The other skipper’s shoes

Out at sea, a ship is approaching. You’ve decided you’re on a steady bearing and are the give-way vessel. In theory, it’s enough to make a modest alteration of course, just large enough to satisfy yourself that the risk of collision no longer exists. If…

more...

Chafe paranoia

The problem with all fore-and-aft rigs is that squared away off the wind, they suffer chafe on the mainsails from standing rigging. Everything appears fine until you look aloft and see the spreader outlined in the mainsail. On yachts with aft-swept spreaders it can be…

more...

Other people’s rules

It makes obvious sense when crossing the Channel to carry the ship’s registration or SSR document, plus anything that proves you’ve paid the VAT. There’s also your VHF radio licence, insurance documents etc. Less blatant, but equally important, are the following. The French have rules…

more...

Over the falls

Just because the chart has no overfalls symbol in a specific area off a headland doesn’t mean there won’t be any. If it’s been blowing hard (or still is) and the tide is rattling round to weather, assume the worst and batten well down. You…

more...

Beware of the tug!

Everybody loves a tug boat, but love can turn to hate and real danger if you come too close to a big one on passage. Large, seagoing tugs have short waterlines and the heftiest engines in the galaxy. When not towing, they often cruise at…

more...

A heavy hitter?

Clouds like this brute were common this summer, but there will be lots around in the autumn too. It goes without saying that you shorten down and kit up before it arrives. The question is, does it have your name on it or not? You…

more...

Doubling the Anchor

Anchoring in tidal rivers, as many of us must do for much of our cruising, tends to be a messy business, with the hook having to re-set itself on each turn of the tide, and all sorts of gyrations being required to lay extra anchors.…

more...

Wrapping the Keel

A mooring attached to a fine, meaty pick-up buoy with lots of room around it. It is just the sort one might be tempted to pick up under sail. Why not, indeed? There is even a ripper of a tide sweeping by to help you…

more...

Great Circle

If you’ve just cruised to the Caribbean and are about to sail home from America, consider this: plotting a great circle course (the shortest way across the outside of a sphere) used to involve special charts or mathematics. Not any more. You can tell a…

more...

Secure the sheet

By all means ease the mainsheet when dropping the sail, but before anyone goes up to stow it, the boom should be secured amidships. Even in sheltered water the crew want something solid to lean on. In a chop, trying to balance on the coachroof…

more...

Up-tide or down?

There’s little more embarrassing than coming into a hammerhead berth down-tide by mistake. Most of us know the feeling. Everything looks fine until you suddenly realise the boat doesn’t want to stop and you are running out of berth very rapidly. By Sod’s Law you’ll…

more...

Get the time right

Tidal height curves delivered by a chart plotter are among the most useful advances in recent years. Like all beautiful gardens, however, this one harbours a serpent, especially when you’re cruising on the continent. Some plotters have a clear menu system for defining the time…

more...

Bury it behind the main

When something goes wrong on the foredeck, the natural instinct of most fore-and-aft sailors is to luff up head to wind. This often does us no favours. It puts strain on the forestay as everything comes on the shake, and it increases the apparent wind.…

more...

Automatically wrong

A recent Expert on Board article produced an interesting postbag revealing that a number of readers had been assuming the course ‘dialled up’ on their autopilot was accurate because the compass it was taking its data from was free of deviation. In practice, this is…

more...

Watch the lines

Laid up afloat? Only popping down to check her every so often? If that’s you, shift your lines a few inches every time you visit. It may not look much, but this bit of chafe has significantly weakened this multiplait. Leave it all winter, and…

more...

Hey, Big Fender!

Laying up for the winter, you can take away all the worry of gales blowing onto the berth by suspending a big fender fore-and-aft from the pontoon cleats. Then when the boat heels towards the berth she can’t ‘duck under’ her usual fenders. It also…

more...

Red diesel in cans

Next season when you’re stocking up for that extended cruise, don’t forget to fill the fuel jerry-cans from a garage and use the car to hump them down to the boat. In their infinite wisdom, our government has declared that red diesel in cans on…

more...

Dry out the lights

Navigation lights, radar scanners, spreader lights and everything electrical on deck take a beating in season. More salt creeps in than we’d like to imagine, then it attracts damp all winter long. The quantities may be small, but the effects often are not when spring…

more...

Towed under

Creeping around headlands close in is all very well by daylight, so long as you keep a good lookout, but trying it after dark is asking for a fishing buoy around the propeller, especially if yours is on a P-bracket. Headlands are often crab-pot city,…

more...

Dodgy sunset

Here’s a proper red sky and it’s at night, promising sailors a day of delight after breakfast in the morning. Actually, what it shows is that you can’t always rely on ancient lore. For the old adage to hold good, it really needs a fairly…

more...

Know your charts

This section of a vector plotter chart contains two navigation buoys. Neither shows any significant detail about how it is lit. The only way to find out is either to zoom in, which may or may not give you the answer, or to interrogate the…

more...

Going down with the tide

It’ll soon be the season of equinoctial gales. If you keep the company of old-fashioned longshoremen and you’re having tea in their shed near high water when it’s blowing stink, one of them is almost bound to say, ‘Don’t worry, lads. The wind’ll go down…

more...

Dodgy crew

As the time for the ARC draws near, many skippers will be looking for crew, and the hopefuls walking the dock will be plentiful. Some will have qualifications, other won’t, but one thing is sure. However good someone looks on paper, or sounds in the…

more...

Caught in the lee

It might sound rude to take another sailor’s wind, but common sense disagrees. So, by implication, do the Colregs. When overtaking, it’s our duty to get on with the job as quickly and safely as we can, to minimise the time spent in close proximity.…

more...

Beware of the surge

Harbours locked in by an automatic tide gate over a sill are often subject to a surprising amount of surge for the first quarter-hour or so after the flap opens. This is especially noticeable in North Brittany, where spring tides may be rising at 10…

more...

Piloting with Radar

When it comes to confirming distance off a solid object such as a cliff, the most accurate tool on board a fully equipped yacht is radar. A good example is rounding Portland Bill keeping a cable or two off the shore to stay in the…

more...

Passing in the night

In the daytime, giving way to a ship at sea can be simply a matter of a minor course alteration to clear his stern. Twenty or thirty degrees is generally more than enough. At night, it’s a different story, because all he can see of…

more...