28 The skinny on swinging at the hook, weather cloths and anchor balls
I’ve spent so much of my life at anchor it’s hard to imagine folks struggling with the basics, but recent events have reminded me that swinging circles can cause genuine concern. With no tide and a stiff breeze, such as one finds in the Caribbean, it’s safe to nudge up astern of the next boat, let go a length or two under her stern and then blow away to leeward, giving her plenty of room and knowing you can recover your hook without problems. However, in a tidal river, things are very different. The safest option here is to assume that when the wind is blowing against the current both boats will be sufficiently confused to snuggle up together at the full reach of their low-tide scope. The ideal is to leave enough space to accommodate this scenario. It may not always be feasible, but it’s the only sure way.
Cockpit weather cloths are a grand idea, but like most good things onboard, they come with a downside. I learned about this the hard way many years ago in a North Atlantic storm. I’d been hove- to in a big sea for 24 hours and had just popped up into the cockpit to see how bad things really were when I heard the dreaded express train noise and knew I was in for a soaking. The breaking wave roared down from windward. It didn’t knock the boat over, but the weather cloth got the full benefit. Amazingly, it didn’t burst. Instead of ripping out of its lashings, it stayed attached and the stanchions went with it when it blew off to leeward. They were bolted through the deck, so they took a plank with them for good measure. Ever since, I’ve made sure weather cloths can be taken down easily when the weather turns vicious.
BALLS IN THE AIR
Every time I sling the pick in a windy anchorage, I’m amused to see those slot-together anchor balls twirling like spinning tops between a bit of a downhaul and a spare halyard. The breeze blows in amongst the faces where they’re slotted together and off they go. Aboard my boat, however, I’ve resolved this menace with a piece of string. First, I attach a downhaul to the bottom and the halyard to the top. Then I hitch four or five feet of string to a side between them via one of the spare holes, reach up as high as I can and clove-hitch my string around the rolled-up headsail. That done, I heave gently on the downhaul to pull the ball away from the sail before finishing off by tensioning the halyard for a seamanlike job. Oh, and for those who don’t bother to hoist an anchor ball when they drop the hook, give some thought to what the judge will say if someone runs into you.
One unseen danger when sailing yachts lie alongside one another for a convivial night is that if they happen roll to a wash or begin to move in an unexpected sea, the spreaders can clash together and suffer catastrophic damage. Always look aloft when rafting up and make sure the masts are well out of line. s
Watch your swinging circle in tidal areas
Weather cloths are great in port, but can be a liability
Here’s how to tame that spinning anchor ball