Where can I find information on flossing? I sail out of Santa Cruz, CA, and we have floating seaweed that occasionally needs to be cleaned away from the keel and the rudder. I know there is a technique using a line, but we've tried that and it wasn't successful. Can you help us?
Dan Dickison responds:
Good question; thanks for submitting it. Flossing is the technique used by sailors (mostly racing sailors) to rid their hulls, keels, or rudders of weeds and other floating detritus that might become attached and hinder the boat's performance. Essentially it involves the use of either a weed stick or another dedicated device.
A weed stick is usually a long, flexible rod like a VHF antenna or a long mainsail batten fitted with a long, narrow piece of cloth (often heavy terry cloth) at the end. To use a weed stick, the person doing this will usually start forward of where he or she thinks the weed or other item is lodged and, pushing the cloth portion down toward the centerline of the boat, he or she will sweep aft with the wand so as to have the cloth portion move over the hull toward the weed. Then the person will draw the sick up, bringing the cloth portion up out of the water in an attempt to dislodge whatever the foreign item is. As you've probably guessed, it takes a fair bit of practice to get proficient at something like this, so technique (and luck) is everything.
Other sailors have fashioned devices made principally of soft line (sometimes covered with cloth) and they use these by draping the line over the bow and working it aft until they get to the base of the keel where it joins the hull. Then they pull all of the line up onto one side of the boat hoping to remove anything that's stuck there. This can work well for anything stuck forward of the keel, but it's a little tough to use these devices between the keel and the rudder.
Now, in the waters where you sail, you're apt to find a lot of kelp, and that stuff is so large that it often requires more drastic measures like backing the boat down. If you have to do this during a race, it can be painful at the moment (in the figurative sense), but it usually pays in the long run in terms of average boat speed. Simply have the helmsman steer the boat into the wind as some of the crew back the mainsail out to leeward all the way so that the boom nears the shrouds. As the boat comes up into the wind, the mainsail will fill backwards and drive the boat downwindbackwards. This is tough to do with a sizeable sea running (not to mention dangerous) and also requires practice.
Here's hoping that this information helps you avoid trouble with items fouling and slowing you down.