SAIL - - Under Sail - with Tom Cun­liffe


Old hands were told about this in their cra­dles, but if you’re a new­comer to sail­ing, here’s a wrin­kle to keep you out of trou­ble. Un­like an au­to­mo­bile, a boat is rarely go­ing where she’s point­ing in wa­ters when the tide sets up any cur­rent. When a buoy or any other im­mov­able ob­ject is mak­ing a bow wave like this one, you can think of it as an­other ves­sel un­der­way. What you need to know is, are you go­ing to hit it or not? It might be as much as 30 de­grees off the bow, but a strong stream could be drift­ing you 40 or more de­grees from where you’re head­ing. The only sure­fire an­swer is to note whether the ob­ject is mov­ing against its back­ground as you are mak­ing your way to­ward it. If it is, you’re OK. If it’s not, you’re headed straight for it, so al­ter course quickly, watch out and if in any doubt, go down­stream of it just to be safe. Never lis­ten to folks with a sci­en­tific ed­u­ca­tion telling you this doesn’t work. It has done since St. Paul’s ship went down off Malta.


This is a real-world so­lu­tion, and I ex­pect cor­rec­tion by my bet­ters. How­ever, any­one whose sea­cocks are modern ball valves rather than the grand old ta­pered cone va­ri­ety may care to read on. Ser­vic­ing ta­pered cone valves is a de­light, but my boat hasn’t any. My ball-valve al­ter­na­tives are top qual­ity and not show­ing signs of de­te­ri­o­ra­tion, al­though they are

old and they get stiff to­ward the end of a sea­son when I can’t haul out to squirt in a shot of grease from out­side. This year I was root­ing through an old tool­box in the shed when I came across some re­dun­dant box wrenches. One was a per­fect fit on those sharp sea cock han­dles that have lost their lovely rub­ber coats. I took it down to the boat, of­fered it up to my worst-of­fend­ing sea­cock and gave it a care­ful heave. The valve moved as smoothly as my elec­tric out­board. The wrench of­fers a lit­tle ad­di­tional lever­age—not so much as to risk dam­age—and is kind to suf­fer­ing hands. It lives on board now, proud of its new job af­ter be­ing ren­dered re­dun­dant long ago by fancy socket sets.


This scene is very calm and sea­man like. No fran­tic rope throw­ing or shout­ing. As he passes the line to the gent on the dock, the crew on the boat says, qui­etly and clearly, “Would you lead it around that cleat and then pass me the end back please.” What’s spe­cial about this is that the guy hand­ing the rope ashore isn’t as­sum­ing that his helper can read his mind. He can’t. If he gives some­one a rope and doesn’t say any­thing, most mis­guided helpers will sim­ply pull on it. In a case like this, with ev­ery­thing un­der sweet con­trol, that’ll be the last thing the skip­per wants. The wretch on the dock might even catch a turn, snub the bow in and ruin a nice ma­neu­ver. It doesn’t mat­ter what the plan is. The im­por­tant thing is to com­mu­ni­cate said plan to who­ever has vol­un­teered to as­sist. s

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