Stand back on the dock and look at it. One tell-tale sign that a sailboat is ship-shape is that the lines (ropes) are clean and not frayed. The fiberglass doesn’t have to gleam, but it should be intact without gouges, cuts or holes. The sails should look white and crisp, even as they’re folded or furled. If they look dingy and show threads flying, beware. Go below and see the salon to make sure it’s neat and tidy. The head, or bathroom, should look good and not smell.
Is the skipper okay?
Foremost, he or she should be certified by the US Coast Guard with the appropriate license, usually 50-ton or 100-ton. Ask to see the license if you’re unsure. Does he give a good orientation that includes safety drills and man-overboard drill? Does he look the part? Is he friendly, encouraging, curious—and sober?
How’s the weather?
It doesn’t have to be sunny and warm to go sailing, but it helps. Cloudy and breezy are fine if you’re dressed for it. Consider if any storms are predicted, or evident? Check the weather app on your phone to see the forecast for the next day or the next few hours. Ask the skipper about his radar. Can he read the clouds for rain? Will he “reef” the sails at the dock in case of high winds? Once under way, within ten minutes at sea you’ll get used to brisk winds and welcome the bracing effect.
How’s the water?
The odds of falling overboard are remote. While the boat will “heel” to one side and the other, it should not tilt more than 15 degrees. You’ll wear USCG approved Class I life jackets if the seas are rough or the water is cold (March, for example). You’re safest in the cockpit, but you can proceed up to the bow if you go on the high side. No one has come close to falling off a Let’s Go Sail cruise, although 10-year-old boys have tested that record. Beware boarding at the dock because that’s when most accidents occur.
Will I get seasick?
Not likely, because you won’t be exposed to any “pitch and yaw” of the boat bobbing up and down like a cork. Sailing should be executed straight through the waves. You’ll also be on an inland river in waves of 1-2 feet, not out on the Chesapeake Bay with waves up to 7 feet. Unless you’re on heavy medications or hung over, you’ll be fine. If in doubt, take Dramamine the night before and ask the skipper for seasick wristbands.
Let’s go sail, safely
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Author: Capt. Bill O'Donovan
Retired newspaper publisher is now in his sixth season as a sailing charter captain. Visitors and locals enjoy the scenery and the sailing on the historic York River.
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