Fox in the Box

Vessel Name: BlackBox

How to Sail a Boat Better - Five Tips to Successful Sailing in Restricted Waters

12 February 2010 | On the water

Are you tempted to start up your sailboat diesel engine when you enter a crowded anchorage or mooring? Or before you sail up or down a narrow stretch of channel? If you want to learn to sail a boat better, take every opportunity to practice the art of sailing. Use these five easy steps to get started on the road to confident maneuvering under sail power!

Olympian Steve Colgate says that "To sail well is to have complete control over the sailboat at all times". Once you achieve this ability, your confidence will soar to new heights. Follow these five easy steps to become successful in the least amount of time...

1. Check the Area

Like a general checking the battlefield before he enters it, scan the area you intend to sail through with your marine binoculars. Study flags, anchored boats, and waves. All of these show you the direction of the true wind. Use these clues to plan your attack.

2. Prepare the Boat

Rig fenders on each side of the boat. It may seem silly, but if the wind shifts or you encounter unexpected current, these "marine bumpers" will protect you and another boat from damage. Keep your anchor ready to deploy within seconds. Coil the anchor rode (line) so that it will feed out, free of kinks or knots.

3. Sail Under a Single Sail

If you will sail through the area alone, or with a short-handed crew, use a single sail to keep things simple. If your boat maneuvers well under mainsail alone, use this sail. It provides all the power you'll need for reaching courses. If you need to beat, use just enough headsail with the mainsail to keep the boat balanced and under complete control. Reef any sail in a stiff breeze to keep from being overpowered.

4. Keep Astern of Anchored Boats

Always pass close astern of vessels at anchor. You don't want to snag your keel or rudder on an anchor line, anchor trip line, or mooring chain. Once you clear the stern of one boat, head up toward the wind a bit to counteract leeway (side-slip). Then aim for the stern of the next boat and pass it close astern. This keeps you upwind and clear of boats anchored to leeward.

5. Stay Clear of Wind Shadows and Shoals

Buildings, clumps of trees, hills, or clusters of boats can block the wind. This "wind shadow" can decrease wind speed and cause the wind to shift direction. Keep as far away from tall obstructions as possible so that you stay in clean, unobstructed wind. Favor the middle or bend (concave) side of the channel to avoid shoals that build up near points of land.

Use these five tips to learn how to sail a boat better, under more control, and with greater confidence. You will soon gain the skills you need to become the true master and commander over your small cruising or racing sailboat anywhere you choose to sail.
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