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The zen of tidying up after sailing

Keeping your ship in shape

Flaking a sail and securing the halyards and sheets can be true zen like experiences on a sailboat.

Maintaining shipshape state is an integral part of routine seamanship.  Some people see it as a chore.  We see it as a ritual.  I find there is a zen to tidying up a boat after a great day on the water.  It’s a process that helps you settle down, inspect all the gear, and reflect on the great day or the things that could have gone better.  Moreover, there’s a zen to coiling ropes one by one, and generally clearing the deck from the debris that accumulated while underway especially on a raucous day in a nice stiff breeze.

There are clear distinctions between tidying up a sailboat versus a powerboat.  A sailboat is a complex machine that is not always so easy to just park, cover up and leave behind after a good day on the water, like you can do with a powerboat.  With a power vessel, you turn off the ignition, empty the fridge, turn off the batteries, put on the cover, set the bird deterrents, and go home.  With a sailboat, there’s a lot more to do before going home to ensure that she’s ready to go the next time and doesn’t get into trouble on her own when you’re away. 

Aboard Aleria, we have quite the collection of stuff that gets deployed while underway.  We have two masts so there is plenty of rigging.  We have two sails on the booms with two sail covers over them.  We have two headstays, with more ropes to add to the collection.  We have cushions and pillows, anchors, flags with their own halyards, wash down pumps and hoses, awnings, ropes, fenders, fishing gear, buckets, pots and pans, and BBQ tools.  We have lots of stuff as this is our home away from home.  And in the course of a weekend, most of it gets deployed at one time or another. 

As you know, on a sailboat, anything that doesn’t get immediately stowed before getting underway gets thrown into the maelstrom of destruction below and above when the boat heels.  So, it’s very important to maintain order at all times and our rituals in getting started and settling up when done are routines we’ve settled into over time. 

Getting started

Depending on how eager we are to get started, we either get things going while motoring out of the harbor or while still at the mooring.   First, the wheel cover, then the engine oil check.  Turn on the batteries, check the power availability.  Check the bilge and bilge pump.  Check the fuel and water.  Check for any gear that may have been damaged while we were away.  Start the engine.  Bring up the life jackets and cushions while the engine is warming up.  Remove the mooring bridles and secure them onto the tall buoy in such a way that they won’t be a tangled mess when we return. And we’re off, making sure not to snag any lines with our prop. 

While underway, take off the sail covers and stow them, free the sheets, and attach the halyards.  Point into the wind as soon as clear of any hazards in the harbor and hoist the sails.  Voila, we are sailing.  Engine off.  Headsails out.  Three, two, one…RELAX!

Tidying up

The reverse is not quite so simple.  As we’re heading in to the harbor, we start the engine, furl the headsail, drop the main and mizzen, and start to dig through the mess.  The first order of business is to move the anchor off the bow roller if we anchored over the weekend.  That keeps the anchor from potentially sawing through our mooring bridle in rough weather.  Once we’ve picked up our mooring and settled down, the work begins. 

Next month, coiling ropes and throwing ropes. The art of rope handling.

The flaking of the sails is a ritual unto itself.  Alex always takes the main and I always take the mizzen.  He’s bigger after all and can handle the main more easily than I.  Yet we both do pretty much the same things in the same order.  Flake the sail on the boom, tie the sail ties in succession, and secure the head of the sail.  Remove the halyard from the head of the sail and secure to the boom so it doesn’t bang against the mast.  Tighten the halyard, coil the rope and secure on a cleat at the mast.  One BIG job completed. Check.

Next come the ropes.  Tighten and coil the main and mizzen sheets and stow them where they belong.  Stow the winch handles.  Next coil the sheets for the headsails on the winches.  Coil the roller furler rope. Finally put on the sail covers.  Secure the wheel so the rudder doesn’t flap back and forth, and put on the wheel cover.  Hmm, it's starting to look a little better.

Walk the decks to see what debris remains.  Stow any buckets, and coil hoses.  Put away dock lines and fenders.  Stow the cushions below, bring the trash and stuff returning home back on deck.

Remove flags and secure halyards.  Check to see that all ports and hatches are closed and locked.  Turn off the power supply.  Lock the companionway door.  Take one final look around.  Are the mooring bridles properly secured with chafe protection in the right place?  Is the lazy bridle deployed?  Is the anchor stowed safely?   Is the headsail wrapped securely, and are the covers on properly so they won’t break away in a heavy blow?  Is the lightning protection deployed?  Did we overlook anything that might cause a problem? 

Now that everything is in its place, we can leave in peace knowing that we’ve done everything we can to protect our precious cargo. There was zen in the ritual and a peace and calmness that comes with order and with knowing you did your best.    And the process can start all over again when next we return. 


Joy of sailingCoastal Boating (Reg. in Ireland No. 443222) is a division of Knowledge Clinic Ltd.
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