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Online Cruising Course
Cruising Sailboat

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II. The cruising sailboat consists of the boat itself, the sailing apparatus or "machine," and the sailboat motor.

The boat’s cabin, nestled down in the boat’s hull, enables living aboard with sufficient "house" space and systems that this entails to make the cruise possible and liveable.

The sailboat motor is an essential, but incidental, source of power limited by the boat’s hull speed of never more than about six knots.

To propel this sailboat "house" requires an advanced sailing machine.

Hull and Keel. To counterweight the needed sail area, and to propel the boat forward by resisting lateral movement (leeway), mandates a heavy lead keel and considerable draft, and a rounded hull to dispel wind forces off the sail area in a gradual manner (called spilling a puff).

The cruising sailboat, at low operating cost, can explore waters that are sailable with a given hull and keel, generally a depth or "draft" of between about three to six feet. Know your draft to avoid going aground.

Sloop Parts and Jargon. Become familiar with the jargon of sailing: the boat, its parts & their functions. See Diagram.

A. The Boat as a Sailing Machine
The mainsail, together with the mast and boom, functions as a unit to propel the boat, as a giant vertical wing tacking into the wind and as a giant vertical parachute running with the wind.

Likewise, the jib, held by the forestay, adds its enormous power to the equation, combining with the mailsail in balancing the helm or control into or away from the wind.

Since the jib pulls the boat’s bow away from the wind while the main pulls it into the wind, the combination represents how a boat is balanced front-to-back at its center of effort, usually with a slight weather helm for safety’s sake.

Steering with the mainsheet alone, while close-hauled, best exhibits how the helm is balanced, the effect of puffs (and even strong wind shears) and how to prevent an accidental tack, i.e. by letting out the mainsheet and quickly releasing the jib sheet if back-winded.

1. Mast, Standing Rigging and Boom. The mast is held up by the standing rigging, i.e. wire cable, called stays, in front and back, and shrouds on the sides.

The boom is attached to the mast via a gooseneck that allows the boom to move vertically and horizontally. The boom is held up by a line called a topping lift when not held up by the sail.

2. Mainsail, Jib and Running Rigging: Halyards and Sheets. Sails are controlled by a system of lines (ropes are called lines on boats) organized by various knots, shackles, winches and other hardware. Lines called halyards raise and lower sails and lines called sheets control sails to change course and otherwise.

The mainsail, attached on two sides to the boom and mast, is raised and lowered by a line called a halyard and controlled in its horizontal movement by a line called a mainsheet.

Sails have cringles (reinforced metal rings), also called grommets, at each triangular point (head, tack and clew), used to attach lines to the sail via shackles and knots.

The jib is a sail attached along one side to the forestay. Likewise the jib is hoisted by a jib halyard and moved horizontally by a jib sheet.

Basic types of jibs include the jibs that have roller furling and jibs that are hanked on (and coded as %), including genoa, working jib, storm jib (these are stuffed in bags-sheets coiled 1st, tack last; flaking jib before putting in bag).

3. Lines, Knots and Deck Hardware.
The sailboat’s deck is set up as a specialized working platform by which captain and crew operate the boat effectively and safely on a cruise.

"One hand for yourself, one for the boat."

Identify masthead lines and halyards (simultaneously pull both ends), especially the main halyard .

Sheets are items of constant use. Study how a boat’s particular jib sheets are run in relation to lifelines, pulleys and winches.

Generally, port and starboard jib sheets are attached to the jib’s luff cringle by a bowline knot.

The bowline, called the king of knots and essential to sailing, makes a fixed bow that is made in the end of the jib sheet so as to move without interfering with the flow of the sail, nor to damage the deck as a shackle would.

The jib sheet is strung back to the cockpit area via pulleys attached to the gunwale, so as to allow the sail to fly free inside or outside the lifelines and so the free end is presented to the winch at an effective angle.

With rolling furling jibs, a furling line rolls the jib back up on its drum at the base of the forestay.

Use a stopper (figure 8) knot to "stop" losing control lines, such as when the jib is blown way forward if lost when running.

Lines 101: when stringing lines or otherwise handling line, remember that the plane above the lifeline is unfettered while below is broken up by stanchions, recognize the task difference for lines leading off and on the boat, that a line that is coiled is easier to handle, and that a short length of line for a recurring function is yet easier to handle.

Also, a wrapped "collar" on a coiled line can function as a sleeve to capture a loop, that can be used to "pop" free a "secured" or stowed line.

Learn the six or seven knots (also) needed to sail:
1. Stopper knot-figure eight.
2. Square or reef knot–see below.
3. Bowline-fixed loop-"hole" made for free end "rabbit" to go up through and around standing part "tree," then back down "hole."
4. Cleating knot-necessary to perfect its use since very commonly seen in both horizontal and vertical positions-properly made "one over two."
5. Clove hitch-tying on fenders same as cleating but done on a spar instead of cleat.
6. Round turn and 2 half hitches-quick tie to piling.
7. Anchor bend-first a double turn, then first of two half hitches fed through double loop.

A square knot, the common shoelace knot (with easy-release slip loops left in) also called a reefing knot in sailing, is correctly tied "left over right, then right over left." If not done correctly, an insecure granny knot is made instead.

A very common version of the square knot used in sailing uses a single easy-release slip loop coupled with an double extra-secure underturn–used with sail ties fastening the mainsail to the boom and temporary tie-down docking lines.

Use knots that are "transparent" and quick to untie.

4. Good Seamanship.
Good seamanship is the knowledge and practice of various methods and techniques to take action effectively and safely. Avoid a trail of troubles that leads to a mishap.

Before starting an operation, make sure that the various parts of the sequence, i.e. the control pathway of a line, is free of potential problems.

Speed from practiced use of a routine, such as a cleating knot, may be essential in an emergency situation. Make the shackles, cleats and winches familiar items by examining their design, function and use in detail.

In particular, learn to quickly drop and secure the mainsail, since the wind can take control of it since it’s attached on two sides.

Safe sailing primarily involves good judgment as a captain rather than any greatly specialized skills.

Two fundamentals of safe sailing:

1. Avoid being overpowered, (when the wind takes control of the sail and boat). This involves the choice of sails to fly–chose conservatively as a novice.

2. The accidental gybe. A stiff wind gets behind a mailsail not centered and/or cam-cleated tightly, causing the boom to swing wildly with the possibility of hitting someone or even taking down the shrouds.

Before leaving the dock, be prepared: have the boat ready for hoisting sails in case motor fails or other emergency. And have a throwable flotation cushion in the cockpit.

Never let lines go/stay overboard where the lines might foul the prop.

Windward margin of error: The windward side of a channel offers the advantage of a higher margin of error since moving a sailboat upwind is a much great task than letting it go downwind.

B. The Cabin: Rudimentary "House," Systems (III)

The cabin consists of the living and sleeping quarters, today enhanced by integrated designs that incorporate these functions in comfortable and elegant spaces with "beamy" or wide hulls, especially in larger yachts.

Familialize yourself with these various systems, especially how to activate critical instruments such as the depth meter, the bilge pump and running lights if night sailing.

Charter companies generally have great support so the charterer need not be concerned about these items in general. Do not hesitate to call if needed.

1. Sleeping quarters
The most important factor in boat selection involves concerns liveable and comfortable sleeping quarters.

2. The marine head
Operation: open seacocks, turn pump value to fill, use, turn pump value to empty, pump out.

3. The "basement & workroom"
The bilge pump, stuffing box (its slow drip self-lubricates), repair toolbox & supplies. Locate throughhull filling plugs (may be tied on) and have a plan to otherwise stuff these if needed.

4. The Kitchen
Cooking–the alcohol stove as well as propane-fueled cockpit grill; the sink and icebox (do not clog drains with debris); a tip–a shower or hand bathing after being in the salty mist and the importance of cleaning contacts.

5. The electrical system
Switches & master switches-battery v. cord systems.

6. Marine (VHF) radio
Channel 16 is for hailing only as well as calling Coast Guard in emergency;
May Day call for distress;
Security call by U.S. Coast Guard for navigation info;

After hailing, switch to channels 68,69,71,72. Water taxi is on 68 normally.

Talk: "calling ‘OtherBoatName,’ this is ‘OurBoatName,’ come in, over."

The Marine forecast is found on CaribWx from ZBVI Radio in Road Town and National Weather Service. Channels 26 or 28 to make call home (expensive).

Channel 13 is for calling ship traffic–let them know your intentions in trying to stay out of their way.

7. Paperwork

Check with charter company for any problems with boat.

Locate boat license, pollution warning signs, radio license.

8. Safety equipment

Required in U.S.:

Life jackets (PFDs) (boats>16`)-one wearable for each person plus one throwable (type IV)

Visual distress signals (applicable where water more than 2 miles wide):
Flares–3 handheld red flares for day or nite;
–other-orange smoke, parachute or meteor;
Flag-3×3 w/ black square & ball on orange.

Other–electric distress light (use prohibited except to prevent danger).

Sound producing devices:
Some means required (boats <12 meters),
Horn or whistle, & a bell (over 12 meters)

Fire extinguishers-one B-1 (boat<26`)
-two B-1 or one B-2 (26`to<40`)


Lifesling–basically flotation with a safety harness strap around it with D-rings on ends, attached to boat via a floating line. Strong enough to hoist a person aboard. Usually kept in pouch on cockpit railing. Replaces antiquated horseshoe.

First aid kit. The most practical issue here is insect repellent the no-see-ums, etc. The police and medical emergencies number is 999 and are excellent on the water as well as land. The hospital in Road Town is very capable of handling serious accidents.

9. Law enforcement (U.S.)

Offenses: Boating under the influence (BUI); negligent operation, riding over bow, seatback, gunwale or transom.
Immediate penalty: termination for unsafe use.

Rendering assistance-skipper must render where it can be safely provided to those in danger at sea.

Reporting boating accidents:
Fatal accidents require immediate reporting;
For death or injuries requiring more than first aid, a formal report must be filed within 48 hours; for accidents involving more than $500 damage, a formal report must be filed within 10 days.

Boating safety hotline: 800-368-5647.

C. Sailboat Motors

1. The outboard engine
Very common engine around boats

Starting-check for adequate fuel, vent tank, pump in-line bulb firm, put throttle on start, put gear shift in neutral, engage & pull starting cord w/ clear travel path of hand & elbow, when engine starts, throttle up & push in choke, check water exit stream, let engine warm up

Running-always shift at low speed

Most outboards run best at 3/4 to full throttle

Low speed usage helps foul sparkplugs

Add oil to fuel by instructions on boat or marine oil bottle

2. Inboard motors
Separate oil system with dipstick (check level)

Gasoline-Run blower before starting or fueling

Gas fumes in bilge could explode from spark

Diesel-safer than gas; when shutting off, cut fuel switch off before cutting start switch off (no spark plugs; ignites from compression)

Monitor temperature gauge, especially if seawater cooled.