This is an article that I wrote for Spinsheet a few years ago that might also be helpful:
STARTING TO SOLO
For most of us, one of the joys of sailing is spending quality time with family, friends and crewmates, so, it is easy to think, ‘Why would I want to single-hand my boat?’ That is until ‘that day’. You know ‘that day’. It’s the day that you go down to the boat, the temperature and winds are perfect for a sail, but you are alone and can’t find anyone to play with. And suddenly the idea of soloing does not seem so unappealing except you have never done it, and it seems impossible as your boat is set-up.
While there are boats which are more ideally set-up to single-hand and boats that harder to sail short-handed, there are very few boats, which cannot be sailed single-handed with some careful thinking, a bit of preparation and a little practice.
The process of starting to single-hand begins at the dock with sails not set, but with the traveler control lines, mainsheet and jib sheets run to their normal positions and all of the sail control lines run normally. Standing near the helm, with a notepad in hand, think through and list each step of doing the more common maneuvers; leaving the dock, raising sails, tacking, jibing and coming back into the dock. List each step in each maneuver in the order that they would normally be performed when there is crew onboard.
In doing so, it may seem like there will be tasks that appear to need to be performed almost simultaneously and as such, will require you to be in multiple distant places at once. Think about which of those tasks may performed slightly ahead of the other, how much time can lapse between one task and the next, and what could be done to allow those tasks to occur more rapidly, and then at the dock, walk through them a step at a time
For example, when practicing leaving the dock in a cross breeze you can try releasing all of the leeward lines and only have a windward, bow, spring and stern line attached. Then experiment, perhaps removing the spring line and pulling the boat up to the windward side of the slip with the bowline. With the bowline still cleated, let go of the bowline, walk aft to stern line perhaps stowing the spring line as you go and to see whether you can get the stern line off the cleat before the bow line snugs up. This will provide a sense of how long you have to do that task.
If you find that there is adequate time, you have figured out a plausible process to safely get out of the slip. If there is not adequate time, then more preparation will be important. Lines should be rigged with eyes on the boat end so that they can be quickly be removed or dropped onto cleats. If you are of the mindset that a boat should be tied up so that line length can be adjusted from onboard, then these might only be light weight 3-strand lines that are only used when leaving and arriving at the dock until the permanent lines are reattached.
Rigging a taut line between the slips, might provide a way to pull the boat back up to windward or control the longitudinal position of the boat as you walk aft to the stern line. Hanging a short loop of line on the line between the slip gives a line that can be quickly dropped over a cleat or winch to buy a little time by preventing the boat from falling off to leeward on the way into the slip.
Similarly, while still in the slip, walk through sailing maneuvers. Look at how you move during that maneuver and how you might change where you position your body or the sequence of the
maneuver. You might try standing between the helm, and the control lines during a maneuver rather than your more typical position at the helm. It may mean adjusting the traveler for the next tack before putting the helm down to start the tack and then breaking the leeward jib sheet early to provide time to move to the new working sheet. It means coiling lines with figure 8’s to make sure that they are free to run reliably.
Preparation may include adding locking winch handles so that the handle can be placed in the winch before the tack taking one more step out of the tack. On a tiller boat it may mean adding a length of heavy shockchord that is run across the cockpit at the end of the tiller and which can be looped several times around the end of the tiller to hold it in a chosen position. The loops can be rotated around the end of the tiller to make fine adjustments and shockchord allows a quick adjustment in course without releasing it.
When you think you have it all figured out, go out and try it all with an observer on board. Go through each maneuver single-handed. (Programs like CHESSS’s Solo+one are a source of observers who are experienced single-handers www.chbaysss.org/
) The observer is only there to help you if something does not go as planned and to watch each maneuver and make suggestions on how they might be performed more easily. Don’t be in a rush to solo and do not rush to make large changes to your boat. The more you practice even with people on board, the better your techniques will become and the more natural single-handing your boat will seem, so that ultimately when ‘that day’ happens again, it will only be just another day on the water.