- With Tom Cunliffe

Clockwise from top: A tide gauge tells the real story; throw a loose wrap around the winch for extra security; the water can be an open book of informatio­n about wind and current; stay on top of the additive to keep bugs out of your diesel.

Changing Times, Changing Tides

I’m writing these tips on board in a tidal river waiting for a break in bad weather. There’s a world-class tidal headland up the road that I have to hit at the right time. By Sod’s Law this comes either soon after dark (unattracti­ve what with the pot buoys and all) or around lunchtime (better, but not popular as it means leaving here at a dawn). I’ve been stuck here all week, so I’ve been assuming the tide—and thus my superearly leaving time—will advance at the usual 40-45 minutes per day. Not a bit of it. It’s crawling ahead at 30 minutes only. Why? Because this week it’s spring tides. The rule isn’t tabulated, but there’s no doubt that springs advance more slowly than the average, leaving friendly old neaps to take up the slack the following week. Looks like an early start tomorrow!

Tip It In

If you’re better organized than I am and don’t forget the small jobs, this tip isn’t for you. If, like most of us, you’re no smarter than you ought to be, read on. With ever-growing levels of biofuel in our diesel, using a suitable additive to kill the bugs seems like common sense. My problem is I always forget to add the stuff when I fill up.

If I pour it in neat afterwards, there’s the risk it’ll lodge in the pipe and never get as far as the tank, so I’ve taken to pouring mine into a gallon of diesel from the gas station, then chucking the whole super-strong mix in later. No hurry. No keeping the fuel attendant waiting. No stress.

Safe and Secure

This is the sort of basic tip that seems so obvious now that I wonder if it’s worth mentioning, but I have to confess that I only learned it from an old pro racer 10 years back. Many of today’s yachts don’t have enough cleats on the cockpit coamings to secure the sheets behind the winch turns. This, of course, is because with the rise of the self-tailing winch, the tailing mechanism should hold things together, allowing the builder to save money by not supplying any. This is fine so long as the line is perfectly engaged in the gnashers on top of the barrel. If it isn’t, it can slip out with potentiall­y horrid consequenc­es. To knock this possibilit­y firmly on the head, an extra turn flicked loosely around the winch barrel after you’ve finished winding does the trick. Nobody can then knock it out accidental­ly, and the direction of the rope encourages the tailing jaws to keep their grip.

Spotting a Current

Current tables are useful, but they don’t always tell the whole story, especially near the turn. You simply can’t beat “Mark 1 Eyeball” for a reality check. The water in this photo is easy to read because the wind is blowing against a strong stream. You’d expect things to be rough, and they were. In lesser situations, you can still tell when the current turns or spot a useful eddy by the shape of the sea. When a decent breeze blows against any sort of stream, even a gentle one, the front of each small wave (the downwind side) is steeper, while small but recognizab­le streaks of foam run actively down its back with the wind direction. It works on the ocean too, as anyone will agree who has crossed the Gulf Stream or hit the equatorial counter-current off the Amazon. I ran into that one time when the book said I’d be enjoying a favoring 2-knot shove. The seas heaped up as morale went down.

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