Bay Area Sailing School

Wayne's Comments Continued as of June, 2016

March, 2017 dispatch


On risk-taking and circumnavigation


Risk taking


On a recent course we were faced with the situation of needing to bring the boat from Galveston to Kemah.  NOAA reported that there were going to be west winds up to 25 mph “with gusts to 40 mph.”  On careful consideration the students and I decided to forego the experience and wait a day to return the boat.  It was not the steady wind of 25 kts which was problematic, but the gusts, given the ground we were going to be covering:

The Houston Ship Channel is quite shallow and has to be dredged regularly.  Therefore, there are “spoil banks” on either side of the channel, sometimes on the west, other times on the east.  From about marker ‘36’ upwards the spoil bank is on the east side.  Think about the implications of this before I give our thinking on the subject.

So:  One must always remember that a sailboat has a lot of “appendages” hanging down below the waterline - keel, rudder, skegs.  A helmsman can handle a steady wind by rudder control, but gusts of wind will often slam the boat over on its side because of the amount of “freeboard” (boat above the waterline).  If a gust has knocked the boat out of the channel and it ran aground on the spoil bank then the boat could not be controlled by the rudder.  You would have a situation where not only would there be a risk of taking water into the boat, but there would be a considerable risk to crew since the boat would be at the mercy of the wind and the waves and the ground spoil. 

In consideration of this situation (and others) we were in the position of considering risks.  There have been psychological studies on “risk-taking.”  What leads some people to take risks at one time, then choose to not take a risk at another time.  Of course, there are the teenage idiots who just have to experience a thrill of taking a risk, but I am talking instead of rational people choosing to take a risk.  Think about it:  When considering whether or not to take a risk you are making a calculated guess as to what you prefer - your current situation vs. one which might come about if you take the risk.  It turns out that people appear to be willing to take risks if their current situation is relatively intolerable.  And of course this makes sense.  You don’t see a lot of billionaires buying lottery tickets.  People take risks driving on the freeway when they just can’t stand being behind someone, even if the risk of passing gains them only a few yards. 

So, with the students on issue of whether to return the boat that day, the fact that they had had a very good day sailing the previous day and believed that they had already learned all that they were going to get out of the course made it such that they were quite happy thank you with their current situation and saw no reason to take the risk.  They did not wish to have the experience.  And this explains why novices rather than experienced people tend to take risks.  The experienced people have “been there, done that,” so they see no potential advantage to taking the risk.






I was recently asked to teach a combo (103/104) to a couple on their boat.  They planned to circumnavigate.  They had a beautiful Bristol and hadn’t taken her out into the bay.  So, this was my task: to show them how to heave-to and handle their boat in a crowded marina.  Of course, this is bread-and-butter for the combo so I wasn’t really teaching them how to circumnavigate, being something that I myself have not done.  As the saying goes: “see one, do one, teach one,”  you need to have done one to teach one.

It is not really surprising that a lot of people get into sailing because they want to “sail around the world.”  It has a sort of romantic sound, I guess.  I think that it has become so because of all of the adventurous tales told about circumnavigation.  For anyone interested in circumnavigating I recommend that you read: Slocum: Sailing Alone around the World (a classic written in high literary style); Tania Aebi Maiden Voyage (a young girl who has had little experience sailing and no experience navigating sets out to circumnavigate); Dumas: Sailing Alone Through the Roaring Forties (a great story which might make you wary of your ambition); A Desperate Voyage (a great read in which every mistake ever made is described graphically and humorously); Jack London: The Voyage of the Snark (The already-famous author set out from San Francisco in an incompleted boat, with inexperienced crew, a young wife and no navigation experience.  A steep learning curve).

There are a lot of how-to books.

As far as ASA courses, the 105,106,107 and 108 all would add needed experience and knowledge.  The 107 is celestial navigation and the 108 specifically deals with passage making and dealing with emergencies at sea.  The exam is a bear and takes several days to complete.

Frequently when people say that they want to “sail around the world,” the phrase is preceded by the phrase, “Some day Im going to quit this job(cubicle, traffic…) and sail around the world.”  That is probably not the right attitude for circumnavigation because you are going to be fully employed in keeping bad things from happening (not hitting something hard and keeping the water out of the boat).  It will be a full time job, and by “full time” I don’t mean a 40 hour week, I mean a 24/7 job, and that is assuming that you stay in the belt from 40 deg N and S latitude.  If you go outside of that, then the real adventure begins.

There are opportunities which arise to join sailors who are circumnavigating for legs of the trip.  Just google “crew wanted” and you’ll find a lot of options for crew from novice to “yacht master.”


Wayne Cooper

Dec016 Dispatch


Phase Changes:  The Caribbean, Your Refrigerator and on being lost in the fog:


On Columbus Day and the Caribbean


With the passage of Columbus Day in October, I was thinking about the coincidence of several things: 


a. The fact that the Caribbean is the first area Columbus visited on his voyage, b. This is the area of piracy, and c. This is the most popular area for pleasure sailing as well as the area most affected by hurricanes.


Are these really coincidences?

It turns out that the answer is No - because of a particular global effect known as the ‘Coriolus’ effect.  If you do a Wiki search you’ll learn that this effect owes it existence to the Earth’s rotation.  It acts to the right in Northern hemisphere and to the left in the Southern hemisphere (when viewed from the North Pole).  This means that the predominant winds in the northern hemisphere in the Atlantic flow from the Iberian peninsula (Spain and Portugal) to the Caribbean.   Likewise, given the fact that the dominant sails available to large ships in the 15th century were square sails, which can only sail downwind, these winds will drive square riggers to these waters.  The Spanish found lots of gold and silver in the “New World.”  Given the fact that they could not sail against the wind to return to Europe they had to stage their return in the Caribbean and then follow the Gulf Stream up the Atlantic until they could swing around and cross over the “pond.”  The other powers in Europe refused to accept the Spanish monopoly so they pulled a Willie Horton - they went to where the money was.  Soon after Spain and Portugal were given a monopoly on the discoveries, Protestant England and Catholic France decided that piracy was not considered to be an illegal activity in the competition with Spain, but was sanctioned by the ruling powers of Europe, particularly, Queen Elizabeth I, who stated: “The use of the sea and air is common to all; neither can any title to the ocean belong to any people or private man”.  Her favorite pirate was Francis Drake, whom she knighted after his circumnavigation, during which he named “discoveries” after her.

The stakes involved were enormous. On September 26, 1583, the treasure fleet from the New World brought a shipment of fifteen million pesos in bullion.

So, in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Caribbean was like today’s Middle East, only the prize was not oil, but bullion, sugar and the slave trade.  By the end of the 17th century, Spain’s territorial monopoly had been whittled down to Cuba, Puerto Rico and the eastern two-thirds of Hispaniola and Trinidad. 



 And the Coreolis force drives hurricanes, which arise in the Atlantic, towards this area.  The area bounded by Puerto Rico, Bermuda and Miami are known as the “Bermuda triangle” and is famous for storms and lost ships and planes.  That also accounts for the popularity of the area for sailing in the season when there are no hurricanes - because there is the constant “trade winds,” that is, the winds produced by the force.  It is technically not a wind, but the movement of the earth under the atmosphere.


More on phase changes: Refrigeration and Engine cooling

The Caribbean also figured indirectly into the discovery of the means of refrigeration.  In the early 19th century, an enterprising New Englander came up with the scheme of cutting ice from frozen lakes in Massachusetts and transporting it to the Caribbean.  He made so much money with the venture that he and others started experimenting to see if they could come up with a method to transport refrigeration.  Eventually, It was discovered that a phase change from a solid to a liquid or liquid to a gas cools the atmosphere. 

What he was doing was taking advantage of chemical “phase changes”, based on Charles’ Law.

The cooling system of a diesel engine takes advantage of the same chemical process, only in reverse:  The heat from the engine is cooled by the antifreeze of the internal cooling system, which then is cooled by the sea water in the external system.  I have seen the phase changes used to deal with snakes, when LPG is sprayed from a tank onto a wriggling snake to freeze it solid to where it can be picked up like a stick and broken apart.  Or if you let the snake thaw out, it will wriggle away!


On being lost in the fog and more phase changes


Recently, on a combo course, we found ourselves enveloped in fog at one of the most dangerous places in the ship channel - right at marker 16, going north.  In clear visibility one can easily mistake the red “2” marker of the Texas City Channel for the next red marker in the Ship Channel, which is considerably further away.  If you mistakenly go for the red Texas City Channel you will be crossing the Ship Channel right in front of on-coming traffic.  Fortunately, my crew had anticipated such a situation and had plotted the course to the next Ship Channel marker, so that once the fog began to lift somewhat they were able to proceed to it rather than wander across the Ship Channel dangerously.

Until the fog lifted they also took the right action of staying around marker 16 so that they were not wandering around in the fog.  This is the same principle used in entering a channel at night, that is, one should have already plotted the course from one marker to the next and this is the course which should be followed rigorously.

A reminder:  The sounds you are supposed to make in decreased visibility (fog): 

(a) A power-driven vessel making way through the water shall sound at intervals of not more than 2 minutes one prolonged blast (4-6 seconds.

(b) A power-driven vessel underway but stopped and making no way through the water shall sound at intervals of not more than 2 minutes two prolonged blasts in succession with an interval of about 2 seconds between them.

(c) A vessel not under command, a vessel restricted in her ability to manuever, a vessel constrained by her draft, a sailing vessel, a vessel engaged in fishing and a vessel engaged in towing or pushing another vessel shall, shall, instead of the signals prescribed in paragraphs (a) or (b) of this Rule, sound at intervals of not more than 2 minutes three blasts in succession, namely, one prolonged by two short blasts.

One should recognize that, in case you encounter fog the standard horn of compressed air may not last long, so one should always have a spare.

What about a bell?  The rules state that a vessel of greater than 20 meters in length is to carry a bell, but this does not replace the horn.

But what causes fog?

Like pressure systems and wind, fog is caused by differences in air temperature.  Every particle of air has a temperature, called the dew point, at which the air becomes saturated with water.  If the particle already has a humidity of 100 % and is entirely saturated with water, it is at its dew point.  The lower the humidity, the more the air must be cooled to reach the dew point.  The converse is also true. A warm on shore wind may blow across an upwelling of cooler water and be chilled to its dew point.  This is why fog develops in San Francisco Bay, or in Maine in the afternoon.


Can fog be predicted?  To predict fog, you should know the dew point - the air temperature at which fog will form.  To help, there are two devices - a wet-bulb and a dry-bulb thermometer.  From the measurements taken one can consult a table which will tell you at what temperature fog will appear.  The Annapolis Book of Seamanship goes into the details.  One can purchase what is called a “sling psychrometer, which measures relative humidity and dew point.


What is more useful to have in fog?:


Chart plotter


Well, a horn is essential.  A chart plotter will find the channel marker and  radar will find the vessels.

If you are in a channel, the chart plotter would be preferable, but in a bay with mingling vessels, radar would be more useful.




1. Navigation Rules - International - Inland.  US Department of Homeland Security.  US Coast Guard.

2. Bohren, CF & Albrecht, BA.  Atmospheric Thermodynamics.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

3. Williams, E. From Columbus to Castro: The History of the Caribbean. New York: Random House, 1970.

4. Rousmaniere, J. The Annapolis Book of Seamanship.  (New York: Simon & Shuster, 1999).


June Dispatch:  On Capri, Cats and the Schengen


The Horror that is Capri

I recently captained a 52.4 ft. Beneteau Sloop in the Tyrhennian Sea (visiting Procida, Ischia, Ventotene and Ponza).  Capri was on our itinerary because it is one of the most famous islands in the Med.  My crew was looking forward to visiting the “Blue Grotto.”  We arrived at the “Grand Harbor”, on the north shore of the island, about 5 p.m. and dutifully called the marina on the VHF.  At first we received assurances that there were slips available, but by the time we got to the marina apparently all the slips were taken.  Rather than inform us of this situation the marina elected to not answer our calls!  Finally, we motored into the entrance of the marina.  It was dangerously busy with powerboats, sailboats and ferries coming and going, none of them seemingly attending to the rules of the road.  Since we could see no apparent slip to enter we elected to find the anchorage which is indicated in the “Italian Waters Pilot” book as being just west of the entrance.  The book indicates that the anchorage is 10 meters deep.  Unfortunately, the entire anchorage was covered with small powerboats and dinghies and the actual anchorage was marked as off-limits by yellow buoys.  So, we looked for an anchorage just outside of this area.  There were a few boats anchored there, one appeared to be about 100 ft. in length and another appeared to be about 50 ft.  But we found that the depth was from 35 to 40 meters!.  According to the standard rule of the ratio of rode to depth, this would have required deploying 160 meters of chain or 280 meters of rope (that’s 840 ft. of rope).   I know of no sailboat which carries that length of chain or rope because of the weight and the problem of later recovering the line. 

Since my crew, which had been a great crew all week, picking up the rhythms and responsibilities of cruising very rapidly, had a strong desire to visit Capri, I decided, with misgivings, to deploy our anchor, expecting that we could dinghy in to shore.  It turned out that we had 75 meters of chain, giving us not quite a 2:1 ratio.  It appeared that we held but I was anxious all night about the possibility of dragging anchor.  I had an excellent First Mate (a retired US Marine Colonel – they don’t get any better than that), who kept a close watch on the anchor.   As it turned out, we did not drag anchor, but that was just a random event in a universe of chance I suspect.  It was too far to dinghy in to shore and a water taxi that came out charged 20 Euro each way!

When it came time to retrieve the anchor we were presented with a real problem.  What is the weight of 120 ft. of ½ inch chain connected to a 121 lb. anchor?  According to the West Marine catalogue the chain weighs 2.8 lbs/ft.  All of this adds up to about 500 lbs.  It is obvious that a human cannot haul up this weight by hand, so one is entirely dependent on the anchor windlass.  But the question then arises, what is the capacity of an anchor windlass?  Again according to West Marine, an anchor windlass that will pull up ½ in. chain has a maximum pull of 3500 lbs.  So that seems all right, right?

But, then something else came into the picture – something called “duty cycle.”


As I understand “duty cycle” it means the percentage of one period in which a signal or system is active.  What this means for an electric motor is that all electric motors are designed to have a thermistor (temperature indicator) which turns the motor off when it reaches a certain temperature.  So, the bottom line is that you cannot pull up the anchor in one single period of running the motor.  You have to pulse it  ….on a few seconds….off a few seconds…on a few seconds…etc., otherwise you will burn out the motor, then you would be in a fix.

You do not necessarily know what the duty cycle of a motor is.  I’m told that it can be as little as 10 (meaning that the motor will have to rest 90 seconds for every 10 seconds you run it, or it may be as high as 50. 

One can google “duty cycle” and learn a lot more good information about the issue.


The important thing to remember is that when you deploy an anchor you must keep in mind how you are going to retrieve it in case something occurs that makes you have to move in a hurry (for example, you start to drag anchor in a squall and you are rapidly closing the distance between you and the pristine wooden boat which seemed to be a long way from you when you dropped anchor last night, and you cannot arouse the occupants of the boat who were up all night partying, which you chuckled about at that time but now find to be annoying because they are obviously unconscious in an alcohol driven stupor.  And it doesn’t help that one member of the crew tells you that the owner of that precious boat is a lawyer who bought the boat because he won a lot of money in a negligence law suit.

You may have to let your road free.


Now, you will need to know how much 200 ft. of ½ in. chain and a new 121 lb. anchor is going to cost.  Ill let you research that on your own.



Cats and the Schengen

If you have had the good fortune of visiting the office of Sackett’s Sailing (Bay Area Sailing School) in Watergate Marina, you will have met Robinson.  Robinson is in charge of everything.  He is a big lovable cat who sees to it that he knows what is going on everywhere, including on Glen’s (the owner and operator) desk, who, in response to Robinson’s expectations, interrupts his work to attend to his needs.  Robinson acts like he is a captive and if the front door is left open will bolt out the door.  But he doesn’t go far and waits to be picked up and returned.  He has his duties to perform, you know.

You will also meet Zsa Zsa.  She is the official security dog.  You may not immediately see her – she works undercover.


But this is not the kind of cat I want to discuss.  I want to introduce you to the “catenary.”  The catenary is the curve made when you attach two rigid objects by a line, like how a chain hangs between two posts.  In this sense, the term is used in anchoring jargon to designate the shape the rode takes as it leaves the bow of the boat and proceeds to the anchor.  This shape is why one can have a secure anchor with chain by deploying only 4:1 ratio while rope requires a 7:1 ratio.  Chain, being heavy, sinks down to the bottom directly below the bow and the chain itself, being heavy, creates a more square catenary than the curved one associated with a rope rode. 

And this gives you some information about dragging your anchor.  For your boat to drag its anchor it must pull the catenary out – in other words, the curve must be pulled out straight before the anchor can be moved.


If you can visualize this, you will be able to understand another peculiarity to using chain rode.  When you drop a rope road the boat will fall back with the wind so that after you have deployed your expected 7:1 ratio the boat will swing in an arc with that length of rode serving as the radius of the circle of your arc.  But when you drop a chain rode, because it is heavy it will drop straight down to the bottom and pile up on itself.  It will be only after several hours as the boat is moved one way then the other as a consequence of wind and current that the whole extent of the chain will be deployed.  What this means is that you might UNDERestimate the radius of your swing when you first drop a chain anchor.


The Schengen

 I would like to associate the anchoring catenary with the Schengen agreement, the agreement in the European Union in which if you enter one country in the Union you can travel freely to another in the Union without having to go through customs or passport control.

I mentioned in the May dispatch that Isaac Newton discovered the calculus in the 17th century when he left Cambridge to escape the plague and found himself with time on his hands.  Well, actually, to be more complete, it was not just Newton who discovered the calculus.  On the Continent, a German philosopher, Gottfred von Leibniz, discovered the calculus at virtually the same time.  Leibniz actually published his findings earlier, but from Newton’s notes it is clear that he had discovered it before Leibniz.  This simultaneity of discovery and some other oddities caused followers of each to accuse the other of plagiarism.  Nothing will arouse the emotions of a scientist like a priority dispute.  Sociologists of science write that this is the engine that drives science, scientists being as egotistical as the average guy. 

One of the mathematical challenges which arose was the solution by calculus of a curve which is similar to the catenary curve.  One continental mathematician (Nicholas Bernoulli) presented the problem as a challenge to mathematicians.  After some time, Leibniz and other mathematicians solved it, but the solution was not made public.  Since the problem was so hard, Bernouli was sure that he could prove the Newton was a fraud by demonstrating that he couldn’t solve the problem.  Newton solved the problem in less than a day, staying up until 4 a.m., but submitted his answer anonymously.  His answer was recognized, however, by one mathematician who stated, “one can tell the lion by its paws.”



It is too early to know if the Schengen zone is changed because of the Brexit, but I would suggest that you should expect it.  If it is, I hope that this does not discourage sailors from cruising because they come to be confronted by some of the same frustrations which caused them to think of escaping the land in the first place.

I know that it sounds a little preachy, but I believe that people living in the West have a moral duty to travel and get to know the people in other countries, and there is no better way to travel than cruising.  As I have said previously, when you arrive on a people’s shores you are treated differently than if you arrive by bus or airplane.  For, after-all, people who live on the shore are of the ocean, meaning that much of their livelihood is derived from the sea; everything from their home to their food is affected by the sea.  This means that they already have something in common with cruisers, and as a consequence more to share.  They will be welcoming and you will come to know them in a way which you otherwise would not have been able to do.

I like to use a metaphor of a window and a mirror.  Think of sitting in your lighted room during the day.  Through the window you can see the lawn, the mailbox and the street with the passing cars.  The window is transparent.  But as it gets dark, you can see outside less clearly, and the darker it gets the less you can see.  The window becomes a mirror – the darker it becomes outside, the better you can see yourself inside the room.  It is not coincidence that xenophobia and narcissism are often compatriots.  The more you come to love and appreciate yourself, the less effort you make to come to know those out in the darkness.  But, notice also, the darker it gets, the better those outside in the dark can see inside your room.  And they likely will not see you as you see yourself in the reflection in your mirror.  If you don’t like these physical facts then you have only two choices:  Blacken out your windows and live as in a cave, or take your light out into the darkness. 

As I have said, I often meet students who want to escape their world by cruising.   Sadly, I often find that they imagine the experience will be like it was for the original circumnavigators – Slocum, for example.  But Slocum accomplished his feat in 1899.  The world is not like it was in 1899 – rain forest natives are known to wear Michael Jordan tee-shirts!  One of my responsibilities as an ASA instructor is to show people how they can cruise safely.  And it is a joy and a pleasure to do that because virtually everyone who has this ambition is intelligent, articulate and a lover of nature.  Who better to be the ambassadors of our country?

So, even if the Schengen zone is abolished, don’t let this discourage you from cruising the Med. 

You should cruise not for escape but to acquire what the writer Andrew Solomon calls “social oxygen.”






  1. Italian Waters Cruising Guide
  2. Ibid, Katz, History of Mathematics.
  3. Hinz, ER. The Complete Book of Anchoring and Mooring.  Cornell Maritime Press, 2001.