There are few things more invigorating, and at the same time relaxing, than sailing. If only we could do it more often! Although it’s almost impossible to predict every situation we’re going to encounter, here are three that we should be prepared to handle when skippering our boat in the Mediterranean (or anywhere else).

1. When it comes to mooring

Boat Preparation

The main rule for mooring your boat is not to do it until you’ve gotten your boat and your crew prepared. Don’t leave things to be organised for when you are near the wall and stress levels are rising. This way you can focus all your attention on the mooring manoeuvre.

Set fenders out on the sides and stern at the right height. The height depends on the heights of the other boats and the dock that you’re going to dock against. Get stern lines ready to go ashore as well. Make sure that there are no nasty surprises, like knots, and that they’re coiled properly so they can be thrown to shore if needed.

When preparing the anchor to be dropped, make sure that the weight of it is off the deck, so it drops promptly. If we let it dangle free, it can hit the bow when the boat is moving.

Preparing your crew is just as imporant as preparing your boat. Everybody on board should know what to do, when to do it, and have a general idea of what the manoeuvre is going to be.

Communication with your crew should be very clear. Agree beforehand which terms you’re going to use. Use simple and clear commands, rather than long phrases. When everyone pays attention and knows what to expect, there’s no need to shout or rush. Special attention goes to the person who is dropping the anchor, since they are far from the skipper, and the windlass is quite noisy. Hand signals and eye contact work the best.

Situation Assessment

Once the boat is ready and you’ve decided where to moor the boat, it’s time to assess the situation at your coveted spot. Ask yourself: Is there any wind or current? What is the depth at the quay? Are there any obstacles? What is the mooring arrangement – cleats, rings or bollards? It’s always wise to make a ‘recognisance’ pass near your spot to have a closer look and gather as much information as possible.

Look for flags on other boats to get an idea of what the wind is going to be doing at the spot where you would like to moor. This will help to determine whether your ‘windward line’ is port or starboard, so you can secure this line first. Important tip: when you have ‘sidewind,’ always secure your windward line first to avoid drifting sideways.

Don’t forget to look at your depth as you approach the quay. Not all boats have the same draft. Catamarans, long keels, and lifting keel boats can be moored in shallower water!

When you’re happy with the spot, it’s time to make your approach.

Final Approach and Mooring

Med Mooring is quite specific. We need first to drop our anchor and then to reverse into our slot. Most of the time we moor ‘stern-to,’ perpendicular to the quay. We drop our anchor chain parallel to the neighbouring boats’ chains, and we must avoid crossing any anchors. In case you’re wondering what to do if you cross an anchor, have a look at blog post, “How To Clear A Crossed Anchor.”

Taking a transit on land is by far the best way to keep the boat on target when mooring stern-to. Start by getting yourself in front of the wheel looking backwards so you can have the best view. Go for a test run without dropping your anchor yet, and place your boat in front of your spot. Then take a transit on land that you can use later on to guide you when doing the real mooring manoeuvre. It can be any two stationary things, a lamp post and a house door, a power pole and a container… any two things, as long as neither is going to move while you’re doing your manoeuvre!

Med Mooring
mooring illustration

Make sure to be at least four boat lengths way from the quay when starting to go astern to be able to let out enough chain, but bear in mind that if the port is deep, we’ll need to pre-drop some chain in order to set the anchor at the right distance from the dock.

When starting to go astern, remember to compensate for ‘prop kick,’ which will send the boat either port or starboard, depending on your boat, before moving backwards Tip: learning which way your boat ‘kicks’ will make your life easier when it comes to manoeuvring.

Follow your transit to your mooring slot, keeping one eye on speed. To set the anchor well, I ask the crew member on the anchor to stop dropping chain about three meters (9 feet) from the dock, and wait to feel the anchor holding while still in reverse gear. Then ask for a couple of meters more to get close to the quay.

Finally, when it comes to proximity to other boats, most of us tend to get a bit anxious. However, if the boat is ready, we have a good plan and the crew knows what to do, everything runs more smoothly. That is, except when people start shouting from the quay or from the boat you’re mooring next to, telling you what and what not to do.

We cannot manage other people’s anxiety, but we can manage our own. The best thing to do is ignore them (unless they’re warning us of danger, of course) and follow your plan. Keep calm and maintain command of your boat and crew.

2. When the wind is blowing

A Good Sail Plan

When planning our sailing day, we instinctively look at the weather, distance to travel, course to steer, estimated time of arrival, and port entry or ‘pilotage.’ But how many of us also get a ‘sail plan’ ready for the journey?

When we make a sail plan, we determine which sails we’ll use and how much of them we’re going to need for the day, according to our forecasted wind direction and strength. Is it going to be too windy for the full main and genoa? Am I going to need to tack or gybe? Do I need a preventer? With a sail plan, we can prepare ourselves and our boat in advance for the sail ahead.

Beating (sailing into the wind)

Upwind sailing, or ‘beating,’ is about having the right amount of sail to play with. If we use too much sail, our boat will be difficult to control. It will heel in excess and create too much ‘weather helm’ (tendency to turn into the wind). Heeling can be great fun, but the problem with excessive weather helm is that we try to correct it by steering, and the rudder becomes too much of a brake, slowing down the boat. Ideally, we want the boat to be under control for safe and comfortable sailing at all times.

Before we get into an unruly situation, we want to reef the sails, reducing their surface area. Reef before you need to. It’s always easier to take a reef out than to put one in. If you think that you need to reef, it’s probably time for it!

A boat with the right amount of sail will be easier to control. It will sail faster and in a straight line, resulting in a more comfortable sail.

Downwind sailing

Lets say I’m planning a trip and the wind is going to be at my back for the entire sail. If the wind is going to be strong enough, a F4 or F5, I’ll consider using only my front sail. I’ll keep my sail plan simple so I won’t have to worry about my main sail gybing by accident. If making good speed, I’ll also consider furling the front sail a bit to have better visibility. If the wind is not so strong, F3 or less, adding the main sail to our sail plan will give us a bit more speed.

When sailing downwind with the main sail, we need to use a preventer to keep our boom from accidentally swinging across the cockpit and reminding us how it earned its name. Rigging your preventer(s) before leaving the dock is always easier than doing it at sea. Here is how to properly rig a preventer to avoid accidental gybing.

How to set up a preventer

When sailing downwind I always ask myself the same question: What is faster, to go in a straight line (with the wind right behind, on a ‘run’), or zig zag gybing all the way (on a ‘broad reach’)? The answer, we have found after experimenting on our Tours around the Greek Islands, is that in light winds it’s faster to go on a broad reach, while in stronger winds, a straight line running is the best option.

If you decide that running is your best option, and that you want to have both sails out, you’ll need to have the main sail on the opposite side of your genoa, so the main doesn’t steal the genoa’s wind. ‘Goose wing,’ as it’s called, is great fun, but remember always to have a preventer on the boom, since the boat can easily roll down the waves, tossing it from side to side.

3. When things get serious

Man Overboard (MOB)

We hope we’ll never have to use our Man Overboard manoeuvres, but we certainly want to know what to do if a crew member does go into the water. Here we’re not going to describe all the different methods of recovering a MOB. We are going to highlight some key factors, common in all cases, that are important to keep in mind. The best way to deal with a MOB situation is to avoid it. Making sure that we take the appropriate measures to keep everyone safe on board is our task as skippers. I call it ‘Crew Control’ or ‘Crew Management.’ To keep crew members safe, ensure that they only go forward when conditions allow. Be sure crew members, especially inexperienced ones, stand clear of the boom. Also, give crew a safety briefing before getting underway.

Man Over Board

Stay there

If you’ve completed an RYA training course, you’ve probably learned one way to retrieve a ‘man overboard,’ but there are actually many ways to react when it happens. The correct actions will depend on several factors, like weather, crew, whether you are sailing or motoring, etc… but there’s ONE basic step that is essential in all cases. The most important thing to do is to STOP the boat from going away from your MOB immediately. If all else fails, being near your MOB will buy you time to organise your crew and the boat, and it will assist in keeping an eye on him or her at all times.

I’ve practiced MOB with many skippers over the years. I often watch as they keep sailing away from our dummy while they try to remember what steps to follow. I think how worried I’d be if I was the dummy in the water! -Alex, RYA Yachtmaster Instructor/NISI Sailing Owner

The best way to stop the boat when sailing is to ‘heave to,’ which is turning your boat into the wind without tacking the front sail. The front and the main sails work in opposite directions. With some rudder adjustments, the boat comes almost to a standstill (modern boats tend to keep going forward a bit, but they do so very slowly). Turning into the wind without tacking the front sail not only stops the forward motion, but it also puts our boat upwind of our MOB, making it easier to get closer to him or her. We also avoid gybing and having the boom cross the cockpit during an already stressful situation. After your heave to, it’s time to reassess, organise your crew, and start the MOB procedure we learned when we did our skipper course. It’s also important to send out a ‘Mayday’ on the ship’s VHF right away. Why? Well, you need to ask yourself this question: Am I absolutely sure that I can rescue my MOB? You don’t want to find that the answer is NO after spending time doing your manoeuvre. Help can get underway as you continue your recovery attempts. A Mayday can always be cancelled if we successfully recover our MOB.

And just in case…

Finally, be aware of the risk of ‘secondary drowning‘ if you think that our casualty has swallowed sea water. If sea water gets in our lungs, fluids can build up, creating what is known as a ‘pulmonary edema.’ Symptoms can appear as late as 24 hours later, and if not treated properly, it can be fatal. If you suspect that your casualty might have swallowed sea water, get to a hospital as soon as possible.

Just to Recap

When it comes to mooring

  • Prepare your boat and crew beforehand
  • Agree on commands and signals
  • Take a closer look to assess the situation before committing
  • Take a transit to guide you to your slot
  • Secure your windward line first
  • Ignore unhelpful comments from the quay

When the wind is blowing

  • Get a sail plan before you go
  • Reef before you need to
  • Keep it simple – use only the genoa if sailing only downwind
  • Use a preventer if sailing downwind with the main sail

When things get serious

  • Train yourself on a regular bases to recover MOB
  • If you remember only one thing – stay with your MOB!
  • Send out a Mayday
  • Remember to check for secondary drowning

Want to know more?

Why don’t you come and sail with us and get your sipper skills sharpened up? At NISI Sailing we offer week long training tours in the Greek Islands. Our skippers, Natalie and Alex, have lots of tips to share with you so you can practice aboard our beautiful Elan 394 while enjoying Greece’s culture and natural beauty.