Thursday, March 3, 2011

Sailing on and off the anchor

Steve of S/V Mystic asked for a description of what we do when sailing on and off the anchor...

In three years of cruising down here, we have only had our engine fail to start once (due to low batteries) but you never know when the beastie will let you down, so Rani and I do a lot of practicing just using our sails. Sailing into or out of a crowded or narrow anchorage requires several skills that you do not learn well if you always down sails before coming in or fire up the engine when you depart.

When we arrive in an anchorage under sail, we usually roll in the jib at the mouth of the bay and proceed under main. The exception to this is if we have to beat up to the spot we have selected to drop the hook in. In this case we roll up most of the jib, leaving out just enough to help us tack. We may sail gently through the anchored boats (if any) to verify depths and find the best spot to drop. The trick is to arrive at the right spot after bringing the boat up into the wind and letting fly the main. I must admit that I do not always get this right and may find that once we have dropped down after letting out chain that we are too close to another boat. At this point we either sail out the anchor and try again, or more likely fire up the engine and after dropping the main re-anchor under power. If we are successful in getting into the right spot, we sometimes back the main in order to set the anchor. This involves pointing the boat into the wind (Rani does this) while I push the boom up to windward, filling the mainsail so that Ladybug drifts backwards. If the wind is blowing strongly, I may not do this and rely on the wind on the hull and spars to set the anchor.

When leaving under sail there are two main choices. If there are boats or danger such as rocks or a beach to windward, then we want to leave with the sails loose and drift backwards once we have raised the anchor. This assumes there are few boats aft of us. If the dangers are downwind then we make sure the mainsail is in tight and we beat upwind to the anchor and try to get away on the best tack so that we will clear any boats or dangers. We start by hoisting the main, but only after we have removed the anchor bridle and pulled in about half the chain. This reduces the time we have when we are sailing around with our anchor still in the sand! We often roll out a little jib after the anchor is off the bottom especially when beating to windward. Without this, we have had trouble getting Ladybug to go about, especially if the anchor is still in the water (hanging off the bow as a drag). Of course we try to get the anchor on board as quickly as possible to avoid steering problems.

Rani does the steering during this and I work the windlass on the foredeck to raise or lower the hook. So far we have only had to fire up the engine on one or two occasions when we got caught in stays and were in danger of running into another boat. Speaking of other boats - some people admire what we are doing and applaud a successful exit or entry - others are very uncomfortable when you arrive or depart under sail, perhaps because they would not be comfortable trying the same manoeuver. We do not usually do this in very crowded anchorages for this reason :)

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