Friday, April 13, 2012

Ten Commandments For Sailing Cruisers

Sisters Creek
30 2664 N 081 27.00 W

There are so many custom versions of Ten Commandments lists, that I though I would try one myself.  Some of these are specific to sail boats.
  1. Thou shalt have fun and remain safe.

  2. Thou shalt square off thy turns.

  3. Thou shall consult charts to interpret red/green markers.

  4. Thou shall not approach bridges at an angle.

  5. Honor thy wind and currents.  Never approach a wall or a dock or a mooring except with bow to the wind and current.  If winds and currents are strong and opposed, consider abandoning the plan.

  6. Entering thy slip requires slowing below steerage. Faith and a stout heart are required.

  7. Thou shall not enter a dead end with wind or current behind thee.

  8. Anchoring on a lee shore or in more than 50 feet of water in the open sea shall be regretted for all of thine life.

  9. Thine bow is a false God.  He who trusts that his vessel travels in the direction the bow points is a fool.

  10. Cruising boats are heavy.  He who attempts to stop a vessel at the dock with thine limbs shall become limbless for the rest of his life.

  • Square turns:  See the diagram on the right.  As approaching a side channel, the eye sees one green on the left and another green more to the left.  Cutting the corner and going directly from one green to the next puts you aground in the brown area.   In channels, and in and around obstacles, pretend that you're a soldier doing close order drill and square all your turns sharply.

  • Charts versus markers: What can be easier; stay between the red and the green. Red right returning. (The dreaded red-green marker aside). It's not that simple. Sometimes the red/green markers you see belong to quite another channel than the one you're navigating. Number series stop/start.  Your channel may join another channel for a while, then depart.  Only the chart can clarify for you. Sometimes, the channel has more twists and turns than the markers indicate. It is wrong to assume that you can navigate a straight line from one marker to the next. The markers are normally more accurate than any chart, but interpretation of the markers needs consultation with charts.  See the figures at the end of this blog post.
  • Every year on the Hudson River, we are in the company of Great Lakes Skippers fresh out of the Erie Canal.  They have worthy vessels, and most are highly experienced.  However, they are not experienced with tides and tidal currents, and that gets them into trouble.

    It is the side current that pushes you sideways that fools you.  If the side current is one knot and you are traveling at 6 knots, you may not notice.  But when you slow down to come into a dock, your speed slows to less than the current, and suddenly your track is more than 45 degrees different than the way your bow points.  Also, tidal currents can and do reverse, and swirl, sometimes abruptly.  Ay ay ay.   You must, learn to sense the actual direction your boat is moving, as distinct from the way it is pointing.
  • Bridges:  Entering, exiting, and underneath bridges you may find unexpected puffs of wind and swirls of currents.  You or other boats may also be partially blind as to approaching boats.  Always approach at a 90 degree angle, with all sails down, and moving fast enough to have good steerage.  Be ultra alert and prepared to take drastic corrective actions if needed.   Ditto, when exiting a lock.

    Never overtake other vessels under a bridge, and if possible avoid meeting oncoming vessels under a bridge.

  • Dead Ends: Suppose you need to drive down an dead end alley in a marina and make a right or left turn into a slip.  (See the diagram) If your sailboat has a fin keel and a spade rudder, it can turn on a dime.  Drive down at what seems breakneck speed, turn into the slip and hit emergency reverse to stop.  Such a maneuver needs a stout heart.  Timidity and hesitation will lead to disaster.  If you do it right, your success will be breathtakingly spectacular.  If you fail, the result can be disastrous.  If you hesitate or chicken out, the result can be even more  disastrous.

    Full keel boats with skeg rudders do not turn on a dime, they turn on the radius of a dinner plate in comparison.  To make a right angle turn in a tight space on such a vessel requires repeated alternate application of forward and reverse power at near zero speed. That takes time.  Meanwhile, the wind and current are doing what they will.   If the winds or current are strong, the maneuver may not be possible at all.

    With either kind of sailboat, if the wind and/or current is behind you in a dead end, things become much more dangerous.  You may need to apply reverse power to slow down when driving down the alley which means you lose steering control.  I saw a 50 foot sailboat do that with a 25 knot tail wind in a marina in Kingston, Ontario.  He succeeded spectacularly, but my reaction and that of the marina staff was, "What a fool he was for trying."  In my boat, I wouldn't even think about doing that.

    If I was forced to proceed with wind or current into the dead end,  I would back down the alley, bow to the wind/current and using forward power to slow the boat and (hopefully) maintain steerage.  At the slip, throw lines to helpers on shore, and let them warp you into the slip.  Before the turn you can always change your mind and power your way back out.

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