Step one before shoving off is to rule out the possibility of dangerous weather conditions, followed by ruling out dead calms, heavy rain, dense fog, high heat and humidity, or other weather that doesnít strike me as the kind of stuff I want to sail in.
I have a ritualistic set of behaviors I follow before going for a sail. I practice these all the timeóan obsessive complex that probably isnít healthyóeven if there isnít a remote chance that sailing can be squeezed into the dayís agenda. Iím establishing good habits to guard against not knowing of the conditions when the spirit suddenly compels me to get out on the water.
Checking the weather and tides and taking my stuff are not the only things that need to be done before leaving the dock, especially when Iím sailing alone. A number of to-do items are a matter of routine in order to enjoy sailing safely and without fuss.
A visual inspection of the boat follows which eliminates the possibility of obvious problems. Is the anchor still secured to the bowsprit? Did a thief break into the cabin and steal the electronics? Is the waterline where it should be? Did the neighboring boat put a hole in the hull?
Some odd, disturbing things can turn up during these visual inspections. On separate occasions, I have found a broken cotter pin on deck and a nut sitting by itself inside the engine compartment. After thorough examinations of everything that might have lost a cotter pin or a nut, I couldnít explain either find. Everything still worked, but I kept a red light blinking in my head to remind myself that something might come loose at any moment, and entertained paranoid thoughts about anyone who might want to just drive me crazy. I carefully set aside the loose parts where I could find them again in case I ever discover where they belong.
A day of whomping across big seas and large wakes can leave me too tired to do these checks after Iím back at the dock. But the chances are good that something has shifted, come loose, or even broken, and the time to check is before heading out again.
After these checks, and making sure there are enough fuel and oil, I turn on the engine and let it warm up while taking off the sail cover and getting the lines ready for use. Running the engine while Iím doing these other tasks lets me listen for any unusual sounds that might indicate trouble. Is the exhaust gurgling and spouting out water as it should? Are there any different vibrations or rattles? If the engine has a problem, I want to know now, not when I need it to get out of a current thatís pushing me onto the rocks.
While Iím still at the dock, I also set up whatever lines I can to eliminate any hassle while Iím on the water. This not only makes it simpler and safer to raise sail, especially when the wind is blowing and it's hard to keep the boat pointed into the wind, but it also makes sure I touch everything and know that it is working.
So I lower the centerboard (which also makes it easier to maneuver out of the slip and the marina), loosen the lazy jacks, halyards, and mainsheet, and take the mainsheet out of the clutch. If the breeze is stiff and I think Iíll want a reef in the sail, I do it at the dock because its easier to shake out a reef than it is to put one in while Iím on the water in a half-gale. These steps, of course, are particular to my boat, a Mystic 20 catboat, and will be different for other boats, but the idea is to get things ready and inspect them before they are needed.
If I have someone new along as crew, I give them a brief tour of the boat and its facilities, especially the safety equipment and head, and describe what Iíll be doing and what their role will be as we leave the dock.
Finally ready, I look out over the marina and out to the bay to see what other boaters are doing and what the real weather, not the forecast, has in store for me. Then I shove off, and the sail begins.
Last edited by administrator; 02-05-2008 at 10:48 AM.
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