John Ellsworth gives advice on enjoyable singlehandling
and setting up your boat for going it alone.
Are you dependent upon another person in order to sail? How many times have you wanted to go out and enjoy your boat but couldn't get crew? You probably ended up not doing what you enjoy most.
Although you can learn much from having skillful hands on board, being dependent on them curtails your experience and development as a sailor. If you learn to sail alone, you'll come a long way in your knowledge of boathandling and the sea. Here are some tips on getting started. They include ways of making it easier to pick up a mooring, set and weigh anchor, tie up at a dock, and cast off. In addition, we'll discuss heaving-to, so you can prepare your lines and fenders before entering a harbor. And if you don't have headsail roller-furling, you'll find out how to install an alternative—a jib downhaul that can be handled from the cockpit.
Much of your success in getting under way or securing your boat depends on the strength and direction of wind and current and the boat's maneuverability. Whether you are planning to moor, anchor, or dock, you can increase your success by heading your boat into the stronger of the two elements -wind or current.
Mooring. Having a crewmember to go forward and retrieve the line makes mooring easy. When you are alone, however, retrieving the mooring pennant takes agility and timing, especially if it's blowing.
Before you approach, run a line from your cockpit along the deck, through the bow chock, and back aft along the rail, outside of the rigging and stanchions. Place a large snapshackle on the outboard end. Approach the mooring upwind, then maneuver your boat so that the buoy is alongside and upwind of the cockpit. Grab the pennant with your boathook and shackle your line to it. Let it ride free as you haul it in from the other end. (If the wind is strong, you can use a winch.) In moments the bow will be at the mooring buoy and you can go forward to cleat the mooring pennant.
If you have a permanent mooring, attach a mast buoy (pickup buoy) to the mooring pennant. This flexible pole will guide you to the mooring location, and when you come alongside, you won't need a boathook to grab the line.
Anchoring. Whether you are alone or with crew, it's advisable to mark your anchor rode in fathoms or feet. You can buy yellow PVC ribbon markers through a marine mail-order house or your local chandlery. They show lengths from 30 to 150 feet at 20-foot intervals. You can also whip colored twine at intervals using your own code.
Set and weigh anchor from the cockpit. The procedure works best if you have a bowroller and an anchor with a short but sufficient length of chain.
Lowering the anchor. Before entering the harbor, lead enough anchor rode aft to give you about 6-to-1 scope, plus twice the length of your boat and the length of the chain. Flake the rode in the cockpit and make sure it will run out freely. Then bring the anchor from its place on the bow, along with its chain and line, outboard of the stanchions and rigging; place it in or about the cockpit. Make the inboard rode fast. You are now ready to lower the anchor and set it from the cockpit.
After entering the anchorage area, scout and find your spot and head into the wind as usual. When the bow is over your chosen spot, reverse your engine and, as you get sternway, lower the anchor hand over hand. While backing down, pay out the rode-hold it above the flaked line and let it out with a turn on a winch. Just before the line has completely unflaked, make it fast by taking more turns on the winch and cleating it. Now back down firmly to set the hook.
Weighing anchor. With your setup still the same (anchor line running back to the cockpit), pull in the anchor rode as you motor toward the anchor. When the line is vertical, make it fast. The boat's forward motion should break the anchor free. If not, use the winch as a windlass. Once the anchor is up, recover it by hauling the anchor line until it stows itself in the bow roller. When clear of the anchorage you can go forward and secure the tackle.
Your tackle configuration and some experimenting will determine what techniques are best for you. If you decide to sail alone frequently and anchor often, you may decide on permanent aft stowage for the anchor, perhaps on the sternrail. It can then be used in the routine we have outlined or as a stem anchor in coordination with a bow anchor when conditions warrant.
Leaving and approaching the dock. When getting under way or approaching a dock, be mindful of wind and current and head into whichever is stronger, if possible. Remember, your bow or stern can be blown down by a strong wind, so take time to study the conditions, make your plans, and set your lines accordingly.
The key to an easy departure from a dock is a slip line passed around a bollard
The key to an easy departure is slip lines. A slip line is fastened to a cleat on deck, then passed around a bollard, piling, or cleat on the dock and returned to the boat. You can then handle your lines from on board. Set up the slip line (usually to windward) while the other docklines are in place. The onboard end can be led to a winch; a few turns will do. Remove the other docklines. Maneuver your craft away from the slip or dock, controlling it with the slip line, then release it and draw it inboard in a free and easy motion. Don't snap or yank the line; it might snag ashore. Once the boat is free of the dock, retrieve the line quickly so it won't foul the propeller. Keep a line about twice the length of the boat on board, in case you need to slip a spring line. Make sure the ends are tightly whipped to ensure a snag-free pull. The routine for docking varies according to the wind and current situation, but the principle remains the same: Prepare ahead.
If you don't already know, call the dockmaster to determine on which side you'll be docking. Before entering the docking area, attach fenders.
Secure a stern line and a bow line. Lead the bow line aft through the chock, outside the rigging and lifelines, and over the top lifeline to the cockpit. Coil the remainder of the line and divide it to ease heaving. Do the same with the stern line. Now fasten a snatch block amidships. Run a line from an appropriate winch through the block to the deck underneath the bow line. Coil the amidships line so that it will be at hand.
Now you are prepared for two possibilities. If there is someone dockside, you can toss the appropriate line; if no one is available, nudge your craft alongside, step off with agility, and secure the amidships line to hold the boat. Once fast, you can tend the other lines. For greater convenience, if you are sure no one will be dockside, lead your bow and stern lines amidships, rather than into the cockpit. Then it is just a matter of reaching from the dock once the amidships line is fast.
Whatever you do, you will be more successful if you plan and prepare ahead and take your time. Visualize yourself performing each task and the entire operation.
Heaving-to. Before entering port you may need the time to secure loose gear, check the harbor entrance, call the dockmaster, and prepare fenders and lines. You can make these chores easier by heaving-to, or slowing the boat and leaving the helm while the boat drifts to leeward under control (Fig. 1).
Figure 1: If the sails and tiller are set properly, heaving-to is a continuous process of bearing away and heading up while drifting to leeward under control.
In light or moderate winds, back the headsail, ease the mainsail, and lash the tiller to leeward. The boat will cycle between bearing away and heading up, freeing you from the helm to attend to your chores.
Naturally, longer-keeled boats heave-to with greater ease. If your boat has a fin keel or centerboard, it may take some experimenting to set sails and tiller just right. A centerboard adds another variable to balancing the boat. Try your luck positioning it at different depths. Before heavingto, make sure you have ample searoom to leeward.
Jib downhaul. The more you singlehand, the more you'll want to make things easy for yourself. A jib downhaul is a less-costly alternative to roller-furling. Once installed, it allows you to douse the headsail without going to the foredeck (Fig. 2).
Figure 2: A jib downhaul makes it easy to drop the headsail without going on the foredeck.
Attach a small snatch block in the vicinity of the tack plate. Then tie a 3/16-inch line through the eye of the headsail-halyard shackle and thread it down the luff of the sail through the hanks and snatch block and lead it aft to a cleat near the jib-halyard cleat—either at the mast or near the cockpit. (You may need to install some fairleads if you are leading it to the cockpit.) To douse the sail, just free the halyard and pull the downhaul.
A jib downhaul allows you to douse the headsail without going to the foredeck
If you decide to use this device, stow the headsail in a bag off the deck, so that you don't have to thread the downhaul every time you go sailing. Detach the sheets (or stow them in the bag), and keep all else fast. It's quick work to remove the sailbag and lead the sheets before leaving, then raise the sail when you are under way.
Using these techniques, you'll be able to get under way, set sail, prepare to enter harbor, and secure your craft with great ease. Practice on calm days, and visualize the procedures before you start them. Experiment and modify as you see fit. These procedures will contribute to your confidence in handling your boat by yourself, you'll spend more time on the water and become a more self-reliant sailor.
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Posted via email from Captain Richard Burton