12 April 2016

Staying Onboard (Part 2)

<< Part 1

What draws sailors out of their safe, warm cabins, onto their exposed decks, where they can be so easily thrown or washed overboard? Here's a list of routine activities that -- on most sailboats -- demand boat shoes on deck:

  • keeping watch
  • steering
  • adjusting course
  • trimming sails
  • rigging preventer to avoid accidental gybes
  • raising or lowering/reefing sails
  • changing sails
  • fixing things that break or are threatening to break
  • deploying and retrieving sea anchor
  • fresh air and sunshine

It's hard to imagine a more aggressive minimizer of these risks than Roger Taylor. His approach: build an unsinkable boat; operate her mainly from the safety of the cabin. This philosophy works for Roger because he has gone to extraordinary lengths to engineer his little Mingming II to make it work. There's no accident or luck at work here. Roger has custom built his boat so he can keep watch, steer, adjust course, trim his sail, reef and raise his sail, fix most things (he has multiple hatches, so can reach most gear on deck), and even take in some fresh air and sunshine, all without venturing on deck.

But how many of these risks could be minimized on the Blue Moon? Let's think about it...

Keeping watch - The original Jester had a small hatch with an adjustable spray hood that allowed her designer/builder Blondie Hasler to keep a good 360 degree look out and get some fresh air at the same time. Roger Taylor has built a kind of mini-pilothouse for Mingming. This is probably the simplest requirement to fulfill -- it just requires a bit of reengineering of the cabin top.

The original Jester with three innovations: self-steering gear, watch hatch, and junk rig.
Steering - Another innovation pioneered on Jester was the self-steering windvane, greatly innovated by Blondie Hasler himself. A windvane or electronic helmsman eliminates 98% of the need to spend time on deck, simply by removing the need to steer. I will definitely have one or more self-steering systems on board.

Adjusting Course - This basically means adjusting the self-steering mechanism. Electronic systems can be adjusted by turning a knob at the nav station. Windvanes are typically adjusted with lines run to the cockpit. They could just as easily be run within reach of the hatch.

Trimming Sails - Again, main and jib sheets are typically available in the cockpit. It would be a relatively simple matter to make them adjustable from a hatch.

Rigging Preventer(s)-- A preventer is typically a line run from the cockpit, through a block in the bow, to the end of the main boom. When the boat is sailing with the wind abaft the mast, the line is taken up to prevent the main from accidentally gybing. Preventers can also be rigged when a headsail is boomed out on a pole, again to prevent the headsail from gybing. Having seen them at work on Fiona in high winds, I can attest to their importance at sea.

Jester and Mingming eliminate the need for preventers by adopting the junk rig sail, which doesn't need them.

I don't see why two permanent preventers couldn't be rigged on the Blue Moon (one on each side) to allow a preventer to be set on either tack simply by tightening up the correct line. The unused line would be an extra line to handle, but would eliminate the need to go on deck to move the preventer from one side of the boat to the other, which was a real chore on Fiona. Might take some thinking to work out the right arrangement.

Reefing or furling sails -- using a junk rig makes this easy to do from a hatch. With a gaff cutter... not so much.

It would be possible to rig the Blue Moon's jib on a roller furler, but its hard to see how the main could be adjusted up or down without a trip to the mast. More thought required...

Changing sails -- Again, a very large junk rig eliminates the need for sail changes. Light winds? Hoist up all panels. Wind picks up? Lower away. All from the hatch.

Want to rig a big light air drifter on the Blue Moon? Probably going to require a trip on deck.

Fixing things that break or are threatening to break - Roger Taylor made this easier by building multiple hatches into Mingming's deck, so he can reach most everything on deck from a hatch. The junk rig also eliminates a vast amount of stuff on deck. Are we starting to see a pattern, here?

The Blue Moon has a forward hatch, but it's poorly situated for working on fore-deck gear at the moment. It needs to be beefed up and modified to make it strong enough for blue water work anyway, so it might be possible to make it more usable, perhaps even in a seaway. Perhaps.

Deploying and retrieving sea anchor - Jordan series drogues are relatively easy to deploy over the stern, but even Roger has to do that from the cockpit. Having re-read the Pardy's "Storm Tactics" recently, I am leaning more towards a parachute sea anchor, which requires a fair bit of rigging. Hard to see how you could deploy one off the bow without a trip on deck.

Fresh air and sunshine - As Roger and Blondie have proved, it's possible to get both without leaving the cabin, but it's easy to imagine being tempted into the cockpit by a moderate breeze on the quarter, and a warm sun in the sky. All the more reason to remember Hiscock's warning: "the risk of going overboard is therefore greater in moderate weather"... 
The list above is by no means exhaustive. Can you think of other activities that will demand my presence on deck? If so, please list them below in the comments section. I'm looking for all the ideas I can get here, folks!

Next Up: Minimize risk of being in cockpit


  1. Blondie Hasler is reputed to have arrived in Newport when sailing in the first single handed transatlantic race wearing carpet slippers after having a safe dry trip sampling fine wines and reading books as the boat steered itself - although he was able to steer 'Jester' from inside using a vertical whipstaff.

    I think that you could prioritize your list and have some non negotiable items and others that you may have to compromise on (e.g. - if you want to keep your current rig).
    Keeping dry and effortless reefing would be one of my greatest priorities - I think this is why some of the other contestants sailing boats of similar size against Hasler arrived exhausted - they got very wet and exhausted constantly changing sail on a heaving deck.

    1. Yes, believe me I understand the attractions of the junk rig. I think it would be a shame to convert the Blue Moon to a junk, though. If I decide that's the way to go, I would probably do as many have done and buy a classic plastic boat for peanuts, strip it down, and convert it. It's a possibility.

  2. I agree that it wouldn't be a very good idea to convert Blue Moon to Junk rig at all! I think keeping dry and effortless reefing is something that can be arranged with a conventional rig having several roller furling headsails set up, all controls leading back to the cockpit, good spray dodger, and perhaps old fashioned roller reefing on the mains'l?

    Plan B of converting a cheap boat for a dedicated purpose (making it completely unsinkable 'Ming Ming' style is also an excellent idea.

  3. Excellent topic.Unlike tiny Tinkerbelle my Folkboat would probably keep sailing without anyone on the helm. Scary thought.

    Matt Layden, designer of the Paradox developed a mainsail furler that could be operated below decks. It was simple in design for DIY build.

    Alt. is to get in the habit of clipping on, like wearing a seat belt when driving.


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