At Sea or at Bay

Originally published in several Maryland newspapers, 3/23/90     

At Sea or at Bay 
by Tom Dove 
Several hundred sailors will flock to the annual Safety at Sea Seminar at the Naval Academy on the weekend of March 31 to hear about preparation for offshore voyaging. They will get a chance to compare coastal cruising with blue water sailing by listening to people who have spent a lot of time “out there.”

They may come away with some misconceptions. These excellent programs are aimed at safety “at sea,” not necessarily “at bay.” There is a lot of difference between a two-week cruise on the Chesapeake or a short passage up the coast to New York and an open ocean passage to Bermuda or the Caribbean.

Crossing an ocean requires a different attitude and different equipment than does coastal cruising in semiprotected waters.  Sailors who prepare for an ocean voyage when they are going only to Norfolk or Nantucket may never make the trip. They will become bogged down in the details, will buy too much equipment and probably will choose the wrong boat.

There are plenty of people who have spent years preparing for every eventuality they might meet on a trip down the Intracoastal Waterway and then died before getting underway. Thus, overpreparation for simple events may be the most hazardous thing of all.

Mass-produced, lightly constructed boats are perfectly satisfactory for years of coastal sailing. These vessels are designed to have lots of interior space, to move well in light airs, and to be affordable by average families.

Ocean sailors have different requirements. They need stronger boats and equipment that will sustain them when no assistance is at hand.¬†An ideal ocean-crossing yacht will spend the summer stationary in the Chesapeake’s light summer breezes and its deep keel will find every shoal in the Bay.

Many multihulls offer a good compromise between coastal and ocean sailing demands, but you will not hear about them at the Safety at Sea Seminars. The seminars are run by traditionalists who sneer at catamarans and trimarans, ignoring the fact that all the major ocean racing records are now held by fast, seaworthy multihull boats.

Let’s compare equipment for coastal sailing and offshore  voyaging. You do not need a ballasted liferaft lashed to the deck for a trip down the Chesapeake. Your dinghy with its built-in flotation will do just fine and it can take you ashore at the next anchorage, as well.

The widely advertised Lifesling device for retrieving a crewmember overboard is not as simple to operate as the ads would have you believe. At a Safety at Sea Seminar a few years ago, the experienced sailor who was demonstrating that device was unable to deploy it until she had sailed far beyond her “victim”, then she was unable to get him back aboard. In Bay waters, I did not see how using a Lifesling was any simpler than stopping the boat and handing the man overboard a line to help him climb onto a stern platform. Offshore, in ten-foot seas, it might work better.

Emergency maneuvering requirements are different in semiprotected waters, too. The Naval Academy now uses the ”Quick Stop” method for returning to the location of a crewmember overboard, and it is an improvement over their former practice of reaching away from the victim for a known time, coming about and reaching back for the same time.

Seminar presenters will pooh-pooh an equally efficient method that is perfectly suitable for Bay use – gybing around immediately after the person falls overboard. This simple maneuver puts the boat downwind of the victim, heading into the wind and, if practiced a few times, provides excellent control. Gybing to pick up a person overboard works beautifully in seas less than about five feet and has the advantage of being a familiar maneuver. It is related to the procedure you would use to approach a mooring.

A Seminar presenter rejected the technique out of hand, saying, “Don’t ever gybe. Gybing is a dangerous maneuver.” That’s true enough in rough conditions offshore but patently absurd in normal conditions on the Bay.

By all means, attend one of the offshore seminars if you plan to sail on the open ocean. Take the advice of these salty experts when you will be far at sea, but temper it with reason when you are cruising on the Chesapeake.

Perhaps some group could start a related series of programs geared to the needs of coastal and Bay sailors. There is an -audience that is hungry for the information.  

— The End —  

This lovely Presto 30 will go into shallow waters and sail in light winds faster and more safely than any ocean voyager will do — but choose another design to cross the Atlantic.