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Single Handing Made Easy - What Are Your Techniques?

Single Handing Made Easy – What Are Your Techniques?

Most of us, who single hand our boats, have developed or learned little tricks or techniques; or found assists to make the job easier. I’ve observed that many of us are older, a few in their late 80’s … (I’m 71, the boat is a Catalina 320), and often, single handers sail relatively large boats, some even in the 40-50 ft. range. Most of us might still be able to use a few new tricks. I suspect that many others, whether they single hand or not, could also benefit from such techniques, especially relatively new boaters. So:

Let’s share our knowledge….What are your techniques? Please describe them sufficiently that readers understand why, how, and will be able to duplicate the techniques.

Boats, docking constraints, waters, and sailing conditions vary greatly from place to place, so what will work in one case might not be the best technique in another, and sometimes the techniques will even seem at odds with one or another. A potential user, should read and select what is best for his situation.

I’ll start with several things….one a concept, three techniques.

Dock Lines are not Docking Lines. Most of us use dock lines consisting of stern, bow, and spring lines in some arrangement to hold the boat securely when we are away. The placement and length of these lines are usually not ideal to aid in docking the boat, but often with great frustration, we attempt to use them, with lots of running about, jumping on and off the boat, trying to stop or position the boat while the wind or current repositions the boat, often banging against the pier or pilings. Docking lines are lines, usually temporary, placed solely to aid in docking or undocking. Docking lines may be further broken down into: permanently placed assist lines, docking/arrival lines, and un-docking/departure lines.

Un-Docking Lines. In my case, the boat usually has a beam or quarter crosswind that wants to blow me down onto the short finger pier and the adjacent boat or piling. Additionally, with only about a foot clearance on either side on the outer pilings, the boat wants to be more or less centered for control when it passes the outer pilings. Usually, there are assist two lines, that if properly placed for the wind, will hold the boat in the correct position. Place these lines and they will hold the boat. Now, you can leisurely take you time to undo and secure all the other lines. No running, no jumping, no pushing against the wind. A fumble is no problem, take your time. Whenever you are ready, the boat is in the correct position. One to these lines is typically placed at the stern cleat, adjacent to the helm. The other is either a bow line or amidships line. Now, I have only one line to untie (done from the boat) that is away from the helm. Except in high crosswind conditions, take-in that far line first, then the stern line, put engine in gear, and you are on your way. Once clear of the dock, remove and store these temporary lines. No sweat, no bother. (If you can snug up against the dock using a spring line and the engine, you can do all this with a single line…I’ll let others describe the spring line technique).

Buddy Lines Plus. Buddy lines are two lines (same size as your dock lines) strung on either side of your slip, parallel to the slip from the each outer piling back to the pier. Pull these two lines tight and tie them securely. Now, at any point in your slip, you have something to push or pull against if things begin to go wrong. Generally, when docking, if you can get your boat between the outer pilings even just a bit, you can then work it in using the buddy lines. Now the Plus: In the buddy lines, at a position adjacent to your stern cleat or amidships cleat, tie a small loop in the line. Now, when you are placing the un-docking lines mentioned above, place a temporary line having an eye splice on either your stern cleat or amidships cleat, pass the eye splice through the buddy line loop and drop the splice eye over your cleat. Now, with this temporary line attached to the windward buddy line loop, the boat can neither go forward, backward, or downwind. Now, the second Plus: If you permanently place a simple block, with a large bow shackle attached to the block, on the buddy line, you can easily move the boat partially out of the slip by using the temporary undocking line (having been passed through the shackle on the block). You don’t have to pull the boat either, just use the engine to position the boat forward. The boat stays centered in the dock. (The downside of relying on a buddy line, is that slips away from your home dock probably will not have buddy lines, and you will have gained no experience in not having this assist. But, they sure are handy in the home slip, from which, most of your sailing is likely to occur.)

Toggle Lines. A toggle line is a line rigged so that when a toggle or pin is pulled, the line will fall apart, disconnecting the line from whatever it is attached to. Its value is that, if there is a small line or lanyard attached to the toggle, you can disconnect the line from a remote position, which in our case, will be the helm station. Three things are needed: A standard ½’ nylon line, the toggle pin, and a 3/16” braided lanyard/retrieval line. In the discussions above, one of the two un-docking lines mentioned is located some distance from the helm station. Using a toggle line, this line can be dropped and taken in from the helm station. No running up and down the deck. When you are ready, take in the stern assist line (at your station) by slipping eye loop off cleat, pull the toggle to drop the second line and retrieve it at the same time (again from your station at the helm) using the lanyard/retrieval line, shift into gear and motor out. If you are using the block and shackle arrangement on the buddy line above, you can motor approximately half way out of the slip before you disconnect the toggle line. So exactly how is a toggle line rigged? First, the toggle. Take a piece of 3/4 – 1” PVC pipe, 6-8” long. In one end, drill a hole completely through the pipe segment. Take a length of 3/16” braided line sufficiently long to reach from the area that the toggle will be used to the helm station, and pass through the holes. A knot is tied in the 3/16” line on either side of the PVC toggle pin, so that the pin is held in place on the line. The shorter tail of this line should be approximately 18” long. When you use the toggle line, it will not fall apart as long as there is tension on the line, but sometimes, there can momentarily come slack in the line. To prevent the pin from falling out, a piece of rubber (bicycle tube works well) or bungee cord is used to hold the pin in place. One end of the rubber strip is permanently attached to the lanyard end of the pin; the other end of the rubber strip has a hole in it slightly smaller than the PVC diameter. When the toggle line is rigged, the rubber strip is pulled over the free end of the toggle pin. Now if the toggle line goes slack, the pin cannot fall out, but when toggle pin is pulled with the lanyard, the rubber strip will slip off the pin so the toggle line connection can be dropped. The boat is held in place with the larger line, typically 1/2 “ nylon. In this larger line, tie a large loop (or use a line with an eye splice). At the inboard end of this loop or eye, tie the short tail of the toggle retrieval line at its extreme end. Now, the large line and toggle pin retrieval line are one continuous line. If you are securing the toggle line to another line, only one loop or eye is needed in the larger line. If you are tying around a piling or cleat, tie a second larger loop in the larger line, so that when this larger loop is passed around the piling, the two loops or eyes will meet away from the piling (or cleat). You do not want the piling to contact or press on the toggle joint or it will be hard to pull the pin. The other end of this larger line is tied to your boat’s amidships or bow cleat. Now, to connect the toggle line to either a line, a shackle, or to the second loop in the line, do the following. Take the eye (or loop), place it around the connecting line and fold the eye back on itself. Reach in the folded back portion of the eye, grab the two parts of the eye line on the opposite side of connecting line. Pull these two parts through the eye and insert the toggle pin (with free end away from helm station). Pull the line tight against the pin and place the rubber retaining strip over the free end of the pin. Tie the other end of the larger line to boat’s cleat. Pass the lanyard/retrieval line back to the helm station. Now, the toggle line is properly attached. When you are ready to break away, just pull the lanyard/retrieval line. Pulling this line will also retrieve the toggle line. The toggle should be slick so it comes out readily. (The conventional alternate to retrieving a line on board the boat from a remote piling or cleat is to tie off one end of a long line, pass the line around the piling, and back to the boat, where the line is tended. To break free, one end is cast off and the other end is used to pull this line back on board. The down side is that this long line is likely to drop into the water, with the chance that it is going to wrap the prop, or alternately, the free end of the long line will snag on something as it is being retrieved). Try the toggle line…I think you will like it. We used it in the Navy for small boat launching/recovery from a moving ship. Other than me and the Navy, I’ve never seen any others using it.
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