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DON'S LOG: stories, experience and advice

Mast Steps

When entering harbours and exploring coves in any area where the water is clear rather than using GPS navigation, electronic charts using that wonderful navigational instrument given to us at birth eyeball mark one backed up with a hand bearing hockey puck compass and the chart of the area on deck will save the boat from many groundings. Eye ball navigation is greatly improved if there is a bow lookout whose range of visibility is greatly increased if the bow lookout is standing on top of the bow pulpit. If the lookout is on the lower spreaders everything becomes crystal clear.

This is proved by Iolaire’s first cruise thru the Grenadines in 1961. No guides had been written to the area, neither I nor my crew had ever sailed in the Grenadines. We had taken our charts ashore to Grenada Yacht Club at 1700 to try and obtain some local information. Gordon Burton for the price of a few beers walked us thru the grenadines to St. Vincent. However I thought my crew had taken the charts back to Iolaire, he thought I had taken the charts back to the boat.

We only discovered that we had no charts on board as we left the north end of Grenada with a charter party of six young doctors from Bellevue Hospital in NY who were on a one month break. One of them Dr Paul Potter still sails regularly with me sixty years later.

I certainly was not going to turn back to St.George’s to retrieve the charts. I told my crew young Ed Pionkowski to tie one cockpit cushion to the starboard spreader, one to the port spreader and to make sure flag halyards were rigged port and starboard so we would be able to send Heineken beer up to the lookout. I said to him,”until we reach St. Vincent you or I will be on the spreaders doing eyeball navigation”. The cruise thru the grenadines went well no groundings or parkings (see below for definition of grounding /parking). We found our way into the Tobago Cays via the south entrance that today the only guide that describes that entrance is Street’s Guide Martinique to Trinidad.

Climbing Iolaire’s mast was easy as she had external halyards. At the age of 65 I had no problem in climbing the mast to the lower spreaders, but in 96 I started sailing the eastern Caribbean on L’ll Iolaire an engineless 28’ sloop(soon converted to a yawl) that had internal halyards. I immediately discovered that climbing the mast to the lower spreaders was difficult to the extent that I would seldom do it. Thus I immediately installed steps to the lower so that I could easily go aloft to pilot L’ll Iolaire into tight anchorages.

Thus I urge that all boats that cruise in areas where the water is clear, to install steps to the lower spreaders. Then whenever you are in shoal water, or an area where there are pinnacle rocks that might have been missed by a lead line survey done when the chart was made the skipper can send a crew member to the lower spreaders. From the lower spreaders everything is crystal clear.

If steps have been installed it is easy to send a crew member to the lower spreaders as lookout. If steps have not been installed with modern masts with internal halyards seldom is a crew sent to the lower spreaders and groundings result!!!

Grounding vs. parking

A yacht is aground when it has suddenly and unexspectly run aground in a dangerous position.

A yacht is parked when she is poking her nose into a sheltered harbour or cove and comes to a stop. The yacht is in no danger, no damage is done except to the skipper’s ego. Iolaire in the 54 years 3 months I owned her seldom was aground, but she has been parked dozens of times while I explored the eastern Caribbean, Venezuela and the off shore islands as far west as Aruba gathering information for my guides and the Imray Iolaire charts.

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