Today I sailed my beautiful Montgomery 15 sailboat in my favorite spot, Tomales Bay. I decided to shoot some video to try to explain how to launch and single hand the boat. This will be a long post. Sorry! Just skip to the video at the end if you prefer.
There are many more experienced sailors than me, but as an intermediate sailor I thought it would be helpful to some to understand how one Monty sailor does it. So here goes…
- Safety is everything. I respect the water and understand that sailing is inherently dangerous. Single handing a boat requires planning for any possibility. I always check weather reports and tide charts before going out. There is a wonderful article that was published last year in Small Craft Advisor magazine titled something like “There are no short trips.” In this article an expert sailor tells of his experience in trying to just move a small catamaran about 100 yards in San Francisco Bay. He almost drowns, and is only rescued by luck. The point is that any time we are on the water we must be ready for anything.
- I always let somebody know where I am going and how long I expect to be gone. I check in when I return.
- I inspect the boat and trailer each time I go out. I make sure that my standing and running rigging are OK. I test start my outboard. I sail to and from the dock, but the outboard is there for safety.
- I study the chart of the area if it is not familiar to me, and carry a portable chart onboard.
- I have food and water available on the boat. I also carry a first aid kit and fire extinguisher.
- I have proper clothing including a good hat, foul weather gear, and sailing gloves if it gets cold. Hypothermia would be a disaster.
- Onboard I have a GPS and portable marine radio with a full charge. My radio floats. In dangerous conditions I clip the radio to me.
- I use a standard life jacket with permanent flotation. I used to use a self-inflator for comfort, but after attending the Small Craft Skills Academy I decided that low tech is the way to go. If I end up in the drink the thing can’t fail. I try not to rely on technology if my life depends on it.
- My marine knife is in the pocket of my life jacket. This is an essential item. If the boat were to swamp somehow, and I ended up in the water unable to free myself from lines, I need a way to cut myself free. I have never had this happen, but I am ready. I know where that knife is.
- I have an anchor ready in the port storage compartment. I have never needed it to save me, but if I got dis-masted or otherwise in trouble on a lee shore, it might be the difference maker, and save me from crashing the boat and myself on the rocks or beach.
- I have a boat ready for strong winds. That means 2 reef points and the knowledge of how to reef. I practiced in the driveway first.
That list is not exhaustive by any means. But these are some of the things to think about when alone. Now, let’s get on with the fun of sailing!
When launching by myself it always requires a careful plan. First, I need to know how to rig my boat by myself, which means a plan for handling the mast well. My method is shown in the attached video, but what I do is use my jib downhaul as a safety to hold the mast up so I can walk forward and attach the forestay. The rest of what I do is for quicker rigging. I keep the main on the boom in the cabin. This may not be so great for the main, but it sure makes it easy! I think a topping lift is essential, and I use it to help get the boom in place. I get the boat fully rigged with sails down, but everything else ready including fenders, dock lines, rudder and tiller in place etc.
Once the boat is rigged I make my plan for how to sail away from the dock. I think it makes me a better sailor to sail whenever I can, and not depend on the motor. So, that takes planning. In the case of the dock at Miller Park, I put the boat in on the leeward side of the dock facing into the wind. To do that I extend my trailer extension, tie the bow line onto my car so I don’t lose the boat, and have the stern line ready to grab. Now, I back the boat up until she floats, get out of the car, grab the bow line and untie it from the car, and step onto the dock. At that point I swing the bow around and grab the boat amidships, and then get the stern line. Now I have both lines. I walk the boat to the far end of the dock and cleat her off. I go back to the car and secure it.
PREPARING TO SAIL
Once onboard I immediately put the centerboard and rudder down. Those two foils make the boat much more stable while just bobbing there. I love the TillerClutch, and find that it makes single handing so much easier. It allows me to put the tiller in any position I want and lock it there, and yet instantly take control again. So, at this point I inspect and make sure that all is in order. I put up the main first, and then the jib. I stow the fender. I get out of the boat with the tiller amidships, and grab the stern line, and stow it. I walk forward and release the bow line while holding the boat, and then toss it in under the other lines, but all the way to the companionway. Now the boat is free but I am still holding it. She wants to take off like a race horse. Me too. I gently nose the bow out and step in low, grab the tiller and release the clutch, pull in the jib and fall off the wind. At this point I get some way on quite easily. I then pull in and trim the main, and off I go on a starboard tack. Easy. Sometimes I have to tack quickly to miss the end of another pier depending on how the wind is. I had to do that today.
Now I am sailing away. My boat is rigged to make the sail trim easy to do. My jib sheets run through fairleads, and then through cam cleats with their own fairleads. The fairleads allow me to easily release and cleat the jib sheets without worrying about aim. They fall right into place. My main runs through a ratchet block on a riser with another cam cleat and fairlead. Once again adjusting and trimming is easy. I have a topping lift, which I also feel is essential for single handing, because it allows me to reef while under way.
When under sail I often practice maneuvers to make sure I can always do them. I practice multiple gybes from both directions in moderate breezes. I sail in circles. I perform man-overboard drills with a cushion. In light winds I try to sail backwards by holding the main out by hand. This helps when maneuvering in tight quarters, such as a slip. These are all great skills to have.
One very important skill to master is the heave to. It is important to stop the boat when you need a break, to have lunch, or for any reason. I also do it to reef. If you do not know how to do this maneuver it is important to try it the next time out. What I do is this:
- Come about and put the boat on a port tack beating to windward.
- Ease the helm over to lee as if to tack for the starboard tack.
- Do not uncleat the jib. Instead, let the jib fill and backwind. That will force the bow over onto the starboard tack. Leave the jib backwinded.
- Push the helm to port. The boat will settle about 45-60 degrees off the wind and stop. All will become still. It is amazing. Lash the tiller in that position. I use the clutch myself for that purpose.
Notice that these instructions put you on a starboard tack. You now also have right of way. Once stopped you can do whatever you need to. The boat will stay there making about 0 to 1 knot to leeward for as long as you want.
RETURNING HOME TO THE DOCK
When I am done sailing I make my plan for the return to the dock. This is dependent on the winds. The important thing here is that you have to have a plan that will work, and an alternate plan if you have to abort the landing and sail off. It is really good for the soul and your skills as a sailor to do this under sail, rather than under outboard power. In my case the usual dock I use has very little room for error, and gets shallow in a hurry. The approach is narrow, and I often have to get there going down wind, which is interesting. So, my usual routine is to get upwind of the dock, heave to, drop the main and tie it to the boom, keeping the boom up with the topping lift, and come in under jib alone down wind. I get my fender ready on the correct side of the boat, and have my bow and stern lines ready. I sail to the dock under low speed, and when I get there I ease in, let the jib fly, step off and grab the stern line and then bow line. Now I am home.
TAKING HER OUT OF THE WATER
Once secure I raise the centerboard, stow the tiller/rudder in the cabin, drop the jib and secure it with the downhaul, and go get the car. Putting her on the trailer is fairly easy, since I have a keel guide and side guides on my trailer. I get the winch ready, and ease the boat forward with the bow and stern lines in my hands until she noses into the trailer. I then get in the water and clip the boat to the winch hook, and winch in the rest of the way. I drive her out of the water making sure she is centered, and then off to take it all down. The only trick there is getting the mast down. I use the same method, but in reverse. Just make sure the companionway is closed a bit, as on my boat the mast would hit it and not get all the way down to the crutch at the stern. Don’t forget to put the crutch in first before lowering the mast!
That is how I do it. I am hopeful this may be of interest to some of you who wish to single handing your Montgomery 15’s!
Here is the video: