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Safe to sail alone?

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Post Options Post Options   Quote dohertpk Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: Safe to sail alone?
    Posted: 28 Apr 13 at 12:16am
I'm wondering how/if it is safe to sail alone, and what precautions I need to take if so. I've been sailing my Laser for about a year now, and I want to spend more time on the water now that the weather is improving. I sail in a sheltered harbour, and there are usually clubs out on any given day of the week. One of the other Laser sailors in my club does a lot of solo sailing, but he is far more experienced than I am. That said, I'm comfortable with my capsize drills. Apart from the obvious (ie. checking to make sure a cyclone isn't closing in), what precautions should I take, or is this totally inadvisable? I'd really appreciate your feedback!
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Post Options Post Options   Quote JimC Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28 Apr 13 at 2:36am
I don't sail alone because there are quite a number of single points of failure on my boats that would render me unable to get into safety if they failed.

If you think about a cruising situation you would ordinarily expect to have two forms of propulsion in the boat, say sails and engine, sails and oars, that sort of thing, so if the mast breaks you can still get home.

In a racing situation my second form of getting in is the club safety boat, or if say I'm sailing the boat over the the IOW for an event then I'll sail in company and the second form of getting in is my mates boat.

I think you've got to ask yourself what your means of getting in is if, say, you lost mast, rudder or centreboard, and to what extent are you prepared to trust your neck to it... If you want to just carry a paddle, say, could you paddle well enough to get back the beach before the ebb tide washes you out to sea?

Edited by JimC - 28 Apr 13 at 2:37am
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Post Options Post Options   Quote rb_stretch Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28 Apr 13 at 8:25am
I've done quite a lot of sailing alone and whilst Jim's points are actually very sensible, like all things it life it is about the risk.

Sailing in a harbour usually means that there are plenty of other water users about. If you were to get in trouble, my general experience is that anyone will help if they see you are in trouble - so you just need to make sure you can signal in some way or have a HH VHF. For instance I've always been happy to sail alone in the Solent and any of the Solent harbours.

When younger my risk tolerance was perhaps a bit too high and I used to sometimes windsurf in v. remote locations with not a soul about in gale force winds. Even then I was managing risk, because I was always certain that if something broke, the wind/currents would take me to shore. I had to rely on the drift rescue technique twice so far, once due to broken mast and once due to a broken board.

Edited by rb_stretch - 28 Apr 13 at 8:27am
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Contender443 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28 Apr 13 at 8:34am
Always tell someone where you are going, what time you are leaving and what time you will be back. And if you are not back by that time to try and contact you. Take your mobile phone in a waterproof pouch.

Your backup person can then call for help if you don't turn up.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote PeterG Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28 Apr 13 at 9:07am
I think it depends very much on the circumstances. When I was a teenager I used to sail my Mirror on my own in a bay in Cornwall in the summer. But I always had oars on board, and the bay was a popular mooring, so there were generally several moored boats around. Plus I only sailed with an onshore wind.

Now I sail from Eastbourne there are generally few, or no, other boats about off the shore when the club is closed, and I now sail a Laser and a Contender, neither of which has room for oars! And neither would be easy to get to shore if that little pin you never though of as being a risk failed and left you unable to make progress in the right direction. So I don't do it. If I did I'd certainly choose my conditions very carefully, onshore wind etc and take a phone in a bag, just in case.


Edited by PeterG - 28 Apr 13 at 9:08am
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Post Options Post Options   Quote blueboy Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28 Apr 13 at 1:16pm
What you want to think through is: how likely is it that X happens and what would be the result if it did? Breakages, capsizes you cannot recover and capsize followed by separation from the boat being the likeliest. Then, what could you do to mitigate the risk e.g. carry a small multitool and some line for lash-up repairs? 

I used to climb and you got used to doing this quite systematically. How likely am I to fall here and if I did, what would happen? Do I therefore want to make this move or not? If my partner falls and injures himself, what I am able to do? You can't eliminate all risk but you can assess and manage it.

In small-boat solo sailing the main variables are the wind strength and direction, current and waves but also very much air and sea temperature.  When it's cold, a bad situation gets worse very quickly whereas in late summer, if it all goes horribly wrong your chances are far better. At this time of year the water is still pretty cold.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote pondmonkey Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28 Apr 13 at 1:23pm
Mobile phone, aqua pack, ernegency tenner, laser (little to go wrong if you're sensible (<BF4 on the shipping forecast for me)

It's a beach boat, sail inshore and do lots of little runs- or have a destination point if cruising further afield.

Enjoy it- more to life than racing and at least you have a boat NOT dedicated to racing with safety cover.

Edited by pondmonkey - 28 Apr 13 at 3:05pm
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Post Options Post Options   Quote gordon Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28 Apr 13 at 3:20pm
Dinghy cruising is the use of sailing dinghies for purposes other than racing - which can be anything from coastal sailing to pottering in a sheltered lake.

The Dinghy Cruising Association does publish safety recommendations - none of which seem applicable to a Laser.

Sailing on your own does mean not relying on other people to get you out of trouble. This is much the same ethos as climbers, hill-walkers, single-handed sailors...
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Rupert Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28 Apr 13 at 8:21pm
A sheltered harbour seems a pretty sensible place to start solo sailing, doesn't it? As time goes on, you'll get more experienced, learn to solve the problems that used to involve a rescue boat, what you need to carry (maybe put a hatch in the deck with a bag inside to store knife, multitool, etc - maybe even get a sail made with a zip in it so you can rig a halyard, reef even. Certainly get a Praddle, so you can paddle one handed when steering. Go play - maybe ensure that to begin with you have someone on the shore and stay in sight, and certainly always let someone know when you'll be back, and stick to it.

However, better yet is to find someone who wants to play too - it is more fun with 2 (or more), and safer.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote PeterV Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Apr 13 at 12:30pm
I have sailed alone in a Laser many times.  The most useful peice of kit is a spare short length of line tied to the back of the toestrap.  It's often tied on kicker or mainsheet blocks if they come undone and once tied the gooseneck to the tack when the rivets failed, on each occasion allowing me to sail home quite happily.  Best advice is to be sure of your own capability and always stay within it. 
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