Archive for the ‘Skipper and Crew, Knots and Ropework’ Category

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.

Couples on the water

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

Sailing downwindIf you’re an experienced sailor and you’re in a relationship with someone who doesn’t know, but wants to learn, the ropes, your best option is to book them in to a series of courses at a sailing school. Why? Because there will be fewer disagreements on your boat and they will not pick up your bad habits!

If you need help in selecting such a course, you may want to read my article, How to Find a Good Sailing School – 10 Questions You Should Ask 

If you plan to take off on an extended cruise, you really need to be sure that your other half has received sound training and, hopefully, picked up some qualifications along the way.

For example, when navigating a passage. If your partner becomes skilled on the helm, you will be able to go below and check the charts, update your position and make any corrections to the course, knowing that the boat is in safe hands.

The level of skills you should share also depends on whether you carry crew. If there are just the two of you, the ideal is for you to have equal skills, particularly if you plan on ocean travel.

So, the basic rule should be, the fewer of you and the further you go, the more you need to know.

No one would want to be left in tragic circumstances in the middle of an ocean without the ability to get home alone.

Got something you’d like to add? Please leave a comment, below.

What makes a good skipper?

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

Sir Robin Knox-JohnstonSir Robin Knox-Johnston, founder of the Clipper Round the World race had some wise words for the 10 men chosen as skippers for the 2011-12 race which starts on 31 July. He just about summed up the skills required of any serious offshore racing skipper, when he said:

Leading a team in a race around the world is one of the hardest and most challenging jobs that any skipper could ever undertake and we’re confident these 10 men are up to this challenge. They have all been through a lengthy and rigorous selection process and we have chosen a group of exceptional individuals as our race skippers. They have the ability to draw the line between competitiveness and safety while, at the same time, motivating the crew to retain their focus during races lasting several weeks at a time, whether it be through roaring gales and towering seas or the frustration of tricky calm spells.

Read more about the skippers and their crew on the Clipper Round the World 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.

“Out, damned spot! out, I say!”

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

Yes, that’s a quotation from Shakespeare’s Macbeth – Lady Macbeth, in fact. She had blood on her hands and was trying to wash it off. 

But what about when you get blood on your sails? What’s the best way to clean the blood off sailcloth? Find out how in our latest newsletter – How to get blood off your sails.

And while you’re there, why not subscribe so that you never miss another edition?

Sailing with a racing crew and “Wake me if…”

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

My previous post was about single- and double-handed sailing. I have to say that I much prefer to go to sea with a full racing crew, i.e. a group of sailors who know what to do and when to do it, and my preferred role is skipper/navigator. In that role, I don’t stand a watch but am awake or wakened whenever necessary. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those people who never sleep or over-exhaust themselves and can’t make decisions when problems arise.

Sometimes, however, crew members take it upon themselves not to wake me even though conditions have changed in line with my safety briefing instructions of “Wake me if …” Trying to be kind to me, they let me sleep on even though that may jeopardise everyone’s safety. They’re probably not aware of a chatty helmsman who has been sailing off the given course, putting the boat closer to a danger than would be expected or desirable.

Even though the navigator should snap awake when summoned, the more time available to assess the situation and what needs to be done, the better.