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Online Cruising Course
Operating the Sailboat
No Frames Frames

III. Operating the sailboat involves docking and motoring, raising and lowering sails, pure sailing, driving or navigating the boat in traffic, and anchoring or mooring.

A. Motoring and Docking
Motoring and docking are closely related, since sailboats motor in to dock with sails lowered.

And since docking is aided by motor power, develop the initial motoring skills in the clear, away from tight spaces such as dock slips–see Motoring in General below.

1. Docking.
Overview: use critical lines and the motor to move the boat along the slip’s windward side to and from the dock.

Main types of docks: floating and fixed piling.
Slip positions: inside and alongside the end.

In the typical inside slip position, boats are tied up with bow and stern docking lines permanently attached to the dock and its pilings at each corner of the slip.

In alongside slip positions, spring lines replace outside lines. The free ends of dock lines, often ending in a loop, are tied to boat cleats with cleating knots.

If the wind is from the side of the slip, any adjoining windward pair of "critical" docking lines primarily constrain the boat as it’s pushed by the wind.

If the wind is from the corner quarter of the slip, one critical line effectively holds the boat alongside the slip toward the slip’s leeward side.

This simplifies the departure and approach by removing or ignoring slack lines and utilizing the critical lines.

Also, use the windward side of the slip space to advantage to move the boat safely in/out of slip.

Note obstacles such as the location of other boats, special dock elements and the protrusion of the boat’s bow pulpit.

Develop a plan and tell crew. Plan for what will happen next in event of failure.

Assign crew to handle these critical lines, giving verbal commands to, first "stand by," then "cast off" and "fend off."

2. Moving the Boat Without Motor Power. Use critical lines under wind power to control boat. A line pulling from bow or stern will make the boat lay along that side of the slip. A line pulling from past the beam will kick out that end of the boat.

Gauge wind strength versus boat mass to determine need for mechanical advantage from wrapping cleat (or even winch) once or twice to hold the boat.

Use a slip line, i.e. a line free of knots running around a piling and held by both ends) to make sure the line is slipped free after use and taken with the boat.

Walking the boat using a piling is the simplest way to move a boat along a slip. A boat with a tiller may be "sculled" for the last bit of distance needed.

Noting effect on rest of boat when taking action, i.e. creating versus solving problems.

3. Motoring Out.
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.

It’s very important to use low speeds around docks.

Use short bursts of the throttle to reach a low speed plateau, rather than continual acceleration, so the boat’s bow pulpit passed the last piling at too high a speed.

Have boathooks ready at all times when docking. Use fenders as needed.

Stabilizing the situation v. increased oscillation: don’t pull the boat too hard in one direction, then overcorrect back the other way.

4. Motoring in General.
Emphasize throttling down to idle when shifting to forward or reverse.

Use short bursts of the throttle to move the boat, especially to achieve a critical point against the wind. Be able to stop the boat and make stationary relative to the wind.

Note the handling characteristics of particular boat, especially when backing–many sailboats tend to "prop walk" or move its stern to the port side due to the usual "righted-handed" prop mounting.

Note the tendency of the wind to swing the bow more than the stern and the stability gained from backing directly into the eye of the wind.

Use the port "prop walk" and wind-driven bow swing, coupled with both forward and reverse gears, to make tight turns.

Determine the momentum needed to gain steerage responsiveness at the helm in terms of required distance versus searoom available, thus it’s best to avoid leeward pockets, out of which backing is the only option.

Use sheltered areas to advantage, such as the wind "shadow" of a building or dock.

5. Motoring In.
Note the overriding importance of whether the wind is "driving" in or out of the dock.

If the wind is coming from the slip, assign crew to use a boathook to pick up the windward critical line in the forward end of the slip.

If the wind to blowing into the slip, come in at that angle with the engine in reverse at a speed to slow the boat. Pick up the critical line at windward outside piling.

At a slip bare of dock lines, come alongside the windward outside piling and quickly tie to it with a line with a round-and-two-half-hitches knot.

The boat may then be motored, against the wind if necessary, and held along that side of the slip, when this windward line is cleated before beam. Before entering the slip, cleat the line and stand by with sufficient free end running clear of boat obstructions.

Use neutral as "storage" gear when motor on while helmsman does a particular task.

Practice the docking plan in open water and plan for failure by accessing the consequences and what to do next in that event.

B. Raising & Lowering Sails
The most important consideration when raising and lowering sails is plotting a course that allows for completion of the procedure, while allowing additional searoom for mishaps in case something goes wrong.

Also, "not being overpowered" is crucial in terms of sail selection, i.e. reefing the main and reducing the jib, or even using a storm jib and/or bare poles.

Moreover, due to the possibility of being overpowered, it is very important to be able to get the mainsail down quickly in an emergency, since the mailsail is held at two sides, and when caught by strong wind, the control of the boat is taken as well.

Note that a sailboat’s helm is generally balanced so the boat points into the wind when the sails are luffing.

Before beginning, analyze the situation for likely problems. Practice good seamanship by examining the halyard’s control pathway for encumbrances. Have a winch handle handy in case needed.

Position the topping lift to hold the boom high enough when mainsail is down, but low enough not to interfere when mainsail is up. Once positioned, the topping lift can be left in place permanently.

1. Preparing Sails for Hoisting.
The mainsail halyard’s shackle, in particular, must be attached with great care–don’t lose the mainsail halyard upward, it cannot be easily retrieved.

Check halyards for fouling and, once attached to the mainsail, secure the halyard with a bungee or otherwise.

2. Hoisting Mainsail and Jib.
The conventional method is to point and motor into the eye of the wind until the mainsail is raised, and then the jib.

Sometimes it is necessary to winch the mainsail to the very top for a good sail shape.

On some boats the halyard leads back to the cockpit where stops are provided to secure the halyard. Otherwise, the halyard is secured on a mast cleat where it is raised.

An alternative method is to raise the jib first and sail on the jib while raising the main. This is essentially the same method used as when jiffy reefing–the main is let out to where it luffs freely before being raised.

In cases where the boat has good weather helm, another method is to raise sails while the boat sits pointed into the wind.

3. Lowering Mainsail and Jib.
As mentioned, to prevent being overpowered, be able to take the main down quickly.

The most likely problem is the halyard failing to run free from an uncoiled line or a line running from the bottom, not top, of a coiled line.

Plan so the boat lays over to allow working room on the desirable side of the top of the cabin. Have the hatch closed.

Have a sailtie stuffed in your belt or otherwise.

Practice quickly pulling the mainsail down, knocking any wind out of it, and rolling the mainsail inside itself from single position and securing it on top of the boom with a single sailtie.

The procedure for lowering sails is basically the reverse of hoisting.

Note that a jib can often be lowered with the sheet tight to prevent the sail from going overboard. In light air, the jib can even be lowered when running.

4. Reefing Main.
Learn how to reef quickly and effectively before need arises.

The procedure is the same as previously described: point and motor into the wind or sail close-hauled on jib while luffing main.

Drop the main halyard past the reefing point.

Tighten the jiffy reefing line (or tie leech reefing cringle down and back with a line).

Some boats: take out sail slides, reset stop and/or attach luff cringle to reefing hook

Re-hoist main halyard.

In a storm, the main can be dropped entirely and the boat "sailed" on bare poles.

Also, a storm jib may be used in strong wind.

Practice the use of safety harness (used in cockpit at night on transits) and jack lines, especially to go on foredeck in bad weather to change jib.

C. Pure Sailing

1. Sailing as a series of control stages

Fundamental: sailing in relation to eye of wind

Eye is true wind; apparent wind is vectored forward by boat`s own speed-created wind

Importance of maintaining a course

2. Changing course

Coming about-bow comes through the eye of the wind

Coming about commands/sequence:
captain-"ready to come about"
crew: "ready" (attends jib sheets)
captain: "hard alee" (moves tiller/wheel over)
crew: (releases jib sheet on drawing side and pulls in and tightens up on new side)

Jybing-stern moves through the eye of the wind

Jybing commands/sequence:
captain-"ready to gybe"
crew: "ready" (attends jib sheets)
captain: "gybe oh" (moves tiller/wheel over)
crew: (releases jib sheet on drawing side and pulls over to new side)


Figure 8 exercise-understanding points of sail

Circle exercise-understanding close-hauled v. running

Series of quick tacks & jibes-confidence at the tiller

3. Safety issues

Danger of accidental jibe

Danger when boom on same quarter as wind

Keeping out of boom path

Use of preventer

Centering main while keeping same relation to eye of wind

Danger of accidental tack

Be vigilant when oncoming traffic

Correct helm and/or release backwinded jib sheet

If tack, choice of coming up or 360′ turn

4. The captain`s overview

Helmsman`s 3 fold job-monitoring helm, traffic & depth

Balancing the helm

Steering by mainsheet with helm tied down

Release mainsheet if puff (temporary overpowering) threatens accidental tack

Single handing exercise-the captain does it all

D. "Driving" Boat in Traffic, ie Aspects of Navigation

1. Rules of Road: Who has the right of way?

Large ships over recreational boats

Overtaken over overtaking

Direction must be less than 22 1/2′ abaft beam

Uncommanded, constrained, fishing (except trolling)

Sail over motor

Where both under sail:

Starboard over port

Tack determined by boom position

Leeward over windward when on same tack

Where both motor (sails down = motor), boat on right is stand-on (like cars)

2. Safe driving

Using "lanes"

Avoiding accidental tacking

Giving a clear sign when "stand-on"

Heading for other boat`s stern when "give- way" in crossing situations

Announce rule when close

Decrease own boat speed when overtaking too fast

Keep watch under deck-sweeping foresail

Collision course when other boat seen on constant heading over time, i.e one o’clock

3. Night lights indicate-right-of-way

-direction of travel at night

-type of boat or activity

Note basic pattern below: 135’+225’=360′; arc split at bow (0′) by colors denoting sides of boat and

at 22 1/2′ abaft beam separating front from back when approached at night, eg boat as lighthouse

a. Sailboat lights

Running lights: green on starboard, red on port

From head on to 22 1/2′ abaft beam on each side

Coupled with white light (covering 135′) on stern

Steaming light-white light (225′ from front) halfway up mast when under power

Anchor light-360’white light at top of mast

b. Power boats-in addition to running lights above

Power boats have 360′ white light on stern

Larger power boats have 360′ masthead white light

c. Other

Fishing boat-red above white vertical 360′ lights

Towing-2 masthead white vertical lights plus 135’yellow towing light above stern light

Police boat-flashing blue light

d. Interpretation

White light only indicates stern of overtaken boat; give way as overtaking boat

Both green & red indicate head-on; bear off to starboard and pass on port side

A green light indicates a crossing boat from the port side, you have right-of-way

A red light indicates a crossing boat from the starboard side, they have right-of-way

A red or green light only indicates a sailboat under sail; a power boat will also show white

If in doubt, give other boat plenty of room

E. Anchoring and Mooring.

1. Anchoring.

Cruise slowly through anchorage once to check out. See the overall pattern and where the empty slots are located.

Do not anchor in channel.

If in crowded anchorage, ask adjacent boats their scope & put out same scope

Scope = depth of water x length of anchor rode

Determine scope to be used and measure rode length required ahead & cleat off rode at that point.

String rode so it goes directly from chock to anchor.

Can string anchor to be dropped directly from cockpit

Dropping anchor

Determine anchor drop point, approach from leeward

Drop anchor slowly rather than throwing

For Danforth anchor, orient so flukes will dig in

Let wind or motor move boat slowly backwards

Feed out rode slowly while keeping rode tight

Set anchor by powering up against rode

Raising anchor

Have motor on

Pull up by hand, or use motor, to pull rode & boat up to drop point

Recleat anchor at drop point & motor over anchor, if needed to break anchor free

Clean anchor by dipping over the side or cleaning with long handled brush and bucket as coming up & on deck

Secure anchor & rode as unsecured anchor may shift on deck & rode may go overboard to foul prop

2. Mooring.
Approach from downwind. Shorten the dinghy painter. Chose a mooring with a like monohull boat due to general swing characteristics.

Make sure the boat doesn’t run over the mooring so as to foul the propeller with the pennant line.

Use boathook to pick up pennant. Attach pennant end loop to cleat.

When approaching, plan for the bow to fall off in the wind to a general direction. Plan that approach with the boat’s "prop walk" and bow swing characteristics used to maximize effective time to pick up the pennant.

Also useful, make a large bowline, slip boating hook in knot, crew hangs over shroud, holds loop open, catches pennant or mooring chain if pennant is missing.

Put easily released slipline through eye and secure to bow cleat.