The windvane – four short clips

The windvane on Blue Mistress was damaged at the end of last year. A small yacht misjudged leaving the visitors’ pontoon in Dartmouth and ran onto it – “altering the shape” of it. This year I have been watching it closely in different conditions to check there has been no lasting damage. I took these short clips off Teignmouth earlier this month.

The wind was gusting strongly – (note the untidy lines), and I thought I’d record the effect of the gusts on the self-steering gear. In the second clip, the boat is heading higher than I wanted. In the third clip,  I have adjusted the windvane to correct direction. A stronger gust then brings the boat up into the wind. In the fourth clip, I have adjusted the sails slightly. This works.

 Video clips by Bill Whateley

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.

Continue reading

No wind yesterday . . .

No wind yesterday but a fine day to run the engine.

I removed the sail cover and attached the halyard but left the lazy jacks in place as I didn’t expect to set the sail. As the Sound opened up it, it was almost empty – two vessels in sight, one trying to set a sail. A little later he had given up.


It was also a perfect day to anchor and run out the rode. I dropped anchor around 1300 close to Jennycliff near the Withyhedge beacon.


Then time for lunch, and, as I had bought the dinghy with me, time for some photography.


There were three naval vessels at anchor. The village of Cawsand can be seen in the sunshine on the far side of Plymouth Sound – (just aft of the pulpit).


All the metal work makes Blue Mistress look positively industrial. The depth is 7.7 metres – it had dropped from 8.4 metres in the 3/4 hour I had been at anchor.


The washed-out colours of January.


This simple rig holds the course giving plenty of time to go fetch something from below. It works just as well under sail..


The tide was low and the water slack as I passed the Cattewater Wharves.


Flinterlinge, registered out of Groningen, was busy unloading.


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 . . .


” 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.

On sailing a Folksong – Self-steering gear

Earlier in the year, Seb (Mischief) asked about self-steering gear on a Folksong. He was interested in a bracket to carry it.

I know he has now fitted a Hasler gear and has since sailed from the Tamar to Portsmouth with it, so I hope to hear how he got on.

In the meantime, this is the gear I picked for Blue Mistress – the Windpilot Pacific Light.

One of the reasons I like the Folksong is that there are no predetermined class rules. You have to make up your own mind. So, having  decided which self-steering would suit me, then comes the problem of how to mount it on the stern with a rudder post that stretches as far aft of the transom as that on the Folksong?

This is what we eventually decided:

The Pacific Light is relatively simple to fit on most boats and Peter Foerthman of Windpilot is immensely helpful. However, there are always problems to overcome in any project like this. If anyone with a Folksong would like more detail, let me know.

There is a learning curve. I have already discovered a great deal about sail balance using the gear . . . but there is a long way to go, and, as only way to learn  is to get out there and do it, I am going to keep Blue Mistress in the water through the winter and stick at it.

On sailing a Folksong – Sheet to tiller self-steering

Catching up on my reading.

I see that Webb Chiles posted on sheet to tiller self-steering last month.

With the sails balanced, Blue Mistress will usually sail herself for long enough for me to go forward, do whatever is required and come aft again. In stronger winds I put a line round the tiller.

Of course, moving forward alters the balance and I cannot rely on her maintaining a course for too long.

So I will try this and let you know how I get on.