A few truths about wooden sailboats

The topic of wooden sailboat ownership awakens some of the most heated debates among the sailing community. Owners simply love their boats and are ready to put whatever effort is needed to keep them in great shape. On the other side of the spectrum are those who say that owning a wooden sailboat, or indeed any wooden boat, is a proof of insanity.  The argument usually revolves around maintenance, a subject that may sound trivial and even dry at first. However, the issue has many nuances that usually pass unnoticed.

Most of the controversy is, as it is often the case, a matter personal preferences. In this post, I want to demystify the issue by looking at the main points usually raised in these discussions but from different perspectives. I am not going to judge whether or not someone should buy and maintain a wooden sailboat. Instead, the goal of the post is to inform and stir thoughts, rather than to decide for readers.  

Why a wooden sailboat?

Wooden sailboats have something incredibly emotional that is difficult to describe. The naïve would say that wooden boat lovers are fascinated by their beauty. However, there seem to be more in there than mere appearance. People often say that wooden boats are living creatures, which is very true. Indeed, a wooden boat doesn’t have one soul but many. Since conception and throughout their existence they accumulate the souls of all those people that life happened to put on their way. Naval architects, shipwrights and many owners, through hard work and love, have conspired to shape their beautiful and unique characters. Just as our souls are drawn by our progenitors and the many people that life puts on our way.

Wooden folkboat

There is always something exclusive about craft work that captivates us. At least in part, this comes from pride for creation, something that has almost disappeared in these times of large corporations and mass production. Still, deep inside we strongly value it. 

Emotional appeal apart, there are also practical reasons for owning a wooden sailboat. Probably the main one is that they can be incredibly cheaper than fibreglass boats. They are also usually old boats, which means from a time when seaworthiness was a priority for naval architects and builders (for example read more about the evolution of keels).

Why not a wooden sailboat?

So what are the downsides of a wooden sailboat? While I have to admit that I’m a big fan of wood, I will keep my promise of providing the two sides of the story. So here we go.

Wooden boat detractors often describe them as a sort of mermaid that first enchants sailors to then only bring misery to their lives. And in this case, misery translates into hours and hours (and money) going into maintenance and repair. But, is it really that bad? How much maintenance work does a wooden boat really require?

I’ve once heard someone say: “Let’s be honest, all materials degrade over time and require maintenance. Fiberglass blisters, steel rusts, and wood rots.” Yes, in theory all materials are equal, but in practice, some are more equal than others! When built with a modern resin, a neglected or poorly maintained fibreglass boat will perish a lot slower than a wooden boat.

Yes, the prevalent viewpoint among the community is that maintenance and repair are less time-consuming tasks for a fibreglass than for a wooden boat, although there are also those who challenge this idea. Obviously, this is a question that depends a lot on how skilled you are at working with these materials. For example, Lin and Larry Pardey built two wooden sailboats on which they did two circumnavigations. But in this case, Larry was a very skilled carpenter and boat builder. If you are good at wood work or at least are keen to learn, then maintenance should be a lot easier and definitely cheaper. Working with wood is also more pleasant than with fibreglass, although once again, this is a matter of taste.

And this brings me to the issue of taste again. The problem I see in discussions about maintenance of wooden sailboats is that it is usually assumed as a nuisance, rather than part of the many pleasures of owning a boat. Many people enjoy wood work and looking after their boats, and this has to be weighed. If you take this into account, then the game changes completely. What may be a waste of time or a pain for some is actually among the most rewarding moments for others. Put another way, what you need to maintain a wooden boat is love, in addition to time and money ;-).

Wooden sailboat Poole

Buying a wooden sailboat

Unless you are a skilled carpenter and already know a bit about how wooden boats are built and maintained, it is easier to start with a boat in good condition. Maintenance of a boat that has been looked after should not be much of an issue. If you don’t have much experience with wooden boats, it might be difficult for you to check the boat’s condition on your own. If this is the case, then it is important to not only get a surveyor but one knowledgeable and with good experience in surveying wooden boats.

Starting small is not a bad idea. Not only small boats are great fun but are obviously much easier and cheaper to maintain. As the main issue of wooden boats is maintenance, this will give you a taste of how challenging maintaining a larger boat can be. You will also learn a great deal about wood maintenance and be in a much more comfortable position to decide whether you’d like to move on to a larger wooden boat in the future.

Read, read and read. There are many good books out there that can be very helpful. Also, make sure that you can leverage other people’s experiences. This means picking a marina/mooring with other wood lovers and signing up for online forums.

wooden sailboats La Rochelle

A tough decision?

Sailboat owners never purchase a boat but a dream. How much does the creak of wood or the twinkling light of an oil lamp cost? How about the memories of a time you remotely remember or have even never lived? These little pleasures are priceless, at least for some.  

When faced with a difficult decision, many ‘responsible’ people will advise you to use your brain. Others will tell you to follow your heart. Wooden sailboat owners are usually in the second group. It is up to you to decide whether you’d like to be sensible or passionate about living your life, so let’s not judge either side. People who think with their hearts are usually good people, so most of the time wooden boat owners are great individuals.

Buying a sailboat: boat keel types

Choosing a sailboat that fits your sailing needs is not an easy task, especially if you are new to sailing. With so many types, makes and countless options available, beginners usually don’t know where to start from when they decide to purchase their first sailboats. The first thing you will need to know before looking for a sailboat is what you are planning to do with it. If you are thinking about crossing oceans, then your choice will obviously be different from that of a club sailor. The ‘perfect boat’ is often a rather personal ideal, and discussing these personal preferences is always prone to controversy. Possibly, one of the most important decisions you will have to make is about choosing the right keel type.

What’s the role of a keel?

Before we discuss particular keel types, it is important to understand the purposes of keels, and how they work. Keels serve two main purposes. First, they provide ballast that will prevent the boat from capsizing. As the boat heels over, the weight of the keel will produce a force (or technically speaking, a moment or torque) that will turn the boat back to a more stable position (that is, upright). This is called the righting moment. As a rule of thumb, the heavier and deeper the keel, the stronger the righting moment. The second role of the keel is to prevent the boat from sliding sideways. When you sail for example on a beam-reach point of sail, the wind pushes the boat sideways. However, the keel produces drag that resists that motion. In other words, the keel puts the boat on track.

Choosing the right keel type

There is no such a thing as a perfect keel. Each keel type has its own advantages under certain conditions, and disadvantages under other situations. It is up to you to decide, based on your sailing ambitions, what is most important for you. So let’s have a look at the types of keels available, and their main pros and cons.

Long keel (or full keel)

A full keel is encapsulated as part of the hull and extends from the bow all the way to the stern. These keels are usually found in older boats, typically before the 1970’s. Because of their size and weight, they are the most robust among all types of keels. Running aground with a long keeler is usually safe, while other keel types might be seriously damaged in such an event. The long keel also provides protection to the rudder (and propeller). Rudders usually hinge from the aft end of these keels. This added protection is important not only in the event of running aground but also if the boat hits any floating debris or heavy objects. Long keels also provide more stability when the boat is propped up on the hard.

Full keel sailboat
Full keel sailboat

On the downside, the performance of long keelers is usually poorer than other keel types, especially when it comes to windward sailing. In general, a long keel’s pointing ability (the ability to sail at a small angle relative to the wind’s direction) is lower than that of other types of keel. Overall, the speed of full keel boats is low when compared to modern fin keelers, particularly in light winds. The turning radius is also larger, which makes manoeuvring in tight spaces tricky. The larger radius also results in longer and slower tacking, which is a major disadvantage when it comes to racing. Going astern with a long keeler can be particularly awkward.

However, long keels are very stable in heavy weather conditions and for this reason, they are very popular within the blue-water community. A long keel also provides a much better directional stability than fin keels and is able to maintain a smooth and comfortable course even under harsh weather. This is because the keel offers resistance against the effects of waves and wind gusts trying to turn the boat around.   

Fin keels

A fin keel is a flat, narrow and streamlined plate hanging from the hull. The fin is not part of the hull, but a separate component that is bolted to the bottom of the hull. To compensate for the relatively small ballast, fin keels have a deep draft that increases the arm of the righting force. This type of keel is by far the most common in modern yachts.  

Fin keel sailboat
Fin keel sailboat

The performance advantages of deep fin keels are multiple. They are lighter than full keels, which reduces the overall displacement (weight) of the boat and therefore increases speed. In addition, they are hydrodynamically superior, meaning that drag is small. When sailing windward they provide excellent pointing, and they are also fast at all points of sailing. The narrow keel results in a short turning radius, which allows for short and fast tacking. The short radius also provides exceptional manoeuvrability for berthing and going in and out of marinas. Motoring astern is also relatively easy and precise.

Despite their improved performance, fin keels are in general considered inferior to full keels when it comes to sea-keeping ability. As a result of the lighter design, they usually require early reefing. A narrow fin keel also offers less resistance to rolling. This can result in sudden and strong heeling when a wave or wind gust hits the boat. While their ability to turn fast and easily is an advantage in marinas or racing, it also makes these boats directionally unstable under harsh weather.

An issue of particular concern among cruisers is the exposure of the rudder. Most fin keel boats have a deep spade rudder. Running aground or hitting floating objects can cause serious damages to the rudder. Over the last years there have also been a number of keel failures, many of which have caused fatalities.

An important variation of the common fin keel with a spade rudder is the skeg rudder. The skeg –a sturdy element hanging from the hull and from which the keel hinges– provides a robust protection to the rudder. 

Skeg rudder
Sailboat with a skeg rudder.

Lifting keels

As the name implies, a lifting keel is a type of keel that you can pull up, usually from the cabin. There are a few variations of lifting keels. Some models split the ballast between a ballast stub keel and the lifting centerboard (for example, Jeanneau), while other models have all of the ballast in the keel itself. A swing type of keel pivots about a shaft, but others (usually called daggerboards) simply slide vertically into a slot. In many lifting keel boats, the keel box forms the support of the cabin table. Other models store the movable part of the keel inside the stub keel, which saves a bit of space in the cabin. Keels are usually lifted by a wire or rope wound up by a winch, or by an electric motor activated by the touch of a button.

The main advantage of lifting keel sailboats is the possibility of exploring shallow waters that would be inaccessible to deep draft sailboats. Think of all those beautiful bays and rivers that you’d love to explore but that are too shallow for your boat’s draft. Lifting keel boats were designed to overcome this barrier. The idea is simple: lift your keel and go for it. Indeed, you can even dry out on a sandy beach, although gravel or rocks may damage the hull. Lifting keel sailboats are also easier to launch and recover from a slipway, as well as to load and transport on a trailer.

One main drawback of lifting keels is the added complexity, which many sailors regard as unnecessary. The keel may lift mud and pebbles that can get stuck in the keel box, potentially causing damage to the system or requiring maintenance. A mechanical failure is particularly concerning when the keel cannot be dropped and you need it. In general, lifting keel boats are more expensive than fixed keel counterparts.

Bilge keels

Bilge keels, also know as twin keels, are relatively shallow keels that are installed on each side of the hull instead of on the centerline. They are very popular in the UK, where many boats are forced to dry out because of the wide tidal range. Under these circumstances, the twin keels provide excellent support, keeping the boat safe and conveniently upright. The shallower draught and built-in support (that is, the keels!) also make them easy to launch, retrieve and transport on a trailer, as well as to store on the hard. Most don’t even need to be propped up and will sit stably on the keels. Examples of bilge keel boats include Westerlys and Hunters.     

The performance of bilge keel boats is usually considered as poor, especially when compared to modern fin keel boats. At least in part, this low-performance reputation comes from the early models that had a poor design. In these models, the keels were simply flat plates with very low hydrodynamic characteristics and were vertical. When these boats heel over, the draught –and therefore resistance to leeway—is considerably reduced. As bilge keels are shallower than fin keels, the righting moment is also weaker, even though the position of the windward keel helps to improve stability in this situation. Since the first generation, bilge keels have evolved and now have more streamlined shapes that are also attached at an angle from the vertical. The latter improvement increases the draught when the boat heels over, considerably improving the performance of windward sailing. 

Bilge keels heeling
Improved bilge keel design. Bilge keels attached to the hull at an angle increase draught when the boat heels over.

While the performance of a bilge keel boat will in general be inferior to that of well-designed modern fin keels, a well designed bilge keeler is an excellent choice for many coastal cruisers.

How and why sailboat keels have evolved?

Once upon a time, boat designers and builders used to make sailboats that could withstand even the harshest weather conditions. In those days, names such as Van de Stadt (1910-1999), Laurent Giles (1901-1969), Francis Herreshoff (1890-1972) and others created sailboats that were not only beautiful but sturdy and reliable at sea. This design paradigm prevailed for many decades, until other designers started to realise the emergence of a group of consumers for whom seaworthiness was not a top priority. In fact, they understood that the vast majority of boat buyers were weekend sailors who would rarely, if ever, sail offshore. This marked the birth of the Cruiser-Racer (or if you like Racer-Cruiser) sailboat. That is, boats that were neither seaworthy cruisers nor the fastest racers. Rather, these boats –which today encompass most of the market of new boats— offered a compromise. Simply put, they offered reduced seaworthiness for more comfort and improved performance. The main changes that were introduced by this change in design philosophy include less ballast to improve speed, wider beams, more comfortable and shiny cabins, and more important, the fin keel. Since then, fin keels have dominated the yacht market.

Fortunately, seaworthiness is not completely dead. There are still boat builders that produce well-built boats for offshore sailing. Also, with more people interested in cruiser-racer yachts, there is a wide range of old, reliable cruisers available at excellent value for money. If you are thinking of becoming a serious cruiser, you are likely to find many blue water sailboat bargains available.

The joys and adventure of sailing in winter. Top tips for making the most out of your winter.

Winter is time for… Sailing!!??

Why not? For many, the arrival of winter comes with a sad lift out of their beloved boats. A long wait for the next season then follows. Unless you leave in the tropics, this is likely to be your story. But, does it really have to be like this? Many people don’t think so. Here are several reasons and tips for you to keep sailing in winter.

Why sailing in winter?

If you ask yourself this question, then you should have a go and ask the opposite one. Why should you only sail for a few months when you can have great sailing all over the year? Ok, I will not deny some of the evident reasons – freezing cold, rainy, overcast and short days. Sailing in winter is clearly not the same as in summer. But it doesn’t mean it’s not fun. You just need to change your mind-set and think that ‘different’ doesn’t mean ‘bad’. In fact, winter sailing can give you some of the most intense experiences you’ve ever had. And believe me or not, some of the world’s most stunning corners are even more especial in winter.

Let’s start with light. It is true that the sun doesn’t shine that often in winter. However, when it decides to show up, the colours it produces are beautiful. These differences are explained by astronomy. The earth’s axis of rotation is tilted on its vertical axis. In winter, the northern hemisphere is tilted away from the Sun, while in summer it is tilted towards the Sun. This changes the angle of incidence of Sun rays. Put simply, the sun shines directly overhead in summer but the rays are at an angle in winter, producing long shadows and a beautiful golden light. Also, as it is rarely sunny in winter, you will also learn to appreciate those sunny cold days more intensely.

Winter light

Wildlife sighting is another good reason for sailing in winter. Many bird species migrate seasonally, so the population you see in winter can be surprisingly different from what you usually observe in summer. The UK receives millions of winter bird visitors every year. These birds migrate thousands of miles from the north to escape from the harsher weather conditions of the Artic and Scandinavia.  Many bird sanctuaries are located along the coast, so as a sailor you are in a privileged position to watch them.

oystercatcher

Are you tired of busy marinas and crowded anchorages? Then, welcome to winter sailing paradise. Many popular sailing destinations are so crowded in summer that it is simply not fun to visit them anymore. However, as soon as the peak tourism season finishes and autumn comes, everything becomes much quieter. And this is not only about having free space to anchor or avoiding packed marinas. It’s all about enjoying the authenticity of the places you visit. Think, for example of popular destinations in the Mediterranean. If you happen to be there in summer, most of what you see is fake. Things are specifically arranged to make tourists spend their euros. Essentially, there are tourist traps everywhere. Luckily, most of these traps close during winter, giving you a unique opportunity to see things as they are in the absence of mass tourism.  

Winter will also give you a unique touch of adventure to your cruising experience. Yes, weather and sea conditions can be harsh in winter. But it is probably this mix of risk and accomplishment that makes it so especial. So, be prepared to reduce risks, but maximise fun!

Of course, beware of the weather

Winter is usually the time of the year when the highest wind speeds and sea states occur. However, the difference between winter and summer weather is not the same everywhere. Namely, this difference is much more pronounced in the Northern than in the Southern hemisphere. This is particularly true in the North Atlantic, where wind speeds can increase by a factor of two or more from summer to winter. For example, in Southern England the maximum gust speed is about 40kts in July but climbs to almost 80kts in January. In contrast, in some regions of the Southern hemisphere, the increase in wind speed is less than 10%. And it’s not only speed that matters. Cold air is also denser than warm air, so the same wind speed will knock your boat a lot stronger in winter than in summer. This means for the same wind speed you will need to have less sail area in winter. Changes in weather can also be more abrupt and less predictable in winter. Summarising, be prepared to reef early (more about reefing here).  

Light, or the lack of it

Winter is also the time of the year when days are shorter, so you will need to adapt your cruising plans accordingly. In general, plan for short passages. Planning is indeed crucial to avoid sailing under difficult conditions of darkness, cold, and potentially fog. If you need to set off with the right tide and it happens to occur too early in the morning, you may have to sail for a few hours before the sun rises. Anchoring will also mean a long evening aboard.

night sailing

Keep warm

“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing”. Whether or not you agree with this statement, it should both motivate and remind you to prepare for your adventure. Indeed, the right clothing is among the most important things that you will need to think about before embarking on a winter sailing adventure. Technically speaking, even dinghy sailing is possible with the right clothing. But let’s have a look at yacht sailing only.

In a changing weather, it is wise to wear multiple layers that you can quickly pull on and off. When you are working on deck you may not realise that despite the freezing temperatures, you are actually sweating. Hence, it’s not a bad idea to wear breathable clothes and to keep hydrated. Have at least a couple of spare clothes dry in the cabin. You will need them if you get wet. For the outer layer, it is important to invest in high-quality waterproof gear. Sailing jackets are usually very good at keeping you dry. Salopettes are the best mid layer as they will prevent splashes from going under your jacket and trousers. Other accessories can also make a big difference when you are exposed to the elements. Gloves, a warm beanie and even a balaclava, will make your journey much more comfortable.

In winter the risk of a cold shock and hypothermia are extremely high in the event of a man overboard. Although high-end drysuits will reduce these risks, they are very expensive and a bit awkward. In any case, it’s always best to take all possible precautions to ensure that you will stay on the boat and not in the water. This means staying clipped in the cockpit and deck, even when a man overboard is unlikely. Experienced cold weather sailors have their own tricks to keep warm. For example, minimalist sailor Roger Taylor –well known for sailing many long passages in the North Sea– recommends staying in the cabin as much as possible. Most of the time a cup of tea and a few minutes in the warmth of the cabin will be enough to recharge your batteries. So it’s important to split watches and steering in order to minimise exposure. Self-steering devices such as an auto-pilot or wind-vane are also extremely valuable for this purpose.

Keep the boat warm. And dry!

Needless to say that during winter temperatures plummet after sunset. So you will need to be prepared to heat your boat for the long night that follows. And this usually translates into a lot of energy required.  If you are in a marina with shore power, warming the boat is not much of a problem. Most heaters used for homes will do the job. If you are at anchor, you will probably need special heating systems. Most marine heaters burn diesel, but there are also heaters that work with kerosene or even wood. A good heater will not only keep your boat warm and cosy but will also reduce the second matter of your concern, condensation. Again, if you have on shore power, you can avoid condensation by running an electric dehumidifier. But if power is not readily available, then you will have to find other solutions. Some of the most popular ones include ventilation (vents with solar cells are becoming particularly popular) and calcium chloride (a salt that collects moisture from the air).

Winter North means summer South!

Well, if you are still unconvinced about fighting the elements on a sailboat, you still have the whole other half of the world to explore. So how about chartering a boat somewhere else and enjoying a couple of weeks of hot weather? Destinations abound, so do your homework and compare what each place has to offer.  The Caribbean is probably the most popular destination, especially because the Northern Hemisphere winter coincides with the Hurricane off-season. However, the world is large and there are obviously many other alternatives. Eastern Africa is home to a number of such extraordinary places, including the Seychelles, Madagascar and Mauritius, to mention only a few. Thailand is also becoming more and more popular, with many charters operating in Phuket. If you live in Europe and want to escape from the winter, the Canary Islands may be a good candidate. Average January temperatures in the Islands are around 18 degrees, which will feel like a hot summer for many Northern Europeans. Read more about these and other interesting destinations on the links below:

classic-sailing

zizoo

tropical beach

Last chance

If all the above doesn’t sound appealing to you, then I have one last suggestion for you to keep the fire burning. Aha! Have you thought about that long boat maintenance list? Whether you will keep your boat at storage or afloat, winter might be the ideal time to get those jobs done and have her ready for the next season. Enjoy your winter boat repair!

How To Prevent Seasickness and Enjoy Sailing

Raise your hand if you’ve never been seasick. If you lifted your arm, then chances are that you a) are extremely lucky, b) don’t have much sailing experience, c) are very likely to be seasick one day in the future or d) are simply a liar. Seasickness –or more generically motion sickness– is a condition that affects both professional sailors and people that are new at sea. Actually, you don’t need to be at sea to experience it. Many people get seasick with the motion of cars, buses or even trains! Its symptoms –typically nausea, vomiting and dizziness– can really turn a lovely day into a truly terrible experience. Even more important, if you play a central role onboard (for example, if you are the skipper), being seasick can pose serious threats to the safety of the of the crew (and obviously yours!).

seasick cat

Research states that at least 90% of sailors have suffered from seasickness. Yet, these seafarers still voyage on into the rarely calm waters. So what? Maybe you're thinking of going for a vacation, or you're probably learning how to sail. But, how do you deal with the motion sickness that keeps ruining your plans?

Before we look into that, let us deal with the root cause of seasickness. Seasickness occurs when there is a mismatch between your senses. In other words, motion sickness occurs when part of your senses, such as your ears, sense that you are moving. However,  the other senses, such as your eyes, do not sense that movement, hence the mismatch.

Seasickness is what most people term as an old age affliction. In other words, the condition has been troubling humans since the beginning of our race. Yet, it is safe to say that there are a few tips that are really helpful to prevent motion sickness. Let’s take a look at some of them.

What To Eat

This is a preventive remedy that many sailors can swear by. Ginger has proven its effectiveness through the ages of sailing. Also, ginger adds a few complimentary and healthy minerals to the body. Recent studies indicated that ginger does contribute to the reduction of seasickness. Available in so many forms (such as raw, biscuits, crystalised sweets, pills, tablets, capsules or even soft drinks), ginger is usually one of the preferred remedies for seasickness. And if it doesn’t work for you, at least you can enjoy its lovely flavour!

Ginger

Coke, grapefruit juice and lime juice are also said to be great remedies as well but don’t quote me on that, as I have never tried them. Stock up on chewing gum, which helps combat both sea- and carsickness. Many will not like this advice, but you should avoid drinking alcohol, especially the night before departure or sailing practice.

A friend of mine who is particularly prone to seasickness once told me that eating and drinking water before departure really helps prevent his seasickness. However, avoid greasy food, as they may cause indigestion, hence exacebating the already nasty symptoms of seasickness.

A Breath of Fresh Air

The importance of fresh air cannot be underestimated. Strong smells such as spices or perfume will have your head over a bucket in minutes. Ensure that you get constant air circulation on your face for freshness.

Stay on deck and breathe in the fresh air, and focus on the horizon. This way, your sensory nerves will not have a mismatch. Your ears will recognize the motion, and so will your eyes.

Stay Busy

When I say stay busy, I mean anything other than reading a book. For some reason, reading or doing anything that requires near-focus observation only makes things worse. Try and concentrate on something that will keep your mind off seasickness.

This is what helps sailors deal with seasickness. They are always busy on deck to even notice the troubling weather or unsettling motions. So keep yourself busy and make yourself useful on deck. Even if it means helping out with the steering. Steering while seasick may at first sound like a challenge to be avoided, but it is in fact one of the best remedies for seasickness. We call it the helm doctor!

Do seasickness wristbands work?

This is a rather controversial topic. Some manufacturers say they are clinically tested, but it is unclear what exactly this means. Some health institutions such as the UK’s NHS state that there is little scientific evidence to prove their effectiveness. Many people will swear by wristbands’ ability to ward off seasickness. Others will dismiss it as a complete rip-off. In between the two extremes, there are, well… most of us who are not completely convinced but will use them anyway, just in case. As they are inexpensive and have no side effects, they are worth a try.

Motion sickness wristbands are based on the principle of acupressure/acupuncture. Inside the band, a small element applies a constant pressure to a particular acupressure point. This arguably disrupts the neural signal responsible for seasickness.

The Use of Medications

Before purchasing any form of drug to help deal with seasickness, consult your doctor first. If he/she gives you a green light, there a few drugs or medications to consider.

seasickness pills

Over the counter drugs such as Dramamine is common in preventing seasickness. I have taken Stugeron (Cinnarizine) a few times and never got seasick when I took it. But I might not be the best example as I rarely actually get seasick anyway. However, my wife –who is very prone to seasickness—had incredible results with Stugeron.

Also,  consider getting the Scopolamine Skin patches medication. This form of medication is usually placed behind the ear and is said to last for at least 3 days straight.

There are many other forms of medications that can be used. Consider the side effects as well, before purchasing any. You should not drive under certain medications, as they can cause drowsiness, reduce reaction speed and severely affect your ability to drive safely. 

Book review: Sailing Alone Around the World, by Joshua Slocum

We live in times when crossing oceans and cruising the world have become almost ordinary undertakings. Each year, more and more people flood the Internet with stories and videos about their challenging voyages. Some of these are by conscious, well trained, seasoned sailors, while others are simply from naïve beginners who take excessive risks. However, there will always be a glorious merit in being the first. And this is the very difference between other sailing narratives and Joshua Slocum’s account, Sailing Alone Around the World. This is the story of the first man to circumnavigate the globe alone and under sail. And he did it in the 1890’s on his 36-ft engineless sloop, the Spray, a boat that Slocum rebuilt completely from an abandoned hull that he was given.

The Spray
Joshua Slocum's sloop, the Spray.

Slocum departed alone from Boston in April 1895 to cross the Atlantic, with the initial plan of sailing through the Mediterranean and then the Suez Canal (then only 26 years from first opening). But after a creepy incident off the coast of Gibraltar, he decided to change his circumnavigation. Instead of heading east, he crossed the Atlantic once again, this time reaching Brazil. After sailing south and through the Strait of Magellan, Slocum continued west across the Pacific and Indian Oceans to the Cape of Good Hope. From there he finally sailed across the Atlantic for the third time on his way back home. He reached Rhode Island more than three years after his departure, in June 1898. The account of this fantastic journey, Sailing Alone Around the World, was published in 1899 and received widespread acclaim by reviewers throughout the English-speaking world.

Sailing Alone Around the World
Sailing Alone Around the World front cover

It is fascinating to look at the ingredients that made this pioneering voyage possible. From the technical side, one of them was Slocum’s realisation that the Spray would hold its course with the helm lashed. Yet simple, this observation not only made his voyage possible but opened a new episode of maritime history. One may even argue that this was one of the precursors of the first self-steering systems that emerged in the 1920’s and 1930’s. He cruised 2,000 miles across the Pacific without touching the helm! On the personal front, Slocum was the perfect man for the voyage. A confident man who had the skills, nerves and more importantly the love for adventure that are needed for such a feat. As for his reasons, as he describes it in his own words, he did it ‘for the love of adventure’ and because he had ‘nothing else to do’. Indeed, Slocum’s life prior to this voyage was no less adventurous or interesting than the solo circumnavigation, so Sailing Alone Around the World is nothing but another special chapter of this man’s fantastic life.

Slocum voyage
Joshua Slocum's voyage around the world

Slocum was born on 20 February 1844 in Nova Scotia, Canada. His journey to become a ship commander started at the age of fourteen when he joined a fishing schooner to escape from the demanding work regime in his father’s the boot-making business. From that point, Slocum rapidly worked his way up and became the commander of a number of vessels. In 1874, he worked in ship building in the Philippines, where he became the owner of his first boat, the Pato (‘duck’ in Spanish). After that, the Slocum family acquired and sold a few other boats. Their fourth boat, the Aquidneck, was wrecked in Brazil in 1887. As an example of Slocum’s resilience, he recovered from the loss by building a new boat, the Liberdade (‘freedom’ in Portuguese) using local materials and workers. Launched on 13 May 1888, the same day when Brazil abolished slavery, the 35-ft long Liberdade sailed the Slocum family for over 5,500 miles from Brazil to the United States. Financially ruined but now a celebrity, Slocum wrote his first book, Voyage of the Liberdade. But the book was not as successful as the voyage. In 1891 a whaling master offered the Spray (or the ruins of it) to Slocum, an offer that would change the history of modern sailing. Slocum clung to the opportunity and worked during 13 months to turn the rotten hull into a fast and seaworthy sloop. The Spray was finally launched in 1893.  

Joshua Slocum
Joshua Slocum

On his way around the globe, Slocum visited some of the remotest corners of the world and met the full breadth of cultures of his time. His journey was sprinkled with a number of tough episodes, including encounters with pirates off the coast of Gibraltar and with unfriendly Fuegians in Tierra del Fuego. To add to this prowess, the first man to sail the world alone --like many others of his time-- did not know how to swim! Yet, his narrative is simple and unassuming. Slocum’s unpretentious writing style even gives the impression that he had an easy ride. But let’s not be fooled by Slocum’s modesty. His feat has often been compared to those of the greatest adventurers in the history of mankind. More than fifty years after Slocum’s death, the renowned French sailor Bernard Moitessier named his 39-ft ketch ‘Joshua’, in honour of Slocum.

Enjoy reading this epic story written by the man who, more than a century later, keeps reminding us that the impossible is a construct waiting to be shattered. Or as he put it in his own words, after a group of ladies wished to know how one could sail around the world alone he said:

“It will come to that yet if we men-folk keep saying we ‘can’t’”.

Top 8 tips to start sailing

Unless you were born in a sailing environment, you are unlikely to have access to a sailing boat when you start toying with the idea of sailing. You may love the idea of cruising the world without having ever stepped on a sailboat. But is this really for you? Many people begin with the question of how they should to start sailing, but unfortunately abandon the idea under the impression that it is too difficult or expensive. Fortunately, the Internet now provides a wealth of information, and more and more people are finding their way through the winding path towards learning to sail.

Indeed, advice available online is so ample that it can cause some confusion. Some will say that you should start gradually, possibly taking dinghy lessons first before doing a more comprehensive skipper course. Others will argue for a shock-therapy, such as the ‘go and get into trouble’ attitude. The truth is that there is no single ‘best’ choice that fits everybody’s lifestyle. If you live near the coast or a lake, you will have much more opportunities than someone in the middle of the Sahara. Personal finances, family and career restrictions can also determine your choice. But these difficulties should not deter you from pursuing your dream. Instead, all you need is to find an alternative that works best for you. Here are a few tips on how you can start sailing. And more importantly, have a lot of fun!

1 Have you considered dinghy sailing?

Dinghy sailing is an excellent choice for getting hands-on sailing experience. Essentially, a dinghy is a small yacht without a cabin or an engine. The principles of dinghy sailing are, in general terms, the same as those that you need to sail a large cruiser.

There are however a few advantages in learning to sail with a dinghy. The main one is that they are much more responsive than cruisers. Under good wind conditions, you will only need to move the tiller gently to feel the boat change course immediately. This quick response is really helpful to understand how things work and to get used to reacting quickly. Dinghies also give a great sense of how sails interact with the wind and how to trim them for performance. The boat’s response to heeling is also evident in dinghies. The fact that dinghies don’t have a heavy keel means that you will have to learn how to balance the boat and avoid excessive heeling. You may need to capsize a few times before you understand how to avoid it, but as long as you are capable of holding your breadth for a few seconds, it should be fun. Dinghy sailing is also much cheaper than cruising.

dinghy sailing

It is true that you will need to learn a lot more things before sailing a yacht, but most of the skills that you learn with dinghies are directly transferrable to yacht sailing. Finally, you won’t cruise the world on a dinghy, but some people have done incredible adventures on dinghies:

http://www.dinghycruising.org.uk/

2 Take a taster sailing session

Wondering whether you or your family will really enjoy it? I’m sure you will, but just in case you aren’t sure, take a taster sail session. Many sailing schools offer one- or half-day taster sessions that will introduce you to sailing. These are a great ways of getting started with the basics of sailing without investing much time or money. A few hours aboard with an experienced instructor will give you the chance to clarify all the questions that you may have initially. Instructors usually cover a few topics that are taught in more comprehensive courses, giving you the opportunity to understand what these courses would involve were you to take your training further.

3 Sailing holidays

Still not convinced or you would like a longer cruising life experience? Try a week long sailing holiday. Sailboat charters offer the opportunity of experiencing the cruising life without much hassle. Charters can be either ‘bareboat’ or ‘skippered’. The former is for people who can already skipper a sailboat, while the latter includes an on-board skipper. While the skipper can in theory do all the work for you, you may volunteer to help and ask them to teach you while you are cruising. Charters are available in some of the most beautiful waters in the world. Simply pick your perfect destination and enjoy it! If you’d like to socialise with other sailors, you may consider joining a flotilla. Flotillas are basically a bunch of yachts sailing together and supported by a lead boat.

shipwreck beach

4 Introductory courses

If you’d like to start with a bit more formal training, then you may consider an entry level sailing course. The Royal Yacht Association (RYA) offers a course called ‘Competent Crew’ that is 100% practical. The course usually runs during five consecutive days aboard, although you can split it into two or three weekends. If you can, I particularly recommend the five consecutive days option, which will give you a true live-aboard experience. The course covers the basics of crewing such as ropework, helming and handling sails. This also gives you a ‘RYA Competent Crew Certificate’, which is the first certificate of RYA’s Offshore Cruising Scheme. The entry level course offered by the American Sailing Association (ASA 101, ‘Basic Keelboat Sailing’) would be another alternative. ASA 101 is usually delivered in two days and has a mix of theory and practical work.

ropework

5 Volunteer to crew other people’s boats

Have you got friends who own yachts? If you have, that’s great, but unfortunately most beginners are not that lucky. Not a problem, there are many people looking for extra hands on deck.

Do you need experience? Previous crewing experience or training usually helps, as skippers will in general prefer a skilled crew. However, many sailors are happy to take complete beginners as they learn the basics quickly. Start looking for easy recreational sailing, since experience is not critical in this case. It is also good for you to start simple, and gradually build up confidence before taking up new challenges. I met a guy whose first crewing experience was from the UK to Northern Spain across the Gulf of Biscay. He spent three days seasick because of rough weather in the gulf. As you build your sailing mileage, you can decide whether to join yachts for long passages. Skippers doing boat deliveries also actively look for crew.

Many Internet sailing forums have specific sections on crewing opportunities. There are also a number of dedicated websites for people searching for boats and skippers looking for crew.

https://www.crewseekers.net

http://www.sailingnetworks.com

https://www.findacrew.net/

6 Buy and read good introductory books on sailing

If you are a self-learner, then this may be a great starting point. There are hundreds of great books available that will teach you the basics of sailing. Our section on Basics also covers a few topics that are taught in entry-level sailing courses. Reading an introductory book will clarify many things before you even start sailing. Having a bit of theoretical background before you start will help you get the most out of your first sessions.

sailing books

7 Join a sailing club

Sailing clubs are a great way of dipping your toes into the sailing community. Most clubs have boats that can be used by members either for free or at low rates. They also organise events such as races, rallies, sailing holidays and social events. One of the great things about joining a club is that other members are often looking for crew, so you are likely to find crewing experience more easily. Participating in the club’s social events will give you the chance to meet like-minded people. Sailors usually like to talk about sailing and are keen to help beginners. Most clubs also provide training at lower prices for members.

Each sailing club has its own character. Some are more focused on dinghy racing and others on cruising. I even know one whose main focus on the bar! So it’s important that you look for information about your local clubs before joining the one that best fits you. Checking information available on the club’s website, such as events calendar, photos, etc is a good starting point. I also recommend that you visit the clubs during a weekend and talk to a couple of members to get an idea of what is available.

8 Purchase a boat and find someone to teach you

Last but not least, your own boat! Buying a boat is the most expensive of all the alternatives, so I left it to the end. While you can find true bargains on the second-hand market, the cost of owning a sailboat is in general high. People usually say that boats are holes in the water into which you throw money. It is also said that boat ownership gives you two intense pleasures: one on the day buy it, and the other when you sell it. The main costs are typically associated with mooring and maintenance. However, depending on your current lifestyle and future life plans, boat ownership can actually be your best choice. Financially, it is particularly appealing if you decide to live aboard. And if you are really decided to go cruising for a long time, then this is definitely for you.

Boat ownership is itself a subject of learning, and one that you will only master if you own a boat. Maintaining a sailboat requires good understanding all the systems aboard and the ability to fix them. Developing these skills takes time and patience, but there are good books and other resources available online to help. More importantly, seek advice from other boat owners who already know how to fix things.

If you buy a boat but cannot sail her, you will need someone to help you out, at least initially. Many sailing schools offer own-boat tuitions for new owners, but these can be expensive. If you are a member of a sailing club, you could find other members who are willing to help you in your first ventures. 

As a final tip, whatever works best for you, go and get started!

Ghosts, spirits and the weather helm

Everyone who has sailed a few times will have experienced it. You are having fun sailing relatively fast. The boat is heeled more than it should and you are pulling the tiller to keep her on course. Suddenly… a gust! And then other weird things start to happen. You are not heeling anymore but struggling to control the boat and not be thrown overboard. For some unknown reason, the boat is now possessed by an evil and disobedient spirit and not under your command anymore. She wants to turn into the wind no matter how hard you try to stop her.

ship wreck

If you have not yet experienced this apparition before, I’m sure ‘It’ will come to you one day. So, what kind of supernatural force is taking over? Let’s call it the omnipresent weather helm! This is the opposite of the lee helm, an attempt of extra-terrestrial forces to turn the boat away from the wind.

Why does it happen?

What is the origin of such a mysterious entity? Some will say that there is nothing supernatural in it, and that it is the pure result of simple physics. This is the story that they will tell you:

When a sailboat is not heeling too much and the mast is almost upright, the hull cuts the water in a nearly symmetrical way. This symmetry produces similar hydrodynamic forces on both sides, and therefore there is no strong tendency to turn it to any side. However, this symmetry is lost when the boat is heeled. This occurs because a heeled boat has a lot more of the lee side of the hull submerged than of the windward side, and this produces a turning moment that pulls her into the wind. More importantly, when the boat is heeling only slightly, the centre of the aerodynamic force pulling the sails (centre of effort, CE) is almost along the boat’s centreline (only slightly to the lee side). However, when the boat is heeling heavily, the sails are over the water. If you think that the centre of this force is somewhere between the foot and the head of the sail, then it is easy to see that the more she heels, the further to the lee side the force will go. The increase in the arm of the force results in a turning moment that will swing the boat into the wind. A similar effect, but in the opposite direction, is produced by the drag force exerted on the keel, leading to an even stronger turning effect.

Causes for weather helm

In addition, heeling will put the rudder in an awkward (non-vertical) and less efficient position, making it hard for you to steer the boat away from the wind.

Blah, blah, blah. Don’t listen to them! This is all about evil spirits trying to sink your boat.

Yacht heeling

How to avoid it?

There are few things that you can do to save you from the deep darkness of the weather helm. The most urgent action is to reduce heeling, and the best way to do it is to reef the main. Reef whenever you remotely suspect that you will need it. While on light racing yachts and dinghies heeling can be reduced by moving people to the windward side, this will make no significant effect on heavy cruising boats. In this case, the best salvation to the weather helm is: don’t let It come by having appropriate and well-balanced sail area. As soon as you start feeling ‘Its’ presence (you will feel the helm getting heavy, starting to be pulled by that invisible force), then it’s time to reef. Reefing will reduce the forces on the sails and heeling. It may sound counter-intuitive, but reefing an overly heeled boat can actually improve speed. This happens because heeling causes a lot of unnecessary drag that slows the boat down.

You should always start by reefing the mainsail, because its centre of force is behind the centre of lateral resistance (CLR, see a short description below if you do not know what it means). As the CLR acts as a pivot point, and because the centre of effort of the mainsail is behind the CLR, reefing the main will (in addition to reducing heeling) reduce the tendency to turn into the wind. On the other hand, reefing the head sail would probably make things worse, as it actually helps reduce the weather helm by pushing the bow of the boat away from the wind. In fact, if the boat keeps trying to turn into the wind after you’ve reefed the main and heeling was reduced, increasing the area of the headsail (or any sails forward of the CLR) can reduce the weather helm. By fine-tuning the areas of main and head sails you can achieve a perfectly balanced sail, in which case the helm feels very light. If you have not reefed and are suddenly hit by a gust, the best you can do is to spill the wind --let go the main sheet and/or steer into the wind. Dinghy sailors do this so frequently that it becomes an automatic reaction. Dinghies are extremely light and in general very susceptible to heeling (and capsizing!), so this is one of the first lessons dinghy sailors learn.

If your boat shows a consistent tendency to sail into the wind, you might need to reduce the mast rake. If you have ever sailed a windsurf you will know that you can steer it without a rudder by simply moving the mast aft or forward. Moving the mast forward will bring the CE forward of the keel and this will turn the windsurf to leeward. Bringing the mast aft will take the CE back and turn it into the wind. On a sailboat, you can obtain the same effect by tuning the mast rake –the angle between the mast and the vertical. Reducing rake will bring the CE of the main sail forward, which helps reduce the weather helm.

Finally, a tiny bit of weather helm is actually welcomed and considered safe by many sailors. If, for example, you are sailing single-handed and fall overboard, a boat that is possessed by the weather helm will turn into the wind and gradually stop. When the helm is perfectly balanced (neither weather nor lee helm), you also loose the feel of the helm, which is uncomfortable to many people. So keep in mind that we all like a tiny bit of evil, but do not let it take control!

Centre of lateral resistance

The centre of lateral resistance of a hull is a theoretical point that helps us to understand many aspects of the behaviour of a boat. The idea is that it represents a pivot point about which the boat will rotate when pushed. For example, imagine that a boat is docked with all lines on board. If you push the bow of the boat, the stern will probably swing back onto the dock. Conversely, if you push the stern, it is the bow that will come to the dock. However, if you push the beam at a particular point (the centre of lateral resistance, CLR), the boat will move sideways, and bow and stern will be moving away from the dock at the same speed. For sailboats with a fin keel this point is typically located somewhere at the keel, but this location will, in general, depend on the shape of the hull and keel.

Single handed sailing and berthing

Think of all the possibilities that single handed sailing opens up to you. You can go sailing whenever you want to, and will never depend on your friends’ diaries. Or you can simply enjoy a bit of sailing time on your own. Even if sailing alone is not something that you really enjoy, just think of all those situations when you would need to do everything on your own: seasick crew, man overboard, etc. Whether or not you like the idea of being the skipper, first mate, crew and cook altogether, it is clear that being able to single hand a sailboat can be vital in the event of an emergency. Ok, all this may sound great, but then you think “Hang on, I can’t simply do everything on my own! How can I berth the boat without someone helping me out with the lines?”. Well, indeed, berthing is among the trickiest bits of sailing, but even more so when you are single handed. But let’s start with other things that you will need to learn in order to be a self-sufficient sailor.

Single handed sailing

Single handing a sailboat means that you will have to do everything that you normally delegate to your crew. Yet, you can’t be at two places at the same time –and especially– you can’t leave the helm unattended to do something else. So the first thing that you will need sort out is how to free yourself up from the helm’s slavery. I am assuming that you have a tiller, but there are similar alternatives for wheel steering. For simple manoeuvres like tacking and gybing, depending on the boat’s setup (for example, how far the sheet winches are from the tiller), you can simply steer with the tiller between your legs. Simple, but enough to free up your hands to winch the headsail sheets, etc. Another common alternative is to rig a rope between two aft cleats and around the tiller. Friction between the rope and the tiller is sufficient to temporarily hold the rudder during a tack or gybe. However, if you need to go to the deck or to the cabin and have to leave the helm for longer, then you will need an autopilot.

Electric tillerpilots are the most popular among day sailors and are tremendously useful for single handed sailing. They usually work by keeping a given course, although fancy ones will also steer to wind if they are connected to a wind transducer. Most tillerpilots will also have a tack function that basically shifts the steering course through a tack angle of 100 degrees. Among the disadvantages of tillerpilots, it is fair to say that they consume a great deal of battery. In general, they are also not strong enough to steer the boat under strong wind. In addition, steering to a fixed course may also result in accidental gybes if the wind changes direction. For these and other reasons, many sailors prefer mechanical systems (for example a wind vane), specially for long passages. However, for beginners venturing on short inland or coastal sailing, tillerpilots provide good value for money and will do the job. An autopilot will allow you to do most of the things that you need to do, like navigation, hoist or reef the sails, adjust a traveller, cook, go to the toilet, etc.

rope guardrail

Single handed sailing is also easier and safer if the boat is properly rigged for it. There are a few things that can make your life a lot easier, specially when the sea is rough and the wind strong. Having all ropes led back to the cockpit and a few stoppers will save you from a lot of hassle and risk, and allow you to do all sail trimming from the cockpit. Going to the deck with large waves hitting the boat can be risky, but even more so if there is no one else on board to recover you from a man overboard. For the same reason of avoiding the deck, a headsail with a roller furling system is also a must. The roller furling will enable you to reef (furl) a large Genoa in the blink of an eye and safely from the cockpit.

Now let’s go back to the issue of single handed berthing. The general rules for berthing should all be taken into account, and become even more important when you are alone. It is particularly important to have a clear plan, and also a ‘plan B’ in case something goes wrong. Like many other sailing skills, berthing is learned through practice. The good news is that you don’t need to take any risk to practice single handed berthing, simply ask your crew to relax on the deck (but be prepared to jump when you start screaming), and do everything yourself.

As you’d normally do to berth, you first need to assess the wind and tide stream and guess what they will be doing to the boat. Get all lines ready and fenders well distributed from stern to bow (you never know where the hull will hit the dock exactly) well before you start to approach the berth. You will obviously have fenders on the side of the pontoon, but it’s not a bad idea to also have a couple of them on the opposite side just in case things do not end up as you thought they would. You also need to know which side the propwalk will swing your stern to when you reverse to slow the boat down.

Once you are ready, approach the pontoon slowly (but not too slowly, as you might loose steering control). When your beam touches the pontoon, reverse the engine quickly to slow the boat down, and then put it back to neutral. Always give the prop a bit of pause in neutral before reversing (the gearbox will appreciate it). Use your propwalk to keep the boat close to the pontoon. If your propwalk is to starboard, then it may be wise to approach the dock to starboard and vice-versa.

As for the lines, I find it handy to have one cleated amidships. If you do not have a cleat there, tie it to something strong enough to hold, like a headsail block or a sheet winch. Cleating this line first to ashore and keep it as short as possible. This should be enough to prevent the boat from swinging massively. It may be helpful to keep slight revolutions in forward, which will help to hold the boat nicely against the dock. If you reached this point, the situation is already under control and you can cleat the bow/stern lines and then the two spring lines.

Race to learn, but don’t learn to race

I’m not a racing person. I am not competitive and I don’t find any profound drive for sailing around buoys faster than others. Actually, I always felt that competing for the sake of it was the perfect way of wasting both energy and time together. Yes, I can have a fun playing football and other sports and may even get a kick of adrenaline sometimes. But I never had any serious motivation for winning a game or becoming a champion in any sport. Actually, things like hitting a ball more precisely than others never meant anything to me, let alone made me proud of it.

learn to sail racing

So here comes the obvious question. Why am I writing a post about racing sailboats? You may laugh about my completely ‘unbiased’ support of sailing races, but yes, I have to say that racing a sailboat is different. First, forget the America’s Cup. I am definitely not talking about anything near this level. Instead, think of small events organised by local clubs, where competitors will be more concerned about what brew to taste after the race than about beating other fellow racers. Obviously, there may always be one or two obsessive compulsive racing freaks even in this sort of environment, but this is not the rule. Second, racing a sailboat can have a purpose beyond instinctive competitiveness, for it is a great way to refine one’s sailing abilities. If you want to squeeze as much speed as possible out of a sailboat you will need to learn new tricks like trimming the sails, balancing the boat as well as different sailing tactics. These are fine skills that we would seldom pay much attention to when cruising (or at least not to a high degree), as tiny gains in speed do not substantially change our cruising experience. However, sometimes – especially during long passages– an extra knot can make a huge difference. Put simply, the ability to sail fastest when needed is very welcome on board, so why not work on it?

Sailing race Lymington 2017

So if you are learning to sail but like me are not an innate competitor, there is still a good motivation for joining sailing races. For there is no better way of learning to sail fast than racing with more experienced sailors. Racing will give you the opportunity to test your skills and observe how they translate into sailing performance, and this is as clear as it can be when you have lots of other boats around.  If you are starting to learn how to sail, joining a racing team as an inexperienced crew will also give you enough hours of sweat and sailing that you need in the beginning. And the good news is that if you enjoy sailing – as you obviously do– then racing will be fun!

But don’t become too obsessed about speed. What is magical about sailing is to enjoy the journey so don’t spoil a relaxed cruise and keep your eyes off the speedometer!

Saving tip: boat jumbles

Yes, starting to sail can be expensive. But the good news is that it doesn’t have to be, and fortunately boat jumbles are around to help! If you are learning to sail and maybe thinking of one day owing a boat, you will need to buy gear that unfortunately is usually not cheap. Everything that carries the ‘marine’ tag attached tends to be a few times more expensive than the same item without the golden word. Foul weather jackets, marine engine maintenance, even sailing gloves are in general way overpriced compared to their ‘land’ counterparts. The marine industry understands that there is a good chunk of the sailing community who wouldn’t be particularly concerned to have an extra figure added to their bills, so they simply add it. But this is obviously not true for many of us ‘cost conscious’ sailors who just want to enjoy the simplicity of the sailing life without going bankrupt. Indeed, simplicity and lavishness will never be on the same page.

Fortunately, there are a few ways to save money when you need to buy gear. Purchasing semi-new second hand gear is an excellent example. However, we all agree that second hand sailing shops are not in every corner. In these days of Internet ruling, the web is an obvious alternative to save money. Sites like ebay or craiglist offer a great opportunity to find good quality second hand stuff for a fraction of the retail price. But then well… it’s the Internet, which means that you won’t have the chance to touch or try any product, and definitely won’t have a chat with sellers and learn about their adventures. If these things are important to you as I guess they are, then boat jumbles — the marine version of car boot sales— may be the solution.  

 

Boat jumbles
Boat jumble Solent 2017

A couple of weeks ago I went to the Solent’s boat jumble (Hampshire, UK) and it was great fun. There were people selling everything from ropes to engines and even tenders. There was even a nice wooden sailing dinghy for sale. While some of these people are dealers making an extra cash selling new and sometimes used stuff, most are simply people who for different reasons decided to get rid of their sailing gear.

If you know exactly what you need, then before going to a jumble you should have a good idea of its retail price. Although there are usually many bargains for sale, you can also sometimes find outrageously overpriced items. Even if you are not looking for anything in particular, you might still find useful stuff for your boat. And if you don’t buy anything, well –apart from saving your money– you may still enjoy a nice day out with other fellow sailors.