1. ATONs and The Pecking Order

Click here to download a PDF of this article

Memory aids for

Aids To Navigation (ATON)

 Use the following to help remember the characteristics of lateral ATONs


Returning from seaward, ATONs on the left are COGS; those on the right TERN (also, remember “Red, Right, Returning”)

C         can                                                 T   triangle

O        odd number                                   E   even number

G        green                                              R   red

S         square                                            N   nun


Memory aids for

The Pecking Order

Use the following to help remember what type of vessel stands on or gives way

Our Navy Requires Canned Fish Served Promptly at Seven

A vessel lower in the pecking order gives way to one higher in the pecking order

Our           O         Overtaken

Navy         N         Not under command

Requires   R         Restricted Maneuverability

Canned     C         Constrained by draft

Fish           F          Fishing (engaged in, as defined by rules)

Served      S          Sail

Promptly   P          Power

Seven        S          Seaplane

2. Of Cotter Pins and Rigging Tape

Click here to download a PDF of this article

This is an older article from Cruising World, but it is just as valid today.  When the various boat checklists you may come across ask you to check the rigging, this is what you are looking for.  What was enlightening to me, when I first read it, is that covering stainless steel with rigging tape, as you often see done on shroud turnbuckles and lifeline connections, is actually not a good idea.  Read the article and see why.

To zoom to a larger view, right click the picture below and select "Open image in new tab"

3. Weather Resources & Video Links

Click here to download a PDF of this article

Basic Cruising 1

Website and Video Link Resources - click on the URL to view

VHF radio channel frequencies, their purpose and use


Note that channel 16 is the hailing and distress frequency, and most communications begin here.   After hailing on 16, switch to one of the non-commercial channels:  68, 69, 71, 72, 78A


Weather – NOAA Marine Point Forecast


Zoom in on the map to the area of interest, and get a marine forecast for just that point.  Note that the larger zone in which your point resides has a different forecast – see below.


Weather – NOAA Coastal/Great Lakes Forecasts by Zone - West - Los Angeles, CA


This is the portal that allows you to see the various zones in the southern California bight and their individual forecasts.  This is essential for passage planning from one point to another, as conditions tend to get progressively stronger as you head in to the northwest portion, toward the Northern Channel Islands and Point Conception.


NOAA Tide Predictions


Find West Coast on the left, then click on California, scroll down to San Pedro Channel, and click on Newport Bay Entrance, Corona del Mar.  From there, select the date ranges you are looking for.  Why is this important?  There are several places in the harbor where we can run aground on a “minus” tide, and I’d rather not do that.  Also, maximum current flow is in the 3rd and 4th hours after high or low tide, and it’s good to know which way the flow is going so you are not so surprised and can take this into account when returning to the dock.


Fun Videos from OCC Trips:

40+ Knots in the northern Channel Islands

From the 2007 trip in October.  A minute and a half of smokin’ downwind in a gale under a reefed headsail alone.

Betty Flies a Spinnaker to Coches Prietos

From the October 2016 Northern Channel Islands trip.  Flying a spinnaker from Forney's Cove on Santa Cruz Island to Coches Prietos cove.  Up to 8.8 knots of boat speed.  That was fun!


Betty in the Windy Lane

From the May 2015 NCI trip.  A brief glimpse of the possibilities.


Betty in the Northern Channel Islands

From the October 2015 NCI tip.  Good Stuff.

4. Crew Overboard Rescue Maneuvers

Click here to download a PDF of this article

Heave-To and Downwind Methods

Below are diagrams that I have been using for years to help sailors get a visual image of the Heave-To method, as well as the most effective ways to return to your person in the water (PIW) from a downwind point of sail.

The Heave-To method is by far the most effective method when sailing on a beat to a beam reach.  We have practiced this in up to 30 kts of wind on OCC's Catalina 42, Betty, and the beauty of the maneuver is that it's fast, and minimizes separation from the PIW when out in the open ocean.  Plus, you avoid the wildly slapping jib sheets when using methods that have you luff up to slow and stop the boat at the PIW.

Downwind, the Heave-To method does not work reliably.  The best downwind rescue maneuver is the Deep Beam Reach, aka the Broad Reach-Close Reach, and this and its variants are shown on the Crew-Overboard Recovery Methods from Downwind page below.  

Note:  this is not a comprehensive treatment of the subject, and different maneuvers may work better on other types of boats.  The maneuvers detailed here do work exceptionally well on a modern sailboat with a masthead rig, fin-keel, and spade-rudder, such as the Catalina 42.

For a larger view, right-click and select open in new tab, or, copy image and paste into a Word document.

A discussion on the subject of Crew Overboard Rescue maneuvers would be great.  Please leave your comments using the "Comment" link below!

5. Why, When, and How to Reef

OCC's Catalina 42 Betty, with the first reef tucked in, in the windy lane off Santa Cruz Island during one of the Northern Channel Islands trips

OCC's Catalina 42 Betty, with the first reef tucked in, in the windy lane off Santa Cruz Island during one of the Northern Channel Islands trips

Why to Reef

When the boat is heeling over with a rail in the water and you are fighting the helm to steer a straight line, it’s tempting to believe that something good is happening.  This is actually what it feels like to be overpowered, and this is an inefficient and less safe way to sail. 

Here is what is really happening:  as the boat heels over, the keel inclines at such an angle that it no longer effectively prevents leeway, and the boat slips sideways – that’s inefficient.  The overpowered sail plan and angle of heel cause the boat to continually want to round up in to the wind (excessive weatherhelm), and that forces you to turn the rudder and drag it sideways in an effort to keep the boat straight – that’s inefficient.

Why reef?  Control, safety, and speed - you’ll be a lot faster and safer when the boat is more upright with a balanced helm.

When to Reef

When the wind picks up to around 12-14 knots true with whitecaps all around and you are sailing upwind, for most boats, it’s time to reef.  Some boats are more “tender” and may need to reefed earlier, while others are more “stiff” and reefing might be delayed.  The two main indicators are 1) excessive weatherhelm, and 2) excessive heeling.  

The basic rule of thumb is that if you are wondering if you should reef, it's time.  Increasing weather helm and heeling over 15 degrees are the early indicators, and if you are fighting the helm for control and the leeward rail is buried, you have waited too long.  If the weather forecast and your observations tell you conditions are sure to build, reef early before it gets rough. 

Downwind, it’s a little more deceptive.  Helm control is the key indicator here – if you are having trouble keeping the boat on course because of excessive weather helm, reef the main.

How to Reef the Main

The 4 primary steps to reefing the main are below.  While each boat will differ in the way it is rigged and while you will have to ease the main sheet and vang to accomplish steps 3 and 4, these primary steps are transferable to any modern sloop rigged cruiser/racer.

1.  Lower the halyard

2.  Secure the tack

3.  Tension the luff

4.  Secure the clew

With practice, you will be able to reef in less than 60 seconds, and that’s important because then, you will never hesitate to reef when you need to.

6. When In Doubt...Let It Out

Click here to download a PDF of this article

You've heard this before, right?   “When in doubt, let it out.”  You’ve no doubt even said the same thing to your crew.  But, have you wondered exactly why it’s so important?  The questions I get in my Basic Cruising classes remind me that knowing how and why things work is an important part of the foundation one needs.
So, why let the sail out until it luffs, and bring it back in until it stops luffing?  Why ease the genoa sheet two inches so the leeward telltales lay back in line with the windward telltales?  It's because that’s where the power is.  As the old saying goes, “Any time two sailboats are in sight of one another, it’s a race.”  That may not be true for everyone, but it’s fun to go fast!  And, better sail trim just
might make the difference in getting to Catalina before sundown.  Take a look at the image below. This sail is over-trimmed, and needs to be eased out.  

The Over-trimmed Sail
Wind comes from the right hand side

Source:  "The Art and Science of Sails" by Tom Whidden

Source:  "The Art and Science of Sails" by Tom Whidden

The sail trimmer’s goal is attached, laminar airflow.  The most common sail trim error made is to over-trim, meaning, to have the sails in too tight.  The photo above shows what airflow over the sail looks like when it is over-trimmed.  Note the turbulence of the separated flow on the leeward side of the sail - lift is reduced, and drag is increased.  That’s slow!  When you see your leeward telltales lifting and fluttering, this is what’s happening. 

There is much more to race-winning sail trim than this, but use the following procedure to get your basic trim in the right ball park: 

  1. When in doubt, let it out.
  2. Let it out until it luffs. 
  3. Bring it back in to where the luffing just stops.