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the basics of sailing
yacht rigs
hoisting sail
points of the wind
apparent wind
first time yacht cruising
getting into crewing
docking without tears
docking broadside to wind
line handling
sailing knots
anchoring tips
how to kedge


first time cruising
John de Frayssinet (Yachting Life Editor)

Once you have learnt to drive your boat in approximately the right direction for most of the time, it is likely that you may be inspired to make your first sea passage.

The object of that passage is to arrive at your destination without drowning. As sailing is a leisure sport, it is also likely that you may hope to enjoy yourself. To achieve this, it is most important that you put to sea in a boat that is capable of withstanding the rigours likely to be met during the voyage. Be brutally honest with yourself ó was your boat ever intended to go out so sea? If it was, have you maintained it in such a condition to do so safely?

It is essential to ensure that your boat is structurally sound. If you have a small leak while quietly riding at anchor, you can be confident that it will become a raging torrent at sea. Make sure that all your deck fittings are well secured and that the load is spread over a large area by pads under deck.

Electrical circuits on yachts and motor cruisers are a continual source of trouble. Corrosion on all contacts must be kept at bay and no wiring should ever be allowed to languish in the darker corners of the bilge. Always carry spare fuses and bulbs, and check navigation lights before you leave.

Engines are not everybodyís strongest point, including myself. (I do know that mine is painted blue and makes a lot of noise under the bridge-deck). One is supposed to have these things serviced at regular intervals and before putting out to sea, it is most important that your machinery is in perfect working order and that stern-glands are properly packed.


make sure that boat motors, inboard or out work well

If your boat relies on a single engine alone, it is much better to put to sea in company with another boat, and you must be able to carry out running repairs yourself ó so carry a good tool kit and spares. Please try to ensure that the wrench (spanner) set you buy fits the nuts etc. on your engine.

Sailing boats must have all standing and running rigging examined. If anything at all looks a bit dicey, replace it. A series of small breakages at sea can be bloody frightening. Always carry sufficient cordage to replace a sheet should it break, and a few spare blocks and shackles are a necessity. Some form of tool kit is also necessary, as all threads on shackles jam solid when you most need them undone.

Never go to sea unless you are able to easily reduce sail area. Does your reefing work properly, and does the storm jib really fit?

Equally important as your boat is the choice of crew you make. If you are a newcomer to the sport, it is likely that the friends you wish to take with you are also novices. The bad part about this is that they are as bad at sailing as you are and, worse, they know only too well that you know no more than they do. Without question, the first spot of bother you get there is bound to be a rather nasty argument, and your friendís wife will then lock herself in the loo for the rest of the trip...I know...believe me!

For heavenís sake, for your first few trips, take someone who has had a reasonable amount of experience. Pride has no place at sea.

The next thing is to decide where to go. Decide how far you think you can sail your boat easily in a day, and then halve it. That will be more than enough. Do not attempt anything too demanding upon your navigation skills for a start. Assuming that you have at least learnt the theory of pilotage, things have a tendency to look very different when you actually get out there.

Do not forget that you will want to get ashore at the other end, so take a suitable dinghy with you unless you are absolutely certain of a marina berth or launch service. Most crew, even novice ones, leave rubber burn marks on the cabin sole in their rush to get to the pub before you have barely finished mooring up.

Some basic items of safety equipment must be carried. This includes a full pack of emergency flares, including red rockets and flares, orange smoke and white flares, two life-buoys -- one, preferably, with a flashing light. A suitable buoyancy aid with whistle should be carried for each member of crew on board and on a sailing boat, at least two safety harnesses. The list of new safety items grows by the day, and most are certainly potentially useful. It is very easy to get over-enthusiastic about this sort of thing but unless you intend to go a long way in any weather, many of these are not essential.


see that you have adequate safety gear always near

Good ground tackle should always be given top priority. Make sure that the anchor and chain is of sufficient size. On anything but very small boats, carry a spare.

Navigation equipment can be simple. Charts, including a reasonable area around your intended route, tide table, dividers and parallel rule, sighting compass and, of course, the trusty GPS. A good pair of binoculars can help.

Once you are satisfied that you are suitably equipped, and have fixed a provisional date for your trip, make sure that you have a good idea of the weather trend. Listen to the forecast for a couple of days before. If the weather is likely to blow more than about force four, do not go. If you have to contend with rough conditions as well as find where you are, problems have been known to arise. Should your intended destination be in the opposite direction to the wind, forget it and go some where else. Beating can be tiring and unpleasant in a blow and it is possible that the windward performance of your cruiser is not that good, anyway. However the most important reason is that until you get used to it tacking is very disorientating and makes navigation extremely difficult.

Always take sufficient warm clothing with you, and several changes. Make sure that you have good Ďoiliesí on board and, of course, do not forget sleeping bags. You may not intend to stay on board but, should you run aground, you could be spending a very cold night without one.


you can spend a long night on the putty

Food is a very important consideration and should always be more than considered adequate ó people can turn into absolute pigs on board. Do not rely on cooking while under way for the first few trips, as this can take a bit of practice. Pack sandwiches and flasks. Avoid the pitfall of turning your boat into a floating boozer.

If you feel that you or a crew member has a tendency to sea sickness it is worth taking one of the many pills or patches for this condition, about an hour before sailing. Should this affliction still hit you, go up on deck and do something. Do not stop eating as It Is much easier to be sick on a full stomach ... Do not forget that some of these pills can make you feel drowsy, and can be dangerous when mixed with alcohol.

Finally, before you leave, tell the coastguard. Alternatively, give them a ring. If you change plans, for Lordís sake do not forget to tell them, and always phone once you have arrived.

Pick your departure time to work the tide, if at all possible, and make sure that there is sufficient water at the other end when you expect to get there. Perhaps you may have half a chance to have a good trip if you have the odds stacked in your favour for a start.

Donít panic!

Many first passages end in disappointment for their participants. This can be for a number of reasons. Often, the excitement of preparing for a new experience tends to create an anti-climax later on. Quite often one or two things go wrong and the novice will at once panic and make the wrong decision If it is any comfort, many yachtsmen never learn not to panic This sort of behaviour is very likely to get the rest of the crew up tight as well, and that is the end of a beautiful friendship.

Always try to stay relaxed and calm. Should things begin to go wrong, think first, before rushing around like a motorized Action Man.

Navigation can very easily go wrong. On a hot sunny day it is only too easy to be lulled into a false sense of security, and the next thing you know, you are either lost or aground. Always remain alert while on watch. It may be the first time that you have encountered large shipping. Do not expect them to get out of your way if they see you at all, that is.

Should problems arise, or the weather deteriorates, use discretion about continuing your trip. If you are genuinely worried, it is always better to head for the nearest safe anchorage rather than risk something silly.


safe arrival and time to relax

If that first trip comes your way, no amount of preparation will substitute for plain, good. old, commonsense. If you take plenty of that with you, enjoy the trip ó the chances are that you will.