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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Compass Bearing Reciprocal

It can be very useful to quickly calculate the reciprocal of a course, but if you are like me, adding or subtracting 180 degrees from the course I’m on is beyond my normal mental capabilities.  In other words, I can do it with a calculator or on paper but not in my head.  Unfortunately, those times I typically need to do it quickly I have neither.

Here is an easy way to make the calculation in your head.  Take the course you are on and either add or subtract 200, then do the opposite math operation and subtract or add 20 back.  Works every time and it’s quick.

Here’s an example:  You are going from the exit to the Potrero Reach across to Paradise Cove on a heading of 247 magnetic when the fog rolls in.  247 is greater than 200, so I’m going to subtract 200, leaving 047, then add 20 back.  I end up with a course to steer of 067 to get back to the entrance of the channel home.

Hopefully, you remembered to calculate what the currents would be doing before you left!

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Sam’s Anchor Cafe … A Love/Hate Relationship

I have to admit, I love going to Sam’s for lunch!  It’s a great destination that isn’t far off my typical day sail around the bay.  Unfortunately, there is the “hate” side of the relationship also.  I hate being stuck in the mud, and this dock is one of the easiest on the bay for this to happen to you!

This weekend really drove that point home.  Three Tradewinds boats got stuck there at low tide over the New Year’s holiday weekend!  It seems there were (and will be) minus tides on the 1st through the 7th, all in the late afternoon.  Which means you can pull into the dock in the early afternoon for lunch and have plenty of water.  Unfortunately, while eating, the water goes away, leaving your keel stuck.  The only way off is to wait until the tide comes back in enough to float the boat.

How can that possibly happen?

  • It’s important to know that there is only about 4.5 feet of water at the end of the dock at a zero tide.
  • Yesterday, January 4, low water of -0.7′ was at 5:09PM.
  • One of the boats that got stuck has a keel depth of 5.2 feet, which means that at low tide, the keel was about 1.4 feet into the mud, and not going anywhere.  Knowing how the tides work on the bay, the lowering tide probably put the keel into the mud at about 3:00PM, and it didn’t come out until about 7:30PM

And more importantly, how can I avoid it in the future?

  • First, know what the tides are doing!!!  Ask yourself “Am I planning to leave Sam’s at a lower tide then when I arrived?”
  • Use the depth sounder to determine water depth when you arrive.  You need to know how the depth sounder reads in relationship to actual water depth.  The sounder may be calibrated to read from the surface of the water, the level of the transducer, or the bottom of the keel.  Use a lead line to figure out for sure (talk to a Tradewinds staff member if you aren’t sure how.)
  • Remember, at a zero tide, there is only 4.5 feet of water at the end of Sam’s docks.  That depth gradually decreases to about 2 feet as you move down the dock towards shore.

One last thought.  Sam’s is 6.5 miles from D Dock.  Traveling at 5 knots, that’s almost an hour and a half.  If sunset is at 4:54PM, you need to be on the way home no later than 3:30PM to be back at the dock before sunset (and that doesn’t include time needed to pump the holding tank!

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VHF and Vessel Traffic Services

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could tell when and where those big ships will appear?  Actually, you can.  On San Francisco Bay, VHF channels 12, 13, and 14 are dedicated to exactly that.

  • Channel 12 is reserved for ships outside the Golden Gate, whether approaching or exiting the bay.
  • Channel 14 is utilized by commercial traffic inside the Golden Gate.  If you learn the docks and anchorages around the bay, you will always be on top of the traffic.
  • Finally, Channel 13 is for “bridge to bridge” communications … no, not the kind of bridge you drive across … ship’s bridge to ship’s bridge.

Set your handheld VHF to scan these three channels as well as channel 16, and you will not get caught unawares when it comes to commercial traffic approaching your location.

For more information on VHF radio channels, turn to page 71 of the Tide & Current Tables.

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Fun with COLREGs – By Craig Walker

I get this question a lot: “Why do big ships have right of way (Stand on vessel) when operating in our SF Bay? I always thought a sailboat had right of way over power vessels.” During our Captain’s License course this weekend, the class engaged in a lively debate over this question. Of course, part of the class is devoted to in-depth study of Right-of-Way Rules, formally known as COLREGs – International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea or Navigation Rules. We get into the nitty-gritty detail of the International and Inland Navigation Rules.

At this point, I’d like to make a plug for obtaining (purchase or download for free) a copy of the Navigation Rules, studying them and keeping copy in your duffle bag. By the way, every vessel 12 meters or more in length must have a copy of these rules on board when under way.So what is the answer to the question above?  Drum roll, please…

The answer is Rule 10, Traffic Separation Schemes, part (j) which states: a vessel of less than 20 meters in length or a sailing vessel shall not impede the safe passage of a power-driven vessel following a traffic lane. This rule applies in both International and Inland Rules.For many of you, your exposure to the rules may only have been presented in terms of what you need to know to sail one of our boats or pass an exam according to ASA standards. You know, for example, that a sailboat on a starboard tack is the stand-on vessel vs. an approaching vessel on a port tack which is the give-way vessel. But, did you know that was Rule 12, Sailing Vessels, part (a), sub-part (i)?

(a)    When two sailing vessels are approaching one another, so as to involve risk of collision, one of them shall keep out of the way of the other as follows:        (i)                When each has the wind on a different side, the vessel which has the wind on the port side shall keep out of the way of the other; …

It’s kind of similar to when we learned to drive a car. We all got a Drivers Handbook. Remember that way way back when? It’s true for driving a car that you don’t need a copy of the CA State Vehicle Code  in your glove box or memory, but we are still responsible for following the laws prescribed. And, guess what, if something goes wrong, it is the Vehicle Code that is going to sort things out.  It’s the same for boating and the COLREGs. The good news is there are only 38 Rules. If you are serious about spending time on the water, I recommend learning them.

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Abacos Trip – By Art Ewart

My wife, Kathleen O’Dea, and I just returned from an outstanding bareboat charter in the Bahamas. Along with Tradewinds Club members Marcus Libkind and Steve Rathfon, we spent a week on a Mooring’s Beneteau 42 foot monohull. Brandy secured the reservation with Moorings for us, providing a nice discount.

The trip couldn’t have been sweeter. There were no sailing challenges we hadn’t covered in all our collective Tradewinds classes. Sailing in the Abacos, the “Outer Islands” of the Bahamas –a notoriously shallow sea area–we had no trouble navigating with a five foot draft. While armed with paper charts, hand held GPS and a chart plotter (which didn’t fully work until the 3rd day), we still relied almost solely on our Ipad applications, INavx, Navionics and Garmin BlueChart. Marcus was our primary navigator. The cruising guide by Steve Dodge, Guide to the Abaco, provided precise course bearings and a wealth of tips for the cruiser.

Starting from Marsh Harbor we sailed to such exotic sounding places as Green Turtle Cay, Elbow Cay, Great Guana Cay, and Hope Town. Snorkeling at various points was the best we’d seen anywhere in the world. Clear, blue-green waters allow you to see your anchor dug in and the occasional turtle swimming by.

We had one day of consistent 35 knot winds with gusts of 44 knots. But with shallow seas surrounded by reefs and very little fetch, it felt no more challenging than a 20 knot day on SF Bay. After the morning cruiser’s net weather briefing advised sailors to stay put, we were out on our best day of sailing!

There are surely many other fine places to sail in the world, but the proximity of the Abacos, the cost, the sailing conditions, snorkeling, the beautiful little harbor towns and the Bahamian people, place this area at the top of the list for me.

Art Ewart

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What’s in a Small Craft Advisory?

Did you know there isn’t a “standard” definition of a Small Craft Advisory (SCA)?  The criteria used to issue a small craft advisory is dependent upon geographical location and may include wind, wave, and/or ice conditions.  According to NOAA’s National Weather Service, in California (including San Francisco Bay) the criteria is “Sustained winds of 21 to 33 knots, and/or wave heights exceeding 10 feet (or wave steepness values exceeding local thresholds.”  If you have ever taken Advanced Coastal Cruising, you know Tradewinds won’t allow you outside the gate if wind is 34 knots or higher, wave heights are greater than 12 feet, or period (steepness) is less than 9 seconds.  The above NWS guideline is why.  A 42 foot boat may seem big, however, it is still considered a small craft.

Here on the bay, we are spoiled by daily winds in the range of 25 to 30 knots from May through September.  Which means if we wait for a day that is not a SCA  we have to wait until October to go sailing!  If you are like me, you don’t wait.  You relish those days of guaranteed consistent wind, sheltered from the waves and swells that normally accompany big wind!

Unfortunately, sailing all summer during Small Craft Advisories tends to lessen our appreciation of what it really means, leading to an “I sail in SCA days all the time, I can easily handle  it.”  And then we run into a winter SCA!  Small Craft Advisories in the winter ARE NOT the same animal as during the summer.  Winter storms bring sustained winds in the SCA range with gusts often times well into the Gail Force range (34 to 47 knots).  In the winter, conditions can easily escalate in a matter of minutes.  I remember one time on Windfall cursing the fact I had under 5 knots.  Less than 15 minutes later, unable to control a boat under full sail with over 35 knots of sustained wind and much higher gusts I was genuinely afraid for my life (and that of my then 14 year old daughter!)  I also remember another SCA winter day that I made the decision to keep the boat in the slip, drink coffee, and fellowship with some good buddies on the boat, while listening to mayday calls all day long.  In one of the calls, a schooner had lost both masts and was being driven toward Red Rock.  The USCG got to them minutes before the boat would have been driven onto the rocks.

So here is this week’s tip.  Go ahead and brag about your skills by saying things like “If I waited until there wasn’t a SCA I wouldn’t be able to sail until October.”  But, when winter rolls around and you see a SCA in the forecast, consider staying inside by the fire instead of going sailing!

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It’s Getting Dark Earlier

In my opinion winter has arrived.  It’s not really winter until December 23, however, for me it’s winter when we move off daylight savings time back to standard time.  That’s the point it starts to get frustrating getting back to the dock before the sun sets!

So here’s a little trivia for you.  On Saturday November 10, 2014:

  • Sunset at the Golden Gate is 5:03 PM.  Legally, sunset is the point in time that the very top of the sun disappears below the horizon.  It’s the time international regulations require navigation lights to be turned on.
  • At 5:30PM, the sun will be 6 degrees below the horizon.  A point in time called civil twilight.  You can still see fairly well, however, it’s dark enough that planets and stars are beginning to be visible.  This is the point in time most States require you to turn on the headlights of your car.
  • At 6:00PM, the sun will be 12 degrees below the horizon and night officially begins.

As you can see, there is almost an hour of “twilight,” which begs the question, when does Tradewinds policy require you be secured at the dock, anchor, or on a mooring?  That’s easy.  When regulations require navigation lights Tradewinds requires you to be secured for the night.  One more small complication.  Sunset at the Golden Gate is 5:03.  In Marina Bay, we are east of the Golden Gate and there are hills between us and the setting sun.  Sunset here is about 10 minutes earlier.

I’m already tired of these short days!  Come on equinox!

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A is for Anchoring, At Anchor

Some time back, the Cal 40 Chaparral carried her crew to the ancient port of Paphos on the south western tip of Cyprus, where Aphrodite, goddess of beauty and passion, is said to have risen out of the foaming sea and floated ashore in a clam shell.

We found ourselves in Paphos on a bright morning with a fresh southerly blowing Chaparral into the old port, open to the S, SW. It was packed with vessels anchored bow and stern, riding in the chop.

We picked what seemed to be the best spot in the crowd, behind a ketch with a hard-shell dinghy tied alongside, and ahead of a large red sloop, and boats all around. Under the many watchful eyes of already anchored crew, we dropped our plow anchor off the bow and the Danforth off the stern, luckily providing little entertainment, and took our bearings from nearby landmarks.

The ketch ahead of us was named Renaissance and its dinghy Nuisance. I waved to the skipper and a woman, presumably his wife, and a small boy with a black dog. The red sloop astern of us, Tabasco, had several young men on board, drinking beer for breakfast.

After Chaparral had settled in, we pumped up the dinghy and set out to find the local harbormaster, check out the fuel dock, and forage for fresh victuals in town. Threading our way carefully, we rowed between boats that had sailed here from all over the world. The Full Tilt, Serendipity, Address Unknown, Vanira, Aeolis, and many others, huddled together at rest, each with a story to tell.

At the open air market, filling our shopping nets with potatoes, onions, apples, olives, some kind of sausage, and beautiful looking eggs, we felt a hot, dry wind building, coming from the SE now. We decided to save the rest of our shopping for the next day, after taking on fuel and water. This wind and its sudden gusts made our skipper uneasy and we hurried back to the anchorage, where small, steep waves were already running.

Soaking wet from the wild dinghy ride, but greatly relieved to see Chaparral dancing up and down – she hadn’t moved – we noticed the Renaissance had dragged. She was still ahead of us, but closer and more off to the side. We let out chain at the bow, hauled in line at the stern, to drop back from her.

By late afternoon, the wind had increased to about force 7, frequently gusting higher. We watched our position and the boats around us, so far so good. When the wind took a breather and slowed, I decided to make an early dinner. Just as I was breaking some of the eggs into the skillet, our skipper called all hands on deck. The Renaissance was dragging, again, and coming straight at us, but her crew was on board.

We jumped to hang all fenders to port. With the roar of their engine at full throttle and a big exhaust cloud rising, mother and boy furiously hauled in rode at the bow, while the skipper eased a lot at the stern. As soon as their bow anchor was free in the water, the wind blew them sideways and even closer to us. The Renaissance‘s  skipper screamed for his crew to leave the bow anchor dangling, get back, now, and deal with the stern anchor. The dog was running back and forth, barking, snarling, ready to attack, ignoring his yelling master’s threatening commands.

We could do nothing but brace for impact and fend off, but shouted “back!”, anyway. Instead, the skipper opened throttle, lurched forward spinning the wheel to port, barely missing our bow, but ramming his stern into our side. All our fenders, and breaking the rule of never using any body parts to separate a heavy boat from an obstruction, saved us from serious damage.

The Renaissance had its stern anchor down and couldn’t get it up. The skipper sent his son into the Nuisance, un-cleated the stern anchor rode and handed it to the boy to hold it tight. Then he drove off full throttle downwind, with the dog howling at the boy, tossing up and down in the dinghy. The mother stood frozen. In the wake of Renaissance, the boy tied the rode to the dinghy painter and watched his world leave him behind.

Still dangling its bow anchor, the Renaissance cut too close to the Tabasco, snaring their bow anchor chain. The quick thinking Tabasco crew tied a fender to their stern rode, let it go and hauled up the bow anchor hard, to free it and get away. With a clear path, the Renaissance now drove over the chain of the Vanira, hooked it with the dangling bow anchor and, going great guns, picked up Serendipity’s rode as well, making, in short order, a fine mess of tangled ground tackle and ripped out anchors.

There was shouting, loud engine roar, and grinding and cracking of fiberglass from the dragging clump of boats. It took a long time to sort things out before they all could re-anchor, with the innocent victims keeping as far away as possible from the menacing Renaissance.

We were getting ready to row our dinghy over to the boy, who was crying and dangerously swamped with waves, when the Tabascos, after re-anchoring further down, came in their dinghy to retrieve their floated stern anchor. We hailed them, pointed to the boy and they drove over and took him on board. Shortly after, the Nuisance turtled, but held fast the Renaissance’s stern anchor rode.

With the wind blowing, and feeling like we had been spared, we kept checking our bearings, still good, ate our well-deserved dinner, best eggs in a long time, and made a list of what not to forget on shore the next morning. I had my heart set on some of those fresh anchovies I saw in the market. Then, the wind fury returned. Surely, it wouldn’t rage like that all night long? But if it did, it was good to know that our anchors had held through the blow in the afternoon. We assigned anchor watch and quietly turned in.

At 0230, with a carpet of stars shining brightly above, the untiring wind picked up speed, screeching gusts came stronger, and Chaparral started to drag, jolting us on deck. With so much excitement earlier, nobody had noticed that the dangling bow anchor of the  Renaissance charging at us had gone under our chain, messing with our well-settled plow anchor, too.

Our skipper said: “Let’s get out of here.” We brought in our anchors faster than ever and pointed Chaparral out to the open sea. We would be safer out there, away from grounding land and tight anchorages. We would catch rain for fresh water and find fuel and anchovies on the Island of Rhodes, if the wind would blow us there. The sea was foaming, but Aphrodite and her clam shell were nowhere in sight.

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