Hints on single-handed sailing  

Even if you are not the typical anti-social loner, the occasion may arise, either for choice or necessity, when you may have to tackle a crossing on your own, so I provide the following suggestions to make things a lot easier and in particular, much more safer.

A suitably equipped boat is the most important thing for the lone sailor, plus a meticulous preparation. Most boats now have a furling genoa, which avoids the most common cause for leaving the cockpit and going forward, but a furling mainsail is an additional semplification for reefing when the wind strengthens. Otherwise you should have all leads going into the cockpit, especially the reefing lines and have the sheets close to the helm. An electric winch is also of great assistance in saving one's energy and for the larger boats, a bow-thruster is essential for the single-handed sailor, greatly simplifying berthing manoeuvres and of course an autopilot. A radar is an obvious though expensive safety factor for all cruisers, but the alarm circle is useful to the lone sailor, warning him of approaching craft.

A GPS plotter, VHF radio and the anchor-winch controls accessible right at the helm will give you full control from the command station. If you don't have a fixed VHF there, a hand-held one should be at hand when entering port for communicating with the authorities. Navtex and/or an Internet connection is essential to keep track of the weather and so help you keep out of harm's way by sailing in safe conditions. For particularly long hops, a wake-up alarm is necessary to wake you up after your brief napping periods.

Before departure, you should prepare all the other equipment that you will need, binoculars, charts, oilskin, warm clothing, camera, snacks and drinks, in order to avoid going below as much as possible. 

If you have a cutter rig and you expect strong winds during your trip (should you be leaving?), then it is best to first mount the storm jib behind the genoa and sail with both. This means reefing the genoa every time you tack, and this is where the electric winch comes in handy. If the wind strengthens to storm jib intensity, you simply furl the genoa completely (and partly the main) and you are in perfect trim, without leaving the cockpit to do a dangerous manoeuvre.

The main rule is "safety first" and you MUST always be attached to the boat when outside of the cabin. Now there are the new inflatable saftey jackets, which can always be worn without discomfort and they have a solid shackle for attaching the harness to the life-lines, which you should have installed, running all the way from aft to foreward on both sides of the boat, for those rare occasions when you have to leave the cockpit. However you must ensure that the safety jacket has a strap that goes round the crotch, which prevents it all coming off over your head at the wrong moment. A mini-transat boat was recently found empty, with the safety jacket trailing behind attached to the boat, apparently drawn up over the poor sailor's head when he fell overboard. Stay attached even while sitting at the helm, as a sudden abnormal wave or gust of wind could cause a tragic havoc to the boat.

For an easier handling of the boat and for lessening the risks of breakages to equipment when you are on your own, it is wiser to carry lesser sails in strong winds than when you have helpful company on board.

Well before approaching a harbour you should read up on all necessary information: find local VHF channel, the national prefix and telephone numbers of the local authorities, should you need to call, layout of the port and location of the yacht moorings. You should prepare for the various types of mooring that you may encounter: anchor, buoy, fore, side or aft and neatly place all the lines in their proper places, ready for use, and free the gaff. For catching a buoy I have found an ingenious, I would also say almost magical device for hooking a line onto the buoy. It is a must for this type of mooring, whether alone or not and can be found advertised in English nautical magazines.

When approaching the harbour and being within swimming distance and you feel confident enough to unbuckle your harness, so that you may proceed with all the preparations for the mooring, it is wise to stop the boat, rather than risk a fall overboard and sadly see the boat plough ahead on its own onto the rocks, especially at night-time.

Single-handed sailing means really getting-away-from-it-all and being at one with nature and can be immensely rewarding, provided however that it is done in full safety.

Laurence Camillo                                                                                                

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    Copyright L. Camillo 2000