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Single Handed Sailing


By Capt. Douglas Malat It seems to be such a controversy whether to go single handed sailing or not. We are talking about sailing great distances that are 24 hours or more and doing it alone. Many years ago without the Electronics we have today, it was pretty hard. No Radar...Chartplotter to help you out. These things are like having an extra crew mate aboard with you, but in reality not really.

Is single handed sailing more responsibility or not? Having a full crew means Galley work, putting out all those meals, taking care of any seasick crew members, keeping the shifts going...there's a lot. It is great having friends as crew on a three or four day run....but can you always have them there when you need them? This is where you unfamiliar crew members and problems coincide. You go on Websites to find crew, looking on Forums and such. You ask for sailing offshore experience, but in many cases you get crew which said one thing and end up with another...sometimes with no Ocean experience at all. You end up baby- sitting them thru the whole trip, exhausting yourself to make them comfortable day and night...all you wanted was a look out...Now you're feeding them crackers and sips of cola to keep the heaves at a minimum.

Speaking of look-outs, this is all you really need on a Sailboat doing a 300-400 nm trip. A good look-out. This way you get some rest while that crew member looks-out and about. It is a shift of 4 hours on, 4 hours off...the more crew you have the more off hours you have to sleep. There is, of course, meals to prepare, thru-hull fittings to check once day, maybe some wash, and the list can go on. Trust me, it's not like in the movies. You can be very busy, especially when, as I mentioned before about a crew member not feeling well.

So after many years of Offshore Sailing, dealing with many types of crew, there does come a point of whether you keep Sailing or not. You are so geared to having crew onboard for your trips that when you can't find anyone experienced, or anyone at all, you don't know what to do. I've grown to prefer single handed sailing.

I always thought Single handed sailing was, well not dangerous, put for the privileged few. I did not understand intricacies until I was faced with the fact I had to go sailing alone. A last crew member had to make it ashore by a certain date, and with fickle winds the days went by with not much mileage. Heading shoreward to drop the member off with some 700 miles to go was not comforting.

I think I fell into the mindset of the Single hander by mistake. With the last crew member gone, you focus more on the weather...What's coming, what's going, and what can happen in between. Heading up the Intracoastal waterway (ICW) for the next major inlet set the stage for being alone. All day navigating the waterway and anchoring for the night forced all my experience and good judgment to the surface. I always had that, but now every little thing had to be done by me...safely...there was no one else to rely on. By the time I reached that Inlet, three days had gone by, and I felt I was ready. For the days gone by, I went thru many different scenarios of Offshore work and duties that must be done. I have done it all many, many times and really it was all stuff I have always done! The one main factor now was to leave in good weather that will last your trip or better. With no crew to contend with, there is no urgency to leave in iffy weather...you go when it is right.

So I figured Offshore in the mornings you would have breakfast (as usual), read a book or magazine, listen to music, and of course keep a look-out! The afternoon, lunch, doing the same or throw out a fishing line for awhile...check your luck. Check below, adjust sails, go over your navigation..... This is familiar, yes it is because I have been doing this all along on all my voyages for as long as I have been single handed sailing. But there is something different....I'm relaxed, very relaxed and one reason for it is that I'm not babysitting sick crew, cooking a ton of meals, and making sure the crew and all is safe and sound. I'm only dealing with me, no butler or maid to anyone but me...I never expected that!!

The night watch would be the toughest part of single handed sailing. As you know at night with no moon or stars because of clouds, it gets pretty dark. You really can't see anything in front of you. In the old days without Radar, you were blind. So today we have Radar and Chartplotters that allow you to plan the evening. On the Radar you can Set-up a 360 degree "Guard Area" a mile wide, so an alarm will sound if any boat , freighter, buoy, or such enters that zone as you Sail along. I Chart a course on the Chartplotter with waypoints that have arrivals every 20 minutes so an alarm will go off and alert me. So my Radar is my look-out and my Chartplotter is my alarm clock for 15 to 20 minute naps. The first night is the toughest, but like all things, your body gets used to it...Like your alarm clock going off 6 am in the morning for work, you're usually up already.

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