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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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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Overtaken by time

‘Spot the entrance by looking just east of the Martello Tower’, warbles the pilot book. The trouble is, any pilot is only as good as its compiler’s most recent visit. In a place with massive development going on continually, it’s only reasonable to expect a…

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Datums for GPS

If you’re still struggling with chart datums for GPS, YM’s postbag indicates that you’re not alone! Search an Admiralty chart and you’ll find a statement like this one. Once you know your chart’s datum – in this case ‘Ordnance Survey of Great Britain (OSGB) 1936…

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To call or not to call?

It’s rare for foreign harbour authorities to want yachts to call them as a matter of course, and marinas in France, Holland and Scandinavia are often perfectly happy for you just to arrive then declare yourself. Back home, more and more authorities are interested in…

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Identifying marks

You’ve spotted this buoy through the binoculars, but there are others not too far away. It’s critical that you have the right one, so how do you make sure? The easy answer is to steer across to the left of the picture so that the…

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Yawl or Ketch?

We all know they both have two masts, the mainmast being ahead of the mizzen and considerably larger, but which boat is which, and how to remember it? The answer is that, in a yacht, the ketch steps her mizzen forward of the rudder post,…

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Give the kids a lure

Ever feel bad about trying to sail at two or three knots in light winds when the kids get bored and restless. Here’s the answer. Any time from May onwards – that’s now – the mackerel start running, and a slow-moving sailing boat is the…

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Wide in, tight out

Old racing hands know that the quickest way to round a mark of the course is to approach it wide, then tighten the turn as you round. Not only does this prevent others sneaking inside you as you turn, it also keeps you closer to…

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Duff leads

Many a yacht crew has to struggle with heaving in a purchase because the lead off the final block is bad. The purchase will have been calculated assuming it works properly, yet if the fall is graunching around the cheek of the lower block as…

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Left-over seas

The chances are that some time this season half of us will find ourselves holed up in some faraway port while the usual mid-holiday gale blows itself out. It’s tempting to stick one’s nose past the mole as soon as the wind drops to force…

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Button up the ‘moby’

Anecdotal evidence suggests that more reading glasses and mobile phones have been lost by sailors leaning down to attend to a docklines than by any other group of humanity. The only answer is to make a habit of buttoning that shirt pocket before bending down,…

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A Piece of string

Hands up the sailor who’s never dropped a vital shackle pin into the water? The most common victims are halyard shackles, undone and done up ever time the sail is handled. Often hands are cold, the vital pin slips through the fingers, and why, oh…

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One final waypoint

On a passage of some length (South Coast to Cherbourg, or East Coast to Flushing, for example), it’s tempting to make the final waypoint at the outer harbour entrance. Once inside after dark, however, shore lighting can make spotting the lights of the inner harbour…

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Compensating for leeway

Unless you’re a professor of mathematics who can think in pure numbers, the easiest way to plot a course compensating for leeway is visually. Whack in the course you really want, then literally sketch the wind direction on the chart. It’s obvious now which way…

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Nothing lasts for ever

Here’s a shiny new syphon breaker in the engine cooling line before the water is injected into the exhaust system. Most yachts have them, and they don’t last for ever. It’s there for a good reason, and if it fails, an engine-full of water may…

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Man is not lost

With GPS so reliable, it’s easy to become complacent in fog. Looking for Chichester Bar beacon, for example? Just bung in a waypoint and hit ‘GoTo’, we think. The trouble is, the beacon was moved last year and the chart found on a recent charter…

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Safety in extremis

Different countries have varying regulations, but at the time of writing it is legal to sail into a wind farm within UK territorial waters, so long as you don’t anchor or come closer than 50m to an upright. The idea of yachting amongst the pylons…

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Sail on the Moon-tide

If you sail in central southern England, you’ll find spring high waters equate to midnight and mid-day. Down in the west country they fall around 0600 and 1800. On the Thames they’re usually in time for a latish lunch and so on. Neaps clearly come…

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Standard pressure

The predicted tide height can vary by a foot or more depending on atmospheric pressure. Wind and other local factors are important too, but less easy to second-guess unless you know your area. All tidal height predictions assume ‘standard pressure’ on the barometer. You can…

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Private depth gauges

Tide tables are all very well, but they are only predictions. On the day, you can’t beat something you personally have observed to be the truth. If the stick to the right of the beacon is showing at its base, the yacht can cross her…

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Calibrate the log

The easiest way to calibrate a log is to wait until you’re operating inside a lock somewhere – in a Dutch canal for instance – note the speed over ground (SOG) from the GPS and set the log speed accordingly. You won’t be far out.…

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Stuck in the mud?

If you’ve run aground in soft mud and she won’t back off the way she went on, try spinning her 180 degrees around on her keel. Once turned, you should be able to blast off the mud into deep water because a standard propeller delivers…

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Holding station

Holding station in a strong breeze, it’s only natural to try to hang in head-to-wind. In fact, most modern yachts don’t like this. Left to themselves they tend to end up with the wind over the quarter. This makes it far less stressful to let…

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Instant position lines

When you’re piloting close inshore and everything is happening fast, trying to take and plot magnetic position lines is generally a bust. Here are a couple of ways to check a bearing without using the handbearing compass. Object abeam - If the object that forms…

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Get the grib

Are you looking for really sound wind and weather forecasting on your desktop, anywhere in the world, large area or small, with three-hour intervals and up to seven-day prognosis? We all are, aren’t we? Well, here’s a great solution, and it’s absolutely free. Go to…

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