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An important fine point on Docking in Low Tide

One of the things I love about sailing is that I learn something every time I go out, I'm constantly expanding my knowledge and skills.Talking with several of the very best sailors in the Club recently, I heard the same sentiment.

We're in the season of low tides and early closings, and I learned something about low-tide docking.

I did a blog post a while ago on docking in low tide. I recommend looking at this post, as you need to dock in a completely different way than you normally do. You come in way upwind instead of downwind, and you don't (can't) slow sail (you'll just get pushed sideways into the seawall).

In the present post, I want to amplify a small but important detail, which I discovered recently docking in low tide (wind from the east in this case, but that doesn't matter). I was following more or less the course I recommended in the earlier blog: go upwind, downwind past the dock, and then shoot up:

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Ever since my dad took me, age 10, out in a dinghy in Regent's Park Lake in London and we were becalmed for an hour, I have loved sailing. So when traveling rough through China years ago with a friend from the Bronx, we spotted a dinghy rental place on a shallow manmade lake north of Beijing, it was impossible to resist.

Kunming Lake graces the Summer Palace, the suburban 19th century watering hole of China's emperors escaping the dry summer heat of Beijing. Breezes and greenery helped keep the Qing Dynasty royals and their retainers from sweating overmuch, and it is said they popped into the lake for a swim before cocktails in the evenings.

Dominating the shore was an extraordinary creation, the Marble Boat of the Dowager Empress Ci Xi, she of the long fingernails and longer political reach. In 1893, despite foreign occupation of China and the shadow of a rapidly industrializing war-hungry Japan, Her Majesty ordered the rebuilding of the boat, a two-story structure complete with fake paddle wheels. The royally embezzled funds were supposed to go to build a modern Navy.

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Rigging a Bahia's Reefing Line

I've had to correct mis-rigged Bahia reefing lines recently, so I thought I'd explain how to rig the line properly. You'll have to do this if the main sail is crunched at the leech when you raise it fullly or if you can't fully reef the sail.

It's a little confusing, as it's two lines in a "jiffy reef" system, so that you only have to pull on one line to pull down both the luff and the leach of the sail. But once you get the picture, it isn't that hard to deal with. Here's what it looks like:

The line through the leech of the sail attaches to a block in the boom. The line through the luff of the sail runs through the block and back out the forward end of the boom through the cleat.

So what happens when you reef is this. You pull on the line at the forward end of the boom. This pulls the block attached to the leach line forward through the boom, pulling the aft reefing line down and raising the boom to the reefing gromet. You get here:

Recent Comments
Ryan Alder
Nice description on how to get the right length of the two lines attached to the block! Not knowing the technique, it takes a lot... Read More
Tuesday, 06 September 2016 14:22
John Bongiovanni
The diagrams are based on the Bahia manual, so they're the manufacturers recommendations, for whatever that's worth. However, I b... Read More
Tuesday, 06 September 2016 15:52
John Shearer
Hi John! Excellent guide on the reefing process! I have to agree with Ryan on the routing issue. If the manufacturer recommende... Read More
Sunday, 13 November 2016 15:41
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Separating the Gybe from the Turn

Separating the Gybe from the Turn

Something I’ve found to help students when they’re learning to gybe is to separate the gybe from the act of turning the boat. A gybe can require no turning at all, and understanding this will improve your gybes and reduce your likelihood of capsizing.

Most of the time, the reason we are gybing is because we want to turn and go the other way while sailing downwind. Maybe we've reached Ashby Ave and we have to head back before we start to feel the disapproving glare of the day leader through their binoculars. Or we're doing tight circles around a buoy and have to keep turning through the gybe. But really, gybing has nothing to do with turning, other than if we're turning downwind, we have to eventually gybe or we just can't continue the turn.

The gybe itself is nothing more than changing tacks (from port to starboard or vice versa) while sailing downwind. Or to put it more simply: a gybe is flipping the sail from one side of the boat to the other. If you’re on a dead downwind run, there is no turning needed. In fact, there are reasons to gybe that don't involve a turn at all. A common case is during racing--if you're on a dead run and want to obtain right of way by switching from port to starboard tack. No turning needed. Or maybe you're headed back home and the wind shifts a bit and you realize you're now sailing by the lee, so you flip the sail to get yourself out of accidental gybe territory. No turning needed.

I've noticed a lot of students (understandably) connect the turn and the gybe and want to turn through the gybe, from broad reach to broad reach, which can often result in a capsize. To help disconnect the two actions I've started doing this exercise:

  • Get on a dead run. Get the jib to cross to the center of the boat and try to keep it there. Watch out for the accidental gybe, and tell your crew to do the same. If you have crew you may want to have someone hold the boom in place to avoid a gybe before you're ready.  They'll also be able to feel the main starting to get back-winded, so they can let you know you've turned too far off the wind.  Maintaining a dead-run can in-itself be tricky, and if you can hold this reasonably well in waves, you're off to a good start!
  • Look at what you're heading towards on the horizon. Try to find a fixed reference point.
  • Now gybe. Try to keep the boat headed dead downwind. Use your reference point on the horizon if it helps. Once the wind catches the sail on the other side, it will try to turn the boat up, so maintaining your heading will require some counter steer with the tiller.  Think of it as a light version of the S-turn.
  • Once you're confident you're still on a run, gybe again.
  • Now do it faster, back and forth, while maintaining course.
  • Try to get down to a few seconds between gybes.
  • By now you're probably at the rocks, so better tack your way back up to the restaurant and do some more.

I've found this tends to create a light bulb moment and hopefully makes gybing in general a little smoother.

Recent Comments
Michael Sherrell
I don't think I'd encourage correlating wind direction with landmarks. One of the most widespread problems at the club is sailing ... Read More
Saturday, 02 July 2016 07:53
Ryan Alder
Yea I'm on the fence about that part for that reason, and I don't always mention it, depending on how the student is doing. This i... Read More
Sunday, 03 July 2016 23:53
John Bongiovanni
On a dead run, you have some pretty good indicators on the boat. Ryan mentioned one in a way I hadn't thought of - the jib, and tr... Read More
Wednesday, 06 July 2016 22:50
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Slow Sailing

Slow sailing is a Junior skill and an important one. The objective of slow sailing is to get to a fixed point in space (a dock, a man-overboard,
a buoy) with zero speed. The idea is to come in on a close reach course, where you have an accelerator and a brake.
With the mainsheet all the way out, the sail is depowered, and the brake is the wind and sea against the boat. Pulling in the mainsheet on the falls is the accelerator. You line yourself up on a close reach
course and sail to the target.

There are two skills involved:

1) lining yourself up on a close reach course to the target, and

2) slow sailing on that course to it.

Let's talk about hitting a buoy at zero speed, as it's the hardest of the maneuvers. When you dock, you usually have some room for error, as you don't have to get to a precise point on the dock. But wait, what about a busy Saturday where you have to thread the needle between the only two boats where there's any space between them to dock? If you can lightly touch a buoy on a slow-sail, you can do precision docking.

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Ryan Alder
I think 'maintain forward momentum' is the big one (once you get the concept of finding the right angle to the wind). I know I ha... Read More
Thursday, 23 June 2016 11:16
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