June 2, 2009

Cures for hunting

SOME BOATS MAKE QUITE a menace of themselves at anchor when they continuously “hunt” from port to starboard and back. This hunting habit carries them far and wide across an arc of 20 degrees or so, with the anchor as its center. It wouldn’t matter much if there were plenty of room, but since the plastic revolution every man and his dog seems to be able to afford a boat, so all the nice anchorages are very crowded.

A boat with an all-chain rode usually sits very quietly at anchor, but most day sailors and coastal cruisers choose a rode that starts with a small length of chain next to the anchor, and then nylon rope right to the bitter end. Now nylon line is nice and springy, so when a puff of wind hits the starboard bow, the boat slides aft until all the nylon line is taken up. Then it stretches a bit and, recovering its elasticity, slings the bow back over to the opposite side. It continues this back-and-forth slingshot motion in a wide arc ad infinitum.

Once again, it wouldn’t matter much if all the boats in a congested anchorage could be induced to indulge in synchronized hunting. If they all went to port at the same time, and all swung back to starboard together, there would be no problem. Unfortunately, neither the yacht designers nor Nature seem to think this problem worthy of investigation and correction, so we poor souls with boats that hunt have to learn to live with it, scrambling for fenders and yelling loud curses when one boat hunting left comes speeding sideways toward its neighbor boat hunting right.

There are three things I know of that can lessen the arc through which a boat will swing at anchor, and I offer them in order of effectiveness:

► The bridle.
Deploy your rode as usual, lead it through one of the chocks near your bow and make it fast. Now take a line of suitable size and tie a rolling hitch around the rode just ahead of the chock. Give this line a few feet of slack, pass it through the chock on the opposite side of the bow, and cleat it. Now offer up some rode from your original anchor line until you have a bridle in front of the bow, that is, an inverted V pointing toward the anchor. Make your original rode fast when the two legs of the V are equal in length. Don’t expect too much from this bridle, but it does help a bit.

► The riding sail.
If you have a yawl or a ketch, set your mizzen and sheet it in tight. You can center it, or tie it off slightly to one side or the other, as seem best. There are times when the stalled sail will flutter and rattle its fittings and drive you mad. You will have to choose between going crazy and being smitten against your neighboring boat.

If you have a sloop or a cutter you can set a riding sail as far aft as you can get it. The usual arrangement is to hank it to the backstay and lead the sheet forward onto a cockpit winch. It’s often recommended that you use your storm jib for this purpose, but a boat with a full keel normally needs a rather larger spread of sail to be effective. I don’t regard it as a very seamanlike procedure in any case. It always seems wrong to have an unsupported leading edge to a sail that shape. But a lot of people swear by it, and they’re entitled to their own biased opinions.

► Set another anchor.
You will drastically reduce the arc of your swing if you set a second anchor at an angle of about 45 degrees to the first one. It’s the principle of the bridle again, only reversed and on a much more effective scale. You will have rodes leading off to each side of the bow at just over 20 degrees each and your bow will be snubbed very quickly each time it wickedly attempts to stray from the path of righteousness. Of course, there’s a problem with this arrangement, too. You need room to put out the second anchor, and some ignorant fool is almost surely going to drop his anchor right over yours.

► Oh, and there is a fourth method I’ve just remembered.
If you have a cutter or a sloop, simply anchor by the stern. Try it some time. You will be amazed at how quietly she will lie downwind. In fact, this is often the most effective method of all to cure hunting. Its only drawback is that the people all around you will regard you as the village idiot because you’re doing something different from their brand of superior seamanship. No matter. I find that if you return their disapproving looks with a nice, friendly, vacant smile it drives them nuts. You might want to take along some straw to chew at the same time.

Today’s Thought
Seamanship is the art or skill of handling and maneuvering a vessel in the way that best satisfies the needs of the craft rather than the expectations of critical onlookers.
—John Vigor

“I was swimming in a Florida swamp when three gladiators came straight at me and …”
“No, no, not gladiators. Allegories. Things like crocodiles.”
“Well what are gladiators, then?”
“Gladiators? Uh, they’re, like, flowers you grow from bulbs.”

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