One flag worth knowing

The days when Yachtmasters had to learn all the signal flags and Morse code are mercifully long past. However, recognising one or two signals remains a useful safety factor. The ‘T’ flag looks like a French ensign with the colours back to front. It means…

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Halyard tension

You can’t really tell whether a main halyard is pulled up hard enough by wiggling the luff in your hand. The only certain way is to examine the sail once it’s set. A mainsail should have its centre of curvature (its maximum ‘camber’) just forward…

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Using slip ropes

Use these only when you really need them, not as a matter of course, because they have a bad habit of causing trouble, especially if rigged through a ring. If the ring is lying on top of the quay, lead the end of the warp…

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Rubbish in Garbage out

Using a chart plotter to deal with secondary port tidal heights is a stunning improvement over the old number-crunching arrangements. However, if you need real accuracy, the bad news is that these predictions do not always concur with one another, neither are they always in…

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EP for more than one hour

If you are obliged to plot a traditional estimated position at more than one hour from your departure point, don’t try to do it hour by hour. Instead, plot the dead reckoning position for the whole leg from course steered and distance run, then plot…

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The view from the bridge

It’s been said often enough, but summer’s coming on and it’s easy to forget what the chaps on the big ships can’t see. Here’s an unusual view of the Solent which is ‘what the pilot saw’ as the yacht scuttled under his bows a good…

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Running down to a waypoint

When you’re running the distance down to a waypoint without a plotter to guide you, unless you’re getting close and it’s foggy, it’s generally less stressful on a sailing boat to use the ‘compass’ page of the GPS rather than the ‘rolling road’. Note the…

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All hands to the plotter

Running a plotter isn’t all that hard. Even if some of your crew aren’t officially navigators, teach them at least to use the plotter as a common-sense visual tool. Show them how to pan and zoom and make sure they understand the scale of things.…

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Creative courtesy flags

It’s well-known that all yachts must fly the ensign of a nation they are visiting from their starboard cross-trees (spreaders to us). However, if you’re cruising an area with a strong ethnic presence, such as Brittany, Normandy, Wales, Scotland ─ or Cornwall if you hail…

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Bleeding obvious

You don’t have to be a mechanical genius to know that if you run out of diesel or the engine stops because of a clogged filter, you are probably going to have to bleed it to get it going again. Most modern engines bleed from…

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Look out for the cook

Safety equipment doesn’t always come pre-packed and labelled with an MCA sticker. More accidents happen in the galley of the average cruising yacht than ever occur from crew tumbling over the side ─ and they don’t all involve fire and gas explosion. A cook is…

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Pot nightmares

In these days of radar and pin-point chart plotters it’s becoming ever-more tempting to steer close in around headlands in calm weather after dark, especially if you’re cheating a foul tide. The trouble is, this honest fisherman and his chums love laying their crab pots…

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THE USEFUL TRANSIT

Always use a transit (two objects in line) to make sure your anchor is not dragging. A compass bearing is not nearly so accurate, and is far more cumbersome to arrive at. Even at night, you will generally find a couple of shore lights or…

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A MATTER OF PROPORTION

Don't forget that the classic vector diagram for course to steer in a cross-tide is worked on proportions. It is conventional to let one mile be the scale for one knot. This of course is measured from the latitude scale on the chart. It is…

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Ease the main

When you are manoeuvring under mainsail only, don’t expect the boat to sail properly with the sheet pinned hard in. This is a requirement when a genoa is set to stop the main backwinding, but as soon as the jib has gone, the main is…

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Sort out that lead

The only really accurate way of positioning the car on a genoa sheet track is to close-haul the sail then sight up it as the helmsman brings the boat slowly above a close-hauled course. The luff should ‘lift’ evenly all the way up. If the…

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A sting in the tail

Don’t imagine it’s all over when the wind drops immediately after an obvious cold front has passed. The glass may be rising fast and what breeze is left might have veered nicely, but give it at least six hours before you assume that things have…

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Easy vectors

A vector diagram for course to steer in a cross-tide is only a diagrammatic representation that depends on proportion. You don’t need necessarily to use your dividers to measure miles, especially when the scale is inconvenient and refuses to fit the passage leg or the…

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Dropping the bucket

When you need a bucket-full of clear seawater, make sure you have a longish lanyard and tie it to the boat. The pull can be considerable at five knots if you achieve the result you are looking for. To secure a full fill every time,…

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Great circle

An unexpected bonus for users of GPS on ocean passages is that many sets will read out a great circle course on request. Some do not even need asking. Just install a waypoint at your destination, make sure the ‘Nav set-up’ is delivering the right…

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See and be Seen

In fog, when radar is your best means of lookout and you have decided you must alter course for another vessel, make very sure your change of direction is positive. Unless the target’s operator is highly skilled, or perhaps is using the latest equipment that…

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Don’t hog the hammerhead

Hammerhead marina berths can seem as rare as oaks growing in mid-Channel, especially if you’ve a larger-than-average yacht. A special place is reserved in a nasty corner of Davy Jones’ Locker for those thoughtless mariners who secure bang in the middle and take up space…

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No Pinching!

Trying to sail too close to the wind almost never does any good and it’s a common mistake. The boat  slows down, especially in waves. This increases her leeway dramatically, so although she might seem to be pointing towards her objective, she’s actually sliding sideways…

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