Some Thoughts About Fairway Turns

My last tip How Fast is TOO FAST! In a Fairway? got me thinking about fairway turns.  As an instructor, I can honestly say teaching this skill causes me to experience more “stomach muscle tightening” than any other skill I teach.  Which is interesting, I enjoy practicing them.

Here are a few of the “techniques” I have seen that cause my “stomach muscles to tighten.”

  • Accelerating into a fairway turn.  Generally the reason for a fairway turn is a boat unexpectedly backing out in front of you.  I don’t know about you, but accelerating toward danger just seems wrong.  Also, any acceleration in forward is going to require and equal and opposite acceleration in reverse to offset it, which leads to the next problem.
  • High amounts of throttle.  Generally speaking, a fairway turn doesn’t require a great deal of throttle.  Just enough to hold the boat in position against momentum and wind.  The only time a lot of throttle is “needed” is if too much throttle was used during the last transmission shift.
  • Slamming the transmission back and forth rapidly and at high throttle.  The goal of a fairway turn is to turn the boat around while staying in the same location.  Rapid  shifting and high throttle settings cause the boat to move … exactly the opposite of what you are trying to accomplish.
  • Trying to “finish” off the fairway turn on the leeward side of the fairway.  Your goal should be to remain as far upwind in the fairway as you can!  Trying to transition out of the fairway turn and into forward while on the lee side of the fairway allows the wind to blow your boat down onto the boats that are there.
  • Too close to the port side of the fairway.  Assuming port prop walk, it’s normal to start from the port side of the fairway and turn to starboard.  As the bow moves to starboard, the stern moves to port and hits the boat or dock finger behind the boat.  Start with enough room to  allow the stern to swing.
  • “Downwind” fairway turns.  On a boat with port prop walk, it is natural to do a fairway turn to starboard.  A problem may arise when the wind is blowing from port to starboard.  Momentum and wind are both pushing you to the lee side of the fairway.  Right were you don’t want to be.  All is probably going to be ok if you are on the windward side of the fairway, and provided you shift into reverse early enough, with just enough throttle to overcome momentum and wind, and assuming you didn’t accelerate into the turn.  That’s a lot of “ifs.”  Sometimes its easier to do the fairway turn to windward, even if it’s opposite the direction prop walk wants to take you.  Please don’t try this without first practicing the maneuver in a safe area.  Not all boats will do it well.

With the down side in mind, here are a couple of thoughts on a “better way” to do a fairway turn.

  • As with most things in sailing, if you didn’t think about it 10 minutes ago, you waited too long.  Know what you are going to do before you actually need to do it.  Plan ahead.  As you turn into the fairway, set up L.O.T. for your docking and have a backup L.O.T. for a fairway turn if it is needed.  It’s too late to plan that boat backs out of the slip at you.
  • Where in the fairway do you need to be to approach your slip?  Will that location work for a fairway turn?  If not, how are you going to get into a location that will work if one is needed?
  • Know the boat you are on.  Will it do a fairway turn to windward opposite prop walk?  How does it handle a downwind fairway turn.
  • Your goal is to turn the boat around, while holding position.  Use only enough throttle to accomplish that goal.
  • Let the boat do the work.  If you are exhausted at the end of the maneuver, you are working way too hard at it.
  • Watch the stern more than the bow … you can see it better and chances are it is closer to obstacles anyway.
  • Practice, practice, practice.  As anyone who does boat checkouts with me can attest.  I take the wheel in almost every checkout and do a fairway turn or two.  Often times I will stop the fairway turn after 90 degrees and try to get the stern as close to an upwind mooring ball as possible.  Its a great way to practice fairway turns and staying to the windward side of the fairway.
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How Fast is TOO FAST! In a Fairway?

I wish this was an easy answer. It would be nice to be able to say; “Just set your speed at X knots and everything will work out great.” Sadly, it doesn’t work that way. Sometimes I think fairway speed, as the old cliche goes, “is more art than science.”

I do know this, if you are pushing a bow wave, you are way too fast. From the office, I see it all the time, and cringe. One small hiccup and … ouch.

Your wake starts as a small ripple coming off the transom. As you move faster, the wake moves forward along the hull. As it moves forward, it gets bigger. As you are motoring down the fairway, check your wake. If it has moved as far as amidships, slow down! Look at the boats in slips beside you. If they are moving past quickly, slow down.

Which brings up the other side of the question. How fast is too slow. You have to be going fast enough to have good rudder authority. You have to have enough speed to hold your location in the fairway? You have to have enough speed to make a safe turn into your slip. The only way to figure out if you have the right speed is to try it out ahead of time in a similar but safe area.

Docking into an upwind slip generally requires a bit more speed than a downwind slip because you must have enough rudder authority to get the bow up into the wind. Try this before going into the fairway. Find a nice safe place to test conditions. For example, if you plan to dock in a slip in the “Silver Fleet” upwind row, try turning into the wind in the open area of the marina well to windward of any slips and/or boats. Using the buoys in the marina as reference points will help you gauge your speed. How much speed does it take to have good control of your turn? Any slower is too slow … any faster is probably too fast.

Remember.  No two dockings are the same.  Review your L.O.T. every time you bring a boat in.  Fairway speed is one element of Transition.

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A Strange Wind Blowing

I took a walk on the docks yesterday afternoon and experienced something I haven’t felt in about a year. A warm wind coming out of the North. It reminded me that summer is over, and some of the “close quarters” docking and motoring techniques I have relied on all summer might now get me into trouble. Actually, it’s not the techniques themselves, more the fact that techniques need to be adjusted for conditions. This was reinforced this morning, when we again had wind from the North. This time, I watched an experienced skipper back out of a slip and nearly get driven by the wind into a boat on the far side of the fairway. All summer he had been backing into a wind.  This time, he was backing with the wind and failed to adjust his LOT. Made me think … maybe it’s time for a quick refresher on LOT.  Always start by checking conditions … wind … boat location … obstacles … dock lines … etc.

Location … draw an imaginary line down the middle of the fairway and try to place the boat on the windward side of that line. In the case of today, the skipper would have needed to make the turn.

Orientation … generally, it’s a good idea to get the bow pointed slightly to windward. That way, while the boat is transitioning from “backwards to frontwards” momentum, the wind will tend to straighten the boat out.

Transition … what are the steps to follow to go from “backwards to frontwards?” It might look like this
• Go to neutral
• Straighten the rudder
• Shift to forward at low RPM to stop the boat and let the bow “blow down”
• Throttle up to a safe fairway speed

Most years, there are four to six weeks of unbelievable San Francisco Bay weather between the “first storm” of the fall, and the onset of winter storms. We typically see the first storm right about the last week of September. It came through last week. The winter storms begin to hit about the middle of November. In between, the sailing is phenomenal! There is enough breeze to have a great time and its warm enough for shirt sleeves (sometimes less).

Get out there and enjoy this very fleeting time of San Francisco Bay sailing! Just remember to adjust your “close quarters skills” for the actual conditions, not what we have experienced all summer.

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Be Careful Out There

Anybody know what the two busiest boating weekends on the Bay are?

One is Opening Day on the Bay (the last weekend in April.)  The other is Fleet week, which is the first week or two of October.  This year, Fleet Week is October 9 through 13, with the main events taking place on Saturday the 11th and Sunday the 12th.  There are times during these events when it feels like you can walk across the boats occupying the waters of San Francisco Bay.

Here’s a photo of a radar screen taken during a previous Fleet Week event. It’s easy to pick out the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and the land mass that is the San Francisco Peninsula. The black rectangle is the exclusion zone. The rest of the green dots are boats!

Fleet Week Radar Plot

Fleet Week Radar Image

Personally, I think Fleet Week is the “worst” of the two.  Not only are there a lot of boats, they are all crowded into a limited area and large areas of city front are closed, AND everyone is looking up at the air shows!  An absolute recipe for disaster.  I think my favorite example of the challenges Fleet Week can present came when the skipper of a sailboat was arguing with the Coast Guard over the VHF regarding who had the right of way … him or a container ship.  Seems this guy believes he has the right of way because he is a sailboat and the container ship is a power boat.  There was no convincing him that he was wrong.

With that in mind here is a quick review of the Rules, and the actions required by the Give-way and Stand-on Vessels.

  • Not Under Command (don’t see this one very often)
  • Restricted Ability to Maneuver (the Coast Guard may hold this type of traffic during the main events)
  • Vessel Engaged in Fishing (don’t see this on the bay very much)
  • Sailing Vessel (Port Tack gives way to Starboard Tack … If Same Tack, Windward Gives Way to Leeward)
  • Power Vessel (includes sail boats if the engine is engaged)

Rule 16 – Action by Give-way Vessel Return to the top of the page

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.

Rule 17- Action by Stand-on Vessel Return to the top of the page(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.

(b) When, from any cause, the vessel required to keep her course and speed finds herself so close that collision cannot be avoided by the action of the give-way vessel alone, she shall take such action as will best aid to avoid collision.

(c) A power-driven vessel which takes action in a crossing situation in accordance with Rule 17(a)(ii) to avoid collision with another power-driven vessel shall, if the circumstances of the case admit, not alter course to port for a vessel on her own port side.

(d) This Rule does not relieve the give-way vessel of her obligation to keep out of the way.

Check out Rule 17, Part b … to paraphrase … if the guy that’s supposed to give way doesn’t … you must get out of his way!  It’s interesting to note the there is no “Right of Way” … there are Give Way Vessels and Stand On Vessels!

Any way it goes, if you are out there during Fleet Week you are going to have a lot of ColRegs practice … know the rules and be careful out there!

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Sailing ABC A is for Anchor – Anchoring XI

Under the U.S. Inland Navigation Rule 20 [c] and 20 [d] anchored vessels more than 23 ft. in length are required to display appropriate lights and shapes where they can best be seen to avoid collisions.

From sunset to sunrise, or in restricted visibility, they must display a white light that is visible in all directions. During the day they must display a black ball day shape, unless anchored in a designated “Special Anchorage Area”.

My friend Salty Clay says that the white anchor light on top of the mast is a common sight in an anchorage. But how many mariners hoist their black ball day shape in anchorages or mooring fields? Not that many.

He also points out that a “Special Anchorage Area” is not just the spot shown on the chart labeled “Anchorage”. It is an area specifically designated by the Secretary of Homeland Security. Not many such special places exist. They can be looked up in The Code of Federal Regulations. Title 33 “Navigation and Navigable Waters.” Part 110. “Anchorage Regulations” at



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Sailing ABC A is for Anchor – Anchoring X

With lots of room at an anchorage, the preferred way to drop the hook is at the bow with plenty of scope. Other anchoring methods include:

Setting two anchors off the bow with about a 45 to 60 degree angle between them offers more security against dragging and swinging. It is a good way to prepare for an oncoming storm.

Setting a bow and stern anchor may be necessary at crowded or narrow anchorages. This method usually keeps boats in a tidy pattern and prevents them from sailing around their anchor.

Setting up a Bahamian Moor lets the boat pivot around one single point, keeping it in one place when wind or currents shift. To set up a Bahamian Moor, anchor bow and stern first, then lead the stern anchor rode to the bow and cleat it.

Mediterranean Mooring is most common along seawalls and quays. It usually requires dropping the bow anchor several boat lengths away from the quay and backing up to it in a cross wind, holding your breath while squeezing in sardine-tight between other med moored vessels. Have plenty of fenders handy.

Rafting up is a common way to secure several boats with only one anchor down. It is done mostly to spend time and party with friends, or to keep the fishing fleet together so it can head out quickly at sunrise, or to form rows of parked boats when all the med moors are packed at the quay. Generally, the biggest boat with the biggest anchor holds everyone else, who are tied up at bow and stern cleats to either side. Be careful to stagger spreaders and be sure to use all available fenders and cushions between the boats.


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Tradewinds instructor Dan Seifers asked me the other day why we say “Roger” on the radio to confirm we’ve received a message. Why Roger, and not Reginald, or for that matter, Hermione?
If you go cruising you’ll probably want to learn the phonetic alphabet so you can spell your boat name and perhaps your HAM call sign in a way that can be understood in foreign ports. I can still quickly rattle off “kilo-golf-six-echo-uniform-delta,” sometimes involuntarily at inappropriate moments. However, even if you memorize this way of spelling things, you won’t find any “Roger” among the Mikes, Juliets, and Charlies. But this wasn’t always the case.
“Roger” is a holdover from the phonetic alphabet used by the Royal Air Force and the US Air Force prior to 1956, at which time he was replaced by “Romeo” to represent the letter “R.” In addition to changing “Roger” to “Romeo,” “Able” was replaced by “Alpha,” “Baker” was replaced by “Bravo,” and “Easy” was replaced by “Echo.” There were some additional changes due to fuzzy comprehension by speakers of Texan, Bostonian, Bronxish, Liverpudlian, and other languages, until the alphabet was adopted internationally. The current phonetic alphabet with “Romeo” was adopted by the International Commission for Air Navigation in 1956, by the International Telecommunication Union in 1959, and then by the International Maritime Organization in 1965.
During WWII, the phonetic “Roger” was used to indicate R for “Received” in radio usage. Apparently no one wished to change it to “Romeo” after combat ended and the alphabet changed, with the result that what we have today is a small tribute to the Second World War. So when you say “Roger,” remember those heroes of Normandy and Okinawa, the Po Valley, and the Ardennes Forest.

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Sailing ABC A is for Anchor – Anchoring, IX

From decades of experience with every anchoring adventure imaginable, Tradewinds, together with Lead Instructor Captain Craig Walker, has developed its own anchoring technique. No guarantees, but practicing it will greatly increase the chance of getting it right every time and in a safe way.

Here is the handout that Tradewinds uses:

Anchoring Technique Page 2 of Anchoring Confirmation

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Using a Kellet

There’s a word you don’t see every day. So, what is it? A kellet is a 15 to 25 pound weight, which you “hang” from the anchor rode. Often, it’s referred to as a sentinel, although technically, that is the rope the controls the weight, not the weight itself.

There are a number of theories about the value of a kellet. It’s been credited with increasing an anchor’s holding power (a better way is to increase scope) and improving shock absorbing power (a nylon snubber is better.)  However, the real value of a kellet is in keeping the rode clear of the keel and/or rudder. All chain rode doesn’t have a problem, but a rode with a combination of chain and nylon might.

In most anchorages around San Francisco Bay wind and currents shift throughout the night. Many times, wind and current compete with each other. If the boat is hanging on a nice tight rode, there isn’t going to be problem. Unfortunately, if the boat is floating “lazy circles” around the anchor, the rode can easily wrap around the keel. Sliding a kellet 10 or 15 feet down the rode keeps it below the level of the keel, avoiding the problem.

Tradewinds boats that do not have all chain are outfitted with a mushroom shaped anchor as a kellet. To use, attach the carabineer onto the rode and let it slide down. Cleat the bitter end of the sentinel on the boat, and enjoy your evening.

There is another great use of a kellet. If you didn’t have the foresight to set it up ahead of time, and find the rode wrapped around the keel the next morning, slide the kellet up and down the rode now. This will generally free it. It will take time and patience, however, it will work.


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Sailing ABC A is for Anchor – Anchoring, VIII

Whether you have selected the perfect spot in a secluded bay or arrived at the end of the day at a popular, packed anchorage, the next challenge is to successfully park the boat so it stays put.

Prepare the anchor to move freely over the bow roller and if the rode is rope it can be faked on deck, laying it out in long loops, to the length of the desired scope. Secure it on a bow cleat, and check that the bitter end is tied off. Make sure it can be released quickly if necessary.

If it is all chain in the anchor locker, the windlass usually controls the chain as it pays out. Check that the end of the chain is secured somewhere in the anchor locker and make sure it can be released quickly if necessary.

My friend Salty Clay says that to look good while anchoring, decide on hand signals with your crew to communicate between bow and helm. No yelling back and forth. If there are enough hands on deck, assign a “parrot” at the shrouds to relay directions and information, if words are necessary, keeping voices low. Directions should always come from the helm. The bow crew passes information back to the helm, to help the skipper make decisions.

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