Are You Ready for “Sailing Storms” Aboard Your Sailboat?

Here’s another great sailing tip from our friend Capt. John of skippertips.com

How can you prepare your small sailboat and sailing crew to face the unexpected “storms” that you can expect to encounter anytime you cast off your docking lines to go sailing?

Whether you day sail on a lazy Sunday afternoon, race ’round the buoys’, or cruise over the horizon to distant lands you’ve dreamed about, you can bet on the fact that these storms will appear. Read on for this 2000 year old piece of advice to take your sailing safety to the next level and beyond!

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In 335 B.C., the Greek historian and philosopher Xenophon came upon a Phoenician ship tied up alongside the wharf. He saw a young seaman with gear spread about the deck and he asked him what he was doing.

To which the young sailor replied: “I am looking to see whether anything is out of order. There will be no time to look for what is missing or out of place when a storm comes up at sea.

A storm doesn’t need to be one of just blustery sailing weather. It could be an engine that fails as you enter a marina or an anchor that drags in the middle of the night.

It could be that mainsail that needed an inspection a while back. Did you notice that broken stitching near the foot? All of a sudden, it rips across its seam as you’re sailing down the channel in a brisk wind.

Or maybe your electronic chart plotter goes on the blink after a power surge when you’re threading your way through a shoal infested lagoon.

Do you have your navigational chart pre-plotted with courses, emergency anchorages, and highlighted dangers?

How can we sailors best prepare ourselves to meet these challenges “…when a storm comes up at sea“? Here are three tips to guide you to handle most any situation that crosses your path…

Adopt a “What If?” Sailing Skipper’s Mindset

Start with a mindset that always looks at things as temporary. Sure, the anchor might be down right now, but what if the wind or current shift?

What if the mainsail halyard parts in a strong breeze? Do you have a secondary method to hoist the main already in place–such as a strong topping-lift?

On one delivery trip I crewed on, one of the crew made rounds of the deck and checked the standing and running rigging.

And discovered a sheet lead block under heavy load with the shackle pin backed out almost all the way (see photo of this block).

If this had failed, the result could have been catastrophic. The fitting would go flying and anyone in the way could have sustained serious injury.

We had forgotten to mouse the shackle pin to the shackle body. The slippery stainless pin had backed out under the normal vibration and loading while sailing.

Lesson learned? Check every shackle pin on every block on every fitting and make sure the pins are tight and secured. Shackles under high load should be moused with seizing wire or nylon ties to the body to prevent failure.

Have Two Sailing Backup Plans in Place

Keep more than one backup plan ready to put into play in an instant. If you come into a marina under power, you also need to have your anchor ready to get over the side in less than ten seconds (first plan). If that fails, you need to have a second plan worked out. For example…

How many times have you seen sailboats enter a marina with their mainsail covered and the main halyard tied off? Bad plan! Keep your mainsail ready to hoist within seconds every moment that you are underway. It will get you to windward in a pinch–not that furling headsail.

Make 90% of Your Sailing Preparations Ashore

How many times have you gotten underway without spending the time to go through a personal checklist? Make it a habit to check your oil, transmission fluid, stuffing box, intake seacock, coolant level, hoses, and belts–before you cast off or weigh anchor.

Before you cast off those lines, thread your tack and clew reefing lines through the first set of reef grommets in your mainsail. And check every cotter pin on every piece of standing and sailing rigging on deck.

Remember that Phoenician seaman of long ago. Plant what he said in your mind. Preparations are everything. The best sailing skippers, powerboat skippers, and professional mariners in the world use these same secrets to become the best of the best. So can you!

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Use a “what if” mindset to boost your skipper skills above and beyond the ordinary. You will build the confidence and skills to be prepared to handle any unexpected situation “…when a storm comes up at sea”.

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