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All things related to sailing: tips, howto, pictures of sailing boats, sailors, pirates and all

Pan Pan



“PAN PAN, PAN PAN, PAN PAN pan. There is a dismasted sailing dinghy in the vicinity of the St. Francis Yacht Club. Three sailors aboard all wearing PFDs.”

The sound of Ryan’s voice issuing the mariners warning, one level below a MAYDAY, was a comfort. I was being watched over.   As I struggled to get the sails back in the boat, I could see the other boats nearby.

We had left Berkeley the day before, 4 Ventures, two club keel boats and a couple of private boats tagging along. All bound for the kayak beach at Angel Island. We had a lovely and uneventful upwind sail to the beach. We anchored the keelboats and ferried the sailors, gear and supplies to the beach. After humping everything up the hill to the campsite we had a feast, sausage, peppers & onions, salad, cheeses, charcuterie, beer, wine and on and on. Some of us went to bed early, while others hiked to the top of the island. Ah, youth.DSCN5632

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Planning a cruise around Alameda, and an old navigation technique

Planning a cruise around Alameda, and an old navigation technique

This is about how to plan a particular cruse, circumnavigating Alameda Island. I'm doing it for two reasons. One is to document the specifics for other cruising skippers who might want to do it. The other is to give members an idea of what's involved in planning a cruise.

Circumnavigating Alameda Island is a wonderful experience. I've done it in a kayak and later in a sailboat on a CSC cruise. Part of the wonder is the diversity of it. You have Jack London Square, the Port of Oakland, the closed Naval Air Station, the aircraft carrier Hornet, an incredible beach facing San Francisco, a marsh with a lot of birds at the south end, and some post-industrial stuff along the estuary. The estuary is much improved since the time I kayaked it. The run-down houseboats are gone, and some of the bleck on land has been replaced with parks.

There is also the Coast Guard Island in the middle of the estuary, and if you're lucky the 418 foot ocean patrolling cutters are in. They go out for 90 days in the Pacific.

And then the drawbridges, 5 or 6 depending on how you count. The website is here. 5 of them are very active, and one is a bicycle/pedestrian bridge, right next to a car bridge that goes from Alameda to Bay Farm Island, and it's is the longest drawbridge in Alameda County. It's an incredible experience seeing them open just for you, a little sailboat.

The question in planning this is which direction, clockwise or counter-clockwise. There are a couple of factors to consider. One is that all of the drawbridges are staffed into the evening except for the Bay Farm Island bridge, which has limited hours (usually until 5:30 PM). Also, the bridges will not open during peak commuter hours.

Recent comment in this post
Thank you John for sharing your knowledge & wisdom. This article seems, to this novice, to be an enticing resource. Blessings, Bi... Read More
Saturday, 17 August 2019 22:17
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Advanced (and basic) Hoist Usage

Advanced (and basic) Hoist Usage

There often isn't enough communication around how to use the hoist properly.  In this post we're going to talk about safety, efficiency, and some tips on dropping and pulling a boat single-handed.

Personal and Boat Safety

The two big rules of using the hoist are:

  • Never ever EVER be under the boat while it's in the air.
  • Don't hit the shrouds or spreaders on the hoist arm.

The first issue most comonly happens when the centerboard falls down and someone reaches under the boat to push it back up.  Or if there's a long line of boats waiting to come out of the water and as soon as one boat starts to go up into the air the next person walks their boat down towards the sea wall.  Then when the boat in the air swings out, it's over the other boat.

Both of these are huge no-no's.  The sling/hoist does break.  This happened recently with a Venture in the air that ended up falling 5 feet back into the water.  The boat and everyone around was ok, but If there had been another boat underneath, waiting their turn, it'd be two broken boats instead of zero.  If there had been someone on that boat waiting to attach the sling, as there often is, it would have been way, way worse.  Always beware of where the boat is, and never get underneath it, and please say something if you see someone about to.

For the shrouds and spreaders, this is the most likely way to damage the boat while on the hoist.  Always keep an eye on the mast and shrouds to make sure the boat isn't going to spin into the hoist arm.  This is why someone should have control of the boat at all times.  The person on the sea wall doesn't let go of the stern until the person on the dock is pulling on the bow line so the boat can't spin.  Same with coming out of the water.  The person on the dock doesn't let go of the line until the person on land has their hand on the stern.

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Launching and docking in an East wind

Launching and docking in an East wind

Winter is a time of interesting and fun winds.  We're pretty spoiled most of the year with wind pretty consistently out of the West/South-West.  In the Winter an East wind is fairly common.  When the wind is out of the East you cannot dock on the normal side of the dock with your main up, as it is now a downwind docking and you'll just run into it full speed (yes, skippers do this surprisingly often). 

For your first Winter sailing, this will be a new and unique experience.  Here are some tips for when the wind is blowing from the East:
For departure, after putting the boat in the water like normal, walk it all the way down the dock and push it around to the other side (by the pilings).
 dropping boat
You'll have to use your foot a lot to keep it from banging/scraping as the wind wants to push it into the dock.  Once it's around the other side you'll need to take the bow painter in your left hand and hug each piling so you can hand it off to your right hand so you can get the boat around them.  Tie the boat off and from there everything is normal, including the push-off/backwards sailing away from the dock.
For returning, if you're coming towards the dock and you're on a starboard tack, you won't be able to depower if you try to dock on the normal side, but you should be able to slow sail up to the pilings side.
docking boat
Check your slow sailing course and take a couple passes if you need to.  It's a new docking experience so nothing wrong with circling around a couple times until you feel like you've got it.  Bailing out of a docking when something doesn't feel right is a good show of seamanship, and if anyone on the bench makes fun of you for taking 3 tries to successfully dock feel free to throw them over the sea wall.
The other option for docking is to sail upwind, which would be past the Cal Adventures dock, towards the 3rd dock, drop the main, and sail jib alone back downwind.  Furl or blow the jib early to give the boat time to slow down (it will take longer to slow than you think when going downwind, even with no sails out) and you should easily and gently reach the dock.
Another option, if you get between the docks and realize the wind is wrong, is to dock on the West side of the Cal Adventures dock, drop your sails, and bare poles or go jib-alone over to our dock.  When single handing this may be easier than trying to drop the main while sailing.
As a general rule, regardless of the way the wind is blowing: If your main isn't luffing, abort the docking attempt and reevaluate the conditions.  Do not dock!
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Keelboat Docking - Part 1 - Planning and Preparation

Keelboat Docking - Part 1 - Planning and Preparation

Introduction to the Blog Series

Docking our keelboats under sail is one of the most difficult skills required for the Senior Rating. You have to be able to do it in all wind directions and in several boat types that handle very differently. It takes a huge time investment and a lot of commitment and practice to make the grade.

Everything you've learned on dinghies applies to keelboats, and on dinghies you establish a solid basis of sailing skills. This is why we require a Junior rating to take keelboat lessons, and why it's important to get your Senior Dinghy test passed before getting serious on keelboats.

But the transition from a dinghy to a Pearson Commander is not easy, as the latter has a large mass and a full keel, so it handles very differently from a dinghy. It does everything slowly, including stopping, but also powering up. If you get below the critical speed for steering it, it can take 8 or 9 seconds for the keel to power up, and in that period you're being pushed sideways. You could end up pressed against a downwind piling or boat.

Our keelboat slips are faced approximately west, so normally into the wind, just like our dinghy dock in the South Sailing Basin. So in a "normal" west or south-west wind, you dock pretty much the same way. Slow sail on a close reach into the dock/slip. But the boats are very different, so the procedure becomes more challenging on a keelboat, not to mention the damage you can do if you screw up.

This is the first in a series of blogs on keelboat docking to help you understand the differences between dinghy and keelboat and the additional factors that become important with the latter. I will assume a "normal" west or south-west wind, as this is what you'll be dealing with 80% of the time, at least. And initially, I'll be assuming relatively constant wind, although later in the series I'll talk about wind shifts and how to deal with them. I'm also assuming that you're planning to go into one of CSC's docks with a reasonable amount of time to prepare and plan. As you get more advanced, you will be required to do very quick impromptu dockings, but that comes much later.

Recent Comments
Ryan Alder
Great post! Looking forward to the series. I wanted to reiterate this part: "Finally, you can swing the boat in the turning bas... Read More
Thursday, 20 September 2018 15:53
John Bongiovanni
Excellent point, Ryan. I think that why this isn't so much a problem in dinghies is that they're usually going slower when they do... Read More
Friday, 21 September 2018 01:49
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