Archive for May, 2009

Sailing safety briefing

Friday, May 29th, 2009

One of the most important things you should do, as a skipper, is brief your crew about the safety equipment you have on board. In an emergency you will not have time to issue detailed instructions on where the life jackets are stowed. Everyone aboard should know this information even though, like insurance, we hope we never have to use it.


Read what I wrote about this and other sailing safety issues in a recent Newsletter – Safety first! + Piracy and Berrimilla Updates.

ISAF Guidelines for Prevention of Piracy

Monday, May 18th, 2009

The recent report of a French navy frigate capturing 11 suspected Somali pirates who had mistaken the military vessel for a merchant ship brought some humour to an otherwise very serious situation.

The incidence of pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden is so high that ISAF (International Sailing Federation) has published a set of Guidelines for yachts who are considering making a passage through the area.

Points covered in the Guidelines include:

  • Who to contact and what information about the yacht should be lodged prior to entering the area 
  • Separation lanes through the area and where yachts are recommended to sail
  • Communications via radio, satellite phone
  • When to call Mayday
  • What to do when under attack
  • What to do when there are pirates on board

At this stage, it is recommended that a yacht with an AIS class B transponder should leave it on while in the Gulf of Aden “so that the warships know where they are”. It would be too bad to be mown down by a naval vessel after avoiding the pirates.

The very best navigation fix of all

Friday, May 15th, 2009

Now that the northern summer is coming so is the sailing. But by no means all of it will be done at sea or along the coast. Many countries have large systems of internal lakes, canals, rivers and other linked waterways where people love to explore and enjoy themselves.


In many cases, it’s near where they live and they know the waters very well. But many people are visitors, sometimes from overseas, and they have to know where they are so they can be sure they’re safe.


So what’s the best and most helpful bit of knowledge for such people? I believe it is to properly understand what a transit is. It is any two objects of any kind which are on the chart and can be seen in line from the water. Nobody has to know how to apply variation or deviation or any of the other subtleties of navigation because when you are along that transit line the only thing you don’t know is how far along it, but you know without fail that you are on it.


So it follows that if you’re able to get two transits – preferably at the same time, but close in time will do at a pinch – and they intersect you are at that point precisely where they intersect.


And the great thing about transits is that somebody else can take them while you’re busy steering the boat.

We have a disk which will help you to learn more about navigation and passage planning.

Local Knowledge – Strong Wind

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

My recent post about the Frenchmen going to sea in fog reminded me of a cruise we made in the Greek Islands some years ago. Towards then end of the second week, a meltemi blew up. Ferries were cancelled and shipping stayed put in the ports.


We were securely moored to a dock in the south of Kos but, after 24 hours of staying put, were ready to move on. The Greek skipper of a water carrier tied up nearby, gesticulated wildly that we should extend our stay there until the conditions had settled down more.


As it was, the cockpit had taken on a desert-scape, with sand piled up on the leeward side. This had to be swept up before setting off, to prevent it blocking the cockpit drains. The cabin’s portholes had all been sand-blasted.


During the height of the meltemi, wind on the yacht had ‘put us on starboard tack’ even though only the bare mast and boom were above the dock.


When we prepared to leave a day later, the crew of the water carrier again tried to dissuade us but we could see that the wind had dropped considerably so we freed our mooring lines and motored out. They weren’t to know that our crew of four were all offshore sailors, with far more experience between us than the average yacht charter crew.


And yes, we did get wet but we reached our destination after an exhilarating day sailing without incident.

A tale of two jacks

Monday, May 4th, 2009

There are two things that are essential for any single-handed sailor – jackstays and lazy jacks.


Tethering yourself to a jackstay running the full length of your yacht will allow you to move forward safely in all kinds of weather.


Lazy jacks will enable you to control the dropping of your mainsail in windy conditions as the following story illustrates.


An old mate of mine recently told me how he had been caught out on his yacht in a serious blow while sailing on his own. He found it so hard to control the mainsail as he dropped it that he almost lost it overboard. He’d subsequently had a set of lazy jacks made and fitted.