Setting Sail In A Sailboat

When you set sail in a sailboat, make sure you have prepared yourself and the boat properly. If you are racing a small sailboat, you need to make sure you know where the course is, and that the rig is as good as you can get it. If you are cruising in a bigger sailboat, you need to wort out the passage, prepare a passage plan – this is compulsory in some waters now – and make sure you have adequate equipment and provisions.

Most important of all, if you are cruising you need a good weather forecast. Also, don’t set too much score on the forecast. If you are going on a short passage, and returning the next day, that is not much of a problem. The forecasters reckon on 90% accuracy for the next day, 30% for the day after that,, and only 10% for three days out.

Even so, you can still get caught out. Twice, I hit gales when returning from a short passage the next day – once was when I as still doing my sailing course, and ours was the only boat from the school to get back that day.

Of course, on a longer voyage you have to rely on your knowledge and on the boat – boats can keep going long after we humans have cried ‘enough’.

On the other hand, if you are racing a sailboat ’round the cans’ you will not have to worry about the weather the day after the race! But you still want to know what is forecast when you do race, so you can make sure your rig is up to it.

Beyond that, it depends how keen you are. Some people polish their hulls to get an extra bit of speed, and make their crew wear sopping wet thick sweaters so they are a bit heavier,and can counterbalance the force on the sail when they lean out or go on the trapeze.

In thinking about the ‘go-faster’ bits it is easy to forget about the essentials. For example, are all the access panels screwed in securely, is the rudder pivoting freely, but not too freely, and are its bearings sound? Are any of the sails likely to blow out if it gets very strong? Do you have any other sails? And are all the clam cleats, cleats and blocks working smoothly?

Generally, you do not have to worry about these things on a larger sailboat – you just check them over at the beginning of the season. At that time, you also get the engine serviced, or do it yourself, and during the winter get your sails cleaned and, if necessary, repaired.

Whatever sailboat you sail, do prepare before you go to sea, and use a checklist of things you must do each time. We have one on board, and we find it invaluable, even though most of things are done in a routine, almost on automatic. You need to make your own checklist because all boats are different, and we all sail in different ways.

Use your checklist, and then you can relax knowing that if you follow it, you will be reday to leave the harbour or beach – and have fun with your sailboat.

By: John Hartley

About the Author:

John Hartley, who runs sailboatyachts, started sailing sailing dinghies, but after a day in a keelboat decided that was his type of sailing boat.