should you, but they make great planning tools, and come in handy to check what I already know based on good navigation processes.

If you decide to install one of these apps on your phone, the first chart to download is 18649 (Entrance to San Francisco Bay).

Now go back and revisit the budget.  Still within it?  Too many restaurants?  I an area like the BVI, you can eat most of your meals on shore if you want, however, it gets expensive.  With that in mind, plan your meals.  Do you want the charter company to provision for you?  Most are willing.  Check their cost against the time and cost of doing it yourself.  Which way makes more sense for you?  During your Bareboat class, you will be planning two days worth of meals to give you a little practice.  How about snacks and drinks (yes, things like water and adult beverages.)

This tip is about doing a before class planning exercise.  It will require some additional time and effort on you part, however, as I said earlier … you will get out of the class what you put into it.  If you have questions, problems, or want to share what you have done, send an email to  They may put you in touch with your instructor or with me, however, you will have a place to get your questions answered and your successes shared!

Oh, and by the way, not doing this same stuff before a real charter is a recipe for a bad vacation.

Of course, everything in this tip assumes you have practiced those five basic skills:
Tack, Jibe, Reef, Heave To, and Crew Overboard Recovery.

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Random Thoughts Regarding the Richmond Ferry Service

It’s been a long wait, however, ferry service between the San Francisco Ferry Building and Richmond is scheduled to begin on Thursday, January 10, 2019. We are already hearing a lot of questions on how the ferry service will impact Tradewinds members.

First among my random thoughts is … How far is the walk from the ferry terminal to Tradewinds? It’s 1.4 miles, which means for the average person, the walk will take 20 to 30 minutes, however, a bike ride will only take about 5 to 8 minutes. Which, if the ferry is running isn’t too bad, however, it does bring up another thought.

The schedule

Weekdays to San Francisco

SF Ferry Building
AM Weekdays
6:10 AM6:45 AM
PM Weekdays
5:15 PM5:50

Weekdays to Richmond

SF Ferry Building
AM Weekdays
6:25 AM7:00 AM
PM Weekdays
4:30 PM5:05
6:507:25 . As you can see, at least for now, the ferry will only run weekdays. There will be four trips from Richmond to San Francisco, and only two from San Francisco to Richmond, in the AM. PM is the reverse. Four trips from San Francisco to Richmond, and two back to San Francisco. The net result … if you are sailing on a weekday, you can catch a boat to richmond at 7:55 (arriving at 8:30), and a ride back home at 5:15 or 6:05. But, again, only on a weekday. The ferry will not be running on weekends.

This is both bad news and good news. The bad news we already talked about … no service on the weekends. The good news. You don’t have to worry about the ferry on the weekend. Except that there is a better than average chance the ferry will be left tied to the dock during hours of non operation, making the channel a bit narrower … like 45 to 50 feet narrower … ok, that’s more than a bit.

Rules of the road … is a ferry a “power boat” or a vessel restricted in it’s ability to maneuver. The answers are “maybe” and “maybe”. Generally speaking, while crossing the bay, a ferry is considered a power boat, and will give way to a sailboat. However, when operating in “tight quarters”, such as at the Richmond Ferry Terminal located at Ford Channel and Sante Fe Channel, they become a vessel restricted in it’s ability to maneuver, and they become the stand on vessel to a sailboat. In other words, it’s probably better to avoid that area while the ferry is arriving and/or departing.

Sound signals … Not all ferry captains use sound signals, however, some do. The two most common are a single prolonged blast (4-6 seconds) which means in this case, “leaving the dock”, and three short blasts (about 1 second each), meaning operating astern propulsion (backing up). Don’t be surprised if you hear them together. The captain is just announcing the vessel will be backing away from the dock. A definite clue to stay out of the way.

Propeller wash … This one could prove to be the most interesting. It is almost a certainty the ferry will keep it’s propeller turning in forward, at a pretty good PRM, while sitting at the dock. If you enter that prop wash, your vessel will react. Most likely the ferry will tie up with it’s bow pointed East and it’s stern to the West, causing propeller wash to extend from the dock out into Santa Fe Channel. With that said, just remember, whichever way the stern is directed, will have current flowing that direction.

All in all, I think ferry service to Richmond is a great plan. Fortunately other than the somewhat narrower channel into Marina Bay, there won’t be a huge impact to most Tradewinds members. All of the AM arrivals and departures will be completed before the typical Tradewinds charter or class begins. The afternoons will be a little more challenging weekdays with four times between 5:00 and 7:30 where a ferry will be at or near the terminal.

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Coast Piloting Part 4 – Lines of Position

This tip could have been named “Obtaining a Fix.”  Maybe it should have been, because that’s what its all about.

Dead Reckoning is a great thing.   It’s a way to figure out approximately where you are.  However, the goal of every navigator to to know exactly where they are as often as possible.  This is known as a “fix,” and you can’t obtain a fix without first establishing two or more lines of position (generally referred to as LOPs.)    There are several ways to establish an LOP, and we will be discussing a number of the more commonly used.  Especially those that don’t require specialized equipment not normally found on a small sailboat.  A sextant is a great tool, and can be used in a variety of ways to find an LOP, however, I don’t generally have one on board when I’m sailing, and I don’t recall ever having seen a pelorus on a 42 foot sailboat.  What we do have are compasses, depth sounders, and radars, so for the most part we will limit the discussion to LOPs  generated by them.

There is one very important thing to keep in mind when talking about obtaining a fix.  One LOP will never work to generate a fix.  It takes at least two, and better yet, three or more.  If everything and everyone was perfect, two bearings to different objects would provide a very precise location.  Unfortunately, perfect isn’t going to happen.  If you are looking to get bearings to an object, it’s hard to maintain closer than 5 degrees of accuracy using a hand held compass on a rolling deck, and who knows, maybe you are standing too close to something magnetic (like the hand held VHF radio in your PFD pocket).  Stuff happens.  The more redundancy you have, the less errors are going to impact you.

Bearing to an object – A compass bearing taken of two or more charted objects generally provides one of the more accurate fixes.  Using day 1 of the Tradewinds ACC class as an example, after exiting the Golden Gate, the class proceeds to the buoys marking the Main Ship Channel through the San Francisco Bar.  At G “8”, a decision needs to be made.  Continue through the buoyed channel, or turn south now.  Seas over the bar are 6  to 7 feet, with winds out of the NW at 10 to 15, so it is determined a turn south at that location would present no dangers to vessel or crew.  The turn is made at 0954 and a DR begun on C 180.  The DR projects positions at 1000, 1100, and 1200, with appropriate expansion circles (see part 1 for an explanation).  At 1100 a bearing is taken of a charted TV antenna (B 053) and San Pedro Rock (B 153).  Each bearing is marked on the chart.  The LOPs are highlighted in yellow for visibility.  The resulting fix puts the vessel .6 miles (drift) on a bearing of 109 degrees (set) from the 1100 DR position.  The DR is reset from the fix.  the navigator now has information regarding set and drift, which should be applied to the reset DR.  For additional information regarding set and drift, how to plan for it, and how to correct for it, take a look at the Skipper’s Tip entitled Coastal Pilot Part 3 – Course to Steer.

There are two commonly used hand bearing compasses.  The first is much like a pistol grip.  There is a front and a rear sight, which are lined up on the object, and the bearing is read from the compass.  The second is puck shaped and is held to the eye in use.  A prism allows both the object and the compass reading to be in focus at the same time.  Both work, however the puck shaped compass is easier to use while the pistol grip compass is less expensive.

Depth Contours – In Coast Piloting Part 2 – Entering an Unknown Port, depth contours were used to mark danger areas.  In Coast Piloting Part 1 – Dead Reckoning, a depth contour was used as a second LOP in conjunction with the bearing to a light in order to obtain a fix.  In this illustration, the 10 fathom contour is marked in read as a danger area.  You may notice that the 20 fathom contour (marked in yellow) runs nearly straight for nine miles, keeping approximately 2 miles offshore.  A vessel returning from Drakes Bay to San Francisco might sail to the 20 fathom contour and follow it south.  If the depth indicated on the depth sounder shows an increase, the helm can alter course a few degrees toward shore.  If shallower, altering course a few degrees seaward puts the vessel back on track.  As you can see, a depth contour marked on a chart can be a valuable tool.  However, you must use them with discretion.  The depth contours may not be distinct enough to be located.  The area south of the San Francisco Bar is quite flat and depth isn’t going to help much in obtaining a fix.  Also, depth surveys may be quite old and depending on location, the depths may have changed dramatically.

Running Fixes – Running fixes are second only to set and drift in creating confusion in the mind of a new navigator.  This is due in large part because of the way running fixes are described.  There are some pretty confusing statements … “Advance the LOP forward the distance traveled between bearings.”

As an example.  While traveling a Course of 180º from Drakes Bay bearing is taken of a prominent point.  The DR position at that time is marked.  For simplicity, I have labeled it “A”.  The bearing is marked off and labeled 0945 (the time the bearing was taken).  At 1015, a second bearing of the same point is taken, (it doesn’t have to be that way it can be a different object), marked off on the chart, and labeled 1015.  The DR at 1015 is plotted.  Again, for simplicity, I have labeled this DR position “B”.  The distance between DR position A and DR position B is 2.5 miles, therefore, 2.5 miles is measured from the point where bearing 0945 crosses the DR line.  A line parallel to “0945” is marked off crossing the DR line 2.5 miles from where “0945”  crosses.  This new line is labeled “0945-1015”.  The location where “1045” and “0945-1015” cross is your fix.

Distance Off – the final method of achieving an LOP we will be discussing is distance off.  Actually, its not an LOP, it is a circle of position, but works the same even though its drawn as an arc.  The easiest method I know of to obtain distance off is by using radar.  Do not go off shore in Northern California without radar.  There is too great a chance of fog and radar will be the only measure of safety you have available to you to protect from dangers you can’t see.  The concentric rings on the radar make it easy to determine distance off one the object has been identified on the radar screen.

The second method of finding distance off involves something called “angle off the bow”.  While on a vessel traveling a course of 180º, a bearing  of 150º is taken to an object.  That object is 30º off the bow.  As the vessel moves, the bearing to the object will decrease, increasing the angle off the bow.  When the bearing reads 120º, the object is 60º off the bow (double the original reading of 30º).  The distance traveled between the time of the first and second bearings is equal to the distance off from the object.

We have explored the more commonly used LOPs to result in a fix.  Using them will provide you with assurance of exactly where you are, even though you are in unfamiliar waters.  All it takes is a few tools, and some practice.

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Inland Navigation Rules – Simplified! Rules 20 through 30 – By Tradewinds Instructor Virginia L.

Inland Navigation Rules

Nav Rules Make Easy

Rules 20 to 30

In the Nav Rules Made Easy series, we’ll explain each Inland Navigation Rule, with an emphasis on the information that’s most important for recreational sailing in the San Francisco Bay.  We won’t include portions of the rules that are highly technical and intended for commercial mariners.

Note: If you travel more than one mile outside the Golden Gate Bridge or if you charter a boat in another country, the International Rules apply.  Many of the International Rules are exactly the same as the Inland Rules.  However, there are also a few that contain important and significant differences from Inland.  Make sure that you study and learn International Rules if you are traveling in international waters.

This is just a simplified summary of the rules.  To get detailed information, please refer to the Navigation Rules and Regulations Handbook from Department of Homeland Security, United States Coast Guard.

 Rule 20 – Lights and Shapes — Application

Rules 20 to 30 provide guidelines and information about navigation lights and shapes.  To put this whole section into perspective, think about driving on the freeway at night.  If you see a lot of red lights in front of you, you know that you’re coming up on traffic that is going the same direction you are traveling.  Cars have red lights at the back of the vehicle.  If you see white whites, however, you know that the cars are coming toward you.  Navigation lights for boats are more complicated than the light systems used traveling on roads.

All vessels must display proper navigation lights from sunset to sunrise and during periods of restricted visibility.

If there are any lights on the boat in addition to navigation lights, the other lights have to be arranged so that they cannot be mistaken for navigation lights.  It’s also important that no lights interfere with keeping a proper lookout.

Rules 21 and 22 – Definitions and Visibility of lights

During the day, it’s fairly easy to see what kind of boat is out on the water.  At night, however, it’s difficult.  So, the navigation rules specify different lights for each type of vessel.  That way you can tell the type of vessel by understanding the light pattern displayed.

Since we don’t operate Tradewinds boats at night, you might wonder why you should learn about navigation lights.  There are a couple of reasons.  First, you must use navigation lights in “reduced visibility” or fog.  Second, you may decide to charter a boat and find yourself on the water at night.  Of course, there’s also always the possibility that you go sailing on a friend’s boat after dark.  When you’re out on the water at night, you want to be able to understand what you are seeing.

Before learning the “identity lights”, it’s important to understand a few terms:

Look at these diagrams to see the “masthead” light, sidelights, and sternlight:

This diagram shows the yellow “towing” light above the sternlight:

Rules 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 29, 30 – Power-driven vessels underway

(There is no Inland Rule 28)

For this section, we won’t cover all of the technical details regarding specific lighting for towing and other special situations.  To get more specific information about various tow configurations, please consult the Navigation Rules and Regulations Handbook.

All boats underway must have sidelights and a white sternlight.  For all boats, the starboard sidelight is green and the port sidelight is red.

Boats differ in the color and configuration of the masthead or all-round lights displayed.  When multiple “all-round” lights are shown, they are arranged in a vertical line.

When a boat is not underway (not making way through the water), the sidelights and sternlight are no longer displayed.  This is the case when a boat is anchored or has run aground.

During the daytime, there are specific “dayshapes” that certain vessels are required to display.

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Inland Navigation Rules – Simplified! Rule 19 – By Tradewinds Instructor Virginia L.

Inland Navigation Rules

Nav Rules Make Easy

Rule 19

In the Nav Rules Made Easy series, we’ll explain each Inland Navigation Rule, with an emphasis on the information that’s most important for recreational sailing in the San Francisco Bay.  We won’t include portions of the rules that are highly technical and intended for commercial mariners.

Note: If you travel more than one mile outside the Golden Gate Bridge or if you charter a boat in another country, the International Rules apply.  Many of the International Rules are exactly the same as the Inland Rules.  However, there are also a few that contain important and significant differences from Inland.  Make sure that you study and learn International Rules if you are traveling in international waters.

This is just a simplified summary of the rules.  To get detailed information, please refer to the Navigation Rules and Regulations Handbook from Department of Homeland Security, United States Coast Guard.


Rule 19 – Conduct of vessels in restricted visibility

Rule 19 applies when there is restricted visibility and vessels cannot see each other.  Fog and heavy rain are the most frequent causes of restricted visibility.

All vessels must be operating at a safe speed and the helmsperson must be ready to maneuver the boat quickly.  A boat is traveling at safe speed when the boat is able to safely stop in adequate time to avoid a collision.

Rule 19 reminds us that in restricted visibility, we must follow rules 5 to 10 which apply all the time:

  • Rule 5: Maintain a lookout
  • Rule 6: Operate the boat at a safe speed
  • Rule 7: Be aware of all other boats and objects on the water. If any possibility of collision exists, assume there is risk.  Use all equipment available (radar, binoculars) to figure out if there is risk of collision.
  • Rule 8: Avoid collisions. When your boat is the “give-way” vessel, make a large enough course change to clearly communicate to the other boat that you are changing course.  Make your course change sooner, rather than later.  Give the other boat plenty of room.  In close quarters where a course change is not possible, slow down … go to neutral or even reverse to avoid any possibility of a collision.  Make sure that you maintain “rudder authority” – the ability to steer the boat.  Don’t go so slow that you can’t steer!
  • Rule 9: Understand the definition of “narrow channel”.  Know when you are in a narrow channel.  When you are in a narrow channel, stay as far to the starboard side as possible.  Do not get in the way of vessels that can only operate in the channel.  Give way to barges, tugs, car carriers, cargo ships, and tankers.
  • Rule 10: Understand that Traffic Separation Schemes exist and contain lanes for traffic going in one direction or another.  The schemes include an area between traffic lanes that acts like a median on the freeway – the “separation zone” keeps apart traffic going in opposite directions.

Know when you are in a Traffic Separation Scheme.  When you are, go with the flow of traffic.  Stay out of the Separation Zone.  Merge into traffic in traffic lanes with as little angle as possible to the direction of travel.  Cross traffic lanes at a 90 degree angle.

If you are using radar and see another vessel on the radar screen, decide if there is any risk of collision.  If there is risk of collision, take action as soon as possible to alter course.

If the other vessel is detected forward of your beam, do not alter your course to port.

No matter where the other vessel is detected, do not alter course toward the other boat.

If you hear a fog signal from another vessel forward of your beam, reduce your speed to “bare steerageway”.  Continue navigating with great caution until any risk of collision is gone.

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