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the basics of sailing
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getting into crewing
docking without tears
docking broadside to wind
line handling
sailing knots
anchoring tips
how to kedge


docking without tears

John de Frayssinet (Yachting Life Editor)

TIDE IS EBBING, and there is little water left over the sill into the marina. In comes your average fibreglass bilge-keeler, doused sails aflogging at a speed that would put C class cats to shame. Father shouts something inaudible over the engine, and waves his arms around, while wife and child stumble around deck, searching for fenders and mooring warps. Progress towards the pontoon is executed in a series of Olympic slaloms as our skipper thrusts his gear­box from ahead to astern at full throttle.

The fateful moment is soon to arrive — white faces appear from companionways on all sides, the more bold and, of course, immediate neighbours, rush to the finger like Ramsgate Home Guards waiting for the German invasion. Wife has now retrieved the boat-hook, and is poised upon the speeding bow, pointing the gaff end towards the crowd like an aquatic medieval jouster.

There is little opportunity to propound at the bar when, only a few minutes ago, you treated your audience to such a fine saga. Mooring is an art form in its own right but, with a little care and practice, reliably boring uneventful results can be achieved.

More and more boats find their way into marinas and, in such places, one can rest assured of a large audience — - so let’s get it right first time.

Long before you arrive — think. Is the wind going to blow you onto or off your pontoon, or will you be pushed up your chuff, hard into the jetty? Some marinas, such as Port Hamble and Wallasea in the UK, can have a goodly tide running through them, so allow for that too.

You will know which side of your boat will come alongside the pontoon, so drape your fenders out and make sure that they are at the right height. Have at least one fender out the other side, just in case.

Mooring warps should be made ready: cleated at one end, led through the fairleads and back onto deck over the lifelines. Make sure that they are well coiled and, if necessary, can be thrown. Clear decks of sails, if possible, before you reach the harbour mouth and call the crew to the cockpit, and explain, clearly, what you intend to do, and how they are to help you. Now you have the odds in your favour.

Entry into the marina should be made at very slow speed, just enough to give you accurate steerage-way. If necessary, disengage gears to slow further. Approach your berth and lose further way by a touch astern. Have one of your crew standing on the toerail outside the life- lines, holding a coiled mooring line so, once you have reached the berth, he will be able to step ashore at ease and make fast.

All boats handle differently under power. A twin engined motor cruiser can turn on her axis and stop on a dime. Many single engined craft are unable to manoeuvre properly astern, due to propeller bias. Keel shape will also affect handling, a long keel giving a greater turning circle than a fin. To turn some boats hard around, it is necessary to give a burst of throttle when hard ahelm, while many designs will slew their stern to one side under sudden power. It is absolutely necessary to know the capabilities of your own boat under power, so before you come back home, PRACTICE in a quiet backwater where no one will be looking. Discover how much way she makes and how quickly you can stop her by going astern.

When mooring alongside a pontoon or another boat, always use a spring line as well as bow and stern, to prevent fore and aft movement, If you moor in a marina, do not be tempted to leave your lines tied to your berth. It might be easy to throw them off when you leave, but it is much harder to get them on board again. Anyway, someone else is bound to trip over them.

Leaving your moorings is generally easier but, again, before throwing off think. Let the wind help you by letting off bow or stern lines first. If conditions are difficult, manoeuvre by using warps —— almost a lost art these days.

Coming in under sail can be rather difficult and tends to give harbour-masters apoplexy, so do not do it unless you have to. Again, sail in under either main or jib — not both. I would favour jib, as while it flogs around much more, it is easy to drop and is not going to clout anything else. Have a plastic bucket tied to a lanyard, ready to drop over the side, For small boats it is the ultimate brake.

If you have a mizzen or a bowsprit, do not leave them hanging over the pontoon to brain other people.

Buoys will be buoys

If you are going to pick up a mooring, life is very much simpler. An accurate assessment of wind and tide is necessary and, if other boats are moored nearby, notice the direction in which they are lying Some mooring buoys have a line attached that can be brought up on board and made fast. This makes life easy. but never trust someone else’s line so. once you are moored, use one of your own in addition. If no line is attached to the buoy then, in good time, cleat a bow line and run it through the stem head fit­ting or fairlead. Once the buoy loop is caught by the boat-hook, it is necessary to get that line through and back on board as soon as possible.

Approach the buoy in the same direction as the other moored boats are laying, at very slow speed, bring her to a stop and hold her nose in position until your crew has safely made fast. If you come in under sail, approach the buoy from leeward and head her hard into the wind to lose way. If wind conditions are light and the current strong, it might be necessary to drift down with the tide, and you might very well only have one chance.

Remember, do not expect your crew to catch and hold the buoy unless you really have lost all way. If your boat is equipped with a bowsprit, ensure that the mooring line will not foul the bobstay. In some crowded tidal moorings, helms are lashed to port, starboard or amidships. When sailing by other craft, find out which is correct so that your boat will swing in a similar fashion. Finally, make sure that the buoy you pick up is suitable for a craft of your size and, unless you are prepared for a grounding, that you have sufficient water under you. Do not moor alongside a much larger or smaller boat, or there might be a collision when the tide turns, and make sure that you have not stolen someone else’s buoy!

Anchoring is becoming rather a lost art. Many boat owners do not bring out their anchor from one year to the next and, last year, I must confess mine was one of them! However, this is no excuse for carrying bad ground tackle, thrown into an inaccessible corner of a locker. Cruising boats should have their ground tackle ready for use at any time.

Choice of anchor can be confusing, but several good modern digger anchors are easily available such as the COR, Danforth or Meon. Under no circumstances would I ever buy a fisherman anchor, as they are heavy, awkward in shape and very inefficient. The CQR anchor can be more difficult to stow than a flat anchor.

Get stuck in

Yachts should carry at least two anchors, the bower and kedge. It is difficult to lay down hard and fast rules on anchor size, as windage varies from boat to boat. Expert advice for your type of craft should always be taken.

While more traditional yachtsmen still favour only anchor chain, in my opinion, it is noisy, too heavy and places unnecessary strains on the yacht. However, modern anchors maintain their hold on the bottom, only so long as the shank is lying parallel to the bottom, Chain is therefore absolutely necessary at the anchor to weight down the shank.

The remaining length of warp should be synthetic.

Choice of chain and rope size is also difficult. As an example, for a 30ff sailing yacht, I would use 6 fathoms of 5/1 6in chain and 1ins or 2ins circum. nylon warp (about 30 fathoms) for coastal cruising.

All shackles should be adequate in size, and well fastened and seized with thin wire. For Heaven’s sake, make sure that the bitter end is well fastened to the boat!

Before anchoring, it is important to have some idea of the type of bottom. Mud and hard sand are good holding ground, whilst shingle and soft sand are not. Care must be taken to drop anchor where there is no chance of fouling other tackle. This is not always so easy in a crowded anchorage, but never drop anchor in among permanent moorings.

After selecting the spot to drop anchor, approach it in much the same way as you would approach a mooring buoy. When all way is lost, drop anchor and let the yacht gradually drop back, and pay out warp. The length of warp payed out will vary with conditions. As a general rule, the ‘scope’ should be about three times the maximum depth of water. Additional holding power can be obtained by increasing the scope.

Once the correct scope is laid, it can help holding power, by putting the yacht gently in reverse and tensioning the tackle until the anchor is well buried and the yacht makes no more way.

Remember, when the tide turns, the yacht will swing around, so make sure that you are clear of obstructions. Once anchoring is completed, check that you are not dragging, by taking two fixes on the shore and watching for the next hour.

In severe conditions it might be necessary to reinforce your anchor with another. A second anchor placed at an angle of about 15 degrees to the first will greatly increase holding power.

Breaking Out anchor can be hard work without a winch. Slowly drive your yacht forward and let the crew pull in the scope. Once the yacht is over the anchor, the shank will be pulled vertically and will withdraw fairly easily.

Finally, it is absolutely no use mooring your boat to anything, unless your deck fittings are of adequate size and are well fastened. All fittings should be through-bolted, and the load spread over a large area by pads under the deck.

Recently a brand new, rather expensive sailing yacht was wrecked one day after launching, when the stem head fixing fell off. It’s a pity we can’t trust all pricey boat builders.