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The Official Magazine of the Bluewater Cruising Association

Tips and Tricks

Brian Short

Carpe Ventus
Beneteau Oceanis 45
October 16th, 2023

In my travels to Alaska, Mexico, and two return trips to Hawaii, I have learned a few tricks that aren’t generally covered by the excellent courses offered by BCA. Most are minor things, but they just might make your journey more pleasant. Some of you may already know them, but the review can still be helpful. So, here are my tips and tricks.

Steering in Reverse

Backing up in any sailboat is often difficult, especially in narrow areas around marinas (those of you who have given up and installed bow thrusters can skip this!). As you are backing up, keep a close eye on the bow of the boat and how it is moving in relation to a fixed object. This will quickly tell you if the boat is going straight, or turning as you intend. It is easy to over correct the steering, and the comparison to a fixed point will help prevent that. I tend to watch the bow way more than the stern. Knowing where your rudder is centered also helps.

Similarly, know in which direction your prop walk pushes the boat. Most turn to port. When reversing, if you want to turn to port, put the engine in gear at low speed and let the prop walk do the work of turning for you. Of course, move the rudder as well if needed. If you want to move to starboard, turn to starboard, engage the transmission, accelerate the engine quickly to give the boat some speed, and shift back to neutral. You can then coast and let the rudder do its thing. Prop walk only occurs when the prop is turning.

Handling Sails

Dropping a main sail while going downwind can be a challenge. I failed miserably one time while reaching down from Tofino. I have now learned a better method: drop the halyard down a couple of feet, and then tighten up the reefing lines. This will pull the sail back away from the stays, spreaders, or lazy jacks (or whatever else the main battens might get stuck on), and allow the sail slides to drop down a bit. Loosen the halyard a couple more feet, and again tighten the reefing lines. Moving back and forth like this will bring your main down in almost any conditions. Interesting point: I have a line on the luff that is supposed to help bring down the main, but it is practically useless in any breeze.

Top: Diagram of the forces involved in prop walk and how they relate to the direction of the prop rotation (permission to use this diagram given on Oct 12, 2023 by; Bottom: dropping the mainsail downwind can be a challenge.

In the Galley

Working in the galley can be rough, especially if the wind is up. If you have a gimballed stove (this is a must in my opinion), make a cutting board that fits over half of the stove top. With the cutting board in place, you have a safe, gimballed place to put things down so they won’t slide away, while still making use of one side of the stove. On my boat, the board stayed in place on it’s own, but on another ship we added a screw to the bottom, which would catch on the grill and keep the board steadier.

Slicing and dicing for cooking is best done with a cutting board, but not while standing up in the galley. Take your knife, onion (or whatever), cutting board, and a couple of bowls and go find a comfy place on the lee of the ship. I like to sit in the cockpit in fair weather, as it gives great views and you can toss the food waste over the side. Put the cutting board in your lap and slice away carefully. The bowls are to put the onion bits and skins in. Job done! Much easier than trying to steady yourself over a moving galley.

If you have several crew, I think it is best to have just one person dealing with food. Although it might seem more fair to share the cooking load, with a small pantry and fridge it is better if one person knows where everything is, what leftovers need to be used, where that half-slice of lime was put away, etc. With two or more people, finding things becomes frustrating, and food waste is increased. The designated cook can be compensated with fewer watches or other unpleasant chores.

Chopping vegetables more safely by sitting on the leeward side of the boat

If the oven is rarely used, it becomes a great place to store rarely used cooking utensils like bread pans. You will need to find a temporary storage spot for when you do use the oven.

If you have a water maker, use a 4 to 10 litre water jug that is easy to pour from for drinking water. Refill it each time you start the water maker and you will always have a good supply of tasty clean water to drink. Tank water sometimes gets a taste to it.

When storing fresh food, consider boxes, containers, or bags labelled ‘Week 1’, ‘Week 2’, etc. For a three week voyage, put one-third of your food stores in each box. This makes it easier to manage your supplies.

For all food items, try to remove all the Styrofoam and other packaging before you leave. All that packaging becomes a lot of waste, and sometimes ends up rather smelly. And of course you wouldn’t throw it overboard!

Plastic wrap and non-organic garbage can be shoved into an empty milk jug. It is amazing how much can be stored this way. One four-litre container might last you an entire three-week voyage. Just keep shoving it in, and use the cap to seal in the smells.

Additional Thoughts

If you have a fixed crew schedule, consider some sort of dog watch (e.g., a short 2-hour shift in the afternoon to off-set the rotation) so that crew are not working the same watch times every day. Having single-handed to and from Hawaii, I think some boats might consider not having watches scheduled 24/7, especially with 2-person crews. Rule 5 of the International Collision Regulations states:

Every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper look-out by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision.

However, getting a good sleep might just be safer than standing watch until exhausted, although I suggest an AIS should be installed, which can be set to provide an alarm if an AIS-transmitting vessel is nearby.

When trying to sleep in a bunk while the boat is on a heel, grab some pillows and put them along the lee side so that you are almost sleeping on the wall of the cabin, so to speak.

A cozy sleeping nest

I have fortunately never had to deal with this, but in case of fire, I installed a fire extinguisher in the cockpit lazarette. I figure that if something is on fire, I might need to leave the salon to get air, and then I can retrieve the extinguisher and plan an attack. Also, chemical fire extinguishers are great, but don’t forget that you have an infinite supply of water around you as well. Once fibreglass gets burning, it can take a lot to cool it off, and ocean water will work great for this.

Fishing breaks up the day and provides you with fresh protein while on passage. There are lots of articles on how to fish offshore, but here are several points not often mentioned. First, whenever you are fishing, have a bucket of sea water handy. When a fish strikes, pour the water over the boat where you will land the fish. Scales and blood will stick like glue to a bit of hot, dry fiberglass, but not so much to a wetted surface. Second, an ounce of alcohol (tequila, gin, and vodka all work great) poured into the gills will kill a fish instantly, and prevent the mess created by striking it over the head. Third, trying to reel in a tuna (with hand line or rod) while sailing along at 6 + knots is a chore. Reducing sail is an option, but try starting your engine and running it in reverse to slow the boat down to 1 or 2 knots. Obviously, don’t power up enough that you actually go backwards. Note that this method will put a bit more strain on your rigging – about the same as having 3 or 4 more knots of wind in the sails.

Do you have tips of your own? Please use the comments to add yours, or to embellish mine.


  1. Nancy Carlman says:

    Very good suggestions, Brian, particularly the ideas about maneuvering in reverse in marinas. With the long keel on Fairwyn, we didn’t even try to reverse into Med mooring spots. We disconcerted marina staff by insisting on mooring “bow-to” and managed to climb over the bow to get the dock.
    When we crossed the Atlantic with three aboard, I did all the cooking and was given more time off watch. Much appreciated.

  2. Isabel says:

    A great place to stow things is in empty cushion covers, and then you have useful cushions on the settee!

  3. Sheila says:

    Fire extinguisher in cockpit, excellent!

  4. Don says:

    Good practical ideas, I like the idea of a fire extinguisher in the cockpit.

  5. Chris Stask says:

    Great idea Brian wetting down the deck before you land a fish on board. When we caught our first lingcod, many years ago, I tossed it onto the deck from the dingy and asked the admiral to pore alcohol in the gills, to keep it from thrashing about. She used our expensive scotch. The fish died happy and was very tasty. But left a lot of blood on the deck which was hard to remove from the gelcoat.

  6. Debra Bryant says:

    Thanks, Brian, good tips!

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