13-Points You Should Never Overlook Before Sailing

s/v TEEPEE, VIA 36 under sail

I was 11 when I learnt to sail between Brittany and England where big tides, strong currents, heavy traffic, and fog are a common part of sailing.

Now, 30 years later, I have logged in many nautical miles crossed the ocean and sailed in various places. One thing I’ve always kept in mind is the importance of preparation. If you know you are not well prepared, but you still go and things get messy, guilt will prevent you from thinking straight, and find the best solution.

So yes, it’s always wiser to be prepared but it’s so easy to miss a thing. In order to help you before you go, I’m sharing my check-list with you. Please, don’t hesitate in commenting at the end of the post.

 

1- Hull and Underwater Gear

Before launching the boat, make sure the propeller is secured, the shaft is clean and, the anodes are in good condition. Inspect the hull, rudder, keel, look for any scaling paint or bubble that could indicate that some extra work is needed. Make sure the thru-hull are sealed and don’t move. Once the hull is clean apply a new coat of antifouling.

Hull

2- Engine and batteries

Change your oil and diesel filters as recommended by your engine manual. Check and empty the water separator. Verify you have fuel in the tank. Replace the impeller in the water pump and open the water seacock for the cooling of the engine once in the water as you may start the engine straight away to exit the launching area. What sort of batteries do you use, Led-Acid, AGM, Gel… Test them. Keep them fully charged. When you start the diesel, let it warm up a bit, have a look at the exhaust fumes, check for leaks before you retrieve your lines.

Engine

3- Mooring and Docking equipment

Get 4 long enough lines on the desired cleats, to be thrown. Secure your fenders to the toe rails, ready to be kicked overboard when needed. I personally always make sure my windlass is working and the anchor is ready to go down, just in case. As you leave, the engine can fail and the current will take you in other boats, shallow spots or where ever you don’t want to be.

4- Seacocks, Dripless…

Before launching, locate and verify they do open/close. Once afloat, check every single one for leaks. Keep them closed until you need them. Don’t forget to make sure the shaft doesn’t leak.

5- Rigging

Inspect the chainplates, stays and shrouds’ condition. The connecting elements and the tightness of the rigging need checking to. Don’t delay replacing if you have any doubt as it’s going to be cheaper than changing the mast. You might have to loosen the backstay in order to be launched, don’t forget to make a mark to tighten it once in the water.

Rigging

6- Safety equipment and legal requirements

Make sure your vessel complies with your flag requirement and carry the safety equipment you need according to your type of sailing and the journeys planned.

7- Sails

If sewing is needed, do it or have it done as it’s only going to get worse and more expensive. Sails don’t have to be brand new to be in good condition but you will see they tend to lose their shape and therefore performance with usage. Don’t discard the storm jib or underestimate reef points on the main. Make sure all the sheets, blocks and tackle are moving freely. (Make sure you rinse them off from the salt and dust with fresh water every so often and put them away from any moisture.)

8- Winch

Take them all apart and grease them yearly. Watch to not lose any bits. Do you know where the winch handles are located?

Windlass

9-Instruments

The less you have, the less expensive and the less problem to expect. All those instruments are extra sensitive to heat, water, salt, power surge… That said, I wouldn’t sail without a Depth sounder, a GPS, a VHF, electronic Charts and an Autopilot (especially when motoring is needed). Make sure they are well protected from the elements and are secured to the boat. 

Instruments

10- Water system

It might feel normal to open the tap and watch the water gushing out as you can do at home but don’t forget you now need to manage your water. You need to fill up and store the precious liquid, which takes room and leak-proof containers or tanks. In some places, you’ll have to pay for it, or you might have to carry it or even both. One way to control your consumption, and limit your guests from emptying your tanks in a day, is to use manual pumps, ideally foot pumps to free your hands. You will not only save on water but also on electricity and noise. 

11- Energy

It’s always a good idea to have several sources of energy in case one fails. For example, the engine’s alternator can be nicely paired with solar panels, a wind generator, both using renewable energy and way less noisy than a generator.

Wind generator

12- Provision and put away

Propane or stove fuel. Food for the journey. Water. Diesel. Petrol and oil for the dinghy…

Provision

13- Dinghy

Your dinghy is your only way to get to and from the boat to shore and you will certainly use it several times a day. Don’t be greedy, get a sturdy, sun and scratch proof big enough one or you will regret it every day.

Dinghy

Tip: Clothes 

Whatever its size, a boat is a small space that tends to get even smaller very quickly and easily. You don’t need your wardrobe. I guess a good standard is “what fits in a carry on”. Sailing you’ll need a variety not “a lot” of clothes.

Remember a boat moves and unsecured items will soon be covering the floor.

Also, Murphy’s law will apply to you too. The more you have that can fail, the more problems to expect. I guess it also depends on your tolerance to deal with constant maintenance and fixing. Whatever you do, always carry spares. 

My tip, keep it Simple in order to sail far.

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5 reason to pick Simplicity

Sure you might want to improve your boat and your comfort but don’t underestimate Simplicity.

 

BrokenIf it’s got moving parts, it’s gonna wear off.

If it’s holding liquid, it’s gonna leak.

If it’s electric, it’s gonna disconnect.

If it’s electronic, you will need a technician.

If you are not ready, it’s gonna bounce back in your face.

Just Keep it Simple!

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How Do You Know You Are Ready?

Where are you going? When will you be ready? When are you leaving? These questions may be the typical sailors’ interaction when they meet. If it seems obvious for some, it’s not that easy for others. So, when do you really know it’s time to go?

 

Leaving
Leaving

 

Where are you going? When will you be ready? When are you leaving? These questions may be the typical sailors’ interaction when they meet. It doesn’t matter if it’s in a boatyard or on the docks, it always sounds that every boat is going to leave sometimes, without a doubt, it’s just a matter of time.

 

In the boatyard...
In the boatyard…

 

This morning, a light breeze is making ripples on the St John river as I just witnessed a 45 footer slipping back into the brackish liquid. I wouldn’t even mention it if I hadn’t heard this story…

 

This fiberglass vessel spent the last 12 months in storage in stupidly hot and humid Florida. The guys had 4 days to clean and get the boat ready to be launched. Once in the water, they barely had time to tighten the rigging and secure the wind generator when the captain motored out for a 20NM journey. That sounds like an interesting start to their trip back to Europe.

s/v TEEPEE, Floride 2018
s/v TEEPEE, Floride 2018

I, personally like to spend 48 hours at the dock before going anywhere. A time I use to make sure everything is working, there is no leak, I can change the oil and filters, put the sails up, try the windlass… and make sure my crew is well rested, ready to go.

On another hand, have you ever come across those people who always have something else to do before they can leave? Take another course, upgrade this piece of electronic or change the color of the settee…  Funnily enough, some of us will never be ready to leave and some will leave without being ready. So, how do you know you are ready and it’s time to go?

 

Xyphos, Florida, November 2017
Xyphos, Florida, November 2017

If we think it through the Cartesian way, there are about that many things one need to do before the vessel can safely leave. Whether you are off from the travel lift to your slip, for a day sail, or to cross the oceans, there are things that need to be done prior to starting the engine. Starting with a common base, the list lengthens depending on the journey planned. Once all the boxes are ticked, you know your boat is ready. 

 

Now that the vessel is ready, what about the captain and crew? You could have the newest equipment, a boat in pristine condition, have filled up with water, fuel, and food, checked the tide and forecast but still not feel ready so what is it? Yup, it’s a question of feeling, the self-confidence factor. It’s all about your mindset “Do I trust myself enough to go?” 

It is up to you and no one else. Remember: “you can hold somebody’s hand but you can’t walk for them”. So why wouldn’t you go? You did all the hard work, got all the way here and now it’s time to enjoy the experience, let go of the lines and sail away. Who knows how good it can feel to take that step? Leave once, twice, and that is Experience. Bottom line, it is time to practice and it will just come easier with time. Your preparation ensures your security now build up confidence. Have a growing faith in yourself.

 

Back into the liquid
Back into the liquid

A little stress remains, I guess just as a dancer taking the stage or a musician cracking the silence. Deep down you know you did everything in your power to create an enjoyable experience and therefore, you and your boat are ready to go. Show genuine confidence and the rest of the crew will feel safe and enjoy the ride.

 

Feel the magic.

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Marinas, Docks, and Yards

If those boats could talk, what stories would they share?

 

LaGomera, Canary islands, Spain
LaGomera, Canary Islands, Spain

Marinas, docks, and boatyards have always fascinated me. They are the start
and hopefully end of all sea voyage. All sizes, shapes, and materials are used to make floating devices, more or less seaworthy, but with the same hope to travel the seas.

By meeting people in different marinas in different corners of the world, I come to realize there are several types of so-called sailors. Some people enjoy working on boats while others prefer sailing boats. There is nothing wrong with neither of those choices as long as you don’t expect the first one to leave the dock and the other to perform extensive maintenance.

Las Palmas, Canary Island, Spain
Las Palmas, Canary Island, Spain

Wherever it is, docks and boatyards are filled with mostly men of all ages, from the extravert dreamer, seasoned sailors, young family on a sabbatical, the project slave who’s always getting his boat ready or the fearless and oblivious newbie who knows it all, for sure an interesting microcosm often bathing in alcohol as the sun goes down.

GCSM, Florida, USA
GCSM, Florida, USA

In the middle of it all, I am too, part of that world. In the past 20 years, I certainly spent some time in those places and, I sometimes wonder: “if only those hulls could talk… what stories would they share?” Hulls on the hard waiting for next sailing season or to be sold and start a new journey. Barely floating green hulls left to the elements or to sink if the bilge pump ever fails or a hurricane comes by. Floating apartment for elderly (penniless) war vets, occasional divorcee left with his fiberglass mistress. Shiny ones who never leave the harbor but are vigorously scrubbed every weekend.

As the tides swing in and out, boats come and go in a ballet of farewell and welcome. New faces arriving that might turn into friends before they leave unless I go first. Goodbyes are never easy so you convince yourself you’ll see each other again somewhere.

So, how do you know you are ready to go…?

Catch my answer in my next post soon. Subscribe by email.

Travel lift, St Davids, Grenada
Travel lift, St Davids, Grenada
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