Are you ready for heavy weather?

On a small boat in really heavy weather the only thing most of us want to do is lie in our downloadbunk wishing it would all go away. If you’re seasick it must be a hundred times worse. Going on deck to take action to secure the survival of the boat is a frightening proposition. It’s easy at this point to convince yourself that you should wait until it’s a bit calmer before putting in that reef, or dropping the main, or securing the dinghy which is beginning to come loose in its chocks. Of course you can’t succumb to that inner voice; you have to put on the harness and lifejacket, get yourself out into the maelstrom and get the job done.

If you’ve never been there you can’t imagine just how hard it is to operate under the conditions you’re likely to find on deck: The banshee wail in the rigging, the constant deluge of spray and solid water, the violent motion threatening to hurl you overboard.One hand for the boat and one for yourself is the rule, although for much of the time it’s two hands for you and that leaves none for the boat which is why it’s so terribly hard to perform tasks that seemed so simple when it was calm.

This is why my mantra is simplicity in all things. That huge sea anchor with a complex bridle of rope and chain which you bought for just this occasion is going to defeat your attempts to deploy it, unless you have a large, strong and un-seasick crew. Even putting in the third or fourth reef with your single line reefing system with miles and miles of line is going to be a challenge if you’ve left it a bit late. Securing the boom or tying down those spare fuel and water jugs is infinitely easier to accomplish before the heavy stuff arrives.

So, analyse your systems again and ask yourself how easy it’s going to be to get the boat snugged down and safe when the shit hits the fan. Can you get the sail plan sorted quickly and efficiently? Can you heave-to? Can you secure the helm? Is there any chance of items lashed on deck coming loose?

If you plan ahead and prepare the boat for bad weather before it arrives you probably can lay snuggly, and smugly, in your bunk until the storm passes. Assuming your lee cloths are properly designed and tested, of course, and your lockers have good catches and the floorboards are screwed down.

Reflections on a Scottish trip

We’ve just returned from a splendid few days sailing on the west coast of Scotland with our good friends John and Liz aboard their boat, Claymore, based at Ardfern.Reflections

After a night on board we set off from the marina at Ardfern bound for Tayvallich, which we reached after a downwind run on a sparkling sea in twenty knots of breeze and fine sunny weather. In the distance the magnificent Paps of Jura thrust towards the sky.

Sailing 2016

As we were leaving Ardfern the 305 foot, 1500 ton, schooner Eos came in and anchored. This huge boat is the plaything of American billionaire media mogul Barry Diller. She made quite a sight against the rugged pine covered hillside. You sail in good company in these parts; Princess Anne keeps her Rustler 44, Ballochbuie, on a mooring at the marina.

EosHRH small 2



We had a splendid meal aboard at Tayvallich that night, swinging on a mooring in the small, protected, bay and then set off early the next morning for a brief stop at the tiny port of Craighouse on Jura. Leaving Tayvallich there wasn’t a breath of wind and everything was faithfully reflected in the mirror-calm waters of Loch Sween.Glorious scenery 1

At Craighouse there’s a distillery and a pleasant hotel and we lingered long enough for a cup of coffee in the tearooms by the small jetty before heading back to Ardfern.

And then the long road home after our short but thoroughly enjoyable sojourn in this heavenly place.


Night sailing

When the sun has melted into the horizon like a knob of butter on a hotplate you flick on 6 Nov sunsetthe navigation lights and prepare for a night at sea.

Night sailing is at times magical, at other times intimidating. Deep water with plenty of sea room, no traffic, a gentle breeze and a big moon are the ingredients for a pleasant night passage.

We enjoyed just such an untroubled passage between Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico on our sloop Adriana. It had been hot and windless during the day but as night fell the breeze came back and the lights of Mayaguez twinkled on the horizon. I set the jib, slacked the mainsheet and cut the engine. Adriana leaned her shoulder into the sea and came alive. The sky grew into deeper shades of night beset with a million jewels as we cut a swathe through the boisterous sea.

Other night passages have been less idyllic: Battling to windward along the north coast of Hispaniola under a grim moonless sky, hugging the rocky coastline to stay within the umbra provided by the land, lightning blooming on the horizon – this wasn’t the most relaxing of night watches.

Dawn creeps up with the promise of delight or of dire warning – radiant sunburst or red tinged clouds. Another day at sea begins. What will it bring?

Galveston Bay, Texas

Galveston Bay, Texas, has the third highest population of boats in the USA, outside the Great Lakes. Up in the northwest corner of the Bay is Clear Lake where a great many of the marinas are clustered. Clear Lake is connected to Galveston Bay by a narrow neck and that’s a great place to sit in the sun and watch the boats make their way back and forth to the Bay. Here’s a few of the diverse collection you might see on a typical weekend.

Boat 1


























Of course, it’s always better to be out on the water and we were fortunate enough to be invited afloat, first on an 18 foot Mako with a 225 hp outboard which went faster than I’ve ever travelled on water before, and then by the current owner of my old Grand Banks 32, Annie.

It was fun to get my first wake shot from the Mako and a real pleasure to be invited by Jim for a run around the Bay on Annie which he is steadily restoring to pristine condition.

Annie 1wake

Across the pond

Tomorrow we take the silver bird across the pond to the USA. I’ll be reporting on sailingIMGA0014 and boating in Florida, but first I’ll be reporting from the area with the third biggest concentration of boats in the USA: Galveston Bay, Texas.

Salty John, the shop, will reopen on 23 May, by the way.

Stowing the mainsail

Do you stuff or flake? Your mainsail, I mean. Do you stuff it or flake it or both? If you have in-mast furling this will be a procedure alien to you but for most the task of neatly securing the dowsed mainsail must be mastered.

I’ve always found the most efficient way to get the main down and under control is to stuffMainsail it. You apply the topping lift, release the halyard, form a ‘bag’ with the first yard of sail and into this stuff the remaining sail as it tumbles down the mast track. You punch the cloth into the bag to get a tight fit, and as each batten arrives you align it fore and aft. You then roll the ‘bag’ onto the top of the boom and secure it with sail ties (or gaskets as they are sometimes known). Job done.

This gives you a secured mainsail in quick time, but I have to admit that the result can look a bit like a boa constrictor that’s swallowed a family of warthogs. Not pretty, and for some boat owners, unacceptable.

Flaking the sail as it drops really requires two people; one stands at the mast and encourages slabs of sail cloth to fall to alternate sides of the boom like a concertina’s bellows whilst the other stands at the other end of the sail and hauls the flakes aft, aligns the battens and pushes the reefing lines into the folds to stop them dLatifa-2-200x300ropping untidily onto the deck. You then secure with sail ties. After a few years the sail learns where the flakes come and the operation becomes more efficient.

The result can be such a satisfying work of art that you delay the fitting of the sail cover so that others can admire your handiwork.

Many sailors use a combination of the two methods; stuff it until you’re at the dock or have your anchor down, and then go back and flake it before putting on the cover.

A set of good sail ties helps – in basic form they can simply be lengths of inch wide webbing which you tie off with a slipped reef knot. Often they are of different lengths depending on their location along the boom, longest at the mast, but they should be appropriately marked or colour-coded. I prefer webbing sail ties with snap buckles – easy to fasten and unfasten and they’re easily tensioned by pulling on the loose end.

I don’t like bungy cord for this application – too easy to get a whack in the eye and they can damage the sail cloth.

You could buy a system incorporating a bag into which the sail drops, guided there by lazy20141219_thumb jacks. I’ve never owned one but I’ve used them on other people’s boats and when things go right they’re a dream. There’s always the potential for a cock up whenever you add complication on a boat and it takes a bit of forethought to get it right but once you’ve mastered the technique you’ll probably never want to go back to stuffing or flaking.

Drowning – a deadly calmness

Summer approaches, warm weather can’t be too far away so here’s a reminder about the downloaddangers of drowning.

Drowning is not a noisy, dramatic event. Our body’s response to suffocation by water is quite different to the commonly held view that it involves waving arms and shouting for help. That comes before you are drowning. At that point you are in a state known as “aquatic distress” and can still assist in your own rescue by grabbing at floatation devices. If you aren’t saved at this point you quickly pass to drowning. Then, instinct takes over.

In an article in the US Coastguards ‘On Scene’ magazine Dr Francesco Pia, Phd, describes what he terms ‘the instinctive drowning response’ as follows:
1. Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help. The respiratory system was designed for breathing. Speech is the secondary or overlaid function. Breathing must be fulfilled, before speech occurs.
2. Drowning people’s mouths alternately sink below and reappear above the surface of the water. The mouths of drowning people are not above the surface of the water long enough for them to exhale, inhale, and call out for help. When the drowning people’s mouths are above the surface, they exhale and inhale quickly as their mouths start to sink below the surface of the water.
3. Drowning people cannot wave for help. Nature instinctively forces them to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water’s surface. Pressing down on the surface of the water, permits drowning people to leverage their bodies so they can lift their mouths out of the water to breathe.
4. Throughout the Instinctive Drowning Response, drowning people cannot voluntarily control their arm movements. Physiologically, drowning people who are struggling on the surface of the water cannot stop drowning and perform voluntary movements such as waving for help, moving toward a rescuer, or reaching out for a piece of rescue equipment.
5. From beginning to end of the Instinctive Drowning Response people’s bodies remain upright in the water, with no evidence of a supporting kick.

Drowning people can only struggle on the surface of the water for from 20 to 60 seconds before submersion occurs.

Keep a watch on people playing in the water, look for these other signs of drowning:

Head tilted back with mouth open.
Head low in the water, mouth at water level
Eyes closed, or glassy and empty, unfocussed.
Vertical in the water, not using legs
Hyperventilating or gasping
Attempting to swim but not making headway
Attempting to roll over on the back

So, if the kids are screaming and splashing, be thankful, they’re not drowning. If they go unnaturally quite, that’s the time to worry. One day this knowledge may save someone’s life.