Sailing in My Favorite place again!

It has really been a long time since I posted to the blog! Life as a busy eye surgeon has made some of my hobbies take a back seat at times. But, I had the day off today (amazing!) and since the tides and the winds looked right, I figured it was time to get the boat out for some sail time. Also, I have new Hyde sails now from JudyB, and they are terrific. Nothing better on a boat than a new set of sails. It makes a huge difference.

Today the wind was out of the south, which is unusual for around here. But by afternoon it switched back to the usual pattern of our north westerly wind. I now sail much closer to the companionway with my tiller extension, and I find that the boat performs much better that way with a bit less weather helm. Dave Scobie and others have mentioned that about the M15. Also, a crisp set of sails cut for my conditions makes all the difference. My main has just a tad less draft, and performs quite well when the wind kicks up a bit.

I filmed today with my usual Kodak cheap hand held camera, but I also added my GoPro that I got into the mix. First I suction cupped it to the bulkhead, and then later I picked it up and filmed with it hand held. It has really amazing video quality. When set to wide it has a slight fish eye bend at the corners. Also, it is in the waterproof housing so the audio is muffled. I believe they make an open back for the thing, which I may have to get so that the sound is better. In any event, here is a bit of video from the day for you Monty Sailors!

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How to Launch and Sail a Montgomery 15 single handed

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…


  1. 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.
  2. I always let somebody know where I am going and how long I expect to be gone. I check in when I return.
  3. 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.
  4. I study the chart of the area if it is not familiar to me, and carry a portable chart onboard.
  5. I have food and water available on the boat. I also carry a first aid kit and fire extinguisher.
  6. I have proper clothing including a good hat, foul weather gear, and sailing gloves if it gets cold. Hypothermia would be a disaster.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.


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:

  1. Come about and put the boat on a port tack beating to windward.
  2. Ease the helm over to lee as if to tack for the starboard tack.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.


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.


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!

Go Sailing!

Here is the video:

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Sailing with Thom

I have not posted to the blog in quite a while! As a busy eye surgeon sometimes I just have other things on my mind. No matter. Today was another great sailing day. My excuse this time is a day sail with a nice guy who is interested in pocket cruisers, and Montgomery sailboats in particular.

Thom and Michael are two friends who live in San Francisco. They are interested in sharing a boat. They contacted me through the Montgomery list, and I let them know that I would be happy to take them out for a sail. It took a while for us to find mutual dates for sailing, mostly because of my schedule, but today was the day. Sadly, Michael got stuck in China (!) as part of his job, so only Thom got to go. Michael will just have to see the photos and video…

Talking about boats is really fun. Michael has lots of sailing experience starting from childhood, and has sailed many keel boats in SF bay. He sails a J24 that he can rent at times. He has some frustrations with the rental boats, because they always seem to have something quirky about the rigging, or something that doesn’t work. The nice thing about your own boat is that you have control over all of that, and can rig the boat to your particular specifications and desires. I certainly have modified the boat quite a bit since I got her.

So, talking with him about pocket cruisers really brought home for me again what a wonderful choice the M15 is for my sailing. I like a boat that I can take all over on a trailer with a simple tow vehicle such as my Subaru Outback. I have sailed Kestrel in so many locations over the last few years. That just isn’t possible with a big boat in a slip. Yet, Kestrel is a proper boat even though she is small. She sails like a dream. She handles well, points well, and when on her proper lines the tiller just comes alive in your hand. She is so predictable even when pushed to the limit. She has just the right amount of weather helm when the wind comes up to tell you when to reef. Yup, Jerry Montgomery designed a great boat. I love small boats.

Living with the boat is nice too. She is so easy to rig and launch for one person. No backstay, and a fairly light mast all help. Keeping a boat on a trailer is also nice, since she sits in my driveway where I can clean her and make modifications. So, for day sailing as well as light cruising, you can’t beat one of these.

We had our usual launch at Miller Park. I have to time the tides there in order to get in and out. I need about 2 feet of water to launch and retrieve. Screen Shot 2013-05-11 at 9.05.35 PMIt was perfect timing for an afternoon sail. I sailed today without my Honda outboard. I had left gasoline in it over the winter, and it was gummed up. So, it needed a trip to the engine doctor where it is now. Lesson learned. In the meantime, I was not concerned at all about not having the outboard, as I use it so rarely. I really have it on the boat for tight places such as harbors. Otherwise I do everything by sail power. Howard Rice taught me lots of interesting techniques with regards to this at the Small Boat Skills Academy, including how to sail backwards. But that is another post…

Once off the dock I gave the tiller to Thom. I am rarely not at the helm, so it was a different experience for me also. I spent some time in the companionway, and as the crew. It was fun watching somebody else get a feel for the boat. He has not sailed small boats, so the responsiveness was a new experience for him. Also, he had not single-hanScreen Shot 2013-05-11 at 8.55.48 PMded before. So, I showed him how I do it, and let him handle all the controls. He took to it immediately. Winds were lighter than we wanted, but they did pick up to 8-10 knots with gusts to 12 or so around 4:00 PM. The boat really came alive then. He got a sense of what she could do. He was sold. It is amazing how much fun you can have even with a hull speed of 5 knots.

I had a similar experience the first time I sailed a Monty 15. A very nice fellow who lives nearby, Ken Wheeler, offered to take me out on his. We sailed at Lake Sonoma. Once again he got her out, and graciously handed me the tiller. I was sold. What a great boat. I had to get one.

Here is some video of the day:

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Small Craft Skills Academy

I am home now from Port Townsend after the skills academy. I had a wonderful time. It was well worth it. I will recount some of the highlights of the trip.

About to start

My goal in attending was to become a better sailor. I think that I have improved on many fronts.

The facilitator was Howard Rice. It is hard to describe the true expert that he is. Howard loves small boats, and has spent a lifetime honing his skills. He has made passage around Cape Horn in a sailing kayak, and has had vast experience in small craft on the open ocean. Truly remarkable. He currently lives in Micronesia, but travels extensively teaching and sailing.

Joining Howard as the other main expert was John Welsford. He is from New Zealand, but

Down the hall

traveled to be with us, and to help with the previous SCAMP building class the week before. John is a master boat designer and builder, and expert sailor. He also designed SCAMP.

These guys were just terrific. They are true experts, but are humble, and can teach without making you feel below their level. That is a great attribute. I truly admire their skills. They are also very nice people, and people that I am honored to know now as friends.

Our class consisted of a whole group of really nice folks with varying levels of expertise. Some had much cruising experience, and sailed regularly. Others had limited or no experience at all. Despite the differences, the group did work well together, and everybody seemed to get a lot out of the instruction based on their particular level. A number of folks brought boats that they had built. I was truly impressed and envious of the craftsmanship. I have no skills there.

View off the dock

The goals of the academy were to teach seamanship, and stewardship. Some of these skills are high level, and are about attitude, thoughtfulness, preparedness, and safety. Some of the skills are very specific, like how to dock under sail, and how to safely gybe. I got a great deal of education on multiple fronts. I can’t wait to get Kestrel back in the water to try out my new skills. Next time I sail folks watching from the shore will figure I am deranged, as my boat will spin and move seemingly with no objective. But I will be out there continually gybing, tacking, coming to a stop, sailing backwards, sailing standing up, dropping anchor, steering with my legs, looking at the telltales…I will put Kestrel through a lot for better learning. I truly can’t wait.

I do not have a lot of photos from the trip. I was busy concentrating on the classroom work and the sailing. No video either. I brought my video camera, but didn’t use it once! I will have some more photos to share at some point. Many photos were taken by other classmates, and these will be shared online at some point.

The other sailors were all extremely nice. There were folks that had traveled a long distance. One sailor, Murray, brought his home built boat “Ladybug” all the way from Saskatoon Saskatchewan. Sailing with the other sailors was really fun. I got to the helm of at least 7 other boats. Nice. But, sadly, Kestrel was not there. I had to leave her home.

John Welsford rigging SCAMP

Another M15 sailor did make an appearance here and there. On my last day we sailed right by that craft, and said hello. The M15 always looks so nice on the water. Not bad for a “plain old white boat” as John and Howard like to say. They are partial to wood boats. Can’t blame them.

One highlight was the appearance of SCAMP #1. What a boat. This almost 12 footer is truly an amazing craft. The cockpit is roomier than my M15! And, she sails very well with her shape and balanced lug rig. The boat is beyond stable. Astounding. She is a stout little boat, and her looks really grew on me. One of the highlights of the trip was watching Howard try to capsize her. He could barely do it. He was jumping up and down on the gunnel and leaning out. Finally with great effort he could get her over. She didn’t stay there for long. She sat right up. Later, John was shuttling some folks out of the harbor and back to the beach. There were 5 of them in that little boat. She didn’t even sit down

Howard trying to capsize SCAMP

to the waterline. I gotta get me one, but of course, I would have to build it…

The venue was hard to beat. It took place at the Northwest Maritime Center, home of the Wooden Boat Foundation. The wood shop for boat building was beautiful, as were the classrooms above. They were getting ready for the Wooden Boat festival, so there was quite a bit of activity. I had to get home, but I sure would loved to stay to see that.

If you sail a small boat, and want to improve your skills, it is a really nice experience to attend the academy.

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Small Craft Sailing Academy Port Townsend

I am so excited to be here in Port Townsend, Washington. Tomorrow I will begin a four day session all about sailing small craft. I have already met some of the faculty, including Howard Rice, and John Welsford. John has designed many boats, including recently the “SCAMP.” There should be 14 of us sailors learning all kinds of new skills.

I have never been up to this part of the world before. It is spectacularly beautiful, with waterways all around. It is green and wooded. Today it was 70 degrees when I arrived. Unfortunately, I was unable to bring my boat Kestrel because of the distance from my home in Sebastopol. No matter. There are plenty of boats around.

I am posting this from my iPad while in a local coffee house, so I can’t vouch for the formatting, or the quality of the photos! But, you get the idea…

Here are a few photos of the harbor area and the boat school.






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Sailing with Peter on a double reef day

I had a lovely weekend. My brother Peter came to visit us from his home in Southern California. There are 4 of us brothers, but only 3 of us live in Sonoma County. So it was a treat to see Pete.

Peter sailed when he was younger. He took some classes and sailed dinghys out of Oxnard. But it had been years since he had sailed on a small boat, so when we finally got the chance, it was terrific.

We started at my usual spot in Tomales. I never get tired of sailing there. It is just magic. The winds early were light, in the 5 knot range. Kestrel moves well in light winds, being a wonderful Montgomery 15 and all. As we made our long run down the bay I could tell the wind was building behind us, as I could see the white caps starting. We were moving at 4-5 knots, which given the fact that I had just a working jib and main, was pretty quick for down wind. We made it all the way to Inverness Yacht club before turning around. The wind was building. Under full main Peter got to experience first hand at the tiller lots of weather helm as the boat was overpowered. Nonetheless, it is amazing how much difference the extra weight makes on the high side in an M15. I usually sail alone. Despite that, we were close to putting the lee rail in the water. But the M15 is such a well mannered boat that it stiffens well. Still, though, I did put in the lower cabin board just in case we swamped so that minimal water would enter the cabin should that happen.

We sailed along, and the boat became harder to control with the full main. So, I heaved to and went to the first reef point. Better, but not really good enough. So, another heave to, and this time to the second reef point that I had just installed 2 days before! Very good timing. Now, I had forgotten to bring my reef ties, so the lower part of the sail looked a bit messy, but functionally, it was terrific. The main was down to about the level of the jib, and probably had similar area. The boat was now very well balanced in terms of weather helm and maneuverability. Yet it often moved at hull speed of 5 knots or so. Just goes to show you that more sail does not always equate to more speed. A boat on her proper lines with the right balance will sail better. A good lesson there for me. Reef early. Nice that the M15 can heave to so well to allow me to reef on the fly.

Here is a short video of the day:

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Adding another reef point to Kestrel

This season I had a rather spirited day of sailing at my favorite spot in Tomales Bay. It was blowing a good 15-20 knots with gusts that were higher. I was solo sailing, and had my main reefed. The boat was still overpowered. Here is a short video of that day. I took very little video since I was controlling the boat!

After that day, I decided another reef point was needed. So, I contacted my terrific local sail maker, John Amen, and had him put in another set of reef points in the main. Now I had to make the installation on the boat.

My boat has a nice reef hook that I installed on the gooseneck when I first got the boat. I bought that part from Dwyer Mast Company. It is a DH 680 as seen on the link down the page.

So, now I had to go about setting up the hardware and line for the new reef point.

First I bought a small pad eye, a Harken Cheek block H233, Ronstan RF 5106 V cleat with fairlead, and 15 feet or so of 3/16″ Sta-set yacht braid. I hoisted the main in the driveway to figure out where to place the cheek block and pad eye. I’m sure there is some kind of exact science to this, and somebody who really knows how to rig a boat like Jerry Montgomery can tell you exactly where to put them, but since I am just a casual day sailor, I figure close enough will work fine. The idea here is to have about a 45 degree angle of pull on the new reef clew, so that means setting the hardware back just a bit from where the new clew will end up when reefed. So, armed with my drill and pencil, I mounted the pad eye on the port side of the boom, and cheek block on the starboard side in the spots that looked right. The photos show it. Note the older strap eye for the original reef point. That is probably a better way to do it, but my way works fine.

Next, I mounted the V cleat above the older V cleat. Here is a photo of my tap in the hole as I tap the threads for my #8 screws. I like to attach things to my mast and boom with stainless steel screws. I’m sure eventually I will get galvanic corrosion, but I find this method so easy and satisfying. The tools for simple tap and drill are very cheap. I buy #8-32 stainless screws at West Marine, and use a #29 bit for that hole. Here is a link to a chart that spells it out. When I am using slightly bigger hardware, I use #10-24 screws with appropriate tap. The drill bit for that is a #25. It must have cost $20 for all the tools.

Attaching the yacht braid with a bowline to the new pad eye allowed me to route it up and through the grommet, and down to the cheek block, and then around to the V-cleat. Perfect.

This weekend I plan to sail, and it should be blowing pretty good, so I will get a chance to try out the reefing. I will attach some short lines to the reef grommets so that when I drop the sail, those lines are right there for tying the loose sail to the boom. My sail is in a slot, and not loose footed, so some method to do that is needed.

Happy sailing!

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