Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Watchkeeping at Sea and Psychology of Sailing for Sailboat Voyage Planners

There is a little book (only 120 pages) titled 'The Psychology of Sailing' by Michael Stadler which should be read by all sailors planning their adventure of a lifetime sailing voyage. This compact book looks at what being at sea on a sailboat/yacht for lengthy passages can have on the human body and mind.

It also examines the dynamics and interactions between skipper and crew, the crew members themselves and vice versa, their reactions and attitudes to the captain/owner of the boat they are on. Everyone has an ego (even sailors!) and depending on the size of that ego and what their agenda may be, unexpected situations can develop that were not foreseen with quite dramatic and sometimes unwanted results.

It certainly pays when selecting crew for passagemaking to make several overnighters with potential starters to see how they fit in with other crew and with how you as captain want to run your ship.

I believe the book is out of print now but you can purchase it still from Amazon Books for around $10.00 for a used copy. Well worth getting hold of a copy and reading well in advance of your leaving port.

Moving on to watchkeeping - in these days of evermore super electronics it is easy to be drawn into a cocoon and finding yourself being lulled into a false sense of security and relying more and more on your electronics to keep you out of trouble. If ever there was a false sense, this would be it. There is absolutely no substitute for keeping a good visual lookout and an appropriate watch system.

The following is an extect from my ebook 'Voyage of the Little Ship Tere Moana':

'..........And so, on watch at 0200 hrs. her captain is going through his routine – several leg pumps, squats, press ups and weighted leg lifts. The ambient temperature is around twenty two degrees Celsius, so he is able to carry out all this just wearing a pair of shorts.
Twenty minutes later, having worked up a sweat, even in the cooling breeze, and puffing from his exertion, he looks around his three hundred and sixty degree circle and slips below to check her instruments.

The GPS is of particular interest as this will show him their exact position on the ocean. It is time for a plot and he scribes this onto the chart, noting how many miles they have come, and how many miles there are left to run.

The nav centre is a cosy corner at night. Various pips, chirrups, hums and scrapes from the instruments, fill the air, and the dim light from the chart lamp emits a warm friendly glow.
Lingering over the chart our captain, in the deep recesses of his mind, slowly becomes aware of a more persistent bleep thrusting its way up into his consciousness. Alarmed suddenly, he hits the radar button off standby and the phosphorescent green glow coming up reveals a large white shape approaching rapidly almost dead ahead, but just off her starboard bow. No time to call up or hit the 2182 alarm key. Flying up the four steps of the companionway, over the bridge deck and into the cockpit, he cracks his shin mightily en route, but doesn’t even feel it in his panic. Staring upward to starboard in the pitch darkness he sees a freighter, hugely black on black, slipping by, not more than one hundred metres distant.

Her top light at this close range seems to tower menacingly over them, and the superstructure, right over. No other sign of life is visible and the vessel ploughs onward, into the night, course unchanged. Heart pounding in his relief, he brings our little ship off the wind enough to turn into the freighters wake and ride out the oncoming waves.

A freighter travelling at eighteen knots can, from being just out of sight over the horizon from eye height in a yachts’ cockpit, travel the distance and arrive in around fifteen minutes. This particular vessel was probably travelling at fourteen knots only, but being on an almost collision course with our little ship, she making six knots, they had a combined approach speed of twenty knots – easily reaching an impact point in fifteen minutes. Her captain looks at his watch and realises he had overstayed below by a few minutes. He had broken one of his own rules and almost paid the price.

Watching the rapidly retreating white light, and left to ponder what might have been, her captain thankfully tips his cap heavenward, acknowledging that someone must be looking over them.' end of extract.

That was my experience on an overnighter in French Polynesia en route to Bora Bora.

The watch system I used and which we found to be quite effective was as follows:

With a crew of three (including skipper) the night was broken into three watches of four hours each from 2000hrs to 0800hrs. During the twelve hours of daylight all three crew were on watch all of the time. Any task or relaxation could be pursued e.g. eating, sleeping, reading, maintenance, sail trimming, navigation etc. etc., but if a crewmember went below they were to ensure that there was always another crew on deck.

This was a rock solid rule, was respected, strictly observed and worked very well. The big advantage of this system was that everyone knew that on completion of the 0800hrs. watch, all crew had at least twelve hours straight before going back on watch again. Another rule whilst on night watch was that the watchkeeper had to take the boat off auto pilot and helm for at least one hour during their watch. During the day any crew member could helm as they chose.

I recommend that you study the many watch systems available to you and select the one which matches your requirements the closest - you can of course experiment first before settling on your final choice.

You can read more about close calls and watchkeeping in my ebook 'Voyage of the Little Ship Tere Moana' downloadable from my website http://www.sailboat2adventure.com

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