Why Knot?

I have been accused of being the resident Tradewinds knot geek, and sadly, I think it’s probably true, however, that doesn’t lessen the importance of being able to tie certain knots.  As a sailor, being able to tie certain knots is critical, possibly even life saving.

Here’s a little basic terminology for you.  Knots fall into three general categories.

  1. Hitches are knots that attach a line to something else.  For example, a cleat hitch attaches a line to a cleat.
  2. Bends attach lines to other lines.  A great example is a sheet bend that joins two lines end to end.
  3. Knots (I know, this is a little weird … one of the categories of knots is knots).  Knots are pretty much anything else, typically loops, binding knots, and knobs, the most common example being a reef knot, which joins the two ends of the same line together to “bind” something (like the sail to the boom) in place.

So, what knots do you really need to know as a sailor?   This is just one sailor talking, however, here is my opinion, listed pretty much in the order of the frequency I use them.  There are six knots that are “must knows” and a couple of other nice to knows.

  1. Cleat Hitch.  It’s a rare sail that I don’t tie at least one cleat hitch.  Even at Tradewinds docks where we leave dock lines at the dock for most of the boats, I find myself using cleat hitches.  I use them at other docks, at the pump out station, and on the boat to secure spring lines during docking.
  2. Figure Eight Knot.  This is one of those “knobs” I mentioned earlier.  It puts a knob in the end of the line to act as a stopper.  I’m always amazed when I get on a boat how many of the sheets and lines that need a stopper don’t have them.
  3. Bowline.  Another knot, this in the form of a temporary loop.  Practice this one a lot, because you should be able to tie it in the dark, using only one hand, while hanging upside down in a locker.  You should be able to tie small loops and loops that are 10 feet in diameter (There is an easy trick to it.  If you  are in the office and want to know how, just ask me).
  4. Round Turn with Two Half Hitches.  The two half hitches are the actual knot.  The round turn part just means you wrap the line around whatever you are attaching it to one and a half times.  This knot is invaluable for attaching fenders and hanging coils of line.
  5. Sheet Bend.  It doesn’t happen often, but there are times when you need to join two lines together.  This is the best knot to use.  You can also use the same knot to join the bitter end of a line to a loop in the end of another line.  In this case it’s called a becket bend, however, it’s the same knot.
  6. Rolling Hitch.  I love this one.  Don’t need it often, but when you do it might save some money.  Use it to attach the end of a line to the middle of another line and grab hold so you can pull.  The first time I used it, the boat’s skipper was opening a knife to cut a jib sheet that was “hopelessly” overwrapped on a winch.  The rolling hitch allowed me to get enough slack to undo the overwrap.  At more than a dollar a foot for line, cutting a jib sheet can get expensive.  I also works great for attaching a snubber to an anchor rode.

That’s it for my “must know” knots.  Some “nice to know’s” are the clove hitch, the truckers hitch, and the heaving knot.  And then there are the “cool to know” knots like the Running Turks Head, Monkey Fist, Solomon’s Bar and Constrictor Knot.

If you are interested in learning, re-learning, or practicing any of these knots, stop by.


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Stay Safe on Deck!

Those of you that have been in class with me know how paranoid I am regarding being safe on deck.  Some examples are; always kneel instead of standing, always stay put until the boat is done with whatever maneuver is in process, always hang on.  A friend recently had an experience at the dock that points out some of the reasons I am as paranoid around the dock as I am.  Here is the story, in his own words.

Hi Don,

Here is the write-up of this very scary incident from our otherwise very enjoyable day sail yesterday.   You are welcome to use this note in any way you feel will benefit the Club.   And you are also welcome to edit the note as you see fit.

Regards, Gene

I had a VERY CLOSE CALL yesterday.   It is very easy to be lulled into assuming that just because your boat is securely tied-up in your slip, that all is SAFE.

After returning from a most invigorating sail, and with my boat securely tied-up in my slip, my friend, in an attempt to be helpful, decided to wash-down the boat (before we ate lunch).   I called him off so we could enjoy our picnic in a dry boat.   As he was getting back aboard he slipped and fell into the water between the boat and the dock!   I was below when it happened and I heard this horrible “thud.”   I called out to see what had happened and apparently none of my other 3 guest saw him go down.   It took several seconds to ascertain that someone had gone overboard. Fortunately, he was not physically injured. But were it not his LUCKY DAY, he could just as easily have hit his head on the dock, or broken an arm or leg, or, had the wind not been steady, crushed between the dock and the boat as the boat shifted in the slip.

So here is a bit of analysis of what happened.   The hull was wet from the wash down. And there were 4 people aboard, moving around getting things ready for a picnic lunch.   My friend told me he was NOT holding onto the handrail as he boarded, but rather, had intended to grab the handrail atop the dodger.   As he stepped off the stair onto the boat, reaching out for the dodger grab rail, the boat shifted, he missed, slipped, lost his balance and fell backwards.

After thinking about this very close call I have identified some lessons I hope you will be able to use…

  1. As at any time underway, the old adage “One Hand for the Boat: One Hand for You,” should apply equally when anyone boards or departs your vessel.
  2. There is an easy, secure and safe way of getting on and off my boat.   I will forevermore show EVERYONE that method before anyone gets on the boat. The key is that one should be holding onto a secure hand-hold on the boat when transitioning from the dock to the boat or back to the dock.
  3. There should be NO HURRY in removing your life vest, even after your boat is secure in your berth.
  4. No wash-down until everyone is off the boat – the very LAST step in securing the boat!
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I Love Classes That Make You Think! Part II

We left the previous installment of I Love Classes That Make You Think! wondering how long one needs to run the motor in order to recharge batteries that have been in use while at anchor.  That actually brings up a whole other topic.  Calculating electrical consumption, battery capacities, and battery charging.  Sadly, I’m not enough of an expert to turn this into a true technical discussion, so this tip includes a few assumptions and is more of a layperson’s guide to battery usage and charging while at anchor and on charter.

Personally, I believe the first things you need to know are how many batteries, what are their sizes, and how is the system set up.  The only way to get this information on a charter is to ask the charter company.  Then, double check what you have been told.  In Part I, we ended the tip while on a 42′ Catalina during a two week charter in the Sea of Cortez.  Let’s continue that discussion and see if we can approximate how long per day to run the motor in order to charge batteries back to a usable state.

A pretty common set up on this boat is three batteries.  Two set up as two separate house banks, and one as the starter and windlass bank.  Because the starter/windlass battery isn’t used much and should charge back up pretty quickly we won’t worry about it.  The house bank(s) on the other hand are well used while at anchor.  Every boat potentially has different batteries.  In this case lets assume there are two Group 8D AGM batteries rated at 225 amp hours, giving a total of 450 amps of capacity.  Unfortunately, you should never go below 50% of maximum charge, so you have about 225 amp available to you.  We have a starting point.  Now for consumption.

Here are some common devices and their consumption requirements while at anchor for 24 hours:

  • Anchor light … 0.8 Amps … 12 hours per day … 9.6 Daily amp-hours
  • Cabin Fan (two of them) … 0.2 Amps each … 6 hours each per day … 2.4 amp-hours
  • Cabin Light (three) … 2.1 Amps each … 4 hours each per day … 25.2 amp hours
  • Fresh water pump … 6 Amps … 5 min per day … .5 amp-hours
  • Refrigerator … 5 Amps … 12 hours per day … 60 amp-hours
  • Music player … 1 Amp … 6 hours per day … 6 amp-hours
  • Monitoring a SSB … 2.5 Amps … 1 hour per day … 2.5 amp-hours

This a pretty much a bare minimum while sitting at anchor, and so far we are at 106.2 amp-hours.  Let’s assume you do some sailing during the day.  You only run the motor for a few minutes to get out of the anchorage and back, sailing for 6 hours.

  • Depth sounder … 0.2 Amps … 6 hours per day … 1.2 Daily amp-hours
  • GPS … 0.5 Amps … 6 hours per day … 3 Daily amp-hours
  • Chart Plotter … 1 Amps … 6 hours per day … 6 Daily amp-hours
  • Radar … 4 Amps … 6 hours per day … 24 Daily amp-hours
  • Speed sensor … 0.1 Amps … 6 hours per day … 0.6 Daily amp-hours
  • Wind indicator … 0.8 Amps … 6 hours per day … 4.8 Daily amp-hours

This is another 39.6 amp-hours, making our total so far 145.8.

Now let’s add in a few luxury items.

  • TV … 3.5 Amps … 2 hours per day … 7 Daily amp-hours
  • Electric Head … 40 Amps … .3 hours per day … 12 Daily amp-hours
  • Microwave … 100 Amps … 6 minutes per day … 10 Daily amp-hours
  • Cell Phone … 2 Amps … 4 hours per day … 8 Daily amp-hours

Another 37 amp-hours, for a total of 182.8 amp-hours consumed over a 24 hour period.  This is well within our usable 225 Amp battery capacity!

Now all we have to do is charge the battery back up.  Based on our scenario, you are at about a little over 50% charge.  If you have an alternator rated at 120 Amp, that is the most output you are going to get.  With an alternator the maximum output is only achieved when the alternator is turning about 4,000 to 6,000 PPM.  If you are idling the motor at 700 RPM, the alternator is probably turning about 1,400 RPM, so you aren’t getting the full 120 amps.  At idle you might only be getting 40 to 80 Amps output from the alternator.  Let’s assume 60 amps.  You will get that output until the battery is about 75% charged.  After using 182.0 Amps of 450 total, it you will need to “add” back about 70 Amps to get to 75%.  Charging at 60 Amps, 70 minutes will get you there.  Now for the challenge.  At 75% capacity, the regulator is going to choke back the flow to the battery to the point it will take about 3 more hours to reach a full charge.  I think we have an answer.  To replace the 182 Amps used over 24 hours is going to require about 4 hours of charging.

Looking back to Part I.  Remember to add 4 hours of engine time to your fuel calculations.  At .55 GPH, that’s 2.2 gallons of fuel per day.

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I Love Classes That Make You Think! Part I

Today is Thursday and I have a bareboat class going as I write this. Class started Sunday and will continue next Saturday and Sunday. Last night I received an email from one of the students with a list of questions she had come to mind over the past few days. Each and every question was really good. Some were easy and are already in the lesson plan for the next two class days.  Others made me think.  The two questions that made me think the most are “What is the fuel burn rate to operation for the boat we will be taking?” and “How do you figure the estimated amps used vs. battery capacity and charging.”  My answers in the email; as to the first question, 3/4 to 1 gallon per hour; with the second question I tried a delaying action by saying “This answer is too long for an email.  We can talk about it in class.”  For 9 out of 10 people, these answers would have been good enough.  Not this time.  I was quite impressed when I got the next email asking for more in-depth information.  That’s how “a captain” approaches things.  So, for you captains out there, here is a more complete explanation.

Fuel Burn Rate:  Unless you happen to be in Death Valley, running out a gas in a car isn’t much more than inconvenient.  Running out of fuel in a boat puts the boat and everyone on board at risk.  Unfortunately, without an accurate fuel flow meter (not something most boats have) how much fuel you are using is a question that is always going to be a best guess.

In looking at the engine manual for a 50 horsepower motor found in many Catalina 42’s, fuel consumption rates are listed as varying from .55 to 1.3 gallons per hour.  A number of variables enter into the calculation.  Propeller pitch, revolutions per minute, wind, current, and waves are all factors.  Even the condition of the bottom is a major factor, meaning the same boat in the same relative conditions may consume more fuel per hour if the bottom hasn’t been cleaned in three months.  Over time, experience with a specific boat is going to give you a good idea of the normal fuel consumption for that boat.  For example, I crewed on a trip from Cabo San Lucas to San Francisco on a Catalina 42.  We found that we averaged .75 gallons per hour (GPH).  In that case, we were motor sailing close hauled at approximately 2700 RPM.  This was moving us nicely along at about 7 knots.  2700 PRM is a good cruising speed for that particular motor, so I would keep that part of the equation.  If you are not motor sailing, then add some consumption … how much I am not sure, however I would think .25 GPH might be a reasonable overestimation.  On that trip, we had some great conditions.  If things were a little “bumpier” maybe add another .25 GPH.  At this point, we are up to about 1.25 GPH, and I would be comfortable using that figure for most conditions on that specific boat.  Now, lets use that figure in something practical.  That same Catalina had a 48 gallon tank.  Always leave a reserve … in this case lets say 1/4 tank, or 12 gallons, giving us 36 gallons of usable fuel.  At 1.25 GPH, that allows motoring for 28.8 hours, at 7 knots a range of about 200 miles.

That works great if you are motoring straight through.  How about when you motor for a day, then sit at an anchorage for 3 or 4 days.  During the time in the anchorage you run the motor to charge batteries.  Maybe that’s where the .55 GPH comes in.  If so, don’t forget to count that time when figuring range.  So let’s say you anchor 8 days over a two week bareboat charter, running the motor 3 hours a day to charge your batteries (whether or not that’s enough is the topic of “Part II.”)  You just lost about 13 gallons of your 36 available gallons, meaning you only have about 23 gallons available to use.  A range of approximately 130 miles.

How does all this work in real life?  I love Mexico.  Chartering out of La Paz is outstanding.  A great plan is to go as far north as Agua Verde, about 100 miles away.  I hope you have good wind, because if not, given the above numbers you are going to be pretty much out of fuel about 70 miles short coming home.  I know, I know, that extra 12 gallons of reserve will get you 67 of those miles.  Close but no cigar.  You are still out of fuel.  And you are taking a chance on sucking all sorts of nasty stuff (like algae and water) off the bottom of the tank, clogging the fuel filters and possibly the injectors, meaning a sizable repair bill.

Even on a day sail all of this is good stuff to know.  Always check your fuel level.  I would recommend not trusting the gauge.  Always check the tank itself.  Know how much fuel you are starting with and an estimate of your hourly consumption.  I like to use 3/4 GPH for the Bronze diesel powered boats, 1 GPH for the Silver Fleet boats, and 1.25 GPH for Gold Fleet boats.

Be safe out there.  As a friend of mine likes to say, there are three types of sailors.  Beginning sailors … paranoid sailors … and retired sailors.  A little paranoia regarding fuel consumption is not a bad thing.

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Hypothermia on San Francisco Bay is a very real danger.  Sailing in the cold wet conditions of San Francisco Bay can and will result in hypothermia if proper steps are not taken.  Recognizing the symptoms and understanding first aid treatment options may be the difference between an enjoyable sail and tragedy.

Before going too far, understand that I am not a doctor.  The stages, symptoms, and treatments talked about here are commonly accepted as accurate, however, seeking professional expertise is always a good idea.  As part of your sailing education, I encourage everyone to seek first aid training from qualified organizations and individuals.

There are three degrees of hypothermia, mild, moderate, and severe.

With mild hypothermia, the body’s internal temperature has dropped to 95 degrees or below.  The most visible symptoms include shivering, mental confusion, and mild muscle “miss-coordination.”  The person may be having trouble speaking.  At this stage, the body is still able to warm itself, so first aid treatment should be focused on helping the body do just that.  Shelter from the cold, warm dry clothing, warm liquids, and staying active are great examples.  I personally carry four blankets anytime I sail just for that purpose.  Alcohol and caffeinated drinks should never be given.

Moderate hypothermia is indicated when the body’s core temperature has dropped below 90 degrees.  Shivering has progressed to violent shivering and there is a distinct lack of muscle coordination, including speech.  The surface blood vessels contract.  The person becomes pale, with lips, ears, fingers, and toes possibly turning blue.  The body may no longer be able to warm itself, and requires external assistance.  As with mild hypothermia, a warm environment and warm dry clothes (or blankets) are the place to start.  However, with moderate hypothermia, application of external heat such as a heating blanket and warm water bottles placed in the armpits and groin will begin the rewarming process.  If nothing else is available, body to body contact while wrapped in blankets will help.  Now is not the time for gender concerns and modesty.  Liquids generally should not be given to someone suffering moderate hypothermia.  There lack of muscle coordination may have impacted their ability to swallow.

Severe hypothermia is the body’s internal temperature falling below 82 degrees.  Vital organs begin to shut down.  Symptoms include difficulty speaking, sluggish thinking, amnesia, an inability to walk normally, and perform normal hand dexterity functions.  The person may lose consciousness.  It can be very difficult to find a pulse on a severely hypothermic person.  Treatment obviously includes all of the first aid steps appropriate to moderate hypothermia, however, you must get the person immediate emergency medical treatment!

Here’s one last thought.  The water temperature on San Francisco Bay averages about 50 to 60 degrees depending upon the time of year.  In 50 degree water, death can occur in as little as 1 hour.  The beginning stages of hypothermia happen after just a few minutes.  If anybody should fall overboard while sailing, by the time you get them recovered, you can assume at least mild hypothermia.  Begin first aid treatment right away … even if they say it isn’t needed.

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Rule 16 vs. Rule 17


Please accept my apologies for this small “pet peeve” on my part.  Stand on means stand on … give way means give way!

Rule 16 states “Every vessel which is directed to keep out of the way of another vessel shall, so far as possible, take early and substantial action to keep well clear.”

I’m not sure what it is about the words early and substantial that seems to confound boaters, however, I am always amazed at how late and how small the course change that is made to avoid is!  Please make your course changes obvious, and early enough that I don’t have to wonder if you see me and are going to make the required course change!

Rule 17 states “(a) (i) Where one of two vessels is to keep out of the way, the other shall keep her course and speed.

(ii) The latter vessel may, however, take action to avoid collision by her maneuver alone, as soon as it becomes apparent to her that the vessel required to keep out of the way is not taking appropriate action in compliance with these Rules.”

In other words stand on your course and speed until it is apparent a collision will result if you don’t … as the give way vessel I am counting on you to do so!  Being “a nice guy” and giving way when you are the stand on vessel is not only confusing to everyone else, it’s a violation of Rule 17.


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I Can’t Hear You!!!

Sailing is such a peaceful and quiet sport … except when it isn’t.  Unfortunately, when it isn’t quiet nobody can hear anything!  For those situations, have hand signals set up.  At Tradewinds, everyone is taught to use hand signals while anchoring.  Some other common situations that might benefit from hand signals include:

  • Approaching a dock or slip
  • Sails that are luffing and/or over trimmed
  • Raising and lowering sails
  • Picking up a mooring

What hand signals you use is entirely up to you and your crew, however, they should be fairly straight forward and understandable.

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Your First Few Sails

Too often, the tips you read are directed towards experienced sailors trying to improve on their sailing skills.  It seems like tip writer’s forget about the new sailor.  Here are a few thoughts to consider during those first few very important sails.

Your day will not be enjoyable unless everybody on board is enjoying it.  Sail to the comfort level of the least comfortable person on board.

Dress for success.  As you may have already found during lessons, weather on the bay can vary greatly.  I’ve seen days in the winter where shirt sleeves are in order and days in the summer where crew members are getting hypothermic while dressed in sweaters.  Often, the temperature can start with one extreme and progress to the other.  Bring layers even if you don’t think you will need them.  My wife came up with a great idea awhile back.  She picked up four inexpensive fleece blankets which she rolled up and put in a reusable cloth grocery bag.  They fit perfectly, don’t weigh much, and are always available for the added little bit of comfort.  Throw in a couple pairs of warm gloves and you are set.

Don’t be afraid to sail under mainsail alone, at least for the first couple of hours.  If you are a new skipper, chances are very good your crew has even less experience than you do.  Adding in a jib creates complexity.  When you do, your crew needs to handle sheets and winches, which will probably be a bit intimidating the first few times.

There are five sailing maneuvers I recommend you practice every time you go sailing.  Tack, jibe, crew overboard recovery, reef, and heave to.  Start with doing several tacks to get yourself and your crew used to being on board.  Once you are comfortable, do a few jibes.   If you are sailing under just the main, this will be the first time your crew will need to handle any lines.  Make sure your crew has gloves on.  Take your time and be safe.  Doing a crew overboard recovery is simpler with just the main.  After you have your jib deployed, put in a reef and heave to.  This doesn’t have to be done the first time out if you (or your crew) are not comfortable with more than just the main.

First and foremost … have fun.  You are going to make mistakes.  Don’t beat yourself up when they happen, however, make your mistakes safe ones.  For example, everybody keeps their head down at all times.  Practice the first few jibes in protected areas with light air.

Every time you go out stretch your skills.  Start in well protected areas.  Once you are comfortable find more challenging conditions.  Make a few “safe mistakes” then tuck back into the well protected area to learn from them.  Ask yourself two questions; “what did I do well” and “what could I do differently next time.”

Here is a thought … everyone has a “comfort zone,” a “learning zone,” and a “panic zone.”  You have to get out of your comfort zone to learn.  If you go past your learning zone you get into the panic zone and nobody learns anything.

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Lifeline Pelican Hooks

Here’s a tip from the maintenance crew.

Don’t leave the life lines laying on the deck when you leave.  They are a tripping hazard, and if you step on them they damage the gel coat on the deck or bend the pelican hook requiring replacement.  Instead, attach them in their proper location or “hang” them from the lifeline itself.

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Planning for Currents

Are you ever curious about what is happening, current wise, at any given time and location on the bay?  There is a great tool on pages 48 through 60 of the Tide & Current Tables.  To use it, you need four pieces of information:

  1. The current velocity in knots of the maximum flood or ebb
  2. The time before or after the maximum flood or ebb
  3. The Factor for Correcting Speeds found in the table on page 48
  4. Speed in Knots taken from the appropriate chart found on pages 49 through 60

Here is an example:

You plan to leave Marina Bay at about 11:00 on Thursday December 18, and sail to Angel Island.  What currents can you expect as you are crossing from the Potrero Reach to Angel Island?

A maximum ebb of 4.3 knots is predicted to occur at 13:07 at the Golden Gate on Thursday December 18, 2014.  Which means your crossing will take place approximately 2 hours before max ebb.

The Factor for Correcting Speeds table on page 48 indicates if the predicted current is between 4.3 and 4.7, you have a Factor of 1.0 to use as a multiplier in the next step.

Turning to the chart titled Two Hours Before Maximum Ebb at Golden Gate, you find a “Speed in Knots” of 1.6  The current you can expect during your crossing is 1.6 x 1.0, or approximately 1.6 knots, moving from right to left as you cross.  Put in other terms, during the 20 plus minutes it will take you to cross, expect to move over a half mile off of your course to the left of your destination.

Here is another thought.  About the time you can expect to arrive in Ayala Cove (One hour before max ebb) expect a 2.5 knot (look it up using the charts) current through Raccoon Straight.  A good piece of that ebb is going to get “caught” on the point of land on the West side of Ayala Cove, and swirl back under the docks from right to left as you approach the slips.  It’s going to be an interesting docking … be prepared for it.

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