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Steven R. Van Hook

Top Tips to Better Sailing
Best ideas shared by old salts and hard-way learners
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 by Steven R. Van Hook

Steven R. Van HookOne of the best sailing seminars is simply to head out with an old-timer or two who generously share warning after warning, adage after adage, whopper after whopper.

I always carry a notebook for such cases. Here is a sampling of the best tips gleaned over the years.

  • We probably learn not to repeat each mistake -- problem is, there's still plenty more new ones to make.

  • To picture prop-walk, imagine a pair of boots hiking in the direction of the propeller (typically clockwise for forward; counterclockwise for reverse).

  • Walk back-down the companionway ladder into the cabin. That can save a bruised coccyx, or worse -- a damaged spine.

  • Keep nothing hanging around neck that might wind up wrapped around a wench or hooked to an anchor dragging you down.

  • How to tell if shoes might scuff a boat: walk up and kick a boat (preferably someone else's). If it leaves a mark, they scuff.

  • If the winds blow strong and you're wary over a downwind tack with its likely banging boom, use a "chicken jibe" -- which is a 270-degree tack with the bow through the wind, rather than a 90-degree jibe with the stern through the wind.

  • Tack using geographical reference points rather than compass/wind indicator to avoid instrument lag. 

  • Soften up stiff lines with fresh water and fabric softener.

  • In rough waters men should sit on the head to pee, to avoid a mess around the floor and walls.

  • The most critical key to a great sail (or a miserable one) is not the winds, the seas, or the shape of the boat; it's who's on board.

  • How to tell if there are sharks in the water: taste the water. If it's salty, then there's sharks.

  • Says Captain Dan: "Sailing off with your fenders hanging over the side is like walking around with your fly open: It doesn’t really do any harm, but makes you look stupid as hell."

  • Here's the difference between a fairytale and a sailor's story: Fairytales begin with 'once upon a time'; a sailor's story with 'this is no lie ...'

  • When the sails are overpowered with wind and the boat heels excessively, bleed some of it off. Even though power is decreased, the boat may find better footing and sail faster.

  • For a 33 foot sailboat, the most dangerous parts of the journey are the first 33 feet and the last 33 feet.

Steven R. Van Hook has cruised California waters since 1976, 
starting with a 19-foot Glen-L powerboat in Santa Barbara Harbor, 
and currently sails a Hunter 326 out of Channel Islands Harbor. 

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