March 7, 2010

Dancing out of port

(Every Monday, Wednesday, Friday – a new Mainly about Boats column)

SINGLEHANDING A CRUISING SAILBOAT has many advantages. The skipper never has to argue with the cook about what to have for supper, for example. But there is one recurring dilemma for the person alone on a boat and that is how to control the boat’s speed and direction in the time between raising the anchor and getting back to the cockpit.

It’s extraordinary how a perfectly well-behaved boat will suddenly decide to veer off sideways at astonishing speed toward an adjacent anchored boat as soon as the anchor comes clear of the bottom. It’s going to take two or three minutes to haul up the rode and get the pick settled in the roller. But you don’t have two or three minutes. The distance to the next yacht is one minute; maybe 50 seconds if a gust of wind hits you.

This is why singlehanders so often drop anchor way, way apart from anyone else. It isn’t that they’re anti-social or because they had bad experiences with nasty sailors when they were little kids. It’s just that they need lots of room in which to drift, out of control, while they wrestle with their newly recovered ground tackle.

Sometimes, though, anchorages are crowded, and, thoughtless as it may seem, nobody sets aside drifting room for special-needs singlehanders. What then? Well, if you have a tiller, rather than a wheel, there are things you can do. You can steer from the bow, for a start.

If you tie the tiller off to one side with a piece of elastic surgical tubing, or a bungee cord, you can take a length of cod line from the tiller, across to the opposite coaming, and forward outside the stanchions to the bow. If you stand on the foredeck and pull the cod line, the elastic will stretch and allow you to pull the tiller over one way. And if you let the cod line go completely, the elastic will contract and pull the tiller over the other way. Because you need two hands for the anchor rode, you can stand on the cod line with one foot to keep the tiller positioned exactly where you want it.

In this way, if you leave your engine ticking over slowly in forward gear, you can steer your way out of trouble while you are actually weighing anchor. If you are especially ingenious and your engine controls are cooperative, you may be able to attach another piece of elastic tubing to the gear lever and another length of cod line to run up the other side to the bow. That will keep your second foot happy by giving it something responsible to do, too, and the anchored hordes will be provided with free amusement as you dance your way out of port.

I expect there are those of you who will say that an autopilot with a wireless remote can do just as good a job of steering from the bow. But where, I ask, is the fun in that? And if you want to experiment by standing on your remote control on the foredeck, be my guest.

Today’s Thought
The Athenians do not mind a man being clever, as long as he does not impart his cleverness to others.
— Plato, Euthyphro

Boater’s Rules of Thumb #23
Hauling the boat. The first thing to do when you haul the boat out of the water is to scrape off bottom growths immediately. If you let the plant and animal life dry out it sets like concrete within a couple of hours. If you can’t scrape or arrange for a power wash-down immediately, then try to keep the bottom wet until you’re ready.

“Nurse, get the patient’s name so we can inform his mother.”
“But doctor, his mother already knows his name.”

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