Archive for the ‘Newsletter and Tips’ Category

Tacking – 8 steps to perfect your tack

Monday, October 24th, 2011

Yachts sailing to windwardThe way to develop the proper timing when tacking your boat is to practise. At first, start each phase slowly. You will be surprised how soon it becomes a slick operation. 

Here’s what you need to do:

1. While sailing upwind, the boat should always be ready to tack.

Why? Because at any time you may need to avoid other boats, ferries or shipping.

What does this mean? For the headsail, being ready to tack means that:

  • the lazy sheet has at least one turn around the winch
  • the working sheet is securely held with three or more turns around the winch and ready to be uncleated, its tail ready to run freely
  • any crew on the rail are ready to move across the boat, out of the way of the tacking headsail

For the main, being ready to tack means that:

  • the mainsheet is cleated and the traveller can be quickly pinned
  • the mainsheet trimmer is ready to move the traveller into position for the new tack

2. Helmsman should keep sailing close-hauled right up to the point of tacking

What I mean here is that while deciding when to tack – e.g. looking around for good, clean air, avoiding close encounters with other boats – don’t allow the boat to drop off the breeze on to a close reach. And don’t let yourself be distracted by crew preparations.

3. Helmsman decides to tack and calls ‘ready about’

Crew prepare for the tack:

The headsail trimmer takes sheet out of the cleat or self-tailer but ensures that trim is maintained without any easing. As already mentioned, the leeward sheet must be free to run when required.

Mainsheet hand ensures the traveller is locked and stands by ready to adjust the traveller for the new tack.

Crew call ‘ready’.

4. Helmsman calls ‘helm to lee’ or ‘tacking’ and turns the boat slowly, keeping as much speed as possible through the tack. If you turn too fast you will lose boat speed, if too slow you will lose momentum. If you lose too much momentum you may end up in irons (stalled).

5. As the headsail starts to back, the headsail trimmer releases the leeward sheet quickly so that the wind carries the sail across the foredeck in a single smooth motion.

6. Pull in new sheet hand over hand and then trim on using the winch handle, with a second crew member tailing to make it more efficient and prevent over-rides. (Make sure the new lazy sheet is free enough to allow this to be done without hindrance.)

7. Crew change sides of the boat.

8. Prepare the lazy headsail sheet for the next tack by reloading the winch with two turns – spinning the winch to ensure the turns are the right way around. Make sure there is no pressure on the sheet that could affect the shape of the headsail.

When you’re safely on the new tack, give the crew feedback and talk about how to improve the next tack. This instant replaying of the manoeuvre is a good way of developing your team. It’s a far better way of learning than having a chat back on the mooring at the end of the sail, when everyone is keen to get ashore.

“We’d be better prepared”

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

I’ve just been reading an article about a couple who sailed from San Francisco to Oahu, Hawaii. The 2080 nm voyage really challenged them, for a number of reasons.

The first being that the skipper, Ray Schmahl, 58 was an experienced coastal and bay sailor but had never sailed in the open sea. His boat, You Never Know, a Baba 35 is, however, a good cruising boat – a double-ender with a full keel. 

As they left the Californian coast they saw one sailboat, then spent the next 25 days alone on the sea apart from a few freighters, thankfully in the distance. To ensure their safety, Ray or his partner, Catherine Zimney, 57 took turns on watch. But this led to them both becoming exhausted, only ever having four hours maximum for sleeping, plus change-over time, meals, etc.

For the first week there was no sunshine and they were relying on solar power to keep their batteries topped up. For my money, I’d want to have several ways and would install a wind generator. At the same time, it would be impractical to use the boat’s engine as you’d be unlikely to have sufficient fuel to do so.

As you’d expect during a voyage of this length, they also experienced a significant storm and were also becalmed for two days.

If you like, you can read the full story of their voyage.

A fortnight or so after their safe arrival in Oahu, Ray said: “I would do it again. We’d be better prepared and know more about how things work.” 

Skipper & Crew CD cover

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We have developed comprehensive checklists to  help you prepare for a voyage. You will find them in Skipper and Crew, Knots and The Language of the Sea.

Port and starboard and avoiding a collision

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

Whether you’re out for a gentle afternoon cruise or racing in a highly competitive regatta, as skipper you need to keep track of all the other vessels approaching yours. And when racing, you probably won’t be able to do that adequately yourself. So you’ll need to appoint one or more lookouts, who relay to you information about the direction or angle of approach and distance off.

Ideally, the lookout is positioned with a clear view of boats approaching on starboard. But, if not, how long between looks?

In S80 Racy Lady’s case, it was too long. In a recent race run by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia she was on port and unaware of the approach of Vanguard, who was on starboard, two-sail reaching, until called by them.

But the rules say that both boats have a responsibility to avoid a collision.

Aboard Vanguard, lookouts had been posted on both sides of the yacht, but crew admitted that Racy Lady must have been in the blind spot, shielded by the genoa.

When called, Racy Lady didn’t have time to take evasive action. Her mast came down on impact and the yacht sank within five minutes of the collision, with crew able to grab only their wallets.

We’ve blogged before about maintaining a proper lookout but it’s worth re-reading.

Racing in strong wind

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

Last Sunday competitors had gathered at the CYCA for the final race of the winter point score series. We were there for the pre-race breakfast with friends. 

As we’d driven over, the wind was quite strong and from the west. At the club we were glad to have brought our thickest coats and be sitting in the sun as the wind was cutting. Every now and then, a gust came through from the south-west and really rattled the halyards and flattened the flags. After each batch of gusts, the wind went north-west for a bit, before settling back into the steady westerly.

This caused a dilemma for the race organisers. No one wants to cancel a race, particularly the series decider. At the same time, the risk of injury to sailors and damage to the yachts had to be taken into account. While each yacht individually may have been able to handle the conditions, its ability could well be hampered in the midst of a large fleet.

Apart from the one-design Sydney 38 division, the race is a pursuit one, so you have boats of very different sizes, weights and hull shapes starting at the same time, rather than division by division. We had always enjoyed this series when we owned our Thunderbird because each boat you overtook made you closer to a win.

Anyway, on Sunday the start boat motored out to the open harbour to check and report on conditions there.

Of course, included in the Sailing Instructions for the series is the Racing Rules of Sailing Fundamental Rule 4:

The responsibility for a boat’s decision to participate in a race or to continue racing is hers alone.

But on Sunday the decision was made by club officials and the race was cancelled. The biggest gust recorded at Fort Denison was 43 knots from the west at 11.30 am – the exact time of the race start.

If you were cruising, you’d be unlikely to venture out in similar conditions. But the same rule should apply:

As skipper you are responsible for the safety of your vessel and the lives of your crew so it’s up to you to decide when to set sail, when to seek shelter and when to stay home.

“Never let up on your vigilance”

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011



OK, it’s far from perfect, but you get the message.

It’s winter now here in Sydney and that means that most sailors and boaters are spending time ashore. So it’s surprising how many drownings there have been recently in New South Wales. David Lockwood, boating columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald, noted last Saturday that at least seven boaters, aged 14 to 80 have drowned in the last month.

Henry Adam, aka 'Arry Driftwood

Henry Adam, aka 'Arry Driftwood (photo by Don Hartley, c/- AFLOAT Publications)

Among the number was ‘Arry Driftwood, who wrote a monthly column for Afloat magazine. His real name was Henry Adam, aged two days short of his 81st birthday. It was his practice to stand up while steering his outboard-driven dinghy – not one that I would ever recommend. While travelling between the marina and his yacht, Driftwood, he fell into the water and drowned.

Robin Copeland’s July 2011 column gives a warm picture of ‘Arry’s colourful life.

‘Arry’s final column, reflecting on the death of a fellow waterman, includes this pertinent quote that you “need to never let up on your vigilance or you will swiftly become LATE”.

Sudden and unexpected immersion in cold water is, literally, breath-taking. An article, The Truth About Cold Water, on the gCaptain website tells how the body shuts down very quickly as hypothermia sets in.

So, please take care on the water.

Bill Ford, legendary stalwart of RANSA

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011
Bill Ford

Bill Ford

We don’t usually use personal experiences in our newsletters unless they have to do with the sea and safety. This time we want to make an exception and tell you about a truly exceptional day – last Sunday.

Annie and I and about 50 other people were at our yacht club, RANSA – Royal Australian Naval Sailing Association – at Rushcutter’s Bay in Sydney. We were all there to celebrate the 95th birthday of a legendary stalwart of the club, Bill Ford. Bill, born in England, was a chippy in the Royal Navy before and during WWII. After the war he came to Australia.

During his long membership of RANSA he held the position of Rear Commodore for so many years that eventually he was made Honorary Life Rear Commodore. It is impossible to describe how much he meant to the club and how much the club meant to him.

When we arrived Bill wasn’t there and we heard a bit later that he had been unwell the previous day and because of that, he wouldn’t be coming to the party. He’d really been looking forward to seeing all his old friends, who he knew would be gathered to see him. It was a shame that he couldn’t because it was an absolutely magical Sydney winter’s day, the sort that is a jewel in the memory. Cloudless sky, a little warmth in the sun glistening on the harbour and a sharp breeze for the yachts of the neighbouring club during their winter races.

A little later as we were sitting down having our celebratory lunch, we learned that Bill had died. It was an amazing feeling that all the people who loved him and that he loved were there gathered when it happened. Fortunately his son and daughter had been urged to leave the party and were with him when he died.

Needless to say, we all spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening reminiscing.

At sunset, by the water’s edge, a very moving ceremony was performed, led by a former Commodore, Max Kean. The flag, which had been at half-mast, was raised to the truck then lowered by Bill’s son-in-law. One of our members then recited “Lest We Forget”. 

Sad as it is, Bill was fortunate to suffer no longer.

An interview with Bill Ford that was published in the RANSA Sep 2008 Newsletter will tell you more about this wonderful man.

In their own words: Bill Ford

In the RANSA newsletter interview Bill was asked:
“Any advice for the younger sailing generation?”

His response:

Start sailing as early in life as you can. It’s a sport for all ages and not over physical. Be competitive but don’t overdo it. The water is there for all to enjoy and sailors are generally good sports and make great friends.

(Photo courtesy RANSA website.)

Who takes over? – Tip #8

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

OK, so we know from our last newsletter that the skipper is responsible.

But how would your crew fare if you fell overboard, had a heart attack or were knocked out by the boom? These are just three of many scenarios that would prevent you from controlling your yacht.

Firstly, don’t assume “It will never happen to me!” – that approach is asking for trouble. We know, first hand, that these things do happen. And, how your crew react may mean the difference between life and death – yours.

As skipper, you need to:

1. Have nominated a second in command, who will take charge of the boat and crew. Your choice probably will depend on the size of your crew. With a small crew, nominate one as mate – each time you sail. A large crew, split into watches, will have two watch captains. One of these will do.

2. Ensure you give that person plenty of opportunities to run the boat for you, including man overboard drills, mooring and coming alongside.

3. Encourage your crew members to undertake first aid training– and keep your qualification up to date.

4. Have more than one person qualified to use the radio, particularly if going offshore. Mobile phones may work but should not be relied on. In any case they can reach only the number you ring – not a wide audience.

5. Your deputy has to be more than somebody you trust – the crew has to trust them too.

In both The Boating Bible Manual of Seamanship and our newsletters, we promote safety on the water.


1. Racing with a difference

In the last few weeks we’ve seen notices of races and sets of sailing instructions for several rather different events.

For example, the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club held the inaugural Hong Kong Nations’ Cup, contested by “anything from a Laser, through J80s and Hobies, up to Jelik” and catering for racers and cruisers.

But the fun is in the requirement that everybody on board had to be of the same nationality. However the rules governing ‘nationality’ are fairly broad, namely:

“A sailor qualifies as a national of a country if ANY of the following apply:
* The sailor was born in that country
* The sailor holds a valid passport of that country
* The sailor has the right of abode in that country (i.e., HK requires a Permanent HKID Card)
* The sailor has been normally resident in that country for at least 10 years at some stage in their life (for clarity, the 10 years need not be continuous)
* The sailor has represented that country at a major international event, for example the Olympics, the Rugby World Cup, the United Nations, or the Miss Universe pageant
* The sailor fluently speaks the language of that country
* The sailor can sing the national anthem of that country (in the native tongue)”

And the results? 58 boats competed, with 55 finishers. An English team led by Russ Parker won, from Jamie McWilliam (Ireland) and Warwick Downes (Australia) in a Flying Fifteen.

Other teams completing the course were from 17 different countries, while one of the boats that failed to finish claimed to represent Uranus. We wonder what his ‘passport’ was to race and under what flag!

Check out the whole story.

2. Old meets new

Before sailing from Sydney as skipper of HM Bark Endeavour, Captain Ross Mattson exchanged letters with NASA’s Space Shuttle Endeavour, Captain Mark E. Kelly. The latter wrote: “…We are proud that our Space Shuttle shares its name with your sailing vessel and all that it represents.”

Part of HM Bark Endeavour’s mission on her current circumnavigation is to promote the Perth 2011 ISAF Sailing World Championships to be held in December. Ten Olympic class world titles will be contested, all of which are important qualifiers for the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Endeavour has been chartered by the organisers of the Perth 2011 for 2-18 December. Event Director, John Langley is pleased to have her back in the West. He knows her well as he supervised her building in Fremantle in the early 1990s.

It will be quite a contrast between the go-fast modern skiffs and the sedate 18th century replica.

In their own words: GEORGE ELIOT

I would not creep along the coast but steer
Out in mid-sea, by guidance of the stars.

This couplet is sometimes, incorrectly, attributed to T.S. Eliot. The proof? It is the opening of chapter 44 of George Eliot’s Middlemarch.

George Eliot was the penname of Mary Ann Evans (1819-1880), who also wrote The Mill on the Floss and Silas Marner.

“You’re the skipper. You’re responsible.” – Tip of the Week #7

Monday, April 11th, 2011

What happened in San Diego recently really shocked us. Ten people boarded a yacht for a charity outing – a treat for a child with special needs. Seven were from one non-English-speaking family. In what followed, two from that family died.

Not long after setting off under motor, a couple ashore took a photo of the boat because it looked so unusual – badly weighed down in the stern.

With all the passengers crowded around him in the cockpit, the skipper unfurled the headsail. It then appears a gust or two of wind (and the wind wasn’t strong that day) was enough to flatten the boat, which immediately turned upside down.

Surrounding craft rushed to pull everyone out of the water. Sadly, though, two people could not be revived.

When asked, the skipper insisted that the water ballast had been filled and the swing keel fixed before setting out. He also claimed that the boat was not overloaded.

If we tell you that it was a MacGregor 26 and you look at the photo, there seem to be many reasons to doubt his word.

The skipper took responsibility for all 10 lives.

When we climb aboard our boat to go for a sail at the weekend, we don’t think of it as a matter of life and death. But, to quote the slogan of a recent NSW Maritime safety campaign:
“You’re the skipper. You’re responsible.”


1. An-Tiki has arrived!

After 66 days at sea the raft An-Tiki made land on 6 April. But not in the Bahamas as was originally planned.

Due to time constraints, the adventurers, led by 85 year old Anthony Smith, reached St Maarten, 2,500km south west of the Bahamas.

When we wrote about the voyage in January we had no idea whether the raft would cope with the wind and weather expected in an Atlantic crossing. In fact, 30 knots was the strongest wind recorded.

The UK Daily Telegraph has collected an interesting batch of statistics from the adventurers – e.g. seeing only eight ships during the voyage of 2,763 miles.

2. A weighty matter

It was interesting to read that the US Coast Guard has amended the Assumed Average Weight per Person (AAWPP) from 160lbs to 185lbs (72.5kg to 84kg). Accordingly, from 1 December 2011 passenger vessels must comply with new stability criteria based on the higher weight.

We can’t say whether this change in regulations would have made a difference to the sailboat accident in this week’s tip.

In Australia in recent months we’ve seen thin airline passengers complaining that they have to pay for ‘excess’ baggage. They want heavy people to pay more for their seats!

We haven’t been able to find what the AAWPP or equivalent is in Australia, but hope that it has been adjusted in line with the increasing waistlines of Australians.

In their own words: TRISTAN JONES

A small craft in an ocean is, or should be,
a benevolent dictatorship.

How true! But a great deal of what Tristan Jones wrote was actually created by his imagination!

For instance, Tristan Jones said he was born on 8 May 1924 on his father’s tramp steamer off Tristan da Cunha. In fact, he was born Arthur Jones in 1929 in Liverpool, England. But by blood he was a Welshman.

Having taught himself to sail in middle age, Tristan became a circumnavigator and a great storyteller. He sailed many miles single-handed, but not as many as claimed in his stories!

As well as reinventing his past, he embellished his adventures as his imagination dictated. Between 1977 and his death he wrote 16 books including The Incredible Journey and Saga of a Wayward Sailor.

Tristan died on 21 June 1995 in Thailand.

Some fans have set up a website in his memory.