Sat Comm & Weather Made Easier

Hi Sailors,

Happy New Year!  In this newsletter I have a gift for you:  2 FREE sailing courses from NauticEd (Click Here)

I also have a story from my Sea of Cortez trip in December, and it's in keeping with the third part of our theme for sailing adventures this year:  SAIL, EXPLORE, GROW.  We had to grow with a new and potentially hazardous situation, and you should know about the DeLorme inReach satellite communication system we used to handle it.  We also got reliable weather forecasts without single side band, VHF radio, cellular signal or WiFi, and that's pretty darned useful.

Disclaimer:  I’m not being compensated in any way for writing what you’re about to read; you should know it about it though.  You’re going to want this system wherever you sail and cruise, even off the Southern California coast.   At Catalina and the Northern Channel Islands, you'll find that often when you are anchored out in a nice cove, there is either spotty or no cellular signal, and definitely no WiFi.

Easy & Cheap Satellite Communication & Weather – the DeLorme inReach (now Garmin)
I bought my inReach SE in 2015 when I started doing week-long instructional trips on the Sea of Cortez.  I had WiFi at the marina in La Paz, but that ended as soon as we pulled away from the dock, and cellular coverage ended within about 7 NM.  I wanted to be able to keep in touch with important people, and I wanted to have a backup rescue service available in the event our VHF radio quit working, or in case we just couldn't reach anyone in this remote area.  

The inReach gave me that functionality and peace of mind, and weather forecasts too.  On this last trip I just did not expect how useful, and how important it might be. 

My weathered inReach SE

Weather
I just recently started using the weather forecast function, and it was unexpectedly useful for us.  We were anchored at Ensenada Grande, on Isla Espiritu Santo, and I wanted to take the crew out to snorkel on the point in the morning.  The weather was changing though, and we wanted to know if it was going to be too windy.  The forecast was for winds around 6 knots at 9 AM, so it looked good for snorkeling.  Turns out we got a late start for the snorkeling, and the wind came up after 10 AM, but it was an accurate forecast.  We would have made entirely different plans if we had gotten a forecast for strong conditions.

Screenshot from the inReach web page for 12/16/17.  In the image above, you can see our track and where we anchored.  I added the labels for the anchorage and the point we were going to snorkel using Adobe Illustrator.

The really cool and useful thing is that the forecast we received was for our actual location – the GPS coordinates where we were anchored.  We were a good 25+ NM from La Paz, and we'd have to see if we could tune to the cruisers' net the next day to get the regional forecast.  When you can get the local forecast on the inReach on demand, you realize just how handy that is.

A sample of the free forecast as it appears on the iPhone thru the Bluetooth link.  Shown is the 3 PM forecast for "Tomorrow."  A more detailed forecast is available for a premium.

Note to weather gurus:  I know you can't see the longer term trends with this forecast, and there certainly are limitations, but it's nice to be able to see accurate local predictions of wind strength and direction.  I asked Garmin tech support where the weather data comes from, and they replied via emai, "Land forecasts are Powered by Dark Sky, a leading provider of weather data around the globe. Marine forecasts are based on OCENS premium marine weather data.

A Potential Medical Emergency
This situation is what the inReach is really for.  One of our crew was walking in shallow water, pulling the dinghy along toward the beach, and was stung by a stingray.  When she got back to the catamaran she was shaky, in pain, and in shock.  Beyond first aid for the wound and treating for shock, I needed help with treating for the venom and clearly recognizing specific signs of an allergic reaction.   

We had no cell coverage, and I was skeptical we'd be able to reach help via VHF radio while tucked deeply back in the cove.  I got on the inReach and texted my wife Chrissie back in California, asking her to research it on the web and to contact the doctor we knew in La Paz for advice.  That is the important part:  the ability to communicate clearly and quickly in an urgent situation (Pan Pan), can really make a difference.  Even more so if it were a sinking, or a life and death situation (May Day).

IMG_6223 small.jpg

This is a screenshot of part of the actual conversation.  I was able to ask Chrissie to look up treatment for stingray stings, and the indications of an allergic reaction.

One of the things we learned through this process was that hot water helped to neutralize the venom.  We wouldn't have known otherwise.

We headed back for La Paz at max rpm under power, with a reefed main for the strengthening wind conditions.  While underway we were able to communicate with the doctor.  Once we had cellular coverage, our injured crew’s husband was able to call the doctor to confirm arrangements. 

When we landed at the marina, we got help from a local cruising couple, and they were off in a car to meet the doctor at the hospital. 

After 7 stitches and a professional medical evaluation, our crew and her family had confidence that all would be well.

That was a really good outcome.  I don’t have any promotional product links for you, but I’m sure you can find the inReach on the web.  I use the tracking function on every trip so that I can let important people see where we are at any time of day.  On my next Sea of Cortez trip in March 2018, this will come in handy so that people who are meeting us in Loreto can see our progress from La Paz, and even ping me for questions.

And now, take a look at what we have coming up!!!

  • Grenada trip, April 21-28, on the Lagoon 440 catamaran, Almost There.  This is a guided sail training adventure, where you can step up your game.  It'll be an amazing experience.  Sail. Explore. Grow.
  • Maneuvering Under Power – On the Water.  Stay tuned for the announcement of our upcoming Maneuvering Under Power course, on the water in Newport Beach.  This is the practical training component to the NauticEd online course.
  • 2 FREE Sailing Courses from NauticEd.  Check in to these online courses and you’ll begin to see how online training combined with on the water skill practice works in the sailing world. 

Best wishes for the New Year! 

Marc Hughston
Santana Sailing

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.

Survey
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.

Scope
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.