April 17, 2011

The limits of singlehanding

HOW BIG A SAILBOAT can I manage singlehanded? That’s a question I get asked a lot. Two kinds of people ask that question: newcomers to sailing, and experienced sailboat owners who have grown weary of the endless battle to recruit and maintain crew.

The answer is fairly simple in essence. There are two definite limiting factors to handling a boat with safety and confidence:

► First, can you raise the heaviest anchor on board without the help of a winch and secure it properly in the bow roller or on the foredeck?

► Second, can you handle the biggest sail on board in all kinds of weather?

In ordinary circumstances, you may not have to weigh anchor manually without the aid of a winch or capstan, but it’s still a good indication of your strength and ability — and the day might come when you simply have to raise it by hand in a hurry or kiss the anchor goodbye.

As for handling the biggest sail, if you’re a beginning singlehander your biggest sail should be the mainsail, not a spinnaker. You should be able to reef it, lower it, smother it, and get sail ties around it in the heaviest winds.

Now, if you’re confident about your ability to manage these two things, you’re probably physically able to singlehand that particular boat. There are other factors to take into account, though, such as your mental ability to adapt to solitude and the prospect of having no one else to help you in an emergency.

Don’t be misled by the fact that people race around the world singlehanded and non-stop in boats of 50 or 60 feet. Those are sailing’s superstars, exceptional athletes with muscles like a California governor and minds like traps of steel. I’m not saying you couldn’t be one of them, heavens no. But my advice is to start smaller and work your way up slowly.

Today’s Thought
The more powerful and original a mind, the more it will incline towards the religion of solitude.
--Aldous Huxley, Proper Studies

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #187
Ever wondered how much strain your foresail sheet puts on the winch or cleat? The old rule of thumb was this: Square the wind speed in knots and multiply the answer by the sail area in square feet. Then divide the result by 232. That gives you the approximate pull on the sheet in pounds. Thus, a 200-square-foot jib in a 20-knot breeze generates a pull of about 345 pounds. And the maximum pull the sail is likely to exert is about double that figure.

A woman walked into the doctor’s office and said: “My husband won’t come to see you, but he isn’t sleeping well. He tosses and turns all night. Is there something you can give me for him?”
   The doctor opened a drawer and handed her a sample box. “Slip one of these pills into his coffee after supper,” he said. “That should help him.”
   Next morning the woman met the doctor in the street. “How did your husband sleep?” he asked.
   “Perfectly, doctor. I slipped three pills into his coffee and he ...”
   “Three? Good grief, I said ONE.”
   “Yes, I know doc, but anyway, five seconds later he stripped off all his clothes, flung himself naked on top of the table, and fell deeply unconscious among the crockery.”
   “Oh my word! Did he break anything?”
   “Oh, just a few things, doc, but it didn’t matter — we weren’t planning to go back to that restaurant again anyway.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


mgtdOcean said...

Hi John,
I agree phisical strenght is of prime importance and for me an added feature is the net complexity of the boat. Starting with diesels with endless hours of required maintenance, jammed roller furler, full battens that snagged back stays and jammed sail slides, pressure water system that leaks and dumps 30gallons in to the oily bilge, wind instruments that are suddenly 90 degs off from the breeze on my face, etc, etc, Give me a simple boat above all.
Take care

Nikolay said...

Morning John,
Perhaps not strictly speaking singlehanding related, but something I would like to hear your opinion on.

This past weekend was the launch at my yacht club. It rained more or less non-stop.

I do not currently own a set of foulies so needless to say I got really wet and cold. Even what I thought was my good rain jacket seems to be wearing out in parts.

Having seen quite a variety of attire used during the launch, everything from a black garbage bag with holes cut out for the arms and head, to 2-piece bib pants and jacket suits to full out survival style foulies, I'm wondering what to look for in a set.

Being very budget concious, I consulted my Pardey library section and found some tidbits in their "Care and Feeding..." Book.

What advise can you offer about selecting foulies, in terms of fit, price, features, etc.

To give you an idea of the intended usage: I'm a keelboat weekend sailor, some multi-day cruises, and the odd 50-100 NM race.


John Vigor said...

Nikolay, I seem to remember that Robert Crawford had a really good clothing system when he raced his Cal 20 singlehanded from Frisco to Hawaii. He had no dodger, of course. I'll see if I can dig out his book, Black Feathers, and give you the details in my next blog.


John V.