Why the Sea of Cortez?

Uncrowded Beauty

Imagine yourself leading family and friends on a week-long charter on a new Lagoon 450 catamaran.  You can do this because you’ve achieved your Bareboat Charter Master Certification and Catamaran Endorsement, having gotten your training in these same waters with Santana Sailing.  Now, this boat is yours for the week.

The air is warm as you depart the marina, and your guests share a bit of excitement with you as a Manta Ray leaps out of the water with great flapping wings.  Your guests don’t know the area but have heard about it, and you feel confident in the training you’ve received.

Photo: Wes Smith

Good Sailing

It’s the Sea of Cortez.  You could sail anywhere in the world, but you’ve come to this place.  With warm water, uncrowded anchorages and abundant sea life, The Sea has attracted luminaries like Scuba Pioneer Jacques Cousteau, author John Steinbeck, and legendary cruisers Lin and Larry Pardey, all of whom spent significant time in and on these waters.

The Sea of Cortez is one of the most stunning cruising grounds in North America

Photo: Wes Smith

Different and Fresh

The Sea of Cortez is a completely different and fresh experience from the Caribbean or Mediterranean.    No crowds, no boat boys, few tourists, no race to the next mooring field – just stunning scenery, a good sailing breeze, and a chance for solitude. 

Photo: Wes Smith

World Class Instruction

You can also get your International Sailing License (SLC) and/or Bareboat Charter Master training and assessment completed during the week with Santana Sailing.  And, it is very easy to get there – a 2h 30m  flight will bring you from LAX to Cabo. 

Read this blog I wrote, published by NauticEd for additional details:  Cruise The Sea of Cortez

Jaw Dropping Sunsets and Sunrises

Frequently the sunsets are so amazing that the conversation just stops. And when you wake up to the sound of bare feet pattering on deck with hushed oohs and ahhhs, get out of bed and grab your camera.

Contact us to learn more about Instructional Cruises and Slow Cruises on The Sea. Scroll down for a gallery of un-retouched sunsets and sunrises.

Water in the Diesel - Ooops!

Which Deck Plate is That?

This might happen to you one day.  I’m glad in retrospect that it happened to me, and right at the start of a trip I was leading. That’s because this is how it always happens - at exactly the wrong time, and it has to be fixed right now! I never would have set this up as an instructional opportunity on purpose, but it worked very well that way.

The start of the trouble was simple enough. We were prepping the Catalina 42 Betty for departure, and I asked a crew member to top-off all the water tanks. There are a series of deck plates on Betty. 4 of them are for filling the water tanks, 2 for pumping out black water in the holding tanks , and one for filling the diesel fuel tank.

As you can imagine, our crew member was mortified when red diesel fuel came spurting up out of what she thought was the starboard aft water tank deck fill. When she realize what happened and came to tell me, she looked like she felt she had sunk the boat, and our trip.

There’s a Straightforward Fix

It turns out that though time consuming, the fix is actually very straightforward.  Click on the thumbnail below to play the video segment and see how we fixed it.

Here’s the fix.

  • Get ready with a plastic bottle, and start the engine. 

  • Don’t let the water fill the bowl to the top!  Engine off, drain, and repeat. 

  • Dispose of the waste fuel-water properly. 

It took about 2 hours to drain about a gallon of water.  We left for our Anchoring At Catalina weekend, kept checking the bowl in the Racor fuel-water separator, and drained a little more water after each time we had the engine on.  At the end of the 3-day trip, we had all but a tiny fraction of it out.

That was a great outcome, and a real test of how well the fuel-water separator works.

What happens after you change that shredded impeller?  Clean out the heat exchanger!

Sharp Eye on the Temperature Guage

If you read my last guest blog, you’ll remember that I was over the moon about being able to change the oil on our 1989 Catalina (Universal 25 XP).  Well, that was one of the easy jobs!  A few weeks back as we were motoring back into the harbor after a delicious sail off Long Beach, I glanced at the engine temp gauge and noticed it was 240 degrees.  Yep, panic set in and I quickly shut her down!

Impeller before…

  Impeller after…where’d those pieces go?

Impeller after…where’d those pieces go?

Most likely culprit? The impeller.  Marc successfully showed me how to replace the impeller (we always keep spare parts on board) and then we knew we were going to have to get to the heat exchanger!  Project for another day!

Cleaning Out the HX

Of course, the “another day” arrived and armed again with my favorite site on maintenance for our Catalina 34’ (www.realitycheck.me) we prepared for a BIG project.  Thanks again to Steve and Rebecca for such great explanations, instructions and photos!  

New zinc installed

  Impeller pieces removed

Impeller pieces removed

One of the first steps was getting all of the coolant out of the engine.  Once that was done, it was safe to remove the heat exchanger.  We replaced a couple of hoses at the same time though it probably wasn’t necessary.  I knew I would need new gaskets for the ends of the heat exchanger and they were readily available from Catalina Direct.  I was so curious to see what would be in the heat exchanger!!  Indeed, we found a good chunk of the pencil zinc anode that had broken off and lots of pieces of impeller! 

After cleaning out the HX,  I flew into artistic mode with a burgundy scotch bright pad, scrubbing all the corrosion off the end caps til they were as shiny as a brand new penny!  

HX before…

HX after

She Looks Pretty, Burps, and Runs Cool

I cleaned up the heat exchanger by using a wire brush as per Steve’s advice then, the really fun part, I painted the heat exchanger Old Ford Blue!  It looks beautiful!  Put the gaskets on the end caps, sealed everything up and Marc and I worked together to clamp the heat exchanger and hoses back on.  We filled the coolant and started the engine…. Oh no!! Overheating!  We tried a couple of things, when my brilliant Captain thought there might be an airlock where we previously had the water heater.  That was the ticket!  We released the air (burp!) from that and we were in business!  It’s so important to get that heat exchanger off and cleaned out if you have lost a zinc or have bits of impeller that have broken off.  While it was challenging and an almost all day project for us, being the first time, when we have to do it again, it will be so much easier!

Chrissie - First Mate

Can she change the oil? Yes, she can!

Learning the Basics

I’m a boat owner.  So, I am either going to learn how to do some basic maintenance myself or rob a bank to have a professional do it.  Since I don’t look so good in black masks, I decided to give it a shot with my Captain standing by to help.  It never hurts to have some muscles in the vicinity!

Armed with wonderful step by step instructions on how to change the oil on the Universal M25 XP (thank you Steve and Rebecca of Reality Check I had my list and my supplies ready to go! What made this job easy was having the right tools on hand! We have the oil collector from West Marine, a container to put the old oil to dispose of properly, and probably the most important item was having the adjustable wrench to get the old oil filter off!

Always a tight squeeze…

Success in Maintenance

This was an exciting moment for me because being successful in maintenance on the boat is so fulfilling and I love learning the skills associated with boat ownership.  After successfully changing the oil filter and putting new oil in, it was time to discover where the pencil anode for the heat exchanger was and also how to get the transmission bolt out to check the transmission oil.  Now, for you ole’ salts this may seem like some pretty basic stuff, but for a woman who is fairly new to sailing and boat ownership, this is huge accomplishment.  The Captain is pretty darn happy too!  How nice to be able to have your partner enthusiastically help with simple boat maintenance.  

Create a Maintenance Log

I am of the thought that staying on top of things like changing pencil anodes, oil, fuel filters, etc., will definitely help avoid unnecessary problems.  I have created a maintenance log for all areas of the boat that need to be checked on a monthly basis as well as things needing attention biannually, from the engine, to the deck, to the rigging, to the cabin. While there will undoubtedly be some issues that will require outside help, I am excited to be able to do general maintenance, give our girl some TLC and to learn more about her working parts! It’s taken some time to study and figure out exactly what parts to order, but every day I am growing in knowledge and that is cool, yet, still so much to learn.

Massage to Follow

Next projects?  Taking off the heat exchanger, changing the fuel filter, buffing and waxing the hull –   And then maybe a full body massage!

Chrissie - First Mate

Sail the Amalfi Coast of Italy? Certo!

Okay, I am going to tell you right off the bat, I lived in Italy for 12 years so I am totally prejudiced. I LOVE ITALY!  I love the food, the people, the scenery and yet, this past July was my very first time sailing there!

On this Sailing Adventure we charted a Jeanneau 519, brand new, with 5 cabins and 2 heads.  (Yes, there were a few of us aboard!)   We were part of a flotilla with NauticEd that was well organized by Grant and Lauren!  We had a fun dinner together and the next morning all 60 sailors (not all on our boat obviously) departed Salerno, free to follow their own itinerary or the flotilla’s suggested stops.

  Positano

Positano

Around lunch time we anchored for a bit at the green grotto, jumped in for a dip and a swim into the cave! Rolly, rolly, rolly! My best friend who had come from Bari, Italy to cook for us succumbed immediately to nausea and dripping sweat.  How my heart broke for her.  

So, we sailed on to Positano.  Lovely Positano!  And it is! From the land!  We’d reserved a mooring ball and you won’t believe it! Rolly, rolly, rolly!!!  In addition, you’ve probably heard of the Italians’ reputation for driving!  Well, they drive their boats the same!  What? A 5 mph no wake zone?  NO WAY!  Doesn’t exist!  So, between the ferries coming in from the islands of Capri, Procida and Ischia and the skiffs zooming along…. Did I mention that it was rolly? I think it was the most miserable time I’ve ever spent at anchor but this is the life of the sailor. Some good nights at anchor and some rough nights.  Ahhh, but then the sun set, the temperature cooled off and the lights of Positano began to glow and wow, what a sight!

  Procida

Procida

Of course, we were none too soon to get underway the next morning along with the rest of the flotilla.

We ventured on to Ischia, a beautiful, beautiful island, lovely marina.  After spending the night in Ischia (at Marina Aragonese in Casamicciola) we sailed on to nearby Procida (Marina Procida) checking out some of the fabulous picturesque towns and medieval castles from the water. From there, on to Capri.  Sailing was lovely.  Good breezes and good company!

  Procida

Procida

If you plan to sail the Phlegraean Islands of Italy there are a couple of things to be aware of.  The marina prices are high.  Reservations for slips or moorings are very important and to be made well in advance!  On average, we paid $130 USD per night for a slip and should one decide to go Marina Grande on the north side of Capri to hang out with the rich and famous, get ready to knock out up to $2,700 per NIGHT! (Okay, monohulls are only charged about $300 USD)  So, not wanting to take up any slip space from Beyonce and Jay Z, we decided to sacrifice and anchor at Marina Piccola on the south side of Capri.  And you’ll never guess!   Rolly!  

Another concern when anchoring out is that you may not be able to take your own dinghy to shore!  There often are no dinghy docks, nor permission to leave your dinghy.  If you are moored, there are shore rides available but we had trouble discerning what we were able to do at Capri.  So, our crew pretty much decided to hit the road (hit the sea?) and head back to Amalfi where we got a slip in the marina.  It was a good choice as it gave us extra time to explore the historic town of Amalfi, eat lots of gelato, drink Rucolino and Limoncello, and of course, eat PIZZA!!!!  Lots of pizza!

  Ischia

Ischia

I think cruising this area of Italy is much more about getting to your destination, shorter sailing from place to place, exploring on land and eating wonderful dinners ashore!  You can expect rolly anchorages as much of them are very open and offer little protection. Once the skiffs and ferries stop, things do tend to calm down quite a bit.  Sailing the Amalfi Coast is a COMPLETELY different experience than spending a week on the Sea of Cortez where you are surrounded by nature, no restaurants, very few people, cooking aboard, swimming and snorkeling!

Exploring the Amalfi Coast is a great way to see many towns, gorgeous and dramatic cliffs and mountains and yet, at the end of the evening, be able to retreat from the tourists and constant thumping from the local discotheques (Yes, they still believe in disco in Italy!)

QKBA3189.jpg

On my wish list is to visit the islands around Sicily!  Perhaps in 2019.  Would you like to hone your sailing skills, see the fantastic Aeolian islands, and eat wonderful Italian food?  Get in touch with Captain Marc and let him know you’re interested.  And finally, do you need to speak Italian?  No… most folks speak enough English in the tourist areas, but it always helps to speak a little, and especially to joke.  Italians have a great sense of humor and if you’re willing to go with the flow and understand that things don’t always function the way we are used to here in the USA, you’ll have a blast!!! 

Chrissie - First Mate

Scroll Down for the Gallery

Why Santana Sailing and NauticEd?

Click here to download a PDF of this article

Something has you curious about us, and you want to know more.  You are likely asking yourself, why not go with an ASA, or US Sailing school?  I’d like to tell you why NauticEd makes sense to me, and why we are a NauticEd sailing school.

Blended Learning
In the world of training and development, the standard around the globe is to blend online learning with real world skill practice.  In the world of sailing and cruising instruction, this same blended methodology is used by NauticEd and has many advantages over the way things have been done, and are still being done. 

From the student’s point of view, for example, the great thing is that she can get an interactive lesson in the theory and practice of sailing before ever setting foot on the dock.  So, rather than spending half the first day listening to the instructor explain how a sailboat sails, the student can get right to the fun of sailing and put the theory to immediate use on the water.  And from the school and instructor’s point of view, the student is more fully engaged, learns to sail more quickly, and achieves a higher level of competence and confidence.  That’s a win, all the way around.  Get 2 Free sailing courses from NauticEd right HERE to check it out.

Higher Standards
Many ASA Schools, and at least one notable US Sailing School, promise to teach you to learn to sail and cruise in one week, often as a live aboard experience.  As a US Sailing and ASA instructor, and one who has taught the week long live aboard courses for an ASA school, I’ve seen that the average person simply cannot go from non-sailor to competent and confident in that time frame.  The student gets experience and a “license to learn” so to speak, but she is not going to feel ready to skipper that new 45 foot Beneteau, and if that’s all she has on her sailing resume, a charter company will require a professional captain on board.  Hmmm.

NauticEd’s Bareboat Charter Master rank on the other hand, is earned with 50 days of sea time, and 25 of those days as Master of the vessel - that’s exactly what the charter companies are looking for.  Further, those days are verified through the online resume and logbook.  At Santana Sailing, we use NauticEd’s ANSI compliant rubrics (scoring guides) to verify your level of competence for a particular rank during instruction.  That’s a much higher standard and it’s the right way to get it done. 

Competence and Confidence
In the end, it is really about competence and confidence.  Your spouse, your kids, your family and friends, and of course you, all want to feel like you can handle it.  Isn't that what makes it fun?

You do want to know that you can trim the sails, reef down when it’s windy, navigate the shoals to anchor in a secluded cove, and confidently manage whatever comes up during your weekend at Catalina, or your week in the Caribbean, don't you?  Those moments, when you’ve done just that, are some of the best in life.

The Bottom Line
It’s the training you get, and the resume you build that is going to make it possible to achieve your sailing dreams, whether day sailing for fun, crossing an ocean, or chartering a catamaran in some exotic location.  Helping you get the competence and confidence you need to do just that is what we do.

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.