COOL … aka, Gone Walk-About

When things go wrong, there usually isn’t any warning and it happens very fast! Take for example a line wrapped around a shaft and/or prop. Take it from personal experience; there is no warning at all, until the motor stops.

COOL goes a long way to stopping that particular problem. We all check the Coolant and Oil each day before leaving the slip, but how diligent are you with Overboard Lines?

Here is a quick tip to help. Get off the boat and walk all of the way around it. I know … too easy, right.

Here’s a bit more detail. First and foremost, don’t delegate, do this yourself! Start at the stern, at the end of the dock finger. Look for any line in the water or being used to secure the boat to the dock. Now, walk all the way around to the stern on the other side checking for lines the whole time. As you pass the dock box, flip off the AC breaker. Remove the spring lines and lay them carefully along the dock (a spring line may be long enough to foul a prop if it ends up in the water). Disconnect the AC Power cord and stow it safely on the dock. There should now only be four lines remaining, port and starboard, bow and stern.

While doing your walk around, start thinking LOT … but that is a story for another day.

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Sailing ABC – A is for Anchor – Anchoring, III

Sailing ABC  by Marianne Wheeler

A is for Anchor – Anchoring, III

Most anchors are made of strong steel (so they don’t float) and have points called flukes that dig into the bottom or grab onto rocks. They also have a shank between the flukes and the rode which helps the flukes to dig in. Often, there is a horizontal bar called stock that keeps the flukes from twisting out of the bottom as the boat swings from side to side while sitting at anchor. Or, instead of a stock, a shank may swivel over the flukes.


My friend Salty Clay says at the very least a sailor should know what anchor and ground tackle a boat carries and how to deploy and retrieve it safely.

Before leaving the dock check where the anchor is located, how many are on board and determine the type of anchor(s) and rode.

Is the rode rope or chain, or both? Is it ready to pay out smoothly? Is it attached to the anchor securely? Is the bitter end attached to the boat? Is it attached in a way that it can be released in a hurry, if necessary? How long is the rode and are there depth markers on it?

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What Time Should I Leave?

“You may not operate boats under power or sail between sunset and sunrise.”  The sentence in the club manual is such a simple statement, and yet there is so much confusion over it.

It’s March 21, 2014, and I just received a call in the office that got me to thinking.  The questions asked were “What time is sunset tonight?” and “What time do I need to leave Pier 39 to get back in time?”

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to give a good answer off the top of my head to either question.  The answers require a bit of research and planning.  An effort that I recommend each captain (yes, that’s you and me when we take a boat out) complete prior to leaving the slip for a day’s sailing.

According to the Tide Tables (yes, it’s there … look at the last page) sunset on March 20 was 1922.  On March 25, it will be 1926.  A bit of simple math in my head tells me that sunset today will be approximately 1923 … as “observed from sea level at the Golden Gate Bridge.”  That’s a great starting point; however, if you arrive back in Marina Bay at 1923, it will be well past sunset.  First, Marina Bay is about 7 miles east of the gate, so the sun goes down earlier.  Second, and more important, there are mountains that are well above sea level between Marina Bay and the horizon.  Sunset, according to the club rules, is when the sun goes down behind those mountains.  Today, it was more like 1910.  As far as the time to leave Pier 39, its 8.3 miles from Pier 39 to Marina Bay.  At an average speed of 5 knots, that’s 1:40.  However, what are the currents doing?  With a flood it may take less than that.  While ebbing, you can easily add an extra 45 minutes to the trip.  Max flood today was 2.8 knots at 1452.  By 1600 to 1700, there won’t be much current to help, so 1:40 still seems about right.  Leaving at 1700 to 1715 should work.

What about wind.  During normal wind conditions on the bay, you are going to be in the “shadow” of Angel Island for a good portion of the trip.  More than once, I have found myself going backwards because I was sailing slower than the current was flowing.   Motoring at 5 knots wouldn’t be a problem.  Sailing might require extra time.  If you average 2 knots speed over ground, 1:40 just became 4:10 minutes, and you needed to be underway before 1500!

A good skipper takes all of this into consideration and plans accordingly.

Note from Matt: Consider clean-up time as well. As a general rule, to stow a boat properly it takes about 1 minute per foot of boat per day that you spent on it. When we have one of those rare conversations with members about not cleaning up after themselves properly, it’s quite often because they tried to do it in the dark!

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Sailing ABC – A is for Anchor – Anchoring, II

Sailing ABC  by Marianne Wheeler

A is for Anchor – Anchoring, II

The books written about anchors and anchoring would probably fill the hold of the Golden Hinde. There are many different kinds of anchors. All are heavy and increase in weight when pulled up hand over hand.  They all have parts that dig into the bottom of the sea or hook onto rocks, or other boats’ ground tackle.

The two most popular types of anchors today are said to be the Danforth and the plow.

The Danforth, named after its inventor Richard Danforth in 1938 and tested on San Francisco Bay, is lightweight with strong holding power.  It holds well in sand, clay, and hard mud.

Danforth Anchor

Danforth Anchor

The plow, named after its shape and made by various companies, is good for all mud, weeds, and rocky bottoms.

Plow Anchor

Plow Anchor

A 35 foot sailboat might carry a 20 lb. Danforth or a 25 lb. plow anchor, or both. How can a 20 pound anchor hold a 2 ton boat? Anchors have evolved from a rope tied around a heavy stone to very specialized designs for burying themselves into the bottom of the sea with great holding power for the least weight required.

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Frank Talk About Splicing

In general, I am quite a fan of archaic sailing arts. Some of them I can even justify under the heading of safety, like knowing how to use a sextant. But for practical reasons, I hesitate to recommend splicing braided line. I realize that synthetic braided lines are not really ancient; but splicing is.
The argument for an eye splice versus a bowline often revolves around breaking strength. The bowline may reduce the line’s strength by 50%, the splice, say 25%. But let’s get real. We never choose running rigging based on breaking strength. What we want is low stretch. A polyester halyard that we might finish with an eye splice will have a tensile strength of around 10,000 pounds on a 40-foot boat. A splice will reduce this to somewhere around 7,500 pounds, and a bowline to 5,000 pounds. A common safety factor is 5/1 although let’s go to 10/1 to be conservative. My wife will surely be telling me to cut back on the beer well before I reach 500 pounds, so a trip up the mast in the bosun’s chair causes little fear, even hanging by a bowline. If you’re paranoid about that knot holding your life in the balance, then put a couple of hitches in the tail or seize it to the standing part. But if you’re really that worried about whether a bowline will hold, perhaps it’s time you learn how to tie one.
There is another issue with putting an eye splice at the working end of your halyards. It’s a good idea to switch your halyards end for end once in awhile to avoid all the strain at masthead sheave being in one place forever, which shortens their useful life. Great, so now with the eye splice you have a knobby bit at the hauling end. And of course you have to spend a half hour finding a fid and remembering how to do a splice for the headboard shackle. I have always used a bowline here. You untie the bowline and switch ends, no problema.
Maybe a braided line has parted and you want to splice it back together. This can happen for three reasons I can think of: 1) The line is too small. This is very unlikely. All but extreme sailboats carry running rigging that is quite a bit over-sized. Regular old utilitarian 1/4-inch Sta-Set has a tensile strength of 2350 pounds, which is enough to lift an entire Catalina 22 right out of the water. That is one-quarter-inch line. We use larger lines for sheets and halyards so they’ll be low-stretch and nice on the hands. 2) Chafe. Forget fixing the line; deal with the chafe, or it will break again. 3) It is old. Use it for art projects, like macramé flower pot hangers. It needs to be taken out of service, not repaired.
3-strand laid nylon is used for docklines and anchor rodes for the opposite reason that braided polyester is used for running rigging—because it does stretch, which lessens the shock when wind or waves cause strain. A better case can be made for splicing laid line. Its only a matter of taste, but to me it’s more traditional looking and prettier. There are some places you’ll almost certainly want to use an eye splice on laid line. One is on the thimble for the ground tackle shackle, which rhymes. Another is on the rope-to-chain splice that permits nylon rope to smoothly transition to chain when running through the type of windlass gypsy that accommodates both. Good idea to inspect and refresh these occasionally. Eye splices are also useful on dedicated docklines, as we do on our Tradewinds boats. But I can do anything with a knot that you can with a splice, and then untie it to use for something else. The splice, on the other hand, lives at the end of the rope, making it unsuitable for reeving through a block or padeye, or tying knots.
Now consider the practicalities of repairing laid line with a splice. Say you want to put a splice in an anchor rode after it has chafed through at the bow. Don’t you have bigger problems here? The rest of the line is on the bottom with your anchor where you can’t retrieve it. And your boat is on the rocks. If you think this could happen but because you’re an optimist, you’re confident that you’ll be alert enough to notice the wear before the line parts, then by all means learn the long and short splice to repair the damaged line. But tend to your chafing gear, refresh your rode every, say, fifteen years, and you’ll never need this skill.
On our circumnavigation, we sailed 30,000 miles. I have done the math, and it turns out that it would take 125 years for the typical recreational sailor to do that distance on San Francisco Bay. Since all rope eventually deteriorates in sunlight, you’ll no doubt need to replace your running rigging before then, along with your hips, knees, teeth, and friends. But we left home with Sta-Set sheets and guys and pole topping lifts, and Sta-Set-X halyards, none of which were even new. We came back 27 months later with the same running rigging. I was a bit miffed that I never got to use those brand new spares I carried all the way around the world.
All it takes is a little attention to chafe, and you’ll never have to rummage around in your bosun’s bag for a fid.

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Sailing ABC – A is for Anchor – Anchoring, I

Sailing ABC  by Marianne Wheeler

A is for Anchor – Anchoring, I

We all like to sail fast and be blown away by the wind, but it serves a sailor well to know how to anchor and make a boat stay put on the water.

Ground tackle, the anchor and its rode (rope and chain), and the knowledge of how to use it are the key to avoid dragging at anchor and getting into trouble when the wind kicks up or the current runs strong.

It seems the anchor always holds until you leave the boat to dinghy ashore, or until 2:30 am, whichever comes first.

Tradewinds ASA courses Basic Coastal Cruising 103, Bare Boat Cruising 104, and Advanced Anchoring classes fortunately provide the knowledge for successful anchoring.

Even before you learn how to anchor, when you are just beginning to sail on Tradewinds’ 25 foot Catalina Capris practicing your ASA Basic Keel Boat 101 skills, you should consider the anchor.

My friend Salty Clay says it’s a good idea to be familiar with the anchor and its rode in a mesh bag mounted at the bow. Know how to lower it, cleat it off, and retrieve it, should you have to anchor involuntarily.

If you need to stop the boat before drifting into danger, maybe because the wind died and you lost steerage, or you got into irons and can’t get out, or you hove-to watching the sunset without checking the lee shore – anytime you need to avoid hitting anything and in the excitement to get underway pulled one too many times on the engine starter so the outboard flooded and won’t start – remember the anchor and use it promptly.

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The term “sandbag” is used in several seemingly unrelated senses. As a verb it can mean to emplace bags to prevent flooding; to pretend to be a duffer at golf or poker or auto racing, only to reveal your mastery when the wager becomes substantial; or to overwhelm a person or group, as in a public meeting. As a noun, a “sandbagger” is a person engaged in the activities just mentioned. If you trace the term’s origins on Google, you get references to its use in 1860, when criminals were known to use sandbags that didn’t appear to be dangerous as weapons to violently attack someone by surprise.
But this term was also used even earlier, in the 1850s, to describe a kind of racing sailboat. The “sandbagger,” was so named because of the practice of using movable bags of sand as ballast, which the racing rules of the day permitted. Without shifting the ballast, these boats could capsize. Moving ballast to improve upwind speed, like modern dinghy sailors hiking out or racing crews sitting on the rail, was not new. It had been done by pirates, privateers, and slavers for decades to improve performance when on the wind, running from the law. But as ballast of the day on big boats was pig iron or rocks, it took a large crew to achieve the desired result. It couldn’t be done very quickly, so was reserved for those times when you would be on one tack for quite awhile.
The racing “sandbaggers” were flat-bottomed sloops in the 18-28 foot range, small enough so that one or two men could have a large effect on the upwind performance of a boat by moving bags of sand. They first became popular in New York, later spreading to Boston and the Great Lakes. Sandbaggers were based on working oyster boats, but quickly became one of the earliest classes of boats commonly raced in the United States. Replicas have been recently built and can be seen in action here: Oddly, this video and the longer one that follows make no mention of the use of sandbags.
Today, high-end race boats use exactly the same concept, moving water instead of sand and pumps instead of manpower. But the relationship is between the derogatory term “sandbagger” and the clever and perfectly ethical sailing practices of yesteryear, if indeed there is any such relationship, remains obscure.

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Speaking of Depths…

We are often asked, “Is the depth instrument on this boat set to the depth of water or depth below keel?”

This is a question we will not likely answer. The answer is most likely, “Neither!” and I’ll explain why:

There is a setting in most depth instruments called ‘offset’. Anyone or their guests can easily change this setting with a few button presses. This is the part that makes us reluctant to answer the above question. What if we answered it and we were wrong – and that caused you to run aground? Unless you know all of the details about the specific boat you are on (Depth of the sounder, depth of the keel) AND how to check or change the offset, there is only one way to be sure about the depth reading that you are seeing on your instruments. That method involves using a lead-line or another means of measuring the water depth and comparing it to what your sounder reads.

We are going to help with this by doing one of two things this year: Either equipping TW boats with lead-lines or painting actual depths on some of the pilings around where our boats enter and exit D-dock. I prefer the second option for business reasons, but the first would help you wherever you happened to be on a boat, so both are under consideration. If we were to paint depth markings on a piling, you could compare water depth on the markings as you pass the piling to that of your sounder and  would then know your offset.

Now on to the good stuff: How does it work?

Check out the diagram:


depth sounder

As you can see, the sounder is about 2′ below the water-line on this boat, so:

If the ‘offset’ in the depth instrument settings is set to ’0′ (this is most often how you will find them and why I said earlier the answer to the question is most likely, “Neither!”), the instrument reads 8′. 8′ is not the depth of the water, nor is it the depth below the keel!

If the ‘offset’ is -4, (8′ minus 4′), the instrument reads 4′, or depth below keel.

If the offset is +2, (8′ plus 2′), the instrument reads 10′, or depth of water.

Now on to the next question we are asked during this conversation, “What setting do you prefer?”

Most people I have this conversation with answer with something along the lines of, “I want it set to depth below keel so that I don’t have to do any math – I just know how much water is between the bottom of my keel and the earth!”

At first glance, this would seem the simplest method. If that’s what works for you, great – as long as it keeps you out of the mud!

My personal preference is depth of water, and this comes from personal experience navigating in waters that I am unfamiliar with. As an example, in the Grenadines or around the islands of Tahiti, there are plenty of reefs which you would like to navigate around. These pop up very quickly from a safe depth to almost no depth at all, making them very dangerous. They are well marked on the charts and on the chart-plotters. Imagine I am picking my way through a passage where there are visible reefs on one side, scattered invisible reefs on the other, and the water is so clear that it is almost impossible to tell if the rocks you are looking at over the bow are 15′ down or 3′ down under the water. My main concern when picking my way through is to know at all times exactly where I am in comparison to my chart. In order to know this I use the visual marks around me to determine where believe I am on the paper chart (always folded to show my current area and held in one hand) while repeatedly scanning my chart plotter and depth meter to make sure that all three match. If all three sources match, I am comfortable that I am navigating safely and am not going to run aground on a bunch of jagged rocks and coral!

What does this have to do with the offset? Easy: If I am set to depth of water, the reading on my depth meter matches exactly with the reading on my chart plotter and the reading on my paper chart without having the do any conversions except for current tide. If I were set to depth below keel, I’d have to check the chart, add in the tide, and then add in the difference between the bottom of my keel and where my sounder is mounted to know if my three reference points all match! It’s not a lot of math, but enough that it will tire the brain when you are navigating in unknown waters and constantly comparing your three sources of information. Most places we travel, I already have to do the conversion from meters to feet in order to form a good mental picture of what’s actually under the boat, since the charts, plotters, and depth meters all use the metric system!

I hope this helps keep you out of the mud and off of the rocks!

-Matt K

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Know Your Depths

We had an opportunity recently to check depths in the mooring field at Ayala Cove and the docks at Sam’s Anchor Cafe. The results were surprising! At a zero tide:

  • Depths on the west and southwest sides of the mooring field (the side closest to the land) are 5 feet.
  • The middle of the mooring field is a pretty consistent 4 feet
  • The moorings located on the northeast side (the inside of the cove) have only 3.5 feet

Santorini and Orion draw nearly 6 feet, which means if you approach the mooring field from the normal direction in less than a 2.5 foot tide, you are going to get stuck! Here is a practical example. Tides for Saturday September 21 and Sunday September 22, 2013 indicate:

  • High at 1323 6.1; Low at 1935 0.3; High at 0218 5.2; Low at 0737 1.7

When you arrive at your northeast mooring ball at 1400, you will have over 9 feet of water … no problem. By about 1930, your keel will settle over 2 feet deep in mud which probably won’t be a problem because you plan on spending the night there (hopefully that motor boat beside you tied up to 2 balls, because if he only grabbed 1 he is going to swing all night and you aren’t). Unfortunately, at 0730, when you plan to leave to sail over to San Francisco for breakfast, you are at another low, and back to a foot deep in mud … in other words … stuck fast. Using the rule of twelfths (see below) to figure tidal changes, it will be about 0930 or 1000 before you have enough water to leave the mooring!

Sam’s Anchor Café is another location to be careful.  At a zero tide, there is 4 feet at the end of the left dock, and 3.5 feet at the end of the right dock.  Half way up the docks, there is 3 feet on the left dock and 2.5 feet on the right dock.

Now for the tip …

First, know your draft, and how your depth sounder reads compared to actual water depths. The only way to be sure of that is with a lead line. A simple one can be made by tying a 10 or 12 oz. round lead fishing weight to a 25 or 30 foot light weight line. Mark the measurements on the line (mine has a mark every 6 feet, with the last 6 feet marked in 1 foot intervals). Lower it into the water beside the boat to get an actual measurement of depth. Compare that to the depth sounder on the boat. If the line indicates 16 feet of water, the depth sounder shows 10 feet, and you know you have a 6 foot draft, then the sounder is reading from the bottom of the keel, and you have 10 feet of water under it.

Second, know what the tides are doing! Not just the highs and lows, but what is happening in the middle. After all, rarely will you arrive or depart right on the extreme. A good general rule to follow is called the Rule of Twelfths, which basically says 1 twelfth of the tide change will take place in the first hour after the high or low. 2 twelfths of the change will happen during the second hour, 3 twelfths during the 3rd and 4th hours, 2 twelfths during the 5th hour, and the final 1 twelfth during the sixth hour. Sounds challenging, but is actually pretty simple. For example … using round figures, lets say the tidal change (low to high) is expected to be 4’. 4’ divided by 12 equals 4”. At the 0800 low tide, you have 2’. One hour later (0900) you should have about 2’ 4”. One hour after that (1000) you will have about 3’. At 1100 about 4’, at noon 5’, at 1300 5’8″, and at 1400 6′. It’s not exact, but it will get you pretty close.

When you tie up, check your depth (use the lead line if you don’t have a working depth sounder you trust). Compare the depths with what will happen to the tide during your stay. Get out before the water goes away! If I have a 5’ draft with 5.5’ of water and a falling tide, I’m going to find somewhere else to go.

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C’mon, It’s Not All Bad!

C’mon, it’s not all bad!
Here’s another chapter from Captain Craig’s offshore journal. Okay, okay, a few folks might have been a little spooked by my article on scariest moments outside the gate. Remember, these are only ten stories from over a hundred trips outside the gate. All those trips that went exceeding well are perhaps a lot less exciting but, as I said in my last article, wonderful times can be had if you are well prepared, watch the weather forecast, can handle the idea of solving problems if and when they arise and don’t get complacent. Really these are good rules to follow inside or outside the gate.
So, what about the good stories? As I said, these are usually less exciting. I do know that it was the good memories from my first trip to Hawaii that made me want to do it again. I call this selective amnesia. I remembered the beautiful sunsets, the moon lit nights with fabulous stars, cruising at 8 to 10 knots with a spinnaker and perfecting my downwind driving during the day so that it was a no brainer at night. The celebration at the half way point and the exhilaration of sighting land were really fun too. So, those fond memories outweighed the “challenges” that we also faced racing to Kaneohe Bay.
Selective amnesia seems to work well regarding my trips out the gate too.
When doing the Half Moon Bay to Drakes Bay loop, I have to admit that going south has been more fun and relaxing. A nice broad reach on the ocean makes for some fun steering and the legs are long enough for everyone to have a “trick at the wheel”. If you haven’t heard that phrase before, look it up. That’s a good ‘ole nautical phrase. I’ve learned that when making the “loop” you’re usually better off going to Half Moon Bay, then Drakes Bay and then home. If you haven’t taken Tradewinds Advanced Coastal Cruising Class (ACC) yet, your instructor will discuss why this is the case.
Visiting the rough and tumble fishing boat port at Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay is always fun. We usually have a great meal at the Ketch Joanne, Barbara’s Fish Trap or Half Moon Bay Brewing Company. Have you tried a Big Break Ale, Matt? (edit: Of course I have! I LOVE HMB Brewing…) A short walk into the quaint little town of Princeton By The Sea, is fun also.
Going north has its moments also. There are several options for going north on the California coast. Keep in mind that the prevailing winds are from, guess what?, right where you want to go. Your options are motoring, motor sailing or a lot of tacking. For me, it has been a fun challenge to maximize tacking efficiency. But this requires a fair amount of planning, patience and perseverance. Did I mention motor sailing? Hopefully, you all caught that. Once again, in ACC class you’re going to learn that motor sailing, when done properly, can be a very important component when going north on our coast. And, please be mindful that Tradewinds policy is no motor sailing inside the Bay.
If you motor out to the Farallones from Half Moon Bay early in the morning when the winds are light, you’ve set yourself up for a beautiful reach into Drakes Bay in the afternoon with plenty of light left over anchoring and firing up the BBQ. Drakes Bay can be quite idyllic. It is well protected from NW swells even though it can be quite windy. The landscape is spectacular with its white cliffs and colorful rock formations and sparse enough to imagine what it must have been like when Sir Francis Drake careened his “Golden Hinde” there in 1579.
Rounding the Farallones gives one a great sense of accomplishment but, if you’re expecting a beautiful island with palm trees, you may be a little disappointed. After all, they are just big treeless rocks on the edge of the continental shelf. Still, it’s fun sighting the islands, rounding them with a wide margin and saying you’ve done it.
Remember those sunsets and starry nights I mentioned earlier? I’ve had my share of those, right here on our little coast. Sea life is abundant also: whales, dolphins, porpoises, sea lions, harbor seals, flying fish, pelicans, frigatebirds, shearwaters, scoters, gulls, huge jelly fish, etc., etc. I always bring my field guides!
I’m not a fisherman. Sailboats and fishing lines don’t seem to pair together very well unless you’re going to sail in a straight line for a good while. We caught a lot of fish going to Hawaii and I know there is good fishing on our coast too. Just ask Elvis. Elvis runs a fishing charter boat and hangs out at Tradewinds from time to time.
Surf’s up! Coming back into the gate on a run with a following sea and flood tide can be a real kick. I can remember surfing a Catalina 38 with speeds up to 18 knots. Of course this was with a Spinnaker and a Blooper and the timing was well planned. Do they still make Bloopers Angie? (edit: Kinda…. but they are horribly out of style…)
This was tricky work but great fun. You can do the same with just the main and jib, wing and wing. You’ll have the skills at the ACC level to control the boat in following seas, being mindful to avoid the jibe. Enjoy the ride!
Hopefully, these comments will inspire some interest in sailing the Gulf of the Farallones!
Fair winds.
Captain Craig

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