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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Plan Ahead

If you didn’t think about it 10 minutes ago, you waited too long.

Actually, certain things you should think about before you leave the slip.  Tradewinds procedures regarding checking fuel levels and rigging the main halyard before leaving are perfect examples.

Here’s another for you.  Is the anchor ready to deploy if needed.  Too often, I see someone look up at the bow from the cockpit then look at the stern pulpit, and announce to someone down below something like “Primary and secondary anchors, check.”  Instead, look at the anchor and ground tackle.  How is the anchor secured in the bow roller?  How is it deployed?  Test the windlass if it has one.  Does it have a control unit that is stowed somewhere (find it).  Where is the switch to turn the windlass on (usually on the DC panel, but not always)?  Where is the breaker (generally not on the DC panel) and has it been tripped?

I was on a boat recently (not a Tradewinds boat) where the owner had secured the anchor using a shackle through the anchor shackle.  He didn’t want it to accidently deploy.  The problem was that he had not used the anchor in years, and over time the shackle had rusted closed.  It took penetrating oil and two pairs of vise grips to get it undone.  Definitely not available for an emergency.

Have you every actually tried setting up the emergency tiller?  Did you know that many of them require a special “key” to open the emergency tiller port?  If so, where is that key stowed?

I’m a firm believer that if I’m ready for an emergency, it won’t happen.  Plan for those emergencies before you leave the slip!

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It’s All About Finesse

Have you noticed how the best sailors seem to put in the least effort!

I taught an Advanced Docking class a few weeks ago, and one of the class participants made a comment that showed a lot of insight!  “It’s more about finesse than force!”  That is so true.

When I first learned to do a fairway turn, the shifts came hard, fast, and furious and nearly always involved too much throttle which in turn led to another hard shift and too much throttle to correct.  As my skills have improved, I find myself only shifting a couple of times during the turn using just enough throttle to hold my position in the fairway.  As long as the boat is doing what I want (turning while staying in place) I do nothing.  I jokingly tell people that I’m basically a lazy person and don’t want to work any harder than I have to.

The same is true about every aspect of sailing.  During the first day or two of Basic Keel Boat, tacks are accompanied by knees, elbows, and arms flailing.  By day three, things happen much quicker and smoother.

The best “docker” knows exactly how far it takes to turn the boat and exactly how much speed is required for best rudder control.  Coming down the fairway, she sets the required speed and when she gets to the required turning point makes a simple easy turn.  Then, knowing when to go into reverse (most likely without added throttle) allows the boat to ease to a stop just before the end of the slip.

All of this requires you to know the boat.  How much speed is required to obtain rudder control in varying wind conditions?  How far does it take to turn the boat 90 degrees to port and/or starboard under varying conditions?  What are the effects of propeller rotation (prop walk and wash) in forward and reverse?  Start getting this knowledge during the check out on that boat.  But, that isn’t enough … every time you take a boat out practice a couple of basic maneuvers.  Test for minimum maneuvering speed, bring it to a stop, back it up, fairway turn to the right, fairway turn to the left, what happens in forward if you let go of the wheel (please don’t let go of the wheel while in reverse … bad things happen).  All of this will take only a couple of minutes.

One last thought.  Any time you see one of those sailors that make it look easy … WATCH!  You will learn so much, and before long, it is you others are watching!


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Where’s That Buoy?

You set out one fine morning for a day’s sail.  After arriving at the end of the Potrero Reach, you get your sails up and turn to a course of 214 magnetic (214M) because you know that is the direction of Raccoon Strait.  On that course you know from past trips there are a couple of buoys which you will pass about a quarter mile off to starboard, and one off to port about a half mile.  All is well in the world, and you commence to sailing and socializing.

What you didn’t take into consideration is the 1.4 knot ebb crossing your intended course at nearly right angles.  Even though your bow is pointed at 214M, the course made good is 200M.  You are pointed at clear water and Raccoon Straight, however, the boat is headed directly towards R “8” a very hard and unforgiving buoy!

Here’s a quick easy visual check to determine if you are on a collision course with “something”.  If that “something” … in this case the buoy … appears to be fixed in relationship to the background, you are headed straight for it.  If the background seems to be moving to one side of the buoy, you are going to pass on that same side.

With a bit of advance planning you would know steering a course of 228M (call it 230 because it’s a nice round number) would put you right down the center of Raccoon Strait.  Now all you have to do is hope the wind co-operates and you don’t have to do a couple of dozen tacks to get there.

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