Sailing a boat

(Also applicable to
"multi-handed" sailing.)
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This page updated: April 2005

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Rig And Rigging

"Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards."
- Vernon Sanders Law

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Andrew Evans "Thoughts, Tips, Techniques & Tactics For Singlehanded Sailing" (PDF)

My concerns (other than falling off the boat):
  • Ability to anchor singlehanded.
  • Dealing with sickness/injury.
  • Security of the boat when I'm not on board.
  • Ability to cope in foreign-language situation.
  • Dealing with exhaustion.
  • Avoiding coral heads.

From John Dunsmoor:
Singlehanding: The key to success is personal mental maturity, fortitude, PLANNING, foresight and desire. I would not recommend singlehanded sailing. Having someone to share cruising with is far better and safer.

There are options for having crew. It really depends on your personality. I found that my dual, Gemini personality likes solitude. I become more and more of a hermit when left alone. But the joy of solitude is not the same as singlehanded sailing. Not being able to take a sh*t, or make a sandwich without worrying about being run over is tough way to have fun.

I have operated vessels for more than thirty years and FORESIGHT is very important. Having your lines all set, fenders set, being able to get on a dock, pick up a mooring or set an anchor, reef a sail, change a sail all by yourself takes foresight, planning, knowledge and a bit of providence. To ask for all this from a novice is not that realistic.

Options for cruising partners: One fellow ran a continuous personals ad. He would interview prospective young ladies who had a desire to sail. Work them for a week and then sail off to the Bahamas for a week. The young women were eager students and crew members. Some became long time friends and some became romantic partners. What an interesting avenue to meet new persons and make friends.

A buddy of mine once said, "You really never know a person till you live with them." I can guarantee, that a few weeks living and sailing aboard a small vessel and you will "really" know a person.

Another option is the paying passengers, crew members: Another sailing friend would rent out a cabin for ten to fifteen dollars a day per person. He would get young guys and women, sometimes couples for a few weeks to a month or so. It was a way to offset costs, have crew and meet new faces. He was able to manage the periods with fun, maintenance, adventure and then the crew would depart and he would have the boat to himself again.

More from John Dunsmoor:
The danger of single-handing was another bone for "S". He sailed with a couple of other boats, and witnessed one couple losing their home of eight years on the coast of Puerto Rico. Simple classic mistake and ruin. They lost everything; no insurance. This is a learning experience, the kind that one will never forget.

It is hard not having a second set of hands and eyes operating a vessel. Even for a short hop from one dock to another, I take a hand along, if available. With experience this becomes less of a problem. With experience, you will anticipate correctly your immediate and near future needs, and surprises are usually not there, and when they do occur they do not cause a lot of problems. As a novice this is far more difficult. As a novice, and I use this term broadly, I have seen sailors with years of experience that are still novices, you can't anticipate what you don't know. If you are wise enough to realize that you don't know, then the stress of not knowing is almost as bad as the impending disaster that overtakes you.

Even as a sailing couple you are actually a single-handed sailor half the time. You aren't both sailing on distance crossings. One person is on watch and the other is sleeping. More good stories. Short note on stories, I collect them and my experience tells me that most really good sea stories come from a seed of really bad seamanship. I suggest you read a book written by Dodge Morgan. He sailed alone, around the world in 150 days without a single debilitating breakdown. His diligence for the journey is an inspiration to anyone wishing to sail long distances. At the same time his words will dissuade most from undertaking such a journey.

More from John Dunsmoor:
> [In the ASA Bareboat Chartering class,] Sailing for 7 to 8 hours
> a day (pretty much never stopping) with a lot
> of motion was pretty tiring. My usual sailing is a 4-hour session, and if I
> get tired I heave-to or anchor for a while. The amount of muscle power
> needed to winch the sheets on the 42-foot boat was pretty exhausting too.

You bet, we teach that when passage making, if you are not on watch you are asleep. Because you never know when you will be called from your rack and not get a rest for hours on end.

First of all you need to build the stamina to sail by yourself, this is not only an effort in strength of muscle, but it is also an exercise in strength of experience, there is that word again. But it is true, I am old and tired and out of shape, fat and basically a lazy person who really does not like to work up a sweat if he can help it. But I have delivered a forty foot vessel by myself in moderate conditions without even getting strained. How, simply because I have experience, I don't work against the elements, I let them work for me. I don't make mistakes (usually don't make mistakes) that require super human physical effort to get out of. How can I be so assured, so cock sure of this statement, simply because I get to go sailing with neophytes that work their hearts out because they don't know what they are doing.

I get to go sailing with cocky, young, tough, smart sailors and at 0300 in the morning they are so beat from 36 hours of sailing that they can barely breathe much less navigate. They are sick, tired, exhausted, confused and can not for the life of them understand why I am still there, nearly twice their age and still managing a proper vessel, experience.

Read Joshua Slocum, so much is written about his great boat, the Spray and how it being such a great vessel allowed Captain Slocum to sail alone around the world. Let me say balderdash, Captain Slocum was a master mariner, with a million sea miles to his credit, experience. The vessel was a barge, junk boat he found in a field with the lines of a garbage scow. I would suggest that Captain Slocum could have sailed an iron bathtub around the world with claw feet attached better that I could sail a Swan 50 with a crew, experience, experience, experience.

From David Guenther on Cruising World message board:
The six worst things about singlehanding:

1. Steering. Being stuck at the helm is the maritime version of wearing a ball and chain. It limits your ability to attend to other things that need to be done and can turn what would otherwise be a relaxing and enjoyable sail into a chore. Triple redundancy in self-steering -- autopilot, wind vane, and a sheet to tiller system -- is not too much. As a last resort, invite a guest for a sail and ask "Do you want to steer?" Since s/he usually does and you don't, it works out well

2. Docking and locking. Hitting another boat or an immovable object (such as a concrete seawall) can put a dent in your plans and pocketbook. Manuvering in close quarters is usually no problem in calm conditions. But as congestion, wind, and current increases, so does the level of apprehension and the need for skill, planning, and precautionary measures. And holding a boat against the turbulence of a filling lock with a bow and stern line in each hand gives one a feeling of what it must have been like to be drawn and quartered. Most overlooked precaution in my experience -- not using springlines.

3. Eating. When meal preparation is shared (or done by someone else), it is easier to tolerate a galley which is smaller, less convenient, and moves more (except maybe in California) than your kitchen at home. But any tendency not to cook for yourself on shore will be magnified when singlehanding. If fast, frozen, takeout, junk, and beer are your five food groups, meal planning and a well-designed galley will help ensure you eat well and enjoy your cruise more.

4. Fatigue. There is less time to relax when singlehanding. The good news is you will rarely be bored. The bad news is the demands will occasionally push you to your physical and mental limits. Fatigue will reduce motivation and efficiency, impair judgment and reaction time, and, in extreme cases, induce hallucinations. According to a recent study, tired automobile drivers are as dangerous as drunk drivers. When gunkholing or harbor hopping, lack of sleep is rarely a problem. A recent issue of SAIL magazine contained an article which discussed techniques for maximizing sleep efficiency on long cruises. It did not, however, offer any solutions to the problem of sleeping alone.

5. Lack of companionship. Humans are social animals. They enjoy being in the company of others and sharing experiences, sights, and thoughts. But alone does not necessarily mean lonely. While at sea, a singlehander can interact with others by radio. And, with the exception of non-stop circumnavigators, the absence of physical contact rarely exceeds 30 days. When coastal cruising, the desire for companionship is easily met in ports and anchorages. Boaters are a hospitable group of people and seem especially welcoming to a singlehander. And inviting a new acquaintance to go for a sail is an offer that is rarely refused.

6. Lack of extra set of hands, eyes, ears, and mind. This can be a matter of safety, but is usually just an inconvenience. It is possible to accomplish most tasks alone (they may take more time but you've got lots of time when singlehanding) and avoid most risks with the proper training, equipment, and planning. Arguably, outfitting a boat for and the experience of singlehanded sailing improves safety when sailing with crew. The skills, caution, and sense of alertness you develop carry over. Off-watch crew will have more opportunity to rest. And you will have the ability and confidence to continue sailing if crew is indisposed or injured. Of course, when singlehanding no one is present to help if you get into trouble. But unless you are are clueless as that English sailor trying to navigate with a road map, you probably put yourself at greater risk of death or serious injury when you drive your car alone.

... the six best things about singlehanding (in no particular order):

1. Bill Gates insists on it. Harried mothers plead for it. Throughout history, individuals have endured privation and hardship in search of it. And singlehanded sailors have found it. Well, that too. But I'm talking about solitude; a momentary respite from the distractions and demands that occur when other people are around. It's a time of peace and quiet, a chance to think and reflect, which refreshes the body, revitalizes the mind, and restores the spirit.

2. Whether you call it "communing with nature" or "feeling at one with the world," there are times singlehanding can only be described as a spiritual experience -- days when you marvel at the sea and sky and are awed and humbled by the majesty of nature, days when you savor the interaction of the boat with wind and waves and say to yourself "It just doesn't get any better than this." According to an unpublished study by Dewey, Kahn, Yu, and Howe, these moments are covered by the inverse square rule -- the intensity of the experience decreases by the square of the number of people aboard.

3. Always sailing with a crew is like taking your relatives along on your honeymoon and having them move in with you afterwards. Getting away by yourselves provides an unparalleled opportunity to become intimately familiar with your boat. You discover its likes and dislikes, its strengths and weaknesses, and its quirks and limits. You come to appreciate the good, change what you can for the better, and accept the inevitable. Over time, your initial apprehension fades and is replaced by a feeling of comfort and trust. Your ability to handle your boat improves until it becomes an extension of yourself; your senses become so attuned that you pick up on everything and react properly without thinking.

4. Ask a sailor to identify the allure of sailing and a common answer is "freedom and independence." If you buy into this, singlehanding will give you the most for your money. With no responsibility for and no need to accommodate others on board, you can indulge yourself. Take the provisions you want and nothing you don't. Use all the stowage space for your stuff. Always sleep in the best berth. Go where you want when you want or go nowhere or nowhen at all. Do things your way and when (if ever) you are inclined to do so. Be messy or neat, noisy or quiet, lead a spartan or decadent existence. It's your toy and, for a while at least, you don't have to share it with anyone else.

5. Singlehanding is unlikely to kill you. But it offers plenty of challenges that can make you stronger and better. Not just a better sailor, but a better person. Having to do everything yourself necessitates learning which increases self-sufficiency. Self-interest will motivate you to anticipate what could happen and plan for contingencies. When (not if) the unexpected occurs, necessity will stimulate the resourcefulness and creativity needed to deal with the situation (and, occasionally, prompt a few prayers and promises to change). Your ability to both endure discomfort and appreciate the little things in life will increase. Facing your fears and pushing your limits will boost your self-confidence; while the reality you experience will keep you humble. And, ironically, what you learn about yourself while singlehanding will make you a better companion.

6. Another irony is that singlehanders meet a lot of people. I think part of it is that, after being alone for a while, they are more inclined to reach out to others for companionship and conversation. But it also seems that others are more inclined to reach out to singlehanders. Maybe one person is perceived as less of a threat or burden than a group. Maybe it's curiosity, the mothering instinct at work, empathy, or pity. Whatever the reason, the willingness of others to extend an invitation and helping hand to a singlehander and the generous degree of hospitality provided is a commonplace, yet unique and priceless, gift.

From John Dunsmoor:
SailNet - John Kretschmer's "Single-Handed Sailing"

This is one of the best articles I have read. There is not a single point that I disagree with.

I would add that I met one fellow who would sleep for a couple of hours at a time during the day, when he figured that ships would not run him over if they could see his boat. He would hoist a "not under command" day shape in the rigging. And then he would take short naps at night.

The conservation of energy is a key factor on any passage. It is the duty of every crew member, if not on watch, to be getting some rest. So many times on short passages this rule is violated only to be the root of some really large problems later. You just never know when you will be called on deck only to find that sleep is not in the cards for the next twenty hours and you pissed away what little time you did have off watch reading that new Tom Clancy novel.

Planning ... this is the true fruit of experience. I can bring a boat into a dock, with less than ideal conditions, by myself, without destroying anything and looking pretty good doing it, why? Because with thirty years of experience that has led to a hour of preparation before the attempt. I have all my lines and fenders set, I know the wind and current conditions, I know how to use these factors to help me instead of trying to fight against God ... never ignore or fight mother nature. I have a good understanding of what a boat can and can not do, what I can and can not get away with. Without this level of experience you need to add to the planning time by a considerable factor.

I have sat outside a particular dock with binoculars looking and watching, trying to gather information.

More importantly I have done all this and still screwed up. I have crashed boats, run into docks, made a perfect landing only to find that the line that I hooked the first piling with was not cleated off, been sucked through bridges, had an engine quit at the most inopportune moment, and about a hundred other instances where things were later chalked up to "a learning experience". They all are, if you can survive them.

Never be afraid to bail.

Listen to that inner voice, I have this firm conviction that our brain is processing information that our consciousness may not even realize. Sometime you get that sick feeling that things are not going right, or disaster is looming. Listen ... as you gain experience more and more times this voice will be right on target. At first you will bail early and unnecessarily; so what. The biggest threat to success can be one's ego. You just know you should be able to do this, but that alone just doesn't make it so.

I had a captain friend who had ten times the experience that I had. We were in a situation and she bailed. I would not have. And I would have been wrong and the reason I would not have bailed is because I was twenty years into driving boats and knew I could thread a needle with a Greyhound bus. But the fact is, I would have screwed this one up royally and caused some considerable damage and might have gotten someone hurt.

The boat was sh*t and almost uncontrollable, the conditions were sh*t and deteriorating and the task was nearly impossible. She recognized the situation better than I, EXPERIENCE and the ability to not let one's ego taint the facts. I remember a saying, "the juice is just not worth the squeeze." Or as an MBA might put it "risk, benefit assessment" Calculate the risk versus the benefit, leave out the ego and then make your decision.

From Tim L. on Cruising World message board:
The problem with single handing is not sailing the boat. That's the easy part. The tough part is reacting when something goes wrong: the autopilot dies, the main luff jams, the furling line overrides the drum, or water from an unknown source is coming in the boat, all of which might happen when you need to keep a lookout or hand-steer the boat. Picture what might happen if all of a sudden smoke starts coming up from below while driving up a narrow channel through lobster pots. Or simple stuff like discovering that the marina guy on the VHF was mistaken and the slip you're pulling into in 30 seconds isn't a port tie up where your fenders and lines are but actually a starboard and the fairway you're in is too narrow for you to spin around. Solvable, but a lot easier with an extra hand.

From RichH on Cruising World message board:
Single handing obviously depends on the setup of and quality of equipment; and, with intelligent planning one could probably singlehand the largest monster. However, not every bit of equipment lasts forever and occasionally does break down. When things go WRONG is the time that a smaller boat has advantages of safety, etc. Consider how much weight you can work with as in: if a torn or shredded sail HAS to come off (right now it has to come off) will you (all by yourself) be able to lift such weight on a pitching, occasionally submerging deck and not become so exhausted in doing so that the situation will not become one of "extremis" - for you and the boat?

My personal choice leading to the maximum-sized boat I could safely single hand was based on my strength in good conditions: was to limit (a 9-11 oz. per sq. ft.) a sail size to about 350-400 sq. ft. ... and that size sail is about the size found on a 40 footer. (... and my recent experience showed that for me that this size/weight may even be a bit too large as a thoroughly soaked sail weighs much more than a dry sail).

From Alan Lewis on The Live-Aboard List:
The type and layout of the boat are critical to being able to safely singlehand. I have lived on boats from 26' to 41' and found the 41-footer the easiest to singlehand because of its layout and greater stability under way. Of course, she's no greyhound of the sea, but neither am I.

From Andina Marie Foster on The Live-Aboard List:
I've single handled our 71 ft ketch a number of times - one was racing 120 miles out into the Atlantic to avoid hurricane Andrew. I had offers of (green) crew and opted to single hand it. Things happen so much slower on larger boats. The boat I had before it was a 25-foot Tupperware on Lake Mead where you sailed with one hand on the main-sheet and the other on the tiller and the other gripping the gunwales until your fingers turned white.

When single handing I rarely raise the main. One can do it and even with crew, most of it is done by one but I play it more conservative when single handing. But with the hydraulic furling genoa, mizzen, plus twin 6V71 engines it is quite easy to handle.

Docking can be a test at times. With everything prepared it will move slow enough to lasso a bollard with the spring line. I prefer not to rely on dock hands sent down to help - they can be a bloody nuisance and get you into trouble. At 75 tons, manually maneuvering the boat during docking is out of the question, so your strength and stamina has little to do with the ability to single hand. We anchor out 99% of the time so docking is rarely a problem anyhow.

Long-distance single-handing passages:
The key seems to be to get the boat to sail without much attention from the skipper. That way you can rest, do the normal stuff of living, and be in good shape to deal with problems.

This requires:
  • A boat that can sail itself in various conditions (by balancing the sails, or using wind-vane steering, or having enough battery to sail and run an auto-pilot, or by motoring with auto-pilot).
  • Good choice of weather (and patience to wait for it).
  • Enough sea-room to let the boat sail itself for a while.
  • A boat where you can live normally while underway (for example, don't have to fill cabin with junk from deck in order to sail).
  • A boat with the capacity to support you on a long passage (for example, enough fuel and water tankage).
  • Enough experience and preparation and confidence to let yourself relax, so that anxiety doesn't exhaust you.


Huge trimaran sailing with one ama out of water

From Al Hatch, Ian Wright, Todd Johnson, Steve Honour, Bob G, Tropicbird, Steve P, Bernie and others on Cruising World message board, and others on Solo Sailor mailing list:
  1. If your boat is set up with a good auto-pilot or wind vane you should be able to get plenty of rest. Rest is the secret to singlehanding. Unless there is something pressing to do, rest. Set an alarm for 15 min. so you can keep a relatively good lookout. Also if you have a RADAR set a 5 mile guard zone around the boat.

  2. Do shipping lanes, busy areas, fishing areas in daylight.

  3. Go for it! Sailing alone is the very best way of doing it, no crew tantrums, eat what you like when you like, and no witnesses should you get it wrong. Do it, but limit yourself to 24-30 hours, then stop and sleep undisturbed for 12 hours.

  4. RADAR is great, but it's most useful if connected to a nice loud alarm. Also, I suggest having your autopilot connected to an external alarm as well. If it fails, you are going to want hear that off-course alarm loud and clear.

  5. Bring a spare autopilot. When singlehanding a long trip, it is your best friend! Without it, you will be miserable.

  6. I don't like lone all nite passages. I have done these and now try to avoid them. Sooner or later you have to sleep. And if you manage to avoid it, you are worthless at your destination. Once I took a green crew and he almost put me on the rocks as I slept. Once I made it thru the nite only to fall asleep at dawn and almost drifted up on a beach. A beachcomber called out and woke me just in time for me to turn away. I always try to anchor at night if I am alone now. And I don't like planning trips that have no time to spare for bad weather. Find some crew and have a bad weather contingency for the safest trip ...

  7. I've sailed with lots of people. Some require more sleep than others. I am in the need-more-sleep category. I can get by with minimal sleep for a while but it hits me like a ton of bricks. You know whether you can get by on more or less sleep. If you are like Bernie or some other friends I know who only sleep 4 hours a night anyway, you can manage. But these people have autopilots and do little more than check position and lookout and go back to dozing. Steering the boat [without auto-pilot] is work and it saps energy. If you aren't Hercules about sleep and have no autopilot and are traveling thru crowded waters, it sounds crazy to tempt fate when you have so long to find a crew to go with you before you begin the trip.

    I have no problem with lone sailing and do it at will. I will wake hours before dawn and sail well after dark if conditions are favorable. But keeping rested and maintaining energy levels are like keeping the ability to man the boat and make wise decisions. A delirious sailor with no energy is much more likely to weaken and make bad calls.

    How many days would this trip take? How many nights do you think you can keep this up with no autopilot? And what good will you be when you arrive? It will take just as long to sleep off the fatigue as it will to stop and rest ...

    You can make a lotta miles in 12-14 hours and still sleep at nite. Just leave very early in the AM before light and try to run the cuts before dark. Or maybe only do one all nighter where there is no good anchorage if you can't find a crew ...

    I almost died doing what you propose [single-handing from Maine to RI and back; first time sailing overnight; no auto-pilot]. You know how forgiving the sea is ...

  8. If your VHF is in the cabin, make sure you have a second speaker in the cockpit, and crank the volume. Install a RADAR reflector. Both good ideas even if you aren't solo.

  9. I'm going to buck the trend and advise a different tack. Singlehanding around the clock is at best torture, at worst disaster. When you are doing it out in the ocean, out of the traffic lanes, it is acceptable, if necessary. Doing it along the Maine to RI coast is just plain dangerous. Remember that in addition to all of the traffic and natural obstacles, there is the danger of bad judgement caused by sleep deprevasion. In it is just as dangerous, even if I spelled it wrong. I've had to do this, even in the exact same area as you are planning. It stinks!

    On the other hand, there are many places along the way where you can stop and get some sleep. Think about taking more time to make this trip, stopping to sleep at night, or find someone you trust to take along.

  10. It is a lot easier to sail across an ocean singlehanded than along a coast.

    Yes, you can do it.

    Sleep mostly in the daytime, in short stretches (only fishing boats have rights on you, so hoist not under command signals), have 2 autopilots, and for God's sake, do not go into any strange place at night at the end of your trip. Heave to, and wait for morning.

    Leave your VHF on, on 16 and 9, turned up LOUD while you sleep.

    And if you sleep at all at night, tape a little ACR strobe to the backstay, and let it flash.

    Wear a harness 24 hours a day, even when you are sleeping, with a long webbing tether tied or clipped to a pad eye in the cockpit. (You will forget to put it on as you wake up if you don't.)

  11. I singlehanded a Vagabond 47 from Panama to Key West and after the fourth day I was half dead. I couldn't hear the egg timer go off even tied around my neck on a string. By the time I reached Cuba I couldn't even think. I went bare poles and fell asleep for hours. The thought of going to sea without a wind vane or autopilot is crazy. It's too hard on the body and it takes too long to recover. Do overnight hops, sleep during the day (in port), it's just as much fun. Maybe do a 24hr. run but time it to arrive dring daylight hours. Sailing is not some kind of endurance test, you're out there to have fun and let's not do it at someone else's expense. A collision at sea can spoil your loved ones entire day. There is a lot of traffic out there and when you singlehand there seems to be even more.

  12. A passage of that sort in the summer time, with the knowledge Todd has, is no F@#$En big deal. The weather is stable. More god dam people drown sailing their own bays then sailing offshore.

    More of you will hit the dock than a ship.

    All those that "have done it" know, that during the passage, thoughts run wild, but once in port, the feeling of accomplishment is great.

    I've done lots of singlehanded offshore and coastal passages, the longest was Honolulu to Seattle (27 days). All so-called day sails just become second nature to that. Isn't that where confidence brings experience?

    Every boat should have an autopilot. Period.

    Every captain should have a first mate that loves and knows how to sail. Otherwise its just excess bagage to be left at the dock. For a worthless crew is worse than no crew.

    You ain't going to be run over out there unless you're a dumb ass.

  13. I singlehand because I like it, period. I accept the risks. My biggest concern isn't hitting another boat. I am much more afraid of falling overboard. Singlehanded sailing is viewed as this terrible ordeal filled with difficulty and danger. Frankly it's more dangerous for me to drive to the marina to get on the boat.

    And here's a tip for you. I saw this in a magazine recently and think I'll adopt the idea. Stop putting GPS waypoints in and blindly sailing directly from point to point. Wander off the rhumb line track intentionally. With GPS today everyone is sailing along the same damn path between harbors. This artificially increases the number of vessels in "your" part of the ocean and increases your chances of meeting. Think about it.

  14. I take our 40-foot, 22,000-pound cutter out for a week at a time in Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands. I have had no problems handling it in tight quarters and around hard objects like docks. You just have to plan ahead, have all your lines rigged, and really know your boat. Knowing how to use spring lines and your prop for docking is also a very valuable skill to have confidence in.

    If the wind is adverse for docking or the current is not to your liking you have to either find another spot or find some help. People are very good about helping singlehanders, I just cruise it and yell to people on the dock or call ahead on the VHF.

    As far as sail handling goes - again you just have to do things ahead of time. I have waited too long to reef the main a couple of times and have regretted it. But, I have roller furling on the Genoa so I carry it until overpowered. If I am really concerned about too much wind coming up too quickly - I sail without a main. That gives me a lot more flexibility.

    All our lines lead to the cockpit, even the genoa car lead adjustment. The only time I have to go forward is to slip the reef hook into the cringle for the reef. Other than that I usually don't leave the cockpit when it gets nasty.

    A very good, accurate, and reliable autopilot is essential for easy singlehanding.

    Singlehanding is just a matter of figuring out what situations you can not easily handle alone and then making very sure you don't get into those situations. It took me two years and a lot of tinkering with the rig, lines and gear to get really comfortable on the boat alone. Now I really enjoy it. I have taken a number of trips in 25 - 35 knot winds in relative comfort without too high a stress level.

  15. When on foredeck to raise/lower/adjust sails/anchor, rig a loop of line from the tiller all the way around the deck, so you can steer from anywhere.

  16. ... I took many 10-minute "power naps" over the almost 39 hours. I did not actually fall asleep, but resting my eyes was a major help. It is important to start early, before you are tired. After about 20 hours I was tired, but never felt dangerously so.

  17. WRT solos offshore: I have heard from many friends that it is really tough the first 3 days, till the mal-de-mere subsides. ...

    The name of the game seem to be to plan your course to stay out of the way of storm cells and shipping lanes until your brain is truly functional again. A wind vane is a great crew member especially in that early part of the voyage.

  18. [Mostly about sea-sickness:] A couple other things to keep in mind: Try to stay well rested before you depart. Also, try to do as much prep work before departing - go through your checklists, take off the sailcovers, check the oil before you leave, have a bland prepared meal ready for quick unattended heating. The less time you spend below or on the foredeck the better off you'll be. Drink plenty of water.

From doug on Cruising World message board:
The greatest safety tip for a singlehander is to always be very aware of where you are. I mean in relation to shipping lanes, major commercial and fishing areas, sport and commercial. I singlehanded from the Bahamas to NC last year and followed many of the tips below. But knowledge of what is likely to be going on around you is vital. Example, at night in the Gulf Stream your most likely threat is being run down by an overtaking ship. There will be no southbound traffic. But in the daytime, especially in the mornings, your biggest threat are probably the sport fishing boats. This is especially true if you are relatively close to major fishing areas. I tried to be on the eastern edge of the stream in areas like Daytona, etc.

You might also alter your track when singlehanding. Example: I didn't want to be in the stream in S. Florida, just too much traffic. Even though it would have been faster to enter the stream as far south as possible I stayed out until I got further north where there is less boat traffic. A big problem results in everyone just blindly following a GPS course from point A to point B. That puts everyone on the same general course line. Don't do this. Intentionally plot a course less traveled.

We all know you can't keep a proper watch singlehanded. I choose to get enough sleep to not be so fatigued. I think fatigue is the greater danger. I also choose to intentionally chart my course to reduce the number of potential contacts.

From Ken James on The Live-Aboard List:
> Plus slip into almost every harbor I can find
> as I go down the Mexican
> Coast ... claiming "72 Hr Rest and Refuge".

I have done a LOT of single handling, and I absolutely do NOT do this, as it makes for a MUCH longer and harder trip. Almost all dangers are exacerbated close to shore, and navigation is much more time consuming, plus the wind is often affected unfavourably by the land mass. It is much easier and faster to just get out 100 nm or so from shore, well away from the shipping lanes and the worry of lee shores, and just let the boat sail itself. This way you are also able to take advantage of the current and wind patterns. Not only that, but by coming in all the time you will miss out on the most wonderful experience of sailing along at night, glowing dolphins below and unbelievable stars above, knowing that the universe belongs to you alone. ...

BoatSafe's "How big a boat can I handle by myself?"
Dan Spurr's "Singlehanding a P26"

Rig And Rigging

From P. John on Cruising World message board:
I singlehand a lot and I firmly believe that halyards and reefing should be at the mast. Just too much friction in the system for that stuff to be led aft. As they say - been there, done that and wasn't any good.

What I have led aft are sail trim/control lines: outhaul, vang, Cunningham and mainsheet. With the main halyard and reef lines at the mast, I can tuck a reef in about 45 seconds. I wasn't ever able to do that when the stuff was led aft.

I have an Autohelm 4000 with the control head at the instrument pod at the wheel. It's designed so I can reach under it and adjust it while forward of the wheel. Having the autopilot is invaluable when I sail alone. Just the auto-tack feature is worth it's weight in gold.

From Jeff Halpern on Cruising World message board:
I do a lot of single-handing and have for years. ... to me the absolutely best rig for single-handing is a fractional rigged sloop with the halyards, boomvang, outhaul, lifts, preventers, and reef lines lead back to the cockpit.

I strongly endorse a fractional rig for your purpose for a lot of reasons. To begin with they have smaller headsails which are easier to tack as there is less line to pull and less force on that line. With most of the sail area in the mainsail, you can often sail a modern fractional rig with a (minimally overlapping) or non-overlapping jib. If you get your timing down you can actually tack the jib on very large boats without even using a winch handle if the jibs do not have much overlap on the shrouds.

Of course the mainsail is the main driving sail on a fractional rig and modern gear allows the mainsail to be easily managed. To begin with a fractional rig it is very easy to depower the sails before you have to shorten sail. This means that you can carry the same sail plan through a much wider range of wind speeds and angles. It is important on a fractional rig to have an adjustable backstay but using that backstay it takes seconds to change from over-powered to depowered with no change in course and no change in actual sail trim. To do the same with a masthead rig you have to reduce sail (typically the roller furling jib). That requires a course change, releasing the jib sheet, counting on a device that usually works but in high wind situations sometimes fails to work, and then bringing in the sheet again. Once you've reefed the jib you have given up a lot of pointing performance.

With modern two-line slab reefing (and on a bigger boat having a dutchman flaking system), reefing the mainsail is fast and reliable. It can be done from the cockpit and be adjusted to assure the proper shape for the conditions. I suggest that you have one or two full length battens in the mainsail and the rest normal length.

Roller furlers are only good for a narrow range of reefing percentages and as the wind gets heavier on any boat you will need to peel the forestay and put a smaller jib on. There will be other times when you will want to carry downwind sails. Fractional rigs have smaller headsails and reaching sails. This makes carrying, raising, sheeting and handling much easier as the sails are smaller and lighter.

I think it is critical to lead as much as possible back to the cockpit especially if you are using a roller furler. There are times when you need to monitor self-steering gear closely and one of those times is when you are in heavy enough winds to need to reef. Having everything lead to the cockpit allows a quick on the fly reefing and halyard adjustments (a safety thing as the wind speeds increase) without leaving the helm and without allowing the sails to be left flogging for long periods of time. As to the halyard friction thing. I have sailed some very big boats with halyards, reeflines etc lead back to the cockpit. Most people who complain about the friction of halyards lead back to the cockpit have sailed boats that do not have modern low friction roller bearing blocks and sheeves. To work on a boat much over 30 feet, the hardware has to be very good but with proper hardware the increased friction just is not really noticeable and is offset by being able to mount hardware where you can use your whole body properly. The real advantage of having everything run back to the cockpit is that there is less on the mast for jibsheets to snag. There is little that is more dangerous for a single-hander than trying to free jib sheet that has snagged a mast mounted winch.

There are a lot of experienced sailors on this BB who are strong advocates of masthead sloops or cutters. That is a very traditional point of view. Many of these people who prefer masthead rigs simply have not spent periods of time on fractional rigged cruisers. I have owned and sailed boats with both rigs. For 18 of my 37 years of sailing I have owned, cruised, raced and single-handed fractional rigged cruising boats from my folkboat in the 1970's to my current boat which I have owned now for 12 years. I have owned, cruised, raced and single-handed masthead rigged sloops and cutters. I really find the fractional rig the ideal for ease and performance single-handing.

From Russell on Cruising World message board:
Many of the responses explain how people singlehand the kinds of rigs they prefer. Clearly, a wide variety of rigs can be single-handed. Maybe a better question is: What characteristics of a boat make it easier to single-hand? Carolyn and I almost always sail together, but despite that, but despite that, here's what I would look for in a boat were it just me.
  • Good balance and well-mannered helm. I don't care what kind of rig you have, if you have to wrestle the helm when things get sloppy, it makes it hard to do much else. You can buy an expensive autopilot to do the wrestling, and it will work better and burn less amps if the boat has a good helm. The ideal single-hander balances well enough that a helm brake will keep course long enough for you to reef.

  • Comfortable cockpit with lots of nooks. You'll be spending a lot of time in it. It gets to be a pain to run down for binoculars, flashlight, coffee, snacks, what have you. Single-handing, there's no one below to hand things up or take things down.

  • Some self-tacking configuration. I've seen this on cutters (boomed staysail and main), some sloops, and all cat ketches. When you're working in close quarters, you have enough to worry about without having to loose and trim jib sheets.

  • Easy, safe passage forward. This is a requirement, no matter how many crew. Sooner or later you have to go forward. Once I did so to fix a jammed roller furler.

  • Heaves-to easily. How else are you going to fix lunch?

From Michael Pawlowsky:
[Use an auto-tacking jib:] picture

Basically a block is attached to the clew of the jib. A line which starts off at the track goes through another block on the track up to the block on the clew and back down to the block on the track and then to the cockpit. You harden the jib by pulling on this line just like any other boat.

When tacking the blocks on the track go from one side to the other all by themselves. Pretty cool.


From Tim, Mike Moss, Matt, Gump, Nick Wigen, Roy Miles, Glenn Duncan, SG, Billy, Jeff G, Bill Trent, Ray Henry on Cruising World message board:
  • Practice, Practice, Practice. Absolutely, the only cure to the difficulty of docking in new conditions. ... The biggest tip I can give you is that you will not, absolutely will not be able to turn your bow into the wind when it's over 12 kts and you are at idle speeds in a marina. So, make your approach accordingly. ...

  • Consider all options some of which are:
    • Go into another dock that has a more favorable location. Sometimes marinas don't care or you can move the boat when conditions or crew change.
    • Learn the backing characteristics of your boat and put them to advantage.
    • Put extra lines on the dock presented in various ways to handle all conditions.
    • And even don't go out if it's too windy.
    ... It took me a long time to gain confidence to singlehand the boat in and out of docks. A lot can be done if you think it out and act fast. But don't trip and fall when running around on the boat. A friend of mine did and broke his arm and that ended his sailing forever it looks like.

  • My big secret is a spring line. I put it on the primary winch as I haven't got midships cleats yet. If someone is pulling on a bow or stern line, you are going to pivot around your keel. When docking with inexperienced crew, I lead the spring line fair under the lifelines, hand it to them, and say "This is the moneymaker. We'll get the bow and stern lines later."

    More specific to your situation, use an extending boat hook to get the mooring line around the dock cleat and then pull yourself in. Mooring lines the length of your boat suddenly don't seem excessive!

  • The secret to docking is spring lines, advance planning, and slow and steady speed. I have both bow and stern springs which are always left easily accessible on the pilings upon leaving ... Most important to have a boat hook of adequate length so you don't have to try and muscle the boat around in the slip to reach lines. It also helps to mark your lines so you know exactly what length to cleat if you are in a hurry. If you do a lot of singlehanding and you are not at a floating dock, you may want to rig "sissy lines" between pilings. These will keep the boat from turning too far in the slip and bashing your neighbor. You can also lay your spring lines on them for later easy retrieval. I have seen others rig a web of lines in their floating slip to prevent the bow from riding up on the floating dock. I suppose this would work unless you enter the slip at ramming speed.

  • Sometimes it almost seems easier without dockside help. Pulling into a dock as a visitor usually brings someone on the dock over to help with the lines. Over half of the time it seems that the volunteer's concept of helping is to catch the line and pull just as hard as possible without regard to what the boat is doing. ... Plan ahead as much as possible, leave an escape plan if you don't make it the first time and recognize that the judgement to "go around" for another try is a display of superior seamanship.

  • When the boat is secured at the dock, in the position you want it to be, measure out a spring line that has a loop over the most forward deck cleat used to secure the boat, and that then leads through the bow chock AFT AND OUTBOARD until it reaches a cleat on the dock which is amidships or aft of the boat. This line is permanently left at the dock. We use a piece of RED braided nylon for this one line.

    Make an "arm" which sticks out from the stern pier. Drape the end of the spring line over it.

    You, or your crew, stands at the bow. As the boat approaches the dock, you simply reach out, remove the loop from the arm, bend over, slip it into the chock, and over the bow cleat. The boat is now sliding forward into its slip. Turn the wheel away from the dock. It comes to the end of the spring line, STOPPING THE BOAT. Because you turned the wheel away from the dock, the stern bumps in. You immediately hop off and secure the stern line, then bow line ...

    A neat addition is to also drape the stern line loop, left permanently at the dock, over the arm.

    When approaching a dock without your gizmo, have a spring line rigged from the forward most cleat, lead out the bow chock and aft to where you exit the boat, and held in your hand as you make your approach. As soon as you step onto the dock, pass the spring line around a dock cleat and let it slide until the boat nears the end of the slip, then toss a turn over the cleat to brake the boat's forward motion. Toss a locking turn on the springline, go aft and secure the stern to the dock cleat, then go forward and secure the bow line to the dock cleat, then set up the last spring.

  • [Re: the previous item:] I find that using the most forward cleat tends to "trip" the boat and throw the stern out. Using a midships cleat usually stops the boat in a straight line. ...

  • The key is not to force an approach if you can avoid it. There's nothing wrong with re lining-up an approach.

  • Learn to maneuver and use momentum. Have lines and bumpers ready well before approaching the dock. The skill of using your rudder, propeller wash both directions and swing momentum on both ends of the boat ...

    NEVER rely on my dock lines to maneuver or stop my vessel.

  • We firmly believe in a midship cleat. Spring line and a midship line. With those the boat will be captured. Keep the spring line and midship line where you can reach them from the boat. As you approach attach the spring line then midship line. When the spring line pulls up, it will stop the boat. The midship will keep you close to the dock. Just make sure the spring line pulls in first.

  • ... carry a line from the bow cleat aft to the stern cleat. I usually tie the stern first and then step shore and pull the bow in with the line I had brought aft. Never ever throw a line to someone on the dock, especially the bow line unless the stern line is attached to the dock. In most cases the party on the dock will pull on the bow line and you lose all control of the steering. Usually you will hear a sickening crunch as your boat hits the dock. If you must throw a line to someone on the dock send them the stern line. At least you can still use your engine to stop forward motion of the boat. Oh yeah and have your boat hook handy.

  • The trick is a midship cleat or winch -- as close as possible to the center of balance for and aft (keel pivot point and windage combined). What I do is come in with one eye of the line around the winch. If I can get within 10ft or so I loop the line (usually by throwing a bight) around any convenient piling (don't worry about ending up exactly where you'll tie up - just get close). Of course I am still holding the bitter end of the line and the eye is around the winch or cleat. Now, if you think about it, you can cinch up that line (temporarily, of course) super, SUPER tight, and whichever end of the boat is not cooperating will be forced against the dock by the OTHER end of the boat pressing against the dock. The key is fenders or a very light initial touch by the "pushing" end of the boat. *THEN* you can step off (with pride), attach any lines you wish (bow, stern, spring, etc.), pull the boat in any direction you wish fore and aft along the dock, until you are happy. That's it, simple. You really only need ONE line attached to TEMPORARILY come alongside - provided it is at a balanced center point on your boat. I use this method ALL the time, regardless of singlehanding or not. It saves fingers and feet by the crew.

From Grandma Rosalie on The Live-Aboard List:
... Some people cross lines across the slip where their bow should stop. This makes it easy to come in the right distance. When leaving, they cast the lines off from the boat and the lines toward the pier are draped across these lines and can easily be picked up with a boat hook. We also leave ALL the docklines on the dock. Bob drives into the slip, and I pick up the midship line off the middle piling on the side away from the finger pier, and walk it back and hold the boat. Bob gets the two aft lines and secures them, and then it's just a matter of picking up and attaching the other lines.

From Charles Cohen on the Morgan mailing list:
To dock the boat:

Run a long spring line from the bow back to the cockpit. Approach the dock, get close and parallel, and stop (or almost stop) the boat. Throw the spring line around a cleat near the cockpit (that is, near the stern). At idle, in forward, drive the boat gently against the spring. Turn the wheel away from the dock to bring the stern toward the dock (how much rudder you need depends on the boat). The boat will sit still, midships pressed against the dock, bow pulling on the spring line. You can step off and tie more docklines at your leisure.

From Rick Kennerly on the WorldCruising mailing list 12/2000:
... Avoid slips whenever possible. Instead, look for the places that have very long face docks for overnight transients or, if you're a fairly late arrival and will be gone early, ask to stay on the gas dock, which is usually easy to maneuver near. There are a lot of those long "runways" along the ICW, and I almost never took a slip. ...

Summarized from Richard Manning article reprinted in 11/2001 issue of Women Aboard newsletter:
Focus on a midship / slightly forward cleat, get a line from that fast to the dock, and then use the engine to pivot the boat about that point as desired. Other lines can be added at leisure later.

From Lew Hodgett on the Yacht-L mailing list:
I ALWAYS get rid of the damn main before attempting to enter the mooring field, but keep the jib.

I was taught that the main is not the friend of a singlehanded sailor when it comes time to dock.

OTOH, a jib, even a big genny, is easily controlled by a singlehanded vessel.

I usually would hold the jib sheet in my hand the last few hundred feet, timing the release to allow the boat to almost stop at the mooring pennant.

Lots of ways to do it. A wrap around the winch, if necessary, or hand held directly.

If I screw up, grab the sheet, pull it in, and go around again.