Having sailed many miles over my life-time across a broad spectrum of sailing, from cruising, to both fully crewed and short-handed racing, I thought I would share some simple tips that I’ve picked up over the years and some specific ones which don’t seem to be commonly recognised.
Jack-lines: I don’t know where the practice of setting up jack-lines taught came from, but in my opinion and experience this is completely wrong. Firstly, when they are taught your harness line caribinear will get caught on the side stays and anything else that isn’t flush with the webbing. Secondly, if you go forward on the windward side to retrieve a sail or anything else from the leeward side you want some slack so that you can actually have some chance of reaching at least close to the leeward side! So don’t ‘tension’ jack-lines, just leave them with a slight amount of slack.
Boom preventers: If you’re cruising any distance, or delivering a yacht short-handed you should prepare a preventer line, or even better fit a boom-brake system. In any sort of confused sea running in front of the wind it is only a matter of time before you have a heavy unplanned gybe. This puts considerable wear and tear on the mainsail, boom, mast and rigging. Most modern yachts have a large proportion of their boom unsupported, to keep the mainsheet and traveller out of the cockpit, so any yacht with this sort of design will be more prone to boom damage in a heavy gybe. The number of yachts that break booms heading North in Queensland in front of big S’Easter’s is significant.
Go easy: The biggest mistake that cruising sailors make is to not reduce sail early enough, or be conservative enough when the time is appropriate, whether that is at night, ahead of a change or perhaps in front of a thunderstorm. If in doubt reduce sail and be prepared.
Safety gear on the transom: Although it is common practice I’m not a great fan of having life-rings, strobe-lights and drogues etc mounted on the outside of pushpits. In heavy conditions where green water is breaking over the yacht, even if not frequently, the chances of this safety gear being washed away is high when things get nasty. If possible mount them inside the push-pit, flat on the deck, or if you have a recessed transom with swim platform then on the transom itself.
Weather information: There are several weather services available where for a small fee you can get a personal weather forecast for the extended trip that you are doing. One of the guru’s is our own Dr Roger Badham, better known as Clouds Badham. He runs Marine Weather Service and is in high demand around the World and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
“For 15 years MWS has provided research, forecasts and routeing services to the marine industry, and particularly, yachting. Whether voyaging around the bay or around the world, a personalised weather forecast service enables vessels at sea to travel more safely and efficiently.”
Pole outboard sheet: If you are going to be running in front of weather under a poled out headsail then attached a spare/lazy line to the outboard end of the pole led outboard and aft, as well as a downhaul. This allows you to hold the pole secure with this outboard line in combination with the down-haul so that you can simply furl the headsail as required as the wind builds. Nobody needs to go forward and handle the pole, even if you get to the point of furling the headsail completely. The pole can simply stay put.
Genoa outboard sheeting: On the subject of outboard sheeting. If you have a suitable strong point in the right position, or a toe-rail that allows you to attach a snatch-block to use to outboard sheet the genoa that is a big plus. In fact if you haven’t got a suitable deck fitting I would have one fitted. There are two very good reasons to do this; firstly, when you are reaching you will otherwise have your sheet chafing off the life-line, and secondly it is considerably more efficient and will increase your cruising speed significantly, and finally it will reduce the load on the rudder (and therefore autopilot) by making the yacht more balanced with reduced heel.
Securing items on-board: Never underestimate how much objects can move about while at sea, so if in doubt secure everything more than you think you should!
Minimise jerry cans on deck: For longer distance cruising there is always the temptation to carry enough diesel to motor an entire leg, and water to supply a small town. It just seems to be human nature. In most yachts it can be a relatively simple and inexpensive exercise to add a back-up fuel tank, which can either be a bladder or polyprop tank that gravity feeds into your existing tank. Far better to have 100 Litres of diesel low down near the waterline in the aft of the yacht that strapped onto stanchions where it is exposed to waves and reduces the stability of your yacht. Similarly with water there is virtually nowhere in the World where you can’t buy 10 litre or larger drinking water bottles to use as back-up that can be secured below the floors or in low lockers close to the centre of the yacht, therefore adding to stability rather than increasing your yachts roll by being up high.
Use the Australian Yacht Racing Rules as a guide: Category 1 for offshore, or 2 for coastal should be used as a guide of what you should do and have on board for cruising. So items like having saloon floors screwed down, appropriate First Aid, emergency steering etc are all worthwhile and responsible things to follow.
Finally. Go with your gut instincts and use common sense. Cruising is a great pleasure and remarkably easy with the right preparation. If the opportunity arises grab it!
(Lee Condell is the sole director of PBS and has spent 40 years sailing and racing yachts, including cruising his own yacht from Australia to Ireland)