In this episode of Cruising Off Duty, I take my sailboat out solo to meet my friends up river at Simcoe Island. If you want to get a lot of use out of your sailboat, then you have to get comfortable taking your sailboat out alone. This is especially true if you work shift work, like I do, and are often “Off Duty” when most people are working. If you only sail when your spouse or close friends are around and available to help you sail, then you will barely use your sailboat.
Gaining the experience to have the confidence to sail alone can be done with very little risk. Just go out sailing with friends or family onboard, but tell them you want them to just sit back and do nothing.
Just enjoy the ride, but, be there “Just In Case” something doesn’t go as planned. You do everything yourself with the safety net of a person or two being there if needed. After a bunch of sailing outings like this, you won’t even feel the need to have those spare hands around because you will have been, in essence, sailing by yourself for a while. I found the “solo sailing” part fairly easy. Its the “solo docking” part in gusty or strong winds, that can feel a bit nerve wracking. It can be challenging getting off the dock and then later back into your slip, if there is a strong wind, as you will have to have the confidence to keep good forward momentum while manoeuvring in tight spaces because if you slow down too much you will lose the ability to steer and then your boat will just start drifting with the wind out of your control and things can feel like they are spiralling out of control. Before you know it, you are being blown into docks or worse yet, other boats. The trick is to know your boat well and how it manoeuvres at slow speeds. How slow can you be moving and still have the ability to steer? You will need to keep good forward momentum as you aim for your slip and then know how your “Prop Walk” on your boat will push your stern around as you jam it into reverse to slow and stop once you are in your slip. With practice you will be able to bring your boat safely into your slip, even in very strong winds. Practice makes perfect.
That is where friends on board as you practice can be valuable. They can fend off the dock and other boats as you practice having to jump off and take care of all of your dock lines as if you were alone. But if things get away from you they are there to throw you a line or fend off other near by boats. Once you master the docking solo challenge, sailing in the wide open water will seem easy.
Once you have the confidence to take your boat out solo, you will really get a lot of use and enjoyment out of your boat. Far too many sailboats sit at their slips, barely getting used, just getting covered in cobwebs. I believe a lot of that is due to the fact that the person that owns the boat is not confident with taking their boat out alone.
Practice makes perfect, and with time you will become a master at taking your boat out whenever you want. No waiting for the perfectly calm day or depending on other people to help you sail. Being out on the water alone with just your thoughts and the sounds of the wind in the sails and the water lapping against the hull, is one of the most peaceful and beautiful sounds. I feel that nothing is better at getting rid of any stress, like being pushed along, almost silently, on a beautiful summer’s day, just by the power of the wind in your sails.
Enjoy this coming sailing season and get out there and sail!