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Old 15-02-2019, 09:12   #1
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Post your story of sails saving the day

I recently came across a post on another forum recounting an engine failure at the worst possible time after passing under a drawbridge. The master of the vessel was able to raise the sails and get enough way on to avoid a collision with the now-closed bridge.

A post-mortem on the engine showed that the alternator bracket had sheared and been driven by the force of the belt into the nearby oil filter, causing a loss of all the oil to the bilge, and seizure of the engine. While there are many lessons to take from this chain of events, I'm more interested to hear other stories where having sails ready to hoist prevented an accident.

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Old 15-02-2019, 13:06   #2
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Re: Post your story of sails saving the day

Like I say, hope you’re writing a book!!
Probably JUST as important are tales of how an easily deployed ANCHOR saved the day. But, let’s see, the most recent case was when I was out with friend and his engine quit as we approached an anchorage. Things weren’t moving too fast so we had plenty of time to hoist both sails (main, jib - hank on) Luckily there was barely enough breeze to ghost in, round up, and drop the anchor among the other boats. Which is another reason for a thread about having ones anchor(s) ready to go! In his case it was just a matter of bleeding the lines to clear the problem.

It might be good to point out here that, though the temptation may be great to turn to the jib in an emergency, being that it is easier to deploy, many boats will not sail well out of trouble with just the jib. Better to jump on the main first IMO unless you are sure that going downwind will solve the problem.

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Old 15-02-2019, 13:44   #3
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Re: Post your story of sails saving the day

Absolutely. It's criminal how many boats you see motoring with the sail cover on. I was always taught to put just a couple of ties around the main when coming in to harbour, so that you could whip up some sail at very short notice should the engine give out. I was lucky to do my early sailing with some extremely experienced retired local pilots, who would do everything properly including immaculate copperplate notes in the log every hour without fail.

Agree with the jib -- it's a good plan if you can get out of trouble downwind but not many boats will tack easily with just a bit of unrolled jib on its own.
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Old 15-02-2019, 15:38   #4
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Re: Post your story of sails saving the day

Hoisting the anchor in bijagos , with 25 to 30 knots of wind , I failed to calculate the slack of the hltide tide , the current in those islands is 3 to 6 knots .
With the anchor up I had the bow looking at the shore and an old Portuguese pontoon on my right , the current and the wind was taking me to the shore fast , I used the motor to turn the bow to deep water , it took forever for the motor at full throttle to over come the wind and the tide , the moment the boat turned I was at 2 metters of depth and 5 meters from.the shore (the tide height is 5.4 meters ).
Once the bow turned I hoisted first the jib and then the main , once the jib was up the boat started to move forward and I hardly skipped the rock pontoon of the Lee way caused by the current , once I cleared the pontoon I had to act fast and get the main up since the wind and current was pushing me on the shallow side of the river and with the jib I could only sail on to the reef on the next side .
Got the main up and start tacking my way out .
That was my last day on those beautiful islands before crossing and I got a loud confirmation about my habbit to have the sails ready always .

The only thing that I keep thinking about is that : the moment the bow was pointing on the shore if I had open the Genoa the headway would have make me crash on the beach , and I am trying to think alternatives , dropping the anchor would result on the beach as well , full throttle on the motor helped that was a lesson of never changing in electric or just an outboard .
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Old 15-02-2019, 16:17   #5
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Re: Post your story of sails saving the day

Similar situation happened to me. A friend who was not a sailor bought a fairly nice, old wood sailboat in Miami and asked me to help him move it to the keys.

Boat had a deep draft so we were going to sail south on the outside. Left Dinner Key, motoring out of Government cut dead against a pretty brisk east wind. About halfway out the cut, with rock jetty's on both sides the owner went below to report water over the floor boards and gasoline everywhere (boat had an old Atomic 4). Immediately shut off the engine and just as immediately started drifting towards the rock jetty's. Debated for about a nanosecond on whether to hoist sail or drop anchor. Strong current, deep cut and a lot of traffic so sails seemed like the best option.

Got the main then the jib hoisted, did a 180 and sailed back into Biscayne Bay with everything electrical on the boat carefully switched off.
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Old 15-02-2019, 19:24   #6
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Re: Post your story of sails saving the day

I have no stories like the above, (well one hardly worth mentioning) but it did cause me to make sure that as soon as we were anchored, the sail tracks and everything else was ready to go hard on the wind if needed. Any other point of sail would be a cakewalk.
Gas in the bilge in that other post? AAAaacckkk !!!!!
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Old 15-02-2019, 20:31   #7
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Re: Post your story of sails saving the day

Originally Posted by Tillsbury View Post
Absolutely. It's criminal how many boats you see motoring with the sail cover on....

I've deployed an anchor quickly a number of times over 35 years. Half the time a sail might have worked as well. The other half there was strong tide and no wind, so sail would not have helped at all.

I've sailed into my slip a number of times, due to engine problems, but that was not an emergency hoist. It was planned and easy enough.

In NO CASE would the main sail have been any use at all. There is no way it could have been hoisted quickly enough, certainly not before the anchor was down, and in all but one case, could easily have made the situation worse (hard to depower in really tight places). On the other hand, deploying or furling the jib is just a few seconds.

A for emphatic statements that something is criminal... that's just a bit theatrical and ultimately, not helpful. Beginners might believe it.
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Old 16-02-2019, 02:35   #8
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Re: Post your story of sails saving the day

We came out of Alghero in Sardinia after sitting out a Mistral, and when we hit the open sea realised that the wind had died down but the sea state hadn't. Four metre seas made it very bumpy, but we carried on under engine.

After several hours like this we were approaching the northern end of the Island of Asinara, right at the northern end of Sardinia and about a half mile off a lea shore when suddenly the engine died.

OK "get the main and genoa out" and get around the headland...

Had a go at fixing the engine but it was obviously having a fuel starvation problem, no fuel was getting to the filter.

Nearest safe harbour, Stintino nearly 40 miles away, called them up on the phone, checked that we could get in and said that we might be late getting to them.

Made it to the harbour just on sunset and sailed in to a side on mooring with help of the marinero and his rib.

The problem was eventually traced to a spiral piece of plastic drill swarf that had probably been sitting at the bottom of the fuel tank since the boat was built. The bumpy seas had swilled it around and it had got into the fuel line before lodging in the fuel cut off valve.
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Old 16-02-2019, 04:47   #9
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Re: Post your story of sails saving the day

Originally Posted by Jammer View Post
I recently came across a post on another forum recounting an engine failure at the worst possible time after passing under a drawbridge. The master of the vessel was able to raise the sails and get enough way on to avoid a collision with the now-closed bridge.
Sails pretty much always save the day when you sail without an engine as I did on beach cats for 15 years. We don't even carry anchors so it's all on the sails

During our yearly 100 mile race, we had to sail under 3 sets of bridges starting with the Destin Bridge.

The first year I sailed it in 1997, there were 82 boats on the start line many with spinnaker. And maybe 4 22' Supercats. I was sailing a sloop rigged Nacra 6.0 with my 15 year old son as crew

Soon as you clear the Destin Bridge there's the jetty that runs way out on your starboard side. First turn was at the Seabuoy. Then sail West for about 60 miles to Pensacola. We'd sail in off the Gulf thru Pensacola Pass then back East

The race always used to start at 0700, so the winds weren't always that great. Many times you were finished by dark if you were on a larger, faster cat of say 18'-20' but I have sailed under the last bridge in Ft Walton Beach at 0200

Sails should always be ready for use on any boat powered by them even those with "auxiliary" engines

More recently, I was motoring out our creek one Friday afternoon for my normal long weekend 60-70 mile sail when my engine overheated. I was almost to the bay when this happened and knew the forecast called for 10 -15 knot winds for the next 3 days so I just shut the engine off and raised it unfurled the jib and sailed on. The mainsail was already up anyway. Otherwise my planned weekend would have been ruined possibly replacing the waterpump
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Old 16-02-2019, 09:20   #10
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Re: Post your story of sails saving the day

Many years ago I was motoring my Baba 30 from Marina Del Rey to Port Los Angeles for a haul out. It was only a 10 mile or so passage and I was single handing along the coast. The engine quit about half way there and being near shore and alone, I didn't want to fuss with the engine at that time. To do so, there was a chance of drifting ashore, so I hoisted sails. There was just enough wind to keep weigh on. This slowed me down considerably, but the wind held and when I got to the yard there was a section of pier available. With a length of spring line in my hand, I brought her alongside, hopped off and made her fast. I apologize for not having more of an adventure to report, but this narration seems to fit the subject of the post.
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Old 16-02-2019, 09:37   #11
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Re: Post your story of sails saving the day

SF Bay, motoring under the Oakland Bridge (old bridge still there and new one under construction) east side of Yerba Buena going to Clipper Cove to anchor out for a night. Wife at the helm notices temp gauge going way up.

"What should I do?" "Turn off the engine."
"What should I do?" "Turn off the engine."
"What should I do?" "Turn off the engine."
"What should I do?" "Turn off the engine."
Engine finally gets turned off as I deploy the jib. We sailed upwind into the anchorage, dropped the hook. Found bilge full of coolant. The lines under the galley sole from the engine to the water heater had chafed thru. Sailed back home in light winds the next day, sailed into our slip. Spent the next day sourcing hose and replacing same.

Drakes Bay 2016, around 1500 anchor dragged in high winds, sliding into lee shore, anchor rode wraps on prop shaft, stops engine. Sailed out on jib. Decided to sail back to SF on jib alone downwind, got there at 0200.

Divers said the rode was wrapped around the shaft and the strut along with the dangling anchor all the way from Drakes Bay. Bought new rode, anchor was saved.

Sails are good to have!


In both cases, it was the JIB that saved us. Advice to use the MAIN first, on my boat, would be useless. Perhaps it is on the respondent's boat. Please, please, please, before you take my advice OR his, try it on your boat so YOU know which sail works better if you can only get one up. I sailed for years with just my jib on SF Bay 'cuz that's how MY boat works. YMMV. Check first.
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Old 16-02-2019, 09:47   #12
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Re: Post your story of sails saving the day

I sailed a beach cat for a few years before I got a keelboat, so got pretty used to doing everything with sails. There were sure a few times that a motor could have saved the day... Not easy to paddle a cat up-current when there’s no wind.

One of my first expeditions out with my keel boat, the engine swallowed a shredded impeller and I had to anchor until a ghost of a breeze came up, then sailed very slowly through the network of narrow channels back to the marina. In the dark. No nav aids.

In addition to the engine and sails, sometimes the dinghy saves the day. Especially when the water is too cold to swim to shore. I (now) always carry at least a rolled-up inflatable kayak in the sail locker.
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Old 16-02-2019, 10:33   #13
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Re: Post your story of sails saving the day

Great thread....

Many of us believe , that if you are a sailor, and have a sail boat, you should be able to sail that boat in our out of any situation at any time.

That is the reason, that the sailing club that I instructed at for 35 years strongly believed in training our members to sail in and out of the dock. Since , one of these days the iron jenny is going to fail . 30 footers on up.

1. Sunday, and I was teaching an intermediate class, sailing in Newport Harbor.
( kind of between los angeles and san diego. I aways monitor VHF channel 16.

I hear our 55 ft, Tayana calling on 16 to the sailing club. No reply from the office.. I went below and asked him to switch to chl 68. This was a very squared away member,, and , he was fairly new. He had a very large group of family and freinds and was returning on the Tayana from Catalina Island.

He had engine failure, and had sailed across the San Pedro Channel, to Newport Bay, and then tacked that beast up the 3 mile channel in sunday sailor and motor boat traffic. 29 total miles.

His crew were family and friends who were not sailors. He wanted someone from the sailing club to come help him sail the 55 into a short dead end slip dock.

I told him to drop the jib and sail in under the main. Well, he was used to mid 30 boats, but did not want to attempt sailing the 55 into a dead end slip.

OK, on the lesson boat, I assigned a capt, the best among the students on board the newport 30, and told them all to work together. Start the engine and lower sails, and rig dock line sand fenders, then stand off entering the fairway until we got the 55 into the slip.

I had the skipper of the 55 lay out fenders, and set dock lines , including a breast line,, to slow the vessel as not to ride over the dead end slip, or over the dock into the dock side bar .

I boarded at the port side shrouds, and went to the cockpit. He left the wheel, and thought I was going to handle the helm. NOPE ! You are going to dock this boat, under the main. I helped to organize his crew, get non performing passengers down below, and we would talk him thru the docking.

The sailing club as at the far, far , closed end of the harbor, 3.2 miles from the channel entrance. Wind was about a close reach.

We came about, and the crew rolled in on the roller snarler genoa. We had a few yards to go to the slip. They ran out the main sheet and shoved the boom all the way down wind. One person grabbed on to the handful of main sheet, and controlled our speed. In for fast, out for slow or stop. Another passenger was at the topping lift, to scandalize the main on short final.

Other family were assigned to the dock lines, bow, breast, and stern.
They were all becoming a team.

Here we come, nice and slow. " LET THE MAIN SHE GO FREE ! " Done, the sail is luffing, boom is swinging. : HAUL UP ON THE TOPPING LIFT. The crew at that job , hauled away, scanalizing the main, letting out more air.

Slowly we entered the slip. I stepped off , and was handed the breast line. I took one wrap around the mid dock cleat and took a purchase, and then let the dock line slip a bit and the boat slowly stopped, well short of the end of the slip. The other dock line handlers passed me the dock lines and I secured the vessel.

Those not working at a job, had gathered in the companion way to watch what was going to occur.

Our, new skipper member had remained easy calm, and steered the vessel perfectly into the slip.

I wanted him to dock the boat, he was the captain, and i wanted to build up his confidence. I also wanted for his passengers to have confidence in him.

Walking back back along the dock to the cockpit area. I reached my hand thru the life line, and shook his hand.

GOOD JOB , SKIPPER ! AND GOOD JOB TO ALL OF THE CREW ! They were beaming and proud of what they hand done, and I was proud of them, those good people working as a team.

I still had my lesson boat to square away, and walked over as they were flaking the main, and flaking the jib, squaring away all running rigging, shutting down all breaker and electrical, plugging in the shore power, and giving the boat a fresh water wash down. The reward after sailing, lessons or on your own, was generally to gather up at the Warehouse restaurant outside dock view bar and splice the main brace.

Story # 2. This could have turned out very, very , very bad.

Catalina flotala Traning cruise. Another required part of our lesson program, was that after all their tests and lessons, and check outs, and navigation class, before they could go to catalina on their own, they had to go on the Catalina Training Cruise, that one or two instructors on separate boats would lead.

Usually 8 to 12 boats 30 to 55 ft. They were to stay in loose flotilla formation.

My group , was some new, and some experienced. One new couple , who I had never sailed with or instructed was on my boat. They had permission to come down and stay on board overnight. OK, what could they do to mess anything up.

Well, we have a great sail and some of the other boats made to two harbors, isthumus cove, and were on mooring ahead of us.

We were about four miles of shore, and the afternoon wind and spray had started up.
Some one went down below to get a jacket.

The immediately come back up, DENNY, I CAN SMELL GASOLINE.

" Gas, how can they be smelling gas, this is a diesel engine " I sent another, experienced member down below. DENNY , I CHECKED ALL OF THE SPACES, AND THERE ARE STRONG GAS FUMES ALL THRU THE BOAT.


We were under main and jib, and that is what we do. Sail boats, in any situation.

I question the entire crew, asking who may have brought any gasoline or flamilable liquid on board.

The new couple, is staring off into space, I persisted, asking each of them individually.

Ahh, finally it comes out. WE ARE RIDING ON A FLOATING BOMB. One spark and adios , muther. Big time explosion, fire, people on fire, horrible burns, and boat destroyed.

Without asking, these newbies, had brought there own dinghy, and their own bottles of gas. Yep, they had filled a couple of snap cap old plastic gallon water bottles with gasoline for their dink


They had stowed them with the dink in the large aft cockpit locker. The caps had come free or leaked with the motion of the vessel. A drain for rain, or wash down water in the locker drained into the bilge.

EMPTY EVERY THING OUT OF THAT LOCKER, GIVE ME THOSE BOTTLES. they did, and know the ocean lovers are going to go ballistic , but I emptied the rest of those bottles into the sea and tossed the empties overboard.

Now , it comes back to being able to actually sail a boat.

We drop the jib ( nor roller was hank on ), they but a cruising furl into the jib and lashed it with sail stops ( sail ties the the port life line. They rigged a briddle fo a port side mooring wand pick up.

We sailed to the far outside of the mooring field away from any other vessels. No need to put anyone else in danger.

Back to sailing, we approached under the main, l luffed up, hauled up on the topping lift, and pick up the mooring pendant , under sail.

The boat was well ventilated as the wind blow thru the narrow isthmus, with venturi speed. In an hour or so, the boat was all fresh clean air.

We had pumped out the bilge by hand pump on the way in, and rinsed the bilge down with some gallon jugs of fresh water.

All turned out well. Could not have been so good, if just one spark from anything electrical would have snapped on.

Any lesson learned by those to lubbers , who bloody well got us all killed.


Pretty simple, a couple of idea. Get some authorized fuel contianers, lash em to the life line top side, or fill the dink tank up after you row ashore to the gas dock.

Another novel idea. Leave the bloody dink at home and call the shore boat.

Never, never stow flamable liquid below decks.

I do not know what happened to them, after returning back to Newport. Never saw them again. No big loss. They still did not catch on to the seriousness of the situation that they put all of us in.

However, that is one reason, among many, that I am a champion of seamanship , sailing, and quality instruction.

Again, I know others do not agree, and all you need to do is practice in a dingy.
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Old 16-02-2019, 12:21   #14
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Re: Post your story of sails saving the day

Well I suppose I can contribute my two cents worth:

We left our safe and secure anchorage behind St Michael's in England to catch the opening of a tidal lock in Penzance at 3am. That required moving along a rough lee shore scant yards away but for only a couple of miles if my memory serves. A big swell was running on the Lee shore from the English Channel. Suddenly about half way along or a little more the beast below said stuff it, I quit.

Knowing the Penzance pilot boat will guide strangers in we called them and they replied, cheerily, "will do mate". A few minutes later they called back and said "sorry, it is too rough for us. You will have to call search and rescue a bit further down the coast". Search and rescue? Suddenly we remembered we had sails and no sooner thought and done,, sails up and we were bobbing around, well away from dangerous solid land, in the Channel where we had a chance to look at why we lost the cooperation of the beast.

Turned out that our day tank was only a third full and the rather extreme heeling and rolling caused by the swell near the coast caused air to enter the beast.

We filled the tank, bled the lines and sailed/motored back to our anchorage having by then missed the tidal lock in Penzance..At four we were once again at sleep.

Lesson? Do not let the fuel in a day tank drop below one half full!

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Old 16-02-2019, 12:26   #15
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Re: Post your story of sails saving the day

Originally Posted by Stu Jackson View Post
In both cases, it was the JIB that saved us. Advice to use the MAIN first, on my boat, would be useless. Perhaps it is on the respondent's boat. Please, please, please, before you take my advice OR his, try it on your boat so YOU know which sail works better if you can only get one up. I sailed for years with just my jib on SF Bay 'cuz that's how MY boat works. YMMV. Check first.
Actually that is a good point, practice in your own boat to see how she responds. I haven't sailed a big cat but I imagine it could respond well with just a jib, but can they really tack well with just a jib? I do know fin keel/spade rudders can do ok with just the jib but you need more room to get up speed to complete a tack, or at least I did when I sailed Catalina 30s and 36s. But the spade rudder is so much more effective than a keel hung rudder that it will counteract the windvaning force of the jib more quickly. With a heavier, or longer keel boat, it's tough to get going to windward at all in light air. In my own boat she is fine off the wind or beam reaching, and I can tack with just the jib, but I really need a good breeze and/or enough room to do it. In close quarters and/or a light breeze, and if I want to be able to tack well, I gotta have the main up! If the jib is the first sail deployed then the bow immediately is prone to swing off the wind as soon as it is up, or out, before you gain enough speed to bring her back up. If you have the room to do it then it's fine. Raising the main first is surely not as quick, but the immediate effect does not include the lee helm. And if the jib is sheeted in too tight, too fast, as those in a panic may be prone to do, she'll have little drive and really will want to windvane around downwind and she'll need even more room to get back around. I have a buddy who races up in SF bay who said the other day he was surprised at the number of racers who sheet the jib in too flat on their tacks, and they are experienced racers. But as Stu says, don't take my word for it, practice it, ideally away from any rigid obstacles or expensive boats!

1962 Columbia 29 MKI #37
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