So when you learn to sail just one year before you set out cruising, you inevitably have to learn some things the hard way. Note that even now we make mistakes, but the benefit of sailing this long is that your mistakes have fewer consequences. In fact, they are not so much “mistakes” as “careless oversights.” I’m sure we actually looked really cool the other day motoring around the Abacos with our fenders hanging out. Here’s some harder lessons learned:
- Spinnakers are bastards. No detail can be spared, or disaster may ensue. We have learned to closely follow our checklist, which was developed over several spinny raises. It is very important to get straight which way the guy and sheet run relative to the lifelines when you are setting up for it. When raising, we know that the guy can get snagged on our navlight. We know that our old poly spinnaker halyard can stretch more than you think once the sail fills, and so we always would check to see if we could pull it in afterwards, as two feet of halyard flapping in the breeze chafes quickly. Once up, we watch the wind and waves closely. Wind vane mode on the autopilot works well to minimize gybing and maximize speed, although it can be too sluggish if the apparent wind angle gets greater than 160 degrees. The spinnaker can be trimmed in wind shifts by just the tiniest tap on the electric winch button. Our spinnaker flops around too much in apparent wind of less than 6 kts, and we know that there is no single number to give for the max wind speed you can fly it in, as it depends on the wave height and frequency. Big, frequent waves lower the limit. We’ve also learned to periodically check the pins of the shackles holding the blocks, as they can work their way out. When dousing in light winds, we run just the windward engine, we keep the wind angle at around 135 to make sure the sock stays away from the jib, and we let the sheet fly free, almost all the way out, before pulling down the sock. As dousing proceeds, Mel (at the helm) rapidly (but not too rapidly) pulls in the sheet and adjusts the guy so that all that loose line doesn’t wrap itself around a prop or the jib, and she watches the boat speed to make sure we maintain maneuverability on the one engine, which takes about 3 kts. She makes an extra effort to check the port line, which is in a blind spot from the helm. See? Spinnakers are bastards.
- Don’t believe in checklists? You are a doofus! At minimum, make a departure checklist. Because even the smartest person in the world can forget to close the dryer vent before an upwind sail. Cough.
- Always raise the swim ladder before going underway, or you will snag a mooring ball or something with it and bend it. You will then have to flop into the dinghy like a blind whale in order to board the boat until you get a new one and remember to add “raise swim ladder” to your departure checklist.
- The jib can make a lot of noise when it’s unhappy, but that level of noise is in no way proportional to how much you should panic.
- Sometimes, that first reef should go in at 18 kts instead of 20. The boat (or that full drink you’re holding) will tell you when it’s time.
- It’s always a good idea to secure the drawers before going underway, even while motoring in flat waters. You never know when a powerboat (or gust of wind) is going to zoom past in close proximity and send your nesting cookware flying.
- With our two 57-hp Yanmar engines, backing down on the anchor to set it at 2000 rpm is too much. We would unset our anchor in mud this way. We go to just 1500 rpm now for all conditions. If we are setting in mud, we wait a few minutes to let the anchor settle before backing down.
- Close to land in the Bahamas, strong currents can push the boat off the wind when anchored. Anchor far away from others in this case. Otherwise, you may kiss someone unintentionally in the middle of the night. It’s not as fun as it sounds.
- As boat encounters always happen at night, it’s a good idea to wear attractive sleepwear in crowded anchorages.
- Europe and Africa have decided that they have free reign to put all sorts of crap and obstacles, haphazardly buoyed and lighted, within a five (and sometimes ten) nautical mile radius of land. This is a bigger zone than encountered in the Caribbean. We learned this THE REALLY HARD WAY.
- You sail differently in the Med than the Caribbean. In the Med, we would often just center the main instead of drop it when the winds got light, as the winds could change again in less than an hour. It also took a while to get used to the jerky, high frequency waves that weren’t as clearly coupled to the wind direction, as they were in the Atlantic. The Sea of Sardinia will kick your ass.
- Sometimes you just have to suck it up and crawl into the dinghy instead of step into it. This technique ironically preserves your pride in the long run.
- Always update your autopilot and chartplotter software immediately, especially if you have a Raymarine system. Those dingdongs have a lot of effups to constantly fix. Who knows? You might even be able to avoid hand-steering for two days.
- Learn the local words for various meats from a butcher by making animal noises, not by looking the word up in a book or using Google Translate. You won’t find it. Otherwise, you may eat an animal no one can eat unless it’s drowned in the local hot sauce. Also, pay close attention to food packaging customs.
- If something is rubbing, even lightly, against something else, secure it. Boats are like redheads. We chafe.
So there you go! Now you won’t make the same mistakes, because we’ve made them for you!