Sizing Up a New Anchorage

Hi Sailors,

EXPLORING is our theme, and one of the essential skills for exploring new areas is figuring out how to anchor for the night in the cove you want.  We had to figure out a few new anchorages on our November Sea of Cortez trip, and I was so glad that I knew without a doubt, just what I needed to do. 

Puerto Los Gatos
At the end of our third day of sailing on the Sea of Cortez, we found ourselves in a new cove, Puerto Los Gatos, enjoying a sundowner and reflecting on just how beautiful this isolated anchorage was.  Of course, there was a catamaran anchored in the prime spot when we first arrived, and I didn’t think we had enough room to fit in. 

By using the three S’s though, we were able to anchor securely and enjoy snorkeling that afternoon, exploring ashore, and dinner under the stars.  I thought, there are probably a lot of sailors out there who would really love to understand and own this process of sizing up a new anchorage so they could do this same sort of thing – here on the Sea of Cortez, the Caribbean, or anywhere in the world.  Here’s what we did.

The first S is to Survey the anchorage.  You’ve read the guidebook and have a good sense of where the hazards lie, but you have to see how that other boat is anchored, and exactly where the rocks and the shallows are.  This is a motor through the cove with your eyes on the depth sounder and open for changes in the water color.  A person on deck spotting for you may be necessary.

We found three crucial bits of information on our survey that made the difference.  First, the open area to the south was no good because the wind waves were marching right in and crashing on the beach.  It would be far too rough in that spot.  Second, between the catamaran and the beach it would be too shallow and there wasn’t enough room to swing.  Third, we found a spot with 12 feet of depth ahead and to windward of the catamaran, and that could give us just the room we needed.

The second S is Scope, or the ratio of anchor rode length to effective water depth.  I use 5:1 scope for moderate conditions, and so here is the question I had to answer:  If I had 12 feet of depth, and added 5 more feet for the height of the bow roller, and had no more increase in the height of tide, how much anchor rode would I deploy?  12+5+0 = 17, and 17 x 5 = 85 feet of anchor rode.  Ok, could we live in that spot, swinging with an 85 foot radius?  The answer was yes.

Setting The Anchor
The real test comes when you consider the third S, Setting the anchor.  After deploying the anchor in the desired spot, we backed down on it with 1700 RPM, and set it firmly.  I got out my snorkeling gear and dove on the anchor just to be sure.  It was buried in the sand. 

Thought Starter
Here’s an island we’ll be visiting on our upcoming Grenadines trips – Petit St. Vincent.  Imagine you are skipper for the day, leading the exercise to anchor nearby and dinghy in to the beach bar (there are no moorings here).  You’ll have back up coaching from me and the first mate…

  • What concerns do you have based on this picture? 
  • Where’s a likely spot to anchor, and how do you make the final decision? 
  • What do you have to do, absolutely, positively, before you dinghy in to the beach bar?

Give your answer in the comments below!

Sizing up a new anchorage and setting the hook is just one of the practices you’ll work on mastering when you join us on our upcoming sail-training adventures - follow this link:  The Grenadines:  Sail. Explore. Grow.   It’s a week of sailing, learning to explore new cruising grounds, and working on the skills you want to master.  Click Here to learn more.

Coming up next with the GROW theme – heading out in a Small Craft Advisory.

See you on the water,

Marc Hughston
Santana Sailing

Balancing the Helm

Hi Sailors,

I’m excited about this informative series of blogs on the themes we’re emphasizing on our upcoming Grenadines trips:  SAIL; EXPLORE; GROW.  The theme of this first blog is SAIL, and the subject is, Balancing the Helm.

Let’s Start With a Definition
Balancing the helm is the process of adjusting the sails so that the boat tracks in a straight line, with only minor corrections using the wheel, or tiller.  I can remember way back when, wondering about this myself and asking, “Why worry about balancing the helm?  I’ll just steer the boat where I want it to go.  Right?”

Why Balance the Helm? 
The short answer is that you’ll sail faster, ease the load on your autopilot, or on your helmsman, and enable self-steering without an autopilot.  And that last one is a big one.  Ah, an easier overnight passage, staying on course, arriving at your destination sooner, and not being worn out - that’s why! 

I got my education on this subject back in the mid ‘90s.  It was an overnight passage from Ensenada in Baja, Mexico, to Dana Point, CA.  On that windy night, the instructor and trip leader, Mark Howe, had us tie in the second reef on the main, trim the sails a bit, and lock down the wheel-brake on the helm saying, “There, we’ve set the autopilot.”  He went below to make bouillabaisse for dinner and I was amazed that the boat tracked straight, keeping us on course plus or minus about 5 degrees on the compass throughout the night.

How Do You Know When Your Helm is Balanced?
It’s easy.  Can you lock the helm down without the autopilot and have her maintain course, plus or minus 5 to 10 degrees?  Can you steer with two fingers, making only minor adjustments?  Is your autopilot quiet, barely correcting course?  Those are signs your helm is balanced.

What Happens When You’re Not Balanced?
Here are the symptoms:  you lock down the helm but she won’t maintain course, rounding up into the wind; the autopilot steers a meandering course and gets over powered; the person steering is really getting a workout, and the boat is difficult to control.  Time to balance the helm.

How Do You Balance the Helm?
Here’s a mnemonic to remember:  Mainsail Up, Headsail Down.  That is, a trimmed main, by itself, turns the boat Up, closer to the wind.  A trimmed headsail, by itself, turns the boat Down, away from the wind.  By adjusting the sail controls in small increments on either the main or jib, to increase or decrease power, you’ll begin to see how the boat responds.  If the problem is weather helm (the boat turning Up toward the wind), you need to depower the main. 

Note how the leech of the main, in the area of the sail number and above it, is twisted and far more open than the portion of the leech below it.  Twisting off the main, as shown here, is just one way to depower the mainsail.

Learning to Find the Balance
Remember that 1) different boats will behave differently, 2) that it’s easier to get the boat to steer herself when closer to the wind, and 3) that things also change with the wind speed.  For practice, take your boat out in a moderate breeze and experiment with getting it to steer itself.  Don’t engage the autopilot - lock the helm down when you are tracking straight.  Then, give it a couple of minutes to see whether she stays on course, heads up closer to the wind, or falls off, down from the wind.  To dial it in, start making simple adjustments, one at a time, to the main, and then the jib.  You really don’t need to know yacht design or aerodynamics to figure this out.

And, there’s another way.  Balancing the helm and sail plan is just one of the practices you’ll work on mastering when you join us on our upcoming sail-training adventures - follow this link:  The Grenadines:  Sail. Explore. Grow.   It’s a week of sailing, learning to navigate and explore new cruising grounds, and working on the skills you want to master.  Click Here to learn more.

THOUGHT STARTER:  I can think of 6 methods I regularly use for either powering up or depowering the main.  What can you come up with?  Comment below or email me!

See you on the water,

Marc Hughston
Santana Sailing

P.S.  Up next with the EXPLORE theme – Sizing Up a New Anchorage.

Fall Cruising Perfection: Santa Catalina Island

I’ve finally decided that October IS my favorite month of the year for sailing.  The days are shorter, but the sunsets are gorgeous in the warm dry air.  This is the perfect time of year for cruising Catalina.  The anchorages are deserted, and mild Santana wind conditions mean calm, warm, and peaceful anchorages.

It was about 11:00 PM on Sunday evening October 22nd when Chrissie and I departed Dana Point Harbor, bound for the West End and Big Geiger cove.  We motor-sailed our Catalina 34, La Terza Vita, until about 1 AM when a mild north-westerly filled in.  We unrolled the big genoa and sailed close-hauled for several hours, making 4-5 knots on a course that brought us in toward Ship Rock at the Isthmus.  We arrived with the sun at Big Geiger, and had the whole cove to ourselves.

Sunrise en route to Big Geiger cove

Big Geiger
We anchored bow and stern as the sun rose a bit higher, and then laid down for a few hours of perfect rest.  And later that day we swam, snorkeled, and took a dinghy ride to explore Little Geiger, Emerald Bay, and Doctors’ cove.  The only boat in Emerald Bay was the Beneteau 48 Cabernet Sky, on a mooring at Indian Rock.  I thought of stopping in to say hello, but we were enjoying our own solitude so much, I thought we’d let them enjoy theirs.  And that night at anchor the sky was so clear, you could see Long Beach in sharp detail with its orange glow behind.  And we were still the only boat in the cove.

Catalina-5 Big Geiger-R.jpg

Big Geiger from the road above.


It's nice to be the only boat in the cove.

Cabrillo Beach
It was Tuesday afternoon that we finally weighed anchor and headed for my favorite anchorage on the North Side of Catalina, Cabrillo Beach.  Tucked in behind Little Gibraltar, Cabrillo Beach is a lovely anchorage with a rock islet that has a piece of re-bar cemented into it – you can tie your stern rode directly to it.  Here’s what we did:  we dropped the bow anchor part way out near the point, and then backed in about 90 feet from the rock islet.  I took the stern rode in my hand, having first disconnected the chain, and while Chrissie kept the boat in reverse to hold our position, I swam it in to the rock with my Teva sandals on.   I tied off on the re-bar with a rolling hitch, and after backing down to set the bow anchor, there we were – super secure, and the only boat in the anchorage.

Catalina-11 Cabrillo-R.jpg

Tucked in behind Little Gibraltar


Our stern rode is tied off on the rock islet

This is the coolest anchorage on the north side of the island

The next day after snorkeling at Cabrillo and exploring ashore at neighboring Goat Harbor, we headed out for Avalon, only about 6.4 NM away.  The moorings were plentiful and for a while, we had no other boats nearby.  And on that Wednesday evening, there was plenty of space at the dinghy dock, and there was no wait for an outside table at the Blue Water Grill.  We had a beautiful view of the Casino, and our boat, in the second row of moorings off the beach.  This was a perfect finish.

It’s November now, but there’s still time to enjoy fall cruising at Catalina.  Keep a sharp weather eye out for strong Santana winds, and make sure you have your copy of Anchoring At Catalina, so you can enjoy a quiet cove and a beautiful clear night at anchor.  And if you miss it this year, remember for next time that Fall cruising can be complete perfection at Catalina.

The Round Turn and Two Half Hitches

I use the Round Turn and Two Half Hitches more frequently than any other knot.  It's perfect for fenders, and perfect for tying up the dinghy.  Any time there is a load on the line, the round turn takes the load and you can finish it easily with the half hitches.  I use a variation that I haven't yet seen elsewhere, by making the second half hitch in the opposite direction of the first one.  The result is a knot that is more compact and stable - meaning less likely to loosen itself up as the line gets worked, and that makes it more secure.

The Diabetic Sailor

I’ve been keeping it mostly to myself and my students over the last many years, but I feel I need to talk about being diabetic, being a sailor, and being a sailing instructor.  I intend to write more about this subject, so please stay tuned. 

I’m a type 1 diabetic since 1983, a sailor, and a sailing and cruising instructor since 1998.  I have a Coast Guard 100 ton License, and I teach for a number of sailing schools and do my own cruises.  I am certified as an instructor by US SAILING, the governing body for the sport of sailing in the US, and by the American Sailing Association (ASA).  And, I do trips in the Sea of Cortez, the Grenadines, California’s Northern Channel Islands, and so on.  I’m used to being away on multi-day trips and deliveries, sometimes for 2 weeks at a time, with no resources other than what I have with me. 

And with that brief intro, let me tell you more about the life of the diabetic sailor that I am.  I’ve made it work pretty well and at age 57, as of this writing, I’m in the best shape I’ve been in since college.  At 6 foot 2 and 195 pounds, my last A1c was 6.8.  I tell you, it’s the sailing that made the biggest difference. And then, there is that marvelous CGM by Dexcom.  More on the CGM by Dexcom below. 

I hope to inspire conversation and questions from very active type 1s and those who care about them.  It’s a tough thing to commit to a multi-day or multi-week journey without assistance from your doctor, the pharmacy, your spouse, friends who could help you in some way, and so on.  It is totally doable though, and I’ve been doing it.

My Story

One of my early sailing memories is being with Ed, a friend of my Dad’s, on his Hobie 16 catamaran on Lake Mojave.  When the wind came up in the afternoon and it was too rough to ski, I’d go sailing with Ed.  He had a pack of those little Snickers bars and told me that he was diabetic and sometimes needed those.  I didn’t really know what he was talking about back then.  I do now.

At age 23, I was in my first real job out of college.  I had the worst sore throat I’ve ever had, and went to see the Doctor.  After that visit, I lost 15 pounds in about a week and a half, found myself incredibly thirsty and I had to pee constantly.  Toward the end of this period, I had a bunch of problems:  I found I couldn’t focus on my face in the mirror; shaving was difficult because my cheeks were sunken; I’d eat lunch and feel like I needed to sleep for a decade; my tongue would dry out sometimes, and that is a very strange experience; I rationalized – I told myself I was thirsty because I had become dehydrated, and I had to pee all the time because I was drinking so much soda, water, iced tea, and anything I could get my hands on. 

I remember my Dad telling me about a dream or a vision he had before he was diagnosed as a Type 1:  he saw himself lying in a river with his mouth open to the upstream flow, drinking it in, and peeing constantly downstream.  That’s kind of how it felt for me.

My boss said, “Marc, you need to see a doctor.”  I did, and I was hospitalized that same day.  The doc told me that by rights, I should be in a coma.  My blood sugar was 600+, and normal is 80-120.  After 2 days they released me with a pack of syringes and some insulin, and wished me well.  That first day was scary.

Over the years I’ve gotten used to it, accepted it, and I have learned quite a bit.  I just don’t produce any insulin.  A sailor who is a nurse and was on one of my trips described my situation as a “viral onset.”  The literature these days says no one knows the cause for Type 1, but another sailor with a son who has Type 1 said she thought the research was going to point to the viral issue.  And so, here we are, even if we don’t know the exact cause.  I still have to deal with it, and so do you if you are Type 1.

And Now

The remarkable thing to me is that I feel that I am in the best shape of my life since college.  I tell you, it’s the sailing.  More to come on that subject.

Two key issues have made the difference for me in the last couple of years.  First, I got on with Kaiser Permanente for health care, made possible through my employment with OCC.  And if you are looking for a health care insurance option, I say go with Kaiser.  Go with Kaiser if you possibly can.  Second, my Endocrinologist at Kaiser recommended the Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) system by Dexcom.  I just have to say, there’s nothing like seeing a graph of where your blood glucose has been and where it’s going to help you control it.  It is this system that enabled me to get my A1c below 7.

I welcome your comments and questions.  I can’t give medical advice, but I can tell you a lot about what has worked for me.

I hope to see you on the water!

Marc Hughston

2. Recognizing Lights at Night

Imagine that it’s a pitch black night, and you are exiting Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard.  You see these lights up ahead.  What kind of vessel is this?  Do you give way to it, or do you stand on?  Which side should you pass on?

Click here to download a PDF of this article
Scroll down to see the vessel

Scroll down to see the vessel

This dredge is working in the entrance to Channel Islands Harbor.  In the daytime it shows the day shapes for a vessel restricted in her ability to maneuver – the Ball, Diamond, and Ball above the wheel house.  At night, she shows Red, White, and Red lights in a vertical line. 

The safe side to pass on is indicated by the two black Diamonds on the right side of the wheel house, though the lower one is obscured.  At night, this is indicated by the two Green lights in a vertical line.

The danger side is indicated by the two black Balls on the left side of the wheel house, indicated at night by two red light in a vertical line.

In the Navigation Rules, Rule 3 General Definitions section (g) states in part, “The term ‘vessel restricted in her ability to maneuver’ means a vessel which from the nature of her work is restricted in her ability to maneuver as required by these Rules and is therefore unable to keep out of the way of another vessel.”

This is a good example of a vessel restricted in her ability to maneuver.  You can see it has nothing to do with being big, slow, or difficult to turn or stop.  This vessel has gear in the water sucking sand off the bottom, and it is connected to a huge hose that runs ashore where the sand and water is pumped out.  This vessel simply cannot maneuver for you, and that is what “restricted in her ability to maneuver” means.

You can buy the card pictured above at West Marine.  It includes sound signals, and on the other side, aids to navigation.  Keep this in your sailing bag for reference when you need help interpreting lights at night.

You can buy the card pictured above at West Marine.  It includes sound signals, and on the other side, aids to navigation.  Keep this in your sailing bag for reference when you need help interpreting lights at night.