Lay up or sail away

It’s be­com­ing in­creas­ingly com­mon to keep cruis­ing yachts in the wa­ter year-round, so late sea­son sail­ing can be en­joyed and im­proved with a few sen­si­ble pre­cau­tions. Rupert Holmes re­ports

Practical Boat Owner - - Cruising -

Ask a dozen boat­ing en­thu­si­asts what they do over the win­ter and you’ll get a wide range of an­swers. Some value the es­cape from the wa­ter to al­low them to get on with ev­ery­thing else in their lives. Many will, how­ever, en­thu­si­as­ti­cally re­count tales of glo­ri­ous crisp sunny days, fol­lowed by a con­vivial evening in front of a favourite pub’s log fire.

What’s more, the pro­por­tion of peo­ple who sail all year has been steadily grow­ing. When I was a Yacht­mas­ter in­struc­tor in the early 1990s it was pos­si­ble to spend an en­tire week in the So­lent in Jan­uary or Fe­bru­ary with­out see­ing an­other yacht un­der way. That doesn’t hap­pen any more.

We asked a se­lec­tion of PBO read­ers around the British Isles about their ap­proach to win­ter. The over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity – al­most three quar­ters – keep their boat afloat all year, with a sim­i­lar per­cent­age of those us­ing their ves­sel at least once a month.

Al­most a third of read­ers say they use their boat most weeks dur­ing the win­ter. I’ve been one of them for as long as I can re­mem­ber; with the right cloth­ing and a sen­si­ble at­ti­tude, win­ter sail­ing can of­fer as much fun, chal­lenge or re­lax­ation as any­one could want. It also re­duces the amount of time your boat – an as­set into which both time and money is poured – is tied up and un­used. Boats that are sailed all year also tend to be bet­ter looked af­ter than those that are left un­tended for four to six months.

many ports in a few hours in de­cent con­di­tions. Equally, even in in­clement weather smaller ves­sels have plenty of op­tions be­tween the Helford and Fal estuaries, within Ply­mouth Sound, the River Ta­mar and its var­i­ous branches, or in the Dartmouth-Brix­ham-TorquayTeign­mouth belt that ben­e­fits from bet­ter shel­ter in west­erly winds.

The So­lent, with its ex­cel­lent shel­ter and plethora of closely spaced har­bours and nu­mer­ous mari­nas, is a win­ter par­adise. Granted you don’t want to be out in win­ter when it’s prop­erly windy, es­pe­cially with wind against tide con­di­tions, but in favourable weather it gives a glo­ri­ous range of op­tions.

But win­ter sail­ing doesn’t have to mean only short sails in­ter­spersed with time spent warm­ing up and drying out in a hostelry on shore, par­tic­u­larly if crew mem­bers can pop be­low decks for a bit to get out of any wind chill and warm up. A cou­ple of years ago I en­joyed a mag­i­cal sail to Cher­bourg a cou­ple of days af­ter Christ­mas, with the Eber­spächer pro­vid­ing enough gen­tle heat to stay toasty. We re­turned up the So­lent on a crys­tal clear night at New Year, with fire­works on both sides as a big flood tide pow­ered us up the west­ern So­lent at speeds close to 10 knots over the ground.

A few years ear­lier we spent Christ­mas it­self on the pre­vi­ous boat, a 24ft Quar­ter Ton­ner, in New­town Creek. It was such a glo­ri­ously sunny day we cooked Christ­mas din­ner in the cock­pit, be­fore row­ing ashore to give my young nieces, who live in Shalfleet, their presents. We re­turned to Mine­strone early evening – ahead of a belt of heavy rain – for a cosy evening watch­ing films be­low deck.

Heat­ing

On all but the very best of win­ter days some form of heat­ing will trans­form com­fort lev­els. At the very sim­plest this can be a £10 fan heater to plug into the shore power at a ma­rina. This can work well for oc­ca­sional use, but can re­strict the choice of desti­na­tion and quickly be­comes ex­pen­sive if you spend a lot of time on board and might oth­er­wise choose cheaper moor­ing op­tions.

Solid fuel stoves are by far the fastest form of heat­ing to fit, re­quir­ing only a heat shield on the bulk­head, four se­cur­ing bolts and a hole in the coachroof for the chim­ney. The Bengco and Pansy brands of char­coal heater were once pop­u­lar and have an ad­van­tage over mul­ti­fuel heaters in that they have a small-bore chim­ney, which sim­pli­fies in­stal­la­tion on many boats. Nei­ther is pro­duced any more, al­though there’s a slow but steady stream of them avail­able sec­ond-hand. An al­ter­na­tive is the North Amer­i­can Newport solid fuel heater that will burn wood or char­coal.

Prop­erly prac­ti­cal boat own­ers can weld up their own solid fuel stove for less than £50, as my friends Mar­tin and Roma did for their 32ft home built steel Wylo ll. How­ever, it’s most im­por­tant to un­der­stand how to de­sign the unit to elim­i­nate the risk of car­bon monox­ide be­ing emit­ted to the cabin.

Ad­van­tages of solid fuel heaters in­clude sim­plic­ity, low up­front cost, ease of in­stal­la­tion and that no electrical power is needed. In ad­di­tion, the pro­mo­tion of air­flow through the boat helps to dry the in­te­rior. On the down­side the fuel is bulky, heat is not in­stant and it may not be pos­si­ble to use the de­vice when un­der sail. The Tay­lor’s paraf­fin heater solves the bulky fuel is­sue, but at the ex­pense of a lit­tle ex­tra com­plex­ity and cost.

For most boats in the 26-45ft bracket, a diesel-fired warm air heater is the pre­ferred choice, pro­vid­ing there’s suf­fi­cient bat­tery power to run the fuel pump and air fan. This is much more akin to do­mes­tic cen­tral heat­ing and can even be spec­i­fied with a seven-day timer. Down­sides in­clude much more com­plex­ity and a higher main­te­nance re­quire­ment. The cost is also sig­nif­i­cantly higher, al­though new­com­ers to the mar­ket have re­duced the cost of this type of heat­ing.

What­ever type of heat­ing you in­stall, make sure you have a car­bon monox­ide alarm. And never use open flame gas ap­pli­ances, in­clud­ing the cooker, for heat­ing – as these use up oxy­gen in the air they grad­u­ally start to pro­duce in­creas­ing amounts of car­bon monox­ide – a gas that is clear, odour­less and, as some boaters have found to their cost, fa­tally poi­sonous.

Shel­ter and cloth­ing

A change in con­di­tions in win­ter can be more chal­leng­ing than in sum­mer, so it’s worth be­ing pre­pared for all even­tu­al­i­ties. A de­cent spray­hood will give some pro­tec­tion from wind chill as well as from fly­ing wa­ter, but it’s also help­ful if crew mem­bers can get some time be­low deck.

On oc­ca­sion, where con­di­tions have been more ar­du­ous than ex­pected, I’ve ro­tated peo­ple reg­u­larly be­tween tasks to en­sure they get at least 15 min­utes on the helm and 15 be­low decks each hour. For a short-handed crew a de­cent pi­lot will en­able more time to be spent be­low decks if nec­es­sary.

The best of to­day’s tech­ni­cal cloth­ing is im­pres­sively ef­fi­cient, but eye-wa­ter­ingly ex­pen­sive. How­ever, there are more cost-ef­fec­tive ways to keep warm. A key fac­tor that’s of­ten over­looked is to keep legs warm as they have a lot of sur­face area. Base lay­ers can be bought cheaply from non-ma­rine sources – if you have the bud­get look for merino wool, which is very com­fort­able. Equally for shorter sails, where un­dress­ing to use the heads is not an im­por­tant fac­tor, all-in-one fleece ‘woolly bear’ suits are ef­fec­tive and won’t break the bank. An in­su­lated gilet will help keep the heat in with­out adding too many lay­ers on the arms for easy move­ment.

Two fac­tors I won’t com­pro­mise on are wa­ter­proof and in­su­lated hats and gloves – these make a huge dif­fer­ence to warmth and com­fort in wet con­di­tions. Equally, wa­ter­proof socks can keep your feet toasty even if your sea boots are a lit­tle past their best.

Boat setup

A short sail on a win­ter’s day is a per­fect time to try out new ar­range­ments and ideas, both for reef­ing and for other tweaks and im­prove­ments. Given that a greater pro­por­tion of time in win­ter is likely to be spent in stronger winds, it makes sense to im­prove your boat in this re­spect.

Ef­fi­cient main­sail reef­ing makes a huge dif­fer­ence and there’s no rea­son why one per­son, work­ing alone, should not be able to tuck a reef into a sail of any boat up to 45ft within 90 sec­onds. Sin­gle line sys­tems for the first and sec­ond reefs can be retro­fit­ted into many ex­ist­ing booms, how­ever sep­a­rate leech and luff pen­nants are still needed for the third reef. Al­ter­na­tively, luff pen­nants can be retro­fit­ted for the first and sec­ond reef. Hav­ing tried both, I pre­fer the lat­ter as there’s less fric­tion, par­tic­u­larly as the sys­tem ages.

Roller furl­ing genoas with heavy UV strips on the leech and foot set has all the ef­fi­ciency of a sack with more than a hand­ful of rolls. The best so­lu­tion for up­wind work in any­thing more than around 15-20 knots is a re­mov­able in­ner forestay for a han­ked-on heavy weather jib. In the past this in­vari­ably meant a cum­ber­some stain­less steel stay, with a bulky and ex­pen­sive, yet in­ef­fi­cient, High­field lever to ten­sion it. How­ever, a bet­ter ar­range­ment is a Dyneema stay, with a 2:1 pur­chase on at the tack, that’s led back to be ten­sioned on a coachroof winch.

Win­ter moor­ings

A good win­ter moor­ing will of­fer all-round shel­ter, with as lit­tle fetch as pos­si­ble. Boats on a well-spec­i­fied swing­ing moor­ing can with­stand big­ger waves than those along­side, but the draw­back is that reach­ing the boat by dinghy will be more dif­fi­cult – for a lot of the time it may even be pos­i­tively dan­ger­ous.

Many mari­nas, how­ever, of­fer sig­nif­i­cantly re­duced rates for four or five win­ter months, which can be a great ben­e­fit to those who sail all year. Even so, few own­ers see their moor­ing in storm force con­di­tions, so don’t ex­pe­ri­ence at first hand the im­por­tance of tak­ing ex­treme care with moor­ing ar­range­ments.

For a start, don’t skimp on the num­ber of big fend­ers you em­ploy. Equally, moor­ing

lines need to be stout and pro­tected from both chafe and snatch­ing where nec­es­sary. In ad­di­tion, they should be dou­bled up in num­ber so that if one breaks, or the deck fit­ting or pon­toon cleat fails, there’s still a backup. If you think this is overkill, re­mem­ber, ready­ing the boat for a storm ev­ery time you leave it takes only a few ex­tra min­utes, yet saves both sig­nif­i­cant worry and anx­ious last minute trips to the coast.

Win­ter main­te­nance

Back in the days that most boats were wooden and tended to be laid up for the win­ter, it made sense to carry out all other main­te­nance tasks while the boat was ashore. How­ever, win­ter in the UK is the worst pos­si­ble time to be work­ing out­side – it’s cold, wet, un­com­fort­able and the days are short.

By con­trast, in a cou­ple of weeks ashore any time be­tween late April and early June, you get long day­light hours and bet­ter weather, mean­ing it’s fre­quently pos­si­ble to get twice as much done in a sin­gle day. And the hull will be cleaner for a longer cruise later in the sum­mer. Even bet­ter, many boat­yards of­fer dis­counted rates at that time of year.

Whether or not to win­terise the engine, par­tic­u­larly sea­wa­ter cooled mod­els, is an im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tion for a boat that’s kept afloat all year, yet it’s one that is all too of­ten over­looked. On the South Coast I tend to take a chance that the tem­per­a­ture won’t get so cold that sea wa­ter freezes – and have been lucky in this re­spect for more than 20 years. But the de­ci­sion is more dif­fi­cult for those fur­ther east and north. Even in the warmer parts of the UK it’s im­por­tant to be care­ful about moor­ings in lo­ca­tions fed by fresh wa­ter sources where there may be brack­ish wa­ter that will freeze more eas­ily.

RIGHT Heat­ing will trans­form your life on board. My love of win­ter sail­ing doesn’t equate to be­ing cold, so even my boat in Greece has a heater in­stalled on her There are nu­mer­ous ex­am­ples of great win­ter sail­ing days – this is one from late Novem­ber

An­other great ‘off sea­son’ day out on the wa­ter

De­cent cloth­ing – and a chance to oc­ca­sion­ally warm up be­low decks – can make win­ter sail­ing an ab­so­lute plea­sure

Don’t dis­count the pos­si­bil­i­ties for small boat sail­ing – this was a glo­ri­ous Jan­uary day on Grafham Wa­ter, Cam­bridgeshire

If the sea freezes that wa­ter will also be in your engine cool­ing sys­tem or heat ex­changer

Sail­ing ef­fi­ciently to wind­ward with a small jib and well reefed main­sail on a crisp and sunny Fe­bru­ary day

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