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THE SAILER of a boat, little or big, should keep his weather eye open all the time. When sailing in a river where the banks are of irregular height he should be especially on his guard, because puffs of considerable violence frequently come with little or no warning. A few inches of sheet eased off, and a gentle luff not quite sufficient to spill the sail, will generally prevent the shipping of water over the lee gunwale, and a possible capsize. Thus the mainsheet should never be made fast permanently, and should always be coiled so as to be clear for running. A neglect of either of these precautions has often been attended with fatal results. If by any mischance the mainsheet becomes jammed do not hesitate, but cut it. A sharp knife in such an emergency has often saved life when an upset has seemed inevitable through the boat being nearly on her beam ends. If you are sailing in a jib and mainsail craft, and the squall has a good deal of weight in it, let fly the jib sheet and let the boat come up in the wind, at the same time lowering away the mainsail and taking care to spill it as it comes down. A reef should then be taken in, and the boat be filled away on her course.

While sailing anywhere in the vicinity of New York, and when one of those heavy thunder squalls that are so frequent in the summer time is seen rising in the northwest, waste no time. If not in too deep water, anchor at once and stow your sails snugly. You can then ride out the fury of the squall in perfect safety; that is, if your ground tackle is sufficiently strong. If your cable parts and you are on a lee shore and there is a harbor to run for, scud for it under bare poles or with a fragment of sail set. If there is no refuge under your lee, set as much sail as your boat can safely carry and thresh her off shore. The chances are that you will be successful, because these squalls while often very dangerous seldom last long, and are generally followed by a flat calm which is more exasperating than a blow.

We will take it for granted, however, that your anchor and chain are of the correct strength and quality, and that you bring up before the squall strikes you. If you have time it would be well to close-reef your mainsail before furling it, and then you would be prepared for any emergency. But let me impress upon all who are in charge of boats with women and children aboard, that it is their duty, when one of those peril-fraught thunder squalls is seen approaching, to dowse every stitch of sail at once and let go the anchor. There is a wide gulf between bravado and bravery, and no truly courageous man would imperil the lives of anyone, especially of helpless women and children. The rash carrying-on of canvas has been responsible for more loss of life on the water than any other cause. It is a seaman who shortens sail in time, but a lubber who "cracks on till all's blue."

Great caution is necessary when passing under the lee of a vessel at anchor or under way, especially in a fresh breeze. Your boat is sure to get becalmed and may possibly nearly lose her way, so that as she draws clear of the object the full force of the breeze will strike her when she has scarcely steerage way on. The result may be a complete knockdown or even a capsize. Therefore have your mainsheet clear for running, and do not hesitate to let it fly in a hurry before your little vessel's gunwale is anywhere near the water. By all means endeavor to keep clear of vessels at anchor. Do not try to get in the wash of steamboats, as some foolhardy persons do, "just for fun." On the contrary take special pains to avoid them. When you must encounter their wash, which in the case of large and fast steamers is heavy and dangerous, do your best to let your boat take the brunt of the waves on the bluff of the bow. If they strike her broadside on, swamping is a possibility not far remote.

In sailing a boat in rough water the greatest precaution is necessary. A craft that in smooth water could safely carry all sail, might when the sea is perturbed be forced to stagger along under double reefs, the force of the wind being the same in both instances. Especially is this the case when the wind and sea are both abeam, the former strong and the latter heavy. This is probably the most dangerous point of sailing there is, and requires the most careful touch of the tiller. A boat heeled over to fifteen degrees by the force of the wind, by the joint influence of a sudden puff and a heavy roll to leeward may be inclined to such an angle that a capsize is inevitable. When there seems to be any danger of this mishap occurring the helmsman must not close his eyes to keep them warm. When he sees a larger wave than usual coming along he should put his helm up a little, so that it may strike the boat abaft the beam and so reduce the danger to a minimum. The judicious application of weather helm in a beam sea has saved many a big ship's deck from being swept, and many a small boat from being capsized.

It is in my judgment rash to sail a small boat under these conditions unless it is imperative, such as when a harbor is being entered, or when the boat's course must necessarily be steered with wind and sea abeam. I should strongly advise the hauling of the boat on a wind until she reaches the point where her sheets may be eased off and she can be headed for her destination with wind and sea on the quarter. A boat with any pretensions at all can be sailed close-hauled in rough water with safety if certain elementary precautions are observed. Everybody on board except the helmsman should sit amidships in the bottom of the boat, so as to keep the weight as low as possible and the craft herself in her natural trim. No unusual weight is wanted in the bow of the vessel, which should lift in a prompt and lively manner to each sea. In an open boat and a nasty sea no more sail should be carried than will keep her under proper command.

A great deal depends upon the nerve and skill of the man at the tiller. Keep her moving all the time. If a big wave threatens to come aboard over the weather bow, luff smartly into it and meet it as nearly end on as possible. Then up with the helm at once and fill on her again, repeating the process as often as it may be needful. Never let the lee gunwale get under water in a seaway, nor at any other time, but always luff before it is too late, and help her to come up in the wind if necessary by easing away the jib sheet.

If the wind keeps increasing and the sea rising, haul down the headsail and pass a gasket round it, close-reef your mainsail, previously seeing your sea anchor clear for letting go. If you have no sea anchor with you, rig some sort of a raft with oars, boathook and sails, the latter lashed securely to the spars. Make a line fast to this raft and pay out about twenty fathoms and let the boat ride to it as to an anchor. It is surprising what a good effect this contrivance has in breaking the waves and keeping the boat head to sea. Nothing else can now be done until the gale moderates sufficiently for sail to be made and the boat headed for her destination. It may be consolatory to those aboard a craft in such a contingency to buoy themselves up by remembering that some of the heaviest gales known have been safely ridden out in cockleshell boats without any damage to crew, hull or gear.




The sea anchor consists of a hinge-jointed galvanized ring about three feet in diameter. A conical bag made of stout canvas is sewed to the ring and roped, as shown in sketch. A bridle is fitted to the ring, to which the riding hawser is bent. A cork buoy prevents the anchor from diving. When thrown overboard the mouth of the anchor opens and fills. To hoist the anchor on board, the tripping line, shown in diagram, is hauled on. When not in use the ring is folded together by the joints, and the bag is made fast snugly round it.

Another plan for making a floating anchor is shown below. K, M, N, O, are the ends of two iron bars formed into a cross and connected by a stout bolt, nut and pin at their intersection, S. At each end of the bars is an eye through which a strong rope is rove, hauled taut, and well secured. Thus a square is formed, and over the square a piece of strong canvas is laced to the roping. Four ropes are made fast to the iron bars, forming a bridle. To this the riding hawser is made fast. To prevent the anchor from sinking, a buoy, B, is made fast to one corner by a rope, with five or six fathoms of drift. The buoy rope, P, leads on board. H is the hawser to which the boat is riding, A is the anchor, and B the buoy. To get the anchor aboard haul in on the line, P. This will cause the anchor to cant edgewise, and it can then be easily hauled in.




In scudding before a strong wind and a heavy sea in a small craft, a trysail is always preferable to a sail with a boom, which may effect much mischief by trailing in the water or suddenly gybing. The helmsman must be always on the alert to prevent the boat from "broaching to," which means flying up in the wind; or from being "brought by the lee," which means running off so as to bring the wind on the other quarter. A long, narrow boat will always run before the wind better than a short, beamy craft, as she is better adapted for taking the seas, and she also steers easier, not yawing about so much or turning round every few minutes to take a look at her wake. The inexperienced boat sailer should bear in mind that scudding in a seaway is ticklish work, and is not unlikely to be attended with peril. If you have no trysail, reef the mainsail and lower the peak. Hoist on the weather topping, lift so as to keep the boom as high as possible out of the water. By no means run a boat before the wind until it blows too hard and the sea is too high to heave to with safety. If the breeze seems likely to pipe up, make up your mind immediately. Delay is dangerous. Have your sea anchor ready. Watch for a smooth. When it comes put your helm down smartly, trimming in the mainsheet. When she gets the wind on the bow, heave your sea anchor overboard and ride to it either with the mainsail set or lowered, as may be deemed best.

If you happen to be on a lee shore, with the surf breaking high on the beach, and you cannot claw off, do not wait until it is too late and your boat is in the breakers. Let go the anchor, and if it holds try to ride out the storm. If your ground tackle gives way, do your best to set the mainsail and steer boldly for the shore. The faster you go the better chance you have to be carried high and dry. Remember that this will give you a fighting chance for your life, whereas if your boat gets broadside on in the breakers she will most likely roll over and over and in all probability drown you and your crew.

It may be thought preposterous for me to advocate the use of oil to break the force of curling wave-crests when a small craft is riding to a raft or sea anchor. Most people would naturally suppose that a boat could not carry enough oil aboard her for it to have any beneficial effect in smoothing a turbulent sea. Nor could it if it was poured into the ocean out of its original package, or out of "bags with small holes punctured in their bottoms," as some marine experts advise. The proper way to apply oil is to fill a round bottomed canvas bag, about two feet long and eight inches in diameter, three parts full of oakum or cotton waste. Do not pack too tightly. Pour into this as much fish or animal oil as the oakum or waste will suck up. Sew the mouth up tightly with palm and needle. Secure a lanyard to it. Make a few holes in its sides with a marlinespike and hang it over the lee bow, and you will be surprised at the result. The seas, instead of breaking over the boat and threatening to swamp her, will become comparatively smooth as soon as they approach the limits of the film of the oil as it oozes slowly out of the bag. When running over a harbor bar where the sea is breaking badly, a couple of these bags suspended from either bow will prevent the waves from pooping the little craft and help her materially in her struggle for existence. Mineral oil will do if no other is available, and a gallon of it will go a long way if used in the manner mentioned above. These bags should be carried all ready for use when cruising, so that all you will have to do is to pour the oil in, sew up the mouths and hang them over the bows by the lanyards. A ship's boat with a dozen men aboard once safely weathered an Atlantic gale by riding to a couple of buckets and a cork fender saturated with kerosene. Pouring oil on troubled waters is by no means a case of bluff or the dream of an opium smoker, but a capital "wrinkle" by means of which many a good man has been saved from Davy Jones' yawning locker. I trust that these little bags will form part of the outfit of all going on long cruises. They may serve as pillows or may be made in the shape of cushions, so long as the above general idea is followed.

As a striking instance of the value of oil in a heavy gale I will quote the case of the British ship Slivemore, which took fire in June, 1885, while in the Indian Ocean about eight hundred miles northeastward of the Seychelles Islands. The ship was abandoned and the boats steered for the islands. Capt. Conly, of the Slivemore, gave orders that each boat should take aboard two cans of paint oil for use in bad weather, and he also instructed the officer in command of each boat in the use of the oil. Three days after the ship was left the boats encountered a cyclone. Drags made from spars, oars and sails lashed together were rigged, and to these improvised sea anchors the frail craft rode securely. Stockings filled with oakum saturated with oil were hung over the bows of the boats and formed an oil-slick of considerable expanse. Before the stockings were hung out the boats narrowly escaped being swamped and the men had to bail hard with buckets. The oil prevented the seas from breaking and the boats rode over the enormous waves in safety. Little water was shipped, and those on board the boats were able to lie down and sleep while a tropical cyclone was raging furiously. All the boats reached the islands in safety without the loss of a man, but had it not been for the oil the loss of the Slivemore would have remained an untold mystery of the ocean.

A still more wonderful example of the efficacy of oil is told by the captain of the ship Martha Cobb, and it relates to the achievement of a sixteen-foot dinghy. In December, 1886, the Martha Cobb, petroleum laden, encountered a heavy gale in the North Atlantic. She shipped some tremendous seas which swept away all her large boats, washed away her bulwarks and played havoc generally with her decks. The only boat that was left uninjured was the aforesaid sixteen-foot dinghy, intended solely for smooth water work.

While laboring and plunging in the mountainous sea, the Martha Cobb fell in with a sinking vessel flying signals of distress to the effect that the water was fast gaining on her and that all her boats were stove in. The captain of the Martha Cobb determined to stand by the vessel in distress, in the hope that the gale would abate. He knew that his little cockleshell of a dinghy could not possibly live in such weather, and that it would be suicidal to lower her and attempt a rescue.

After standing by till near nightfall with no prospect of the storm moderating, the commander of the Martha Cobb determined to make an effort to save the crew of the fast foundering craft. The Martha Cobb's petroleum was in casks, some of which leaked. The captain had noticed that when the pumps were being worked the sea in the wake of his ship was always much smoother. He got the Martha Cobb to windward of the wreck and started the pumps, in the hope that the oil in the well and bilges would create a smooth when it reached the sea, so that the dinghy could be lowered in safety.

He found, however, that the ships drifted faster than the oil, so that while the sea to windward was comparatively smooth the water to leeward was rough as ever. So he kept his ship away, ran down under the vessel's stern and luffed up under her lee. Then he started the pumps and also allowed a five-gallon can of fish oil to trickle into the water through the scuppers. The effect was almost miraculous. In less than half-an-hour the crested surges and breaking combers were converted into long heavy swells such as you see when a calm has succeeded a heavy gale.

The little dinghy was lowered, and manned by three men, was pulled to windward alongside the wreck with little difficulty. All hands were rescued, and the tiny boat, while engaged in the gallant work, shipped no water. All this time the waves were breaking furiously outside the magic limit of the oil-slick.

One more illustration and I am done. Capt. Amlot, of the steamer Barrowmore, on January twenty-fourth, 1885, while in 51 degrees North latitude and 21 degrees West longitude, fell in with the sinking ship Kirkwood. This ship had for part of her cargo several hundred casks of canned salmon. In order to make a smooth and allow the boat of the Barrowmore to come alongside in safety, the crew of the Kirkwood broached a number of the cases, and opening the cans poured the oil from them into the sea. This had the desired result, and although the sea was very heavy the oil reduced it rapidly, and the boat of the Barrowmore had no difficulty in taking off the twenty-six men that composed the ship's company of the Kirkwood.

Two quarts of oil used per hour will produce effective results. A ship scudding before the wind, with a mountainous sea running and threatening to poop her, has expended this amount and kept dry. Experts have calculated that this quantity of oil has covered the sea with an infinitesimal film measuring thirty feet in width and ten nautical miles in length. As the thickness of this film is only .0000047 of an inch, its efficacy is indeed marvelous.

A simple and excellent device for distributing oil has been invented by Capt. Townsend, of the United States Signal Office. It is cheap and convenient, and is especially adapted for use in boats or small yachts. It has been thus described:


"It consists of a hollow metal globe ten inches in diameter, with a capacity of about one and a half gallons of oil. It has an air chamber separated by a partition to keep it afloat in a certain position, and there are two valves. When filled with oil the upper valve is adjusted to allow oil to flow out at any desired rate, while the lower valve admits water. When placed in the sea it floats with the upper valve a little above the surface, and water will enter to displace the oil from the graduated upper valve. The specific gravity of oil will keep it in the upper part of the distributor, and the motion of the globe on the breaking waves or swell will insure the ejection of the oil through the graduated valve in any quantity."


This may be used by towing over the bow when running, or made fast to a sea anchor when hove to.

People inclined to be skeptical are, of course, at liberty to doubt the efficacy of oil to lessen the dangerous effect of heavy seas, but the examples I have quoted are simply a few culled from several hundred authenticated cases.




The lesson learned from the Shipwash lightship some twenty years ago, has not been without profit and benefit to naval architects. Let me spin you the yarn. The Shipwash lightship is moored in one of the most exposed places on the east coast of England, and is thus continually encountering particularly heavy seas. About twenty years ago the old lightship was replaced by a new and scientific vessel. The newfangled craft was, however, so remarkably unsteady and rolled so heavily that to the storm-tossed mariner beating up the coast her light appeared to be of crescent shape. Her crew got scared. They were afraid she would turn turtle. A surveyor from the Trinity House was sent aboard, and he made a report which was submitted to her designer, who eventually said the fault complained of could be easily remedied by the addition of extra ballast. Accordingly this was done, and the next gale she rode out her rolling was worse than ever, and produced quite a panic among her crew, who were afraid to go below while the storm lasted. Another report was made to headquarters. Other students of naval architecture were consulted, who not only advised that the extra ballast be taken out, but that four tons of lead be attached to the frame or cage supporting the light. These instructions were carried out, and the result was the steadiest lightship on the east coast.


A vessel will carry herself full of coal and behave herself in heavy weather. But when she comes to be laden with copper ore or lead, a certain amount of ingenuity has to be used in the storage of such heavy cargo to make her seaworthy at all. If it were all stowed in the bottom of the vessel she would roll so heavily in a seaway as to get dismasted, and would probably become a total wreck. It is now that the experienced art of the stevedore comes in. The man who follows the proper authorities would construct a bin or compartment in which to stow this dangerous freight thus (Fig 1) --

The result would be highly satisfactory. The vessel's center of gravity would be the same as though she were laden with coal, and her movements in a seaway would therefore be quite as easy.

Another man might construct his compartment thus (Fig 2) --

The vessel in this case would labor quite heavily on the slightest provocation and would not be so steady or so seaworthy as the one first mentioned, with the narrow bin or compartment extending to the upper deck.

The same remarks apply to the ballasting of yachts. Before the days of outside lead, when pleasure craft shifted their racing for a cruising rig preparatory to a deep-water voyage, it was customary to raise the inside lead ballast by placing layers of cork beneath it, thus ensuring easy movements in a seaway. Racing yachts nowadays have all their weight outside, and this device for their relief cannot therefore be resorted to. When crossing the Atlantic, say for a race for the America's Cup, they are always in danger of getting caught in a gale of wind and an accompanying mountainous sea. In order to prevent excessive rolling, which might endanger the mast and consequently the vessel herself, it is necessary to keep a press of sail set. For this purpose a trysail with plenty of hoist to it is indispensable. It should not be one of those jib-headed impostors that some racing skippers most unaccountably affect, but one with a good long gaff that will successfully prevent the otherwise inevitable and peril-fraught roll to windward.

A yacht under these circumstances, it is true, cannot carry a great press of canvas when on the top of one of those big rollers that a gale soon kicks up in the Atlantic. But she wants as much of her sail area as possible exposed to the gale when she is in the hollow of the wave. Otherwise there will not be sufficient pressure to prevent her from rolling to windward.

Rolling to windward -- easy enough to write, you may think -- but every sailor knows what may follow. Green seas fore and aft, mast sprung, men washed overboard; and if the gale does not abate, why, Davy Jones' locker for all hands and the cook!

The storm trysail must necessarily be a sheet-footed sail set over the furled mainsail. It is a sail comparatively narrow at the foot, but it should for obvious reasons be made as broad as possible at the head, in proper proportion of course to the breadth of the foot. It need not have quite as much hoist as the mainsail, for the throat halyards at such a time must have a good drift, while to keep the sail inboard the peak should be quite extreme. It follows, therefore, that although the rollers may be high the peak of the trysail is above them, and the yacht is kept jogging along steadily without any sudden and violent shocks or strains to spar or rigging.

The following rough sketches will, I think, serve to demonstrate the superiority of the gaff-headed trysail over that abortion, the thimble-headed variety, which I do not hesitate to condemn as useless for a modern yacht ballasted with outside lead in a seaway.

No.1 shows a vessel with gaff-headed sail on the crest of a wave. She drops down into the hollow of the wave and becomes No.2. The shaded part of the sail catches the wind over the crests of the waves, and the area so exposed is sufficient to steady the vessel and give her a safe heel or list.


Now I wish to call your attention to No.3. She has enough sail spread when on the crest of a wave. But observe her when in the hollow. She has scarcely a stitch of sail above the level of the crest. The consequence is that her weight being so low down, and her form having so much stability, she swings with a violent roll to windward and her mast is thereby imperiled. This is the result of not having the requisite amount of pressure at the head of the sail.

The commanders of square-rigged vessels always bear this in mind. They heave to under a close-reefed maintopsail, never under a lower course, and the ship when in the trough of the sea has enough sail exposed to keep her steady. The smart schooners that used to ply between St. Michaels and London in the fruit trade, and that were bound to make smart passages or lose money, were always fitted with gaff-headed trysails, and found them most efficacious in beating to windward in strong gales. Their sturdy skippers would have looked with contempt and ridicule upon any person so fatuous as to recommend a jibheaded trysail. And they were skilled sailors of fore-and-aft rigged craft, and were well acquainted with that stretch of the wild Atlantic between the Lizard and the Azores. These vessels used to beat up the English Channel in the teeth of an easterly gale and fight their way homeward inch by inch, and I consider the practical experience of their captains as far more reliable than the theoretical vagaries of men who were never out of soundings in a small craft.

What is true of comparatively large yachts in an Atlantic gale applies equally to the small cruiser. The theory is precisely the same, and in ordering a storm trysail from his sailmaker the aspiring owner of a smart, seaworthy cruiser might well be guided by the few hints given above. A gaff-headed trysail is just what he wants to steady his boat when hove to, and to counteract that tendency toward rolling that outside lead always has on the hull of a boat in a seaway.

When coming to anchor at any other time than low water, do not forget to allow for the fall of the tide. For instance, if you bring up in 10 feet of water when the tide is high, in a boat drawing, say 5 feet, and the range of rise and fall is also 5 feet, at low water your vessel would be aground and perhaps under untoward circumstances in danger of damage or even total loss. This hint is worth remembering in many parts of the world, especially in some parts of the Bay of Fundy, where there is a range of no less than 50 feet! Soundings on the chart denote the depth at mean low water.



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1.0 07/30/00

Edited by Craig O'Donnell.
Etext & images ©2000 Craig O'Donnell, all the usual whining applies.