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
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. Tha 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.
- 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.