Lessons Learned for Advanced Sailors
Over the course of decades, Let’s Go Sail has owned six sailboats to navigate the waters of the James River, York River, Mobjack Bay and Chesapeake Bay. Many wonderful days have been aggravated by a relatively few days of minor problems. For those buying a sailboat or otherwise getting into the sport seriously, one humbly offers lessons learned for advanced sailors.
ENGINE LESSONS LEARNED
Avoid buying a boat with a gasoline engine. They are obsolete and dangerous. Stick with diesel.
Run diesels at 85% of the RPM capacity to keep the mixing elbow clear. Diesels are built to run hot, don’t baby it. Find the sweet spot for the RPM, you’ll hear it singing.
After choking the engine off when raising the sails, be sure to push the kill choke back down. Otherwise it won’t start later and you’ll wonder what’s wrong with the engine.
Check the oil level monthly while cold. Diesels burn oil, it’s fine.
Diesels are hard to start cold. When the air temperature is less than 50, use a hairdryer to warm up the engine. Tuck it underneath, in front of the transmission. This is the best advice you will ever get.
At the fuel dock, don’t load gasoline into the diesel tank. Think. Someone at our marina makes this mistake every year. One year it was a Navy patrol boat.
Don’t overfill the fuel tank, as it makes an environmental mess.
Write a list of First of Month preventative maintenance steps.
Carry box of spare parts for the engine… and the rigging as well.
Develop a troubleshooting list for when the engine overheats. After checking the easy stuff of raw water intake and impeller, remove the exhaust hose and look up the snout of the heat exchange. If clogged, replace. Finally, check the cooling rods for clogging (see video above).
PROP LESSONS LEARNED
Don’t go in reverse while dragging the dinghy. You’ll foul the line, even if it’s the floating kind.
Secure other lines on board so they don’t slip into the water and foul the prop. Remember: Murphy was a mariner.
Apply barnacle barrier paint exclusively designed for props. Apply primer immediately after wire-brushing blades clean.
Check stuffing box for leaks and replace stuffing while on the hards.
Hire a diver to clean the prop (and hull) monthly or quarterly. As few as a half-dozen barnacles can throw the prop off kilter and make the engine blow black smoke.
CLEANING LESSONS LEARNED
The ammonia in Windex crazes smoked plastic windows.
Discourage guests with black soles from moving around.
Wash blood off the deck quickly, to avoid staining. Red wine too.
409 works well on fiberglass, but first wax it.
J-Wax works best on non-skid surfaces for protection.
Old or worn fiberglass requires compounding first to get the chalky surface out. See video below.
HEAD LESSONS LEARNED
Re-pipe to a gallon jug to flush with fresh water because seawater cooks in the lines during the week.
Wrap aluminum foil around suspect hoses to smell if they’re permeating waste. Wait a few days to remove and sniff.
Post a note to crew on what can and cannot go down the toilet.
Use standard blue disinfectant by dropping 3 oz. before departing.
ELECTRICAL LESSONS LEARNED
Open the interior panel to look for a build-up of corrosion. Clean off white residue completely. This is how electrical fires start.
Tighten screws inside the panel to prevent arcing.
Check both ends of the shore cord as tight, without corrosion.
Shut down DC & AC before leaving.
Unplug shore power cord before leaving the dock. Seriously.
Recharge overnight once a week, more so in winter.
DOCKING LESSONS LEARNED
Look at nearby boats to see proper ties and lengths in the slip.
Resist the idea of guests fending off the piers. That’s how they fall in the water.
Learn to back into a slip, in case of an emergency. Good practice and good discipline.
Learn the “waterman’s wrap” to back in from a windy right angle.
When docking, attach the spring line first so you don’t crash.
Never let anyone jump off while boat is still moving.
Never drape the dock lines over the life lines.
SAFETY LESSONS LEARNED
Never walk backward on dock holding the hose. Really.
Remove all car keys, cell phones and jewelry to the cabin.
Don’t let the crew lean against the lifelines.
Teach the Collision Course to avoid side-slipping to buoys.
Never grab a mooring ball pennant by hand. Use a boathook, which is easier to replace if yanked than an arm.
Practice MOB drill by tossing a cushion for hove-to.
Learn the classic Figure 8 rescue of MOB.
Cut excess length off lines to reduce the danger of tripping.
When practical, pass port-to-port and hold your course.
Raise tugboats on Channel 13 to report your heading.
When sailing solo, always wear a PFD and harness/tether.
Regularly test the batteries of hand-held electronics.
Beware POOF when lighting propane stove or grill.
Do not drive a boat drunk, or let anyone else.
Don’t fall asleep while on autopilot.
Learn to pull the thru-hulls quickly, without sinking the boat.
Don’t go out in the fog. It’s for professionals only.
Don’t pee over the side, but leeward if you must.
SAIL PLAN LESSONS LEARNED
Strive for Close Reach 90% of the time. It’s faster.
In the event of gust, turn quickly to Beam Reach. It’s safer.
Reef early. If it’s already windy, reef at the dock.
Use spinnaker sheets as a poor man’s whisker pole.
Scrub slime on bottom monthly to restore hull speed.
PROTOCOL LESSONS LEARNED
Record name of boat and owners of folks you meet. And their dogs.
Wave politely to all neighbors and passing boats.
Don’t give an air horn to drunk-wannabe-funny guy. Or the helm.
Don’t stare at bikini girls who are in view of your wife.
Always thank the crew for a job well done. Even if…
COMFORT LESSONS LEARNED
Use camping mattresses for sleeping. They’re better for your back.
Have plenty of water on board to keep the crew hydrated.
When in doubt, buy a bigger and newer sailboat.
SEASICK LESSONS LEARNED
As a precaution, ask guests if they want ginger gum or therapeutic wrist bands.
Avoid greasy foods, sweet drinks before and after.
Offer ginger snap cookies and real ginger ale, not soda pop.
Keep your eye on the horizon, which remains steady.
Keep everyone up on deck and away from the salon. Gently guide the victim to leeward side, just in case…