I was looking through our log book the other day, re-living some of the trips we've made and came across a couple of situations where I wonder if I made the right decision. Both instances (you see, there were only two occasions since we bought the boat when I might be able to second guess my superb seamanship
) -- both instances involved a landfall and entry into a strange harbor at night. All ended well in both cases, but a happy ending is no proof that you made the right decision.
I'd be interested in SailNetters comments on the subject.
The rule of thumb of good seamanship when making a new landfall or entering an unfamiliar harbor at night for the first time is that it's generally better to heave-to, spend one more night at sea and then enter in the morning.
But what if the weather is deterioriating, or your crew needs to catch the morning flight, your spouse is seasick, or you've just been at sea for a week and you're thinking it sure would be nice have full night's sleep tied to something hard? Do you risk an unfamiliar landfall or harbor entrance, or play it safe and heave-to?
Examples from our recent experience -- we left Newport bound for Cape May mid morning and spent the day and that night at sea. Sailing on the next day the winds were light, and by sunset of the second day we were still 20 miles away from our destination. Winds and seastate were moderate. If we kept going our ETA inside the breakwater was midnight. Go for it, or heave-to? A similar situation in a different circumstance: at dusk on the 31st day at sea, at the end of a 4800 mile passage we're 25 miles from Hilo, Hawaii. Hilo is on the windward side of the island, protected from the tradewinds / swell by a reef and breakwater, rocky shorelines everywhere. Boat's is good shape, crew's feeling fine and really looking forward to a stiff drink. If we go for it, we'll be tied up an hour or so after midnight. Or, if we heave- to, we have to beat back against the trades for a few hours to get a few more miles off the lee shore, keep watch at sea one more night and then we won't be in until the late morning the next day.
What are the things a skipper should consider in making this type of decision? If you decide to go for it...how do you prepare the boat and crew? What do you do before the landfall, what procedures do you use during the approach to make your way into a strange harbor at night?