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…

more...

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…

more...

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…

more...

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.…

more...

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…

more...

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…

more...

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…

more...

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…

more...

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…

more...

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…

more...

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…

more...

Early-morning fog

When you awaken on a what ought to be clear, quiet morning to find mist like this crawling around, don’t be disheartened. It’s the last of the night dews falling out of suspension – ‘radiation fog’ to give it it’s technical name. This isn’t the…

more...

Eyeballing a gap

When you’re entering a harbour or a narrow bay and you need to give one side a certain amount of clearance, bear in mind that while it may be impossible in practice to be sure of keeping a certain measured distance from a point, the…

more...

Use longer bowlines

GPS is the best friend we’ve got, but we all know that it suffers from the ‘rubbish in -  garbage out’ problem. Every time a waypoint is plotted on a paper chart and you’re at home on your berth, you can confirm you didn’t screw…

more...

Tell tales

Ever wondered what those telltales are for on a race boat or a cruiser with new sails? First, they’re for getting the boat bang in the groove sailing to windward. Trim in, then steer so as to keep the telltales on both sides of the…

more...

Wave height and MOB at night

If you have any doubts about how wave action affects your chances of seeing a flashing light, try a practice man-overboard pick-up on a rough night using your floating emergency ‘flasher’ to mark the dummy. It’s a salutary experience, especially with the expensive millisecond super-powerful…

more...

Sort your prop

If you foul your propeller on a rope when going ahead and you can reach the offending line, it’s worth trying to unravel it as follows: Grab the rope and pull steadily. Activate the engine ‘stop’ toggle so that it can’t start (decompress it if…

more...

Pump her in

When a moored boat must be hove in closer to the dock, it’s a lot easier to grab the bight (the middle) of a rope that’s made fast ashore, then heave up on it while a mate on board holds it with a turn on…

more...

Don’t snub her up!

Nothing makes a skipper look so stupid as when a well-meaning person takes a bow line ashore from a moving boat and promptly catches a turn to ‘stop her’. This is guaranteed to spring her bow hard into the dock with the stern swinging out…

more...

Heaving it over

Before you heave a line, re-coil it, however good the original coil looks. Next, if you’re right-handed, hold the whole coil carefully in this hand, divide it into approximately two halves, and take the second coil in your left hand. Now lower the end of…

more...