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A Difficult Sailing Maneuver Explained

Oct 12, 2007
Sailing is a mighty safe sport but now and then something happens to damage your boat or some other craft. In most of these cases, the trouble occurs as you are either getting underway or coming in for a landing. You have no brakes and no reverse gear, nor can you sail directly into the eye of the wind.

One of the most difficult maneuvers is to get away from the side of a pier or float. In fact, it may be impossible unless you have the boat towed out or can row or paddle her into a position where you have maneuvering room. Suppose you are lying against the front of a float and the wind is blowing directly sideways. Ahead of you, a large boat is also made fast to the float so that you cannot go ahead for any appreciable distance.

You are bottled up and there is nothing you can do about it without changing your position. You may be able to turn the boat end for end at the float so that you will be able to go ahead. All is still not perfect. As you raise your mainsail, the sheet will have to be slack or the boat will capsize.

This means the boom will swing across the float until you can haul your sheet and get the boat moving. All this may be possible if the float is deserted and has no projecting uprights at the ends. The expert will be able to get away from there, but the novice is in a situation where getting towed into the clear is the only logical answer.

Getting away from a mooring is easier if there is plenty of room in the area where you move first. Even that takes planning. Study the direction and force of the wind and think over the possibilities. As you lie at the mooring, you will swing so the bow is facing into the wind unless there is a strong tidal or other current. Should the latter be the case, you must remember that when you get the sails up, you are going to swing around and face in the opposite direction.

When that happens, you find yourself the center of a half-circle of boats moored so closely together that your chances of slipping between them is rather slim. Astern, you have more room but how are you going to get back there? You cannot drift, for the current is running the wrong way and will send you into the craft that lie to windward.

Careful planning will solve that problem. With your sails down, but all ready to be quickly run up, you take a spare line, attach it to a stern cleat, carry it forward on the outside of all rigging, and attach it to your mooring by passing one end through the mooring ring. Carry the end back and make fast at the stern.

Now cast off the original bow line and the boat will swing around so her stern is facing the wind. Ahead, you will have clear water and plenty of room to maneuver. If you are alone, the next step will keep you busier than a juggler in a swarm of bees. See that everything is all clear, hold the end of your new mooring line between your knees, or in your teeth, and cast off plenty of mainsheet.

Get the sail up in less time than it takes to think about it; speed is the essence in this maneuver. The instant the sail fills, you will be on your way. You may take the mast out of her, break the boom, yank out your stern cleat, get pitched overboard, or accomplish all those things at once.

If things go right, your mooring line will slip clear and can be gathered up when you get your breath - before the first motorboat crosses your stern and fouls the trailing line in its propeller. Your boat will be sailing before the wind and, if you planned it right, the boom will be off on the correct side so that you can steer to clear all obstructions and bring the wind over the side of the boat.

The good skipper will spend many minutes planning a getaway that may, by itself, take no more than a few seconds. Once you have mastered this problem, you will be well on your way, although there are many other obstacles which you will undoubtedly come across in your sailing career. Good luck and good sailing!
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