Thursday, September 18, 2014

Knot tied down

Recently on a cool, beautiful evening at the marina, I was assisting a neighboring slip holder as he attempted to get his boat tied up in his slip. This sailor is not new to boats, in fact he has been sailing for years, from what I have heard. Watching him tie his dock lines on the cleats, it hit home for me that there are many "experienced" boaters out there who still don't know how to properly fasten a line to a cleat. After I was done helping him, I took a walk up and down the docks in my marina and did a little unscientific survey of my own. I wanted to see how many boats had their lines properly cleated, versus having a big pile of line on top. After my little survey, it would appear that proper cleat tying is a dying art. Actually, there are many things about good seamanship that are a dying art. Many states now require boaters to pass a "Safe Boating Course" but there is no section on proper knot tying of any kind. This is my attempt at helping with the problem.

How you should NOT tie your cleat knots
I thought it would be helpful to share a little bit of information on how to properly secure a line to a cleat with the minimal number or wraps and prevent jamming. Whenever I have guests aboard September Song, I almost always feel the need to go behind them and tie the lines to my satisfaction after we are docked. After all, it is my boat and I want it to be there when I come back, and I also want to make sure it is safely kept away from pilings and docks so that the nice, shiny, scratch free hull stays that way!

The biggest mistake most people make is that they  just keep wrapping the line over and over in a figure eight until the cleat is completely buried. Often, they compound that mistake by securing every turn with a locking hitch. If you ever need to untie the cleat above in an emergency, you would be better off cutting the line with a knife.

How to tie a proper cleat hitch
Tying a proper cleat hitch is as follows:  You must start your cleat hitch on the end of the cleat AWAY from the load. This will distribute the pulling load across all of the bolts holding the cleat down instead of just one end. The first turn of the line around the cleat should go around the base of the cleat - under each horn ONCE and then begin the figure-eight pattern. Do not continue the first wrap around the base back to where you started. This could create a jammed line if you're trying to untie it while it is under load. You will see in the image here,  that after the base wrap goes under both horns, it is then crossed over the top of the cleat to the opposite side. Then you do that once more, and finish with a locking hitch. Take care to twist the locking hitch in the proper direction as illustrated here. When finished, your knot should look like a bridge with two roads running under it. If your knot looks like a pair of ski goggles instead of the finished knot on the right, it means you've twisted the locking hitch in the wrong direction. This is important because when you twist the locking hitch incorrectly, it is possible for the knot to work itself loose over time, especially when the boat is drifting around the slip and tugging repeatedly on the dock line.

At the end of this blog post, there is a Wall of Shame, featuring some of the worst examples I could find online. I thought it might be creepy for me to walk around the marina taking pictures of other people's boats. Plus I don't want to embarrass any of my dock mates.  <grin>

One last thing about these hitches. Only use the locking hitch on dock lines and other important lines that you don't want to untie in a hurry. Never use the locking hitch on a jib sheet or main sheet. Use an extra crossover and call it done. If you get hit with a wind gust and need to dump the sail or tack unexpectedly, that extra time to untie the locking hitch could cost you precious time in an urgent situation.

What about all this left over line now that it's not wrapped around my cleat?

Properly tied cleat with a flemish coil beside it.
Not the best choice for long term stowage.

Many people think there's nothing more beautiful than a nice tight flemish coil laying on the deck. They are nice to look at but I would never leave one for weeks at a time (or longer). Over time, moisture and dirt will accumulate under the coil and leave dirty, moldy circle on your clean decks, as well as degrade and stain the line. Another problem is that the line gets all twisted and it doesn't handle well, especially after the curls have baked in the sun for weeks. As you can probably guess, I am not a fan of flemish coils. It's fine if you're leaving it for a couple days while cruising, but not for the long term.

Left: Lifeline Coil          Right: Hanging Coil
A better way to secure the lines would be to coil and hang them from a lifeline or other fitting that is convenient nearby. Two ways of hanging them are shown here,the lifeline coil, and the hanging coil.

I use a lifeline coil when, for instance, I want to keep a jib-furling line or other lighter line quickly accessible but out of the way. After coiling the line, I drape it over the top lifeline or pulpit railing. Reaching from inboard through the middle of the part of the coil nearest me, I grab all the line outboard and pull it through the loop inboard. (See photo, left.) It can be easily undone when it's time to use the line. Care should be taken to ensure that the line never comes under strain while coiled or it could pull your stanchions out.

The hanging coil is the traditional way, basically a regularly coiled line, secured with a wrap and the bitter end pulled through, which is then tied to whatever fitting is nearby. To fashion a hanging coil, coil a line and leave a longish tail, about three-quarters of a loop. Beginning about a quarter of the way down from where you're holding the coil, and starting low and working up, wrap the tail tightly around the whole coil, but no more than three or four times. Reach through the top part of the coil and pull a loop of the tail through. Take the remaining part of the tail and from the other side of the line put it through the loop you've just made. You'll have a neatly coiled line ready for hanging.

Cleat Hitch Wall of Shame

All the load is on one bolt at the dock.

At least he didn't use a flemish coil!

And the grand prize winner!

Class adjourned. Now GO SAILING!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Save The Pots!

Here on the Chesapeake Bay, during the summer months, it is very common to encounter large fields of crab pots while out boating. Many pleasure boaters hate them because the line that attaches the crab pot to its marker buoy can get wrapped around your propeller shaft and leave you stranded. It can be an issue during times of low visibility or at night. During the day, it's a matter of keeping a good watch and making course adjustments to get around them. Compounding the problem is that every waterman paints their buoys in a different color scheme. Some of the color choices are hard to see from a distance. I have even seen black ones. These are nearly invisible until you're right on top of them. At night, forget it! You will surely not see the black ones.

Enter line cutters. Line cutters are very sharp blades which attach to the propeller shaft of the vessel. If a line of any kind gets wrapped around the propeller, the blade will cut the line before it gets severely wrapped and fouls the prop or shaft. There are many different styles of line cutters for various different propeller arrangements. Sounds like a great idea, right? No more diving under your boat with a mask and a knife to cut away those pesky lines. Anyone who has had to do it will attest to the PITA factor, as well as the possibility of being injured while swimming under your boat while it is rocking in the waves.

Many years ago, I had a co-worker with a powerboat and he was proud of the fact that he had line cutters installed on his boat. When he encountered a field of crab pots, rather than carefully dodging them, he would just plow straight through them, cutting any lines he happened to encounter. By doing this, he was intentionally causing derelict crab pots. What's the big deal?, you say... That stupid waterman shouldn't have put these things in my way! I'll just cut the lines and teach him a lesson!

Now I don't necessarily have an issue with line cutters. It's a safety issue. If I pick up a stray line accidentally and it wraps around my prop shaft, it could render my boat inoperable at at an inconvenient or possibly dangerous moment depending on the current, wind, and surrounding shallow areas.

The "big deal" is the environmental and fisheries impact of all those derelict crab pots littering the seabed. In 2010, a study was done on the impact of derelict crab pots on the Chesapeake Bay. It is estimated that as many as 150,000 additional derelict crab pots are added each year by a combination of abandonment, buoy loss, and lines being cut. When a crab pot is lost, it continues to catch crabs because it still has bait in it, even though the waterman will never be able to retrieve it. Eventually, the crabs and fish that enter the pot will die, in effect re-baiting the trap and attracting more crabs and scavenger species. A lost crab pot will last about four years before it eventually rusts away and is no longer a hazard. Doing the math, that means that as many as 600,000 derelict crab pots are littering the Chesapeake Bay at any given time. The study estimates that every abandoned crab pot on the seabed will kill about 50 marketable crabs per season. That's up to 30 MILLION crabs a year lost to derelict pots! And that's just the marketable crabs. What about the smaller ones that are not marketable which are also killed? These crabs will never grow into larger, marketable crabs, and will not get a chance to reproduce for next year's crop. Here's a couple of pictures of derelict crab pots that were recovered during the study:

 So I've said all that to make a point about line cutters. I don't fault anyone for installing them. I get the safety aspect of having them installed. But please be responsible in their use. Consider them emergency equipment that is only used when you accidentally pick up a crab pot line. Don't go blindly plowing through every crab pot field in your path without regard for all the marine life you will kill, as well as the livelihood of the watermen who  spend their lives doing hard work so that you can eat delicious steamed crabs. Just one more way you can do your little part to help the bay and the environment.