Learn to design

Kids playing up after two days in port? Game-boy’s batteries flat? Good. Set them the task of designing and building a yacht that will sail across the harbour. This one was created from a polystyrene dish that came from a Breton fishmonger with a plat…

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Over the waves

Making landfall in the dark it’s more than likely you’ll be looking out hard to identify lights. Unless you’re in sheltered water, there could well be a sea running that’s higher than your eye level as you sit at the helm. Height of eye sitting…

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Hang ′em high

Approaching any alongside situation – especially a raft-up – it’s best not to assume too much, particularly where fenders are concerned. Sling ′em too low for a motorboat with flared topsides and they might as well have stayed in the locker. The same can hold…

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Electronic Beacons

Here’s a safe line defined on the chart by a distant transit that’s notoriously difficult to spot. The answer has been to plot a waypoint on it. Coming in from the north, you’re safe on the blue line, but it’s OK to stray as far…

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Cyclonic

Here’s a term we hear from time to time on the weather forecast. But what does it mean? Cyclonic conditions are usually found in the centre of a low pressure system away from any fronts. The pressure is fairly static and is as low as…

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MARPA problems?

Many sailors with modern radar have spent installed MARPA (Mini Automatic Radar Plotting Aid). The radar acquires a target and in a short while deduces its course, speed and likely closest point of approach. Unfortunately, results are often disappointing. Nothing is finalised yet, but the…

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Short foreign fingers

British marinas might be shamefully expensive, but at least the finger pontoons are generally long enough for the yacht. This is often not so elsewhere. And it must be said that there are plenty of shorties cropping up in home waters. The problem this causes,…

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Single coordinate GPS

It’s natural to think of GPS in terms of a full fixing system or a means of tracking to waypoints, but waypoints take time and effort to input and it isn’t always necessary to go to the trouble of plotting a fix. Often, a single…

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Beat the Chafe at zero cost

Chafe’s a killer. Its specialities are tow ropes where they pass through stemhead fittings or shorelines under heavy load where the boat is moving constantly in a surge. This owner found himself in with a gale blowing and the lines at full stretch. Looking for…

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Every little helps

You can’t have too many sail ties. Even with a stack pack they have their place in heavy weather. There’s no need to buy them in hard times, however. Every boat has a length of braidline with a chafe right in the middle rendering it…

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Plotter or transit?

So accurate has the modern chart plotter become that it’s tempting to ignore the transits that guided seamen through the rocks since the days of the Vikings. It doesn’t do to forget that no chart is any better than its survey. We know for sure…

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The missing gasket

When you buy a replacement impeller for the spares kit, it will probably have a new gasket for the pump end plate in the package. If you lose this, damage it, or are simply using a second-hand impeller you prudently kept against emergencies, you’ll need…

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Upwind or downwind?

A summer’s cruise that’s planned too tightly can lead to wretchedness and mutiny. Neptune, after all, does not send his winds to serve our little purposes, and if we are set on what turns out to be a long beat at the outset, it doesn’t…

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The creeping impeller blues

It’s tempting to ignore an engine cooling impeller on the admirable principle of, ‘If it ain’t bust, don’t fix it.’ Most rules can be proved by examining the exceptions, however, and this is one of them. Over the seasons, and especially during long winter lay-ups,…

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Slip-sliding away

In theory, plastic sail slides should rattle up the mast track like the proverbial rat up a drainpipe. The facts of life, especially after a winter lay-up, may be very different. The answer isn’t a squirt from the aerosol oil can. This may help the…

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Will she or won’t she?

All bridges on Admiralty charts now have their clearances given at ‘HAT’, or Highest Astronomical Tide. This means that whatever it gives as the clearance, you’re unlikely to find less. All very well, until your calculations suggest there’s only going to be a metre or…

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Don’t believe the helmsman

Every skipper should be aware that helmsmen or even women rank among the world’s most chronic liars. It isn’t that they’re born crooked, it’s just that fore-and-aft-rigged sailing yachts on a reach all want to screw up to windward. Broad-beamed modern craft are specialists, but…

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Time those lights

‘Fl (3) 15s’. So what, precisely, does that mean to the practical navigator ? Obviously, it’s a light flashing in a group of three at fifteen second intervals. The thing is, when do you start counting? The answer is, begin as soon as you see…

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Astro plotting sheets

If you run out of plotting sheets in mid-ocean and are struggling to work out your lat/long scales, don’t be tempted to try and plot on the ‘big’ chart. Your pencil blobs might be the same size as Wales. Find a coastal chart whose latitude…

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Calibrating an echo sounder

Many echo sounders can be set up to read either ‘depth below transducer’ (generally the default reading), ‘depth of water (from the surface)’ or ‘depth below the keel’. Some people prefer to know that when the sounder reads zero they are aground. When reducing to…

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Stow the boards

Is your boat one of the majority where the builder hasn’t thought about what you’re going to do with the companionway washboards when they aren’t in place? Why not invest one Saturday morning next winter knocking up a thin, open-topped compartment in one of the…

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Log the engine

Most of us don’t bother to buy expensive tailor-made log books, preferring to rule our own columns in a simple hard-backed exercise book. ‘Time, Log, Course steered, COG (Course Over Ground by GPS), SOG (Speed Over Ground by GPS), Position, Weather and Remarks’ are generally…

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