I endorse the suggestions of backing up to moorings, because at low speeds, the stern of a yacht under motor
is inexorably drawn towards the eye of the wind. It's a fringe benefit that you are nearby, and that sightlines are not lost
If you have a boarding platform, putting you on a level to grab the naughty buoy, it's game
, set and match to this method.
In any sort of breeze at all, plan ahead by leading a boat length line, wrapped around the bowcleat or windlass warping drum, through the bow roller and back along a sidedeck, ideally with a maxi-sized snapshackle or strong carabiner to clip around the pickup line or chain (NOT to the pickup handle!). You can then throw the buoy straight back into the tide and pull the boat up to it at leisure.
Forget about tradition and elegance. One fatal trap for the singlehander is playing to the audience. They don't have skin in the game
It's also worth thinking about retrieving anchor from the cockpit
or the transom, at least up to 32' or so. Unless you're in a seaway, it's generally easy enough to hitch a temporary line to the chain outboard
of the bow fitting, pay out a boatlength of chain, take the line to the stern, put on some gardening gloves and haul aboard. Particularly good in tight situations where you want to exit essentially downwind.
To me the main thing to avoid if you're going to be singlehanding
is reliance on sophisticated aids, like thrusters, autopilots/wind vanes, even engines.
Furlers are a difficult one: the advantages for a single
hander are so considerable, on all boats above a certain size, it's hard to argue against 'relying' on them, but they MUST be in excellent condition and well maintained.
There are ways to soften the reliance: for instance I'd strongly recommend using slugs not boltrope on ALL sails
, including furling
, for serious singlehanding
, and having at least one hanked sail (probably a staysail).
Regarding autopilots: I've had a number of passages on sailing vessels belonging to others where they've been perplexed to find the batteries still fully charged after I've taken a night watch. They didn't realise their baby would steer itself (especially to windward or close reaching). Generally it's enough to slightly oversheet the headsail and slightly ease the main, then lash the helm
after hand-steering for a few minutes with the helm
immobilised, to find the sweet spot.
This is just a start: by experimenting with various techniques you'll eventually find you can persuade your boat to do lots of things without assistance which sailors on crewed vessels would never contemplate.
Experimenting with the numerous different ways of heaving to is fruitful. Some quite outrageous manoeuvres are possible, but should first be attempted in quiet conditions. I've had a sloop
hove to when things were set up for a reach, with a long whisker pole and the main boom both guyed out to leeward. I found it was possible to heave the boat to in quiet conditions without touching the sail setup: gybing gently around to bring both sails
to the windward side, with the wind flowing in the reverse direction to 'as designed' (ie their leeches acting as luffs.)
Trying seemingly fanciful stuff like this gives you a lot of options when a ship suddenly appears around a bend, or something comes up which simply needs your full attention, without having to stampede around dropping sails, starting engines and such.
Heaving to is (or should be) a very routine manoeuvre when single handed, which can on some occasions be useful for anchoring
, raising anchor, picking up moorings (with practice, you can set the boat up so it will forereach quietly to bring the buoy to your boarding platform for snaring as above), checking pilotage, yielding right of way, making adjustments to sail disposition including reefing and shaking out reefs
, and dealing with breakages and malfunctions. Not to mention throwing a meal together...
It's essential, to my way of thinking, to be able to 'hold station' without relying on the engine
Apart from the obvious problem that relying on an engine leaves you desperately exposed and lacking in strategies when it won't run (for some trivial reason which you cannot remediate because you're 'needed on deck') ....
... the other classic problem is that it's much harder to prevent sheets
going temporarily over the side when you're on your own. You just can't be everywhere at once. (And it might be dark, so you can't necessarily see where you should be)
It's not generally a problem as long as there is no prospect of a propellor turning.
So it's important to work out ways to, say, raise, lower and reef the mainsail
alone without running the engine. In any conditions.
Anyone who hasn't sorted out ways of doing this (and a few other crucial set-pieces) should, in my opinion, think twice about heading offshore
Remember that when there's no prop turning, it's sometimes a good option to throw halyard
before dropping a sail. This achieves two aims: if the boat's sailing along, this keeps a modest tension on the halyard
so it doesn't swing around and tie itself to the rig. Secondly, halyards bunching up and jamming can screw up a simple manoeuvre. Streaming the tail overboard means there's nothing for it to whip around and latch onto, and if you're the only person who can stop the sail blowing over the side, you really don't want to have to run back to the mast
Cockpit-led halyards and reefing lines, BTW, are problematic for single handing.
When dropping hanked-on headsails, it's often better to lead the halyard around a suitable diverter (like a winch
, granny bar, or even a metal vent cowl) so you can take the halyard tail to the bow with you. That way you can ease the halyard under control(and remove any hockles) as you pull the sail down, so it doesn't wrap around a spreader.
Ruses like this are best learned by taking manageable but adventurous bites, understanding the conventional wisdom applied on crewed yachts, but being prepared to strive for different (and often very satisfying) solutions to the problems the conventional wisdom is designed to address.
Many situations encountered inshore are actually more difficult than most offshore
situations, but getting it wrong is usually less consequential, and flatter seas encourage experimentation, so I'd argue that it's good to get to know your vessel and hone your skills inshore.