On the way back into the Berkeley marina on a Sunday afternoon, we heard a panicked 'mayday, mayday, I'm in the water just off the Berkeley pier'.
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.
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).
There are a couple ways to come into the dock. The method new skippers gravitate towards at first, because it's easier, is to come in with plenty of speed and do a final turn up into the wind at the end to avoid banging into the dock. Or they don't even do the turn and just bang into the dock... I guess this would be a 3rd way, but highly undesirable.
The preferred method more properly utilizes slow sailing. Docking and COB are the main reasons we teach slow sailing. When you have a firm grasp on slow sailing, you will be able to come to a stop 1" from the dock as your crew casually steps off the bow.
Here are the steps for docking like a pro:
(Credit where credit is due, I've had this best explained to me by Robert O. Come work the keelboat dock during open house sometime and watch Robert dock a keelboat singlehanded to get an idea of the ideal you're shooting for.)
- When you're coming in to the docks watch the wind socks to get an idea of the wind direction at the dock, which may be different than it was when you were out sailing.
- Pick an exact spot on the dock. This is where you're going to try to end up. You don't have to tell anyone else the exact spot. If you don't hit it exactly, and are a foot off, no one else will be the wiser, it will still just look like a really good docking to them.
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.