Nobody told the albatross

I have just got back from London having attended Roger Taylor’s lecture at the home of the Cruising Association at Limehouse Basin in London.

Roger is the self-styled Simple Sailor . He has written three well-received books about his voyages first in his Corribee, Ming Ming, and now in her successor, Ming Ming ll. In 2009, he was awarded the Jester Medal by the Ocean Cruising Club “for an outstanding contribution to the art of singlehanded sailing.” The large number of members present was a fitting testament to his endeavours.

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Short Story

Google captured Teignmouth entrance at low spring tide. At high tide the  sand bars are covered. Teignmouth is a working port. Several ships a week safely navigate this channel.

On 30th January, a large wave picked up the Girl Rona, a local trawler and dropped her onto the sandbank to the north of the channel. The fishing boat capsized and the five crewmen took to the water, to be rescued within half an hour by the local lifeboat. The wind was easterly and strong and remained so for the next three or four days.

The picture below was taken on 4th February. The main hatch had been opened and the catch had floated free,  to be consumed by thousands of seagulls – to the relief of the local council

The sand is constantly moving as river meets sea and the channel is continually dredged for shipping to enter and leave the port. The longer the boat lies there, the more the sand will build up around her and fill her hold.

At the first opportunity, a salvage operation must get under way.

Sunday, 5th February, the gear has been unloaded and fuel pumped out.

Lines were attached . . .

. . . and tested

The strain is taken and the boat begins to upright.

There is much discussion. Several hundred ‘experts’ watching from the shore all know how to do this better.

The afternoon wears on.  The salvage boats are in the channel. It would seem that the sand has built up between them and the trawler.

As the late afternoon sun catches the pier. . .

. . . she begins to move . . . but rolls over again.

By now the tide has ebbed and the operation is finished for the night.

The boat was finally freed the following night, “floating and stable at 0300 and back in harbour at 0430 on Tuesday morning.”.

This afternoon, there were five men on board . . . working hard. For them the story continues.

A Quiet Morning

Saturday Feb 04, 2012 UT/GMT
▲ 02:40 4.6m
▼ 08:50 2.3m
▲ 15:20 4.6m
▼ 21:20 2.1m

0600 UTC Sat 04 Feb – 0600 UTC Sun 05 Feb
Wind Variable, becoming south or southwest, 3 or 4, increasing 5 to 7, veering north later.
Sea state Moderate or rough, but slight for a time in east.
Weather Rain and drizzle for a time.
Visibility Moderate or good, becoming poor for a time.


On the road to Plymouth, a large neon sign “Heavy Weather Warning. Drive Carefully.”

OK, drive carefully – but ‘Heavy Weather Warning’? Not really. It was going to snow overnight in the east of the UK, but not here.

If we overstate every inkling of every risk, who will ever pay attention to the warning? And if we do pay attention every time to every organisation –  organisations whose very existence require that they constantly warn us how much danger we are in, aren’t on a fast track to mediocrity?


The rain started as I climbed aboard. It set in for the rest of the morning – light rain.

A morning of short jobs.

Both batteries were well down but the engine started first time – not always the case. I refilled the greaser for the stern gland. Grease travels!

The pair of oars I bought aboard needed stowage space. I am looking for a sweep for sculling but these are definitely too short for that.

Also, the chain locker is too small.  Feeding the rode back down the narrow hawspipe, I find the chain blocking the pipe and I am left with a length on deck. (Too much chain? Not enough locker). I have to go below and clear it. That works in a flat calm but it’s no fun having chain flaying around the deck in a sea while I struggle below. It also takes time to re-stow the anchor and rode; plus I want to keep the anchor off the deck. So I am trying out plastic bins of varying sizes (including a flexible laundry basket). We’ll see what works best.

I fixed two brass hooks. Everything gets stowed away at sea, but at anchor you need somewhere to hang things.

And then there was time to write.


A quiet morning – or so I thought . . .

. . . then 60 plus rowers appeared from nowhere.

Dear George: lazy jacks 3

More on lazy jacks – here and here.

Dear George

I know you are looking forward to getting your new boat – and that amazing experience when you finally hoist the mainsail on your own boat. I had that moment on Blue Mistress in the summer of 2006

Full of excitement and anticipation, we left the mooring on the Tamar and motored a short way downstream to be free of the boats around us. We turned into the wind and I hauled on the halyard and up went the sail . . . and promptly jammed about half way up. Yes – you guessed it, lazy jacks again. The upper sail batten had caught beneath the upper block. So I let the sail down a little, and tried again. It got caught again. Tried again, this time more cunningly – watch . . . wait for the moment . . . up she goes!

What happened next? The engine was killed, the bow fell away, the sail caught the wind and we discovered that blissful, heart-lifting moment when wind and water and boat blend together. Did we think about lazy jacks then. Of course not. As a result, over the next few months, we went through the same circus every time we raised the mainsail – watch . . . wait for the moment . . . up she goes. Until I began to think about how unhandy it was, particularly if I was sailing solo.

When alone, I would release the halyard clutch, bring the boat into the wind, ease off the throttle, go to the fore end of the cockpit and hurriedly haul on the halyard to get the sail aloft before the bow fell away on the wind – inevitably the top batten got caught and, as the bow fell away, we would start to sail with the mainsail half set. Then it was back and forward, juggling between using the engine to bring the boat back into the wind and going forward to lower the sail, release the batten, and raise it before the batten danced yet again behind the lazy jack and we had to start the whole process all over again.

I thought of several possible ways round it:

  • A sail without battens would be fine – but that would mean altering the shape of the sail;
  • An autopilot to keep the boat motoring gently head to wind would work well – but that had to be rigged specially as I didn’t generally use it otherwise – a clunky solution;
  • On one occasion I loosened the lines to see whether the batten would shake itself free – no;
  • But loosening the lines did allow the sail to regain its shape when set;
  • The problem with this was that the lines were made fast to cleats either side of the mast, so, if I wanted to tighten them before lowering the sail, I had to spend time at the mast uncleating and recleating them;
  • So then I decided to lead them back to a pair of spare jamming cleats next to the halyard clutches;
  • Then I discovered that the thin line along the deck rolled under my feet – something that never happened with the thicker halyards. I learnt very quickly to avoid standing on it. It was another hazard, but worth it for the extra control from the cockpit, (see the previous post on lazy jacks);
  • I experimented with shortening the forward of the three lines on the boom. This pulled the cradle of lines downwards and forwards. It lessened (but not completely abolished) the snagging of the batten, but now the lower battens tended to spill out before the sail was down on the boom;

And then, no less than three years after I bought the boat, it suddenly occurred to me that all I had to do was to stow the lines against the mast when I removed the sail cover and I would never have to worry about raising the sail again, and that’s how it has remained – (and only the once did I forget to re-rig them before lowering the sail!)


I have just read in the February 2012 issue of Sailing Today a letter from a reader, Tony Waldeck, advocating lazy jacks as a good way of containing the bunt of a reefed mainsail. Yes, that’s a good idea, although I have yet to use it. He states. “Lazy jacks are the answer – but not the off-the-shelf kits that incorporate blocks. All-string arrangements will not chafe the mainsail.” (An off-the-shelf kit is rigged on Blue Mistress. You can see the blocks on the sail below).


There, George, you have it – almost everything I know about lazy jacks.

Judging by the amount of time and energy they have cost me, ‘lazy’ is a pretty poor description.

Good luck with your new boat.



p.s. This is where I look back and wonder why it took so long to reach such a simple solution. Maybe this is the most useful lesson.

The world’s full of experts and no doubt every one of them could have told me the answer. Solutions are simple, especially in the evening around the bar – it’s getting to them that’s the problem. It has to be the experience of solving problems that makes all solutions worth pursuing.

Over the years, I have read many, many ‘boat books’ and I use a lot of what I have found in them, but the most enjoyable aspects of sailing, and certainly the parts I’m best at, are those I have had to work out for myself.

The first sentence in A C Stock’s introduction to his book ‘Sailing Just For Fun’ reads: “This book is for the man who has read all the ‘How-to’ books and still finds that he cannot.” Well, the more I know, the more I find I cannot. I used to worry about this, but no longer – I’m having too good a time finding out.

. . . End

Dear George: lazy jacks 2

Dear George

Back to lazy jacks. You say you want lots of detail, so this is what I do on Blue Mistress to lower and stow the sails before returning to the mooring where I would restow everything that needed restowing.

On the radio the other day, I heard Colin Dexter, who wrote the Inspector Morse series for television, say that, when writing a book, he definitely knew the beginning and the end of the story but the middle was always a muddle. Manoeuvres on the boat are the same – they have a beginning, a muddle and an end. It’s your job to manage the muddle – and to do that, you need to think your moves through first:

    • Put on your life-jacket and/or tether if you aren’t wearing one or the other already. The rule is: if the situation is such that you are beginning to wonder whether you should wear them – put them on. Many people wear them all the time.
    • Make sure you are out of the main fairway, and any traffic. Avoid the racing fleets. They appear en masse from nowhere. You need enough sea-room to drift downwind. It takes longer by yourself – (not always true, ed.). Keep an eye out for where the boat is and other boats are nearby.
    • Set the self-steering – by the time we get to downing sails, the self-steering gear on Blue Mistress has been stowed. I have a short line with heavy bungee loops at either end. The loops slip easily over the quarter cleats and and three or four coils of the line on the tiller will hold her on course for as long as it takes to go forward and return to the cockpit. The long keel helps.
    • Check that the way forward is clear – particularly the step onto the coach roof. One of the reasons for the upright ‘come-in’ on Blue Mistress rather than a wider sprayhood is that it makes it easy to step from the cockpit to the coachroof. Being older and less athletic, I need all the help I can get.
    • Image
    • If the lazy jacks have been stowed against the mast as in the image below, you will have to free them from around the mast cleat and reset them. So, first, you have to free the lazy jack lines from the jamming cleat next to the cockpit clutches.
    • Now let go the fore-sheet and free the foresail halyard.
    • Attach the tether to the jack-line (if appropriate), and go forward to catch the foresail, securing it against the safety lines. You will already have three lengths of shot-chord attached to the safety line. It takes a moment to secure the sail. (I use the port safety lines – perhaps because I am left-handed). By the way, if I’d known I was going to use this image for a demo, I’d have secured the genoa neatly. Here we have just left the mooring and the lazy jacks are stowed against the mast (see part three)
    • Image
    • Back to the cockpit. As you do so, check the lazy jacks are not caught up on the sail or boom.
    • Tighten the port fore-sheet to secure the clew of the foresail.
    • Then tighten the topping lift, lifting the boom so that it will clear the sprayhood. This may mean releasing the vang and the mainsheet if close-hauled.
    • Tighten the lazy jack lines as far as they will go, slipping them into the appropriate jamming cleats. The lines on the lee side of the sail will tend to flatten it. You may not be able to tighten these perfectly – meaning they will be loose when you drop the sail. This shouldn’t be a problem. They will hold the sail anyway.
    • Image
    • Collect the sail ties from the locker and disentangle them. If you stuff them in your pocket, pulling one out is likely to pull the whole lot out leading to a mad scrabble on the deck to stop them going over the side. And threading them through your belt can result in two or three coming out at once. Work out how you’re going to use them.
    • To drop the mainsail on Blue Mistress, the boat has to be headed into the wind. At anything over five degrees or so off the wind the sail slides will jam against the mast and the sail will be caught partly down. As the bow falls further off the wind, so the sail will start to drive the boat forward, jamming the slides even more. There is no choice but to return to the helm to bring it back into the wind.
    • At this stage, I let the traveller out as far as it will go. This allows more space on the coachroof to furl the sail. (I hadn’t thought about until now, but I tend to come up into the wind on a port tack, which leaves the boom out to starboard. I find it easier to stow the sail from this side of the boom – perhaps because I’m left-handed. I don’t know what other people do.)
    • When the boat has been turned into the wind, leave the helm and tighten the mainsheet to prevent the boom swinging uncontrollably while on the coach-roof. The boat will come up into the wind and the sail will start to flap. (If you assume that you will be on the windward side of the boom and that it will not try to sweep you overboard, then eight times out of ten you will be right . . .)
    • Move to the forward end of the cockpit, release the clutch holding the main halyard and let the sail start to drop.
    • Attach the tether to the jack line, step onto the coach roof and go forward to the mast. This reduces the chance of the boom knocking you over but also, as mentioned above, the sail needs to be pulled down the mast in a hurry before the slides jam. You will feel the bow begin to fall away as the boat slows to a stop and the wind catches it. The trick is to get the sail down and under control before the bow starts to fall away.
    • The lazy jacks are there to hold the bulk of the sail close to the boom. Without them the folds of sail will tend to blow over the side and, in a blow, it can be difficult for one person to bring it back under control. It’s not impossible, it’s just easier and safer with the lazy jacks when single-handed. (By the way, the sail battens will not necessarily fall evenly and they will need to be aligned with the boom fairly swiftly).

At this stage, the boat should be lying quietly and the sail can be carefully furled. Make sure the sail folds of the sail formed by the slides are all on the same side, then, working from the mast along the length of the boom, take a two foot wide section of the foot of the sail – (hammock-like), and fold it over the bulk of the sail, aligning the battens and tucking the reefing lines into the folds as you go. The sail ties are turned round the bundle with the loose-end tucked under the turn so that they can be easily released if the engine fails and you need to sail again before you get to the mooring. It also leaves them ready for the next time you sail.

And all the above assumes that you know the engine is going to start so that you can motor back to the mooring. The one time I didn’t check before stowing the sails, the engine refused to start . . . that’s another story.

That’s all there is to it, George. If your eyes have glazed over, I’m sorry, but you did ask for detail. Have I got images of each stage? You’ve got to be joking!

I’ll tell you the few problems I have had next time.

To be continued . . .

After the race

I used this first picture on a ‘Dear George’ post the other day. I had forgotten the series I took of the Fastnet boats after they finished in Plymouth back in August.






I like the images. They say something about this race – the yachts involved, the numbers of crew,  the conditions.

Dear George: lazy Jacks 1

Dear George

Now you’re asking about lazy jacks and wanting detail, detail, detail. OK, you asked for it.

As you know, lazy jacks stretch from two or three anchor points along either side of the boom up to a high point on the sides of the mast to form a cradle for the mainsail when it is dropped. They keep the lowered sail from flapping in the wind and spilling over the side.


They have their good points and their bad.

When I first saw Blue Mistress, I was pleased they were fitted because I too wanted to sail single-handed and this was among the gear I thought I would need. (Like everyone else who has never owned a boat before, I dreamt of all sorts of gear I would need and all sorts of ways I would sail in her. Some happened – most didn’t).

Firstly, in a boat this size (or bigger boats like the one below), lazy jacks are unnecessary if you have a crew aboard. With someone on the tiller to bring the boat into the wind, control the boom and let the halyard go, a crew of one or two can easily drop the sail, control it and furl it – and you can all be ashore in time for tea.


But single-handing is different. That period between your boat gracefully sailing with sails neatly trimmed and everything under control, and your boat peacefully lying-to with sails neatly furled and everything under control needs some thought. There are a series of moves that need to be made in the right order, or, and I speak from experience, a series of foul-ups, each foul-up leading to a bigger foul-up and so on. It helps to see the whole process before you start – that way you know where you are and where you’re going.

So, ‘single-handed’ means forethought. There will always be moments of chaos – pitching boat, flapping sails, swinging boom. Better that it’s organised chaos. The well-crewed boat manages all this with ease, the rest of us have to work at it.

As I say, lazy jacks have their good and their bad points. The good points are when they are being used for what they were designed for – a manoeuvre that lasts just a few minutes. The bad points are their potential for getting in the way the rest of the time.

I’ll tell you about their usefulness and how they work on Blue Mistress next time. After that, we’ll have a look at their nuisance-value.

To be continued . . .

Calm morning

This is the first time I’ve been able to get to the boat since Christmas. There have been at least three ferocious storms and I was anxious to see how Blue Mistress had fared – particularly the port stern line which chafed badly against the Windpilot during the Autumn.


Strong winds are forecast again, but this morning all was calm.


Blue Mistress is just over the stern of the red-sailed Cornish Shrimper.


The extra tubing on the stern line worked. All is slack on the incoming neap tide.


The boat cleans up well. The hand pump sucked dry – great. The no.2 battery was almost flat – not so great. But the engine started on the no 1 battery and I ran it for over an hour. We shall see how far it runs down next time.


” Strong winds are forecast. Southwest 4 or 5 veering west 5 to 7. Slight or moderate becoming moderate or rough. Rain for a time, then showers. Good becoming moderate or poor for a time.”

I have been busy with the day job and haven’t been aboard for the past two weeks.

So, with the weather forecast in mind, I rowed out to Blue Mistress this morning and, as you do, turned to admire her and check her over from a distance.

The camera was in the bag so I drifted a while – took a couple of pictures.

Something wasn’t right but it took a few moments to see it.

The weed-covered line rope is the trot line which joins the buoys together and doesn’t take any strain.

The line of buoys are laid in line with the river current, but the tides are strong – especially the spring tides, and though the two stern lines theoretically hold the boat evenly onto the buoy, at different states of the tide cross currents and cross winds contrive to push the boats one way or another.

Logic says the line caught on the self-steering gear. I worried about this possibility when we set it up last year.  However, we stayed on the water through the winter storms  and this is the first sign of chafe.

There is plastic tubing where the lines cross the sten and its tempting to add another length mid-line. But this may make the lines cumbersome to retrieve single-handed where a certain amount of deftness and speed is called for to get at least one aft line and one fore line aboard before the current takes her.

The splicing practice will be good.


The rain set in shortly after I went aboard.