Steven R. Van Hook
sure one of the most challenging aspects of sailing is scheduling a
capable crew on short notice, when perfectly coincided winds and seas and
skies irresistibly beckon.
Sometimes your hastily
assembled crew may be less than perfect hands, or have no sailing skills
at all. If that's the case, often the best help they can offer is to find
an out-of-the-way perch and stay clear as you set sail unassisted.
It's a supreme confidence
booster and comfort to know you can get the boat out and home again on
your own, especially when your entire queasy crew starts feeding the sea
from the rail.
Of course you want to make
sure all your fundamental skills are sharp as you single-hand (or
'shorthand') -- and certainly before you solo once you're proven adept at
single-handing with back-up aboard.
Here are a few
extra tips for crewing a boat on your own:
Do as much setup as
possible before leaving the docks with fenders, equipment checks,
bathroom pit-stops ... anything that can reduce your cognitive load
Always plan two steps
ahead and work twice as fast. Your lines should be already flaked and
winched well before unfurling and tacks; your motions rehearsed and
Keep the sail times
shorter, beware fatigue, and reserve a burst of energy for docking.
On departure and return,
get that view-obscuring jib out late and in early to
clear blind spots, minus an extra set of lookout eyes.
Allow twice the safety
window for unfurling and furling sails: for example, instead of
furling the jib 5 minutes before the home breakwater make it 10.
Stow your water, snacks,
harmonica, etc., in the cockpit for easy access without heading below.
The autopilot is a useful
aid for single-handers, but never turn your back on it -- especially
when you need it most in heavy seas and winds.
Know your limits and
consider any sail with inexperienced sailors a single-handed
operation. 12 knots of wind is a good maximum to start.
Be adept at reefing,
heaving to, and depowering the main in a flash. Reef at the first hint
of uncomfortable winds. Heaving to can quickly calm a boat and crew. A
sharp jerk of the windward traveler line can release the main to
leeward and instantly depower the boat if a gust heels you
over and heads you up when sailing close hauled.
Use a 'chicken jibe'
rather than a standard jibe when you're on your own in anything but
light winds; that means performing a 270-degree tack with your bow
through the wind, rather than a 90-degree jibe.
Pay extra attention to the
weather and radio reports during the sail.
Keep any background music
low, especially during departures and arrivals.
Avoid shipping lanes and
high-trafficked areas that require extra diligence.
Have your lifejacket,
harness and tether at the ready for sudden blows.
Keep an air horn at the
helm for instant warnings.
Stay seated as much as
possible to prevent bone-cracking tumbles. Keep any tripping spaghetti
of lines especially clear from the deck and walkways. There's no one
there to chuckle or help you up when you go splat.
Be able to dock smartly
without any ankle-spraining leaps, and have a beam docking line handy
in case of any slips.
Polish your radio
technique, and keep a backup hand-held on board. Know the difference
between a Mayday, Pan-Pan, and Securite call.
Store all emergency
numbers and data in your cell phone (Harbor Patrol, Coast Guard,
Vessel Assist, and such). My towing service won't come running until
they have the account verified. It's no time to be fumbling with slips
Make sure someone ashore
knows your sail plan.
Master your craft -- be
unhesitant on the winches, sail trim, anchor, rules of the road ...
When I was learning to fly, my
instructor repeated the most basic of warnings over and over so they'd
echo forever in my ears. "I never want you to feel alone up
there," he reasoned. That's even more so at sea.
R. Van Hook
has cruised California waters since 1976,
starting with a 19-foot Glen-L powerboat in Santa
and currently sails a Hunter 33 out of
Channel Islands Harbor.
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