Advice for a beginning schooner sailor?
October 2, 2007 7:06 AM   Subscribe

Sailors of MeFi unite -- with any advice you have for a first-timer on a short-ish sail!

So, in one week I'll be leaving on a century-old barkentine to sail in the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner race. This is my first more-than-daylong sail, so I'm looking for any kind of advice anyone has. I don't have to worry about food or cooking -- we've got a cook and at most I'll be helping out in the galley now and then. I'll have a berth about six feet by four, and room for a small seabag, so obviously I'll be packing light.

Any advice for a first-time sailor? The crew will be around thirty people, and everyone's pretty laid-back, although of course professional about the mechanics of sailing. (Hanging off of a yardarm thirty-plus feet above deck kind of encourages rapt attention.) How do I keep awake on that 0400 to 0800 watch and then go on to work a mostly-full day? Anything I can do to make my berth more comfy? I'm sure there's fifty things I haven't thought of yet, so any advice y'all have will be welcome.

Bonus points for suggesting a crew snack I can bring that will wow everyone :)
posted by kalimac to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Hi - looks fun! My must-haves are:

- Ziploc baggies to keep dry stuff, bits and bobs in
- Spare hat, socks and gloves (fingerless)
- Cut an old hand towel down into thirds, lengthways, and use it as a drip-stopping scarf - again, you've got two spares.
- For the 0400 watch, take a layer more than you think you'll need. If you can find them, a pair of those gel handwarmers for your pockets (the sort that you snap the metal disc in, they get hot for a few hours, and you boil to get them ready to re-use), but this assumes someone will let you boil them for 10 minutes. But mostly I rely on coffee, conversation, and bad singlaongs.
- LED headtorch and changes of battery. Get one with a red cover so you don't ruin your/others' night vision if you're up on deck.
- For a comfier bunk, I've found that there's not much you can do to change what you get, other than to take a seabag you can use as a pillow, a warm sleeping bag, and always go to bed so tired it doesn't matter where you sleep. On a race, that last bit will be taken care of! But for time off, the headtorch and a good book, iPod (keep it in a zippie), cards etc.

As for snacks, I always take some home-made chocolate-dipped oat flapjacks, or really dense brownies, or my wife's fruitcake with marzipan chunks in it - anything that will stand up to some rough treatment for a few days and still be delicious once it's been bashed about in a pocket for a few hours.

But the important thing is to wait until nearer the end of the race before you get your treat out (like on the last night), when everyone will appreciate it more!

Enjoy the race, it looks great fun.
posted by dowcrag at 7:57 AM on October 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Is it Gazela? I used to volunteer on her.

Previously on AskMe, some good tall-ship sailing advice:


Both are full of excellent tips. I posted in both of them, so all I would emphasize this time is that you go into this as a blank slate and devote your full attention to learning over the first few days. Sailors are famously 'laid back' when nothing's at stake and nothing's happening; you'll find they get a hell of a lot more serious when under way, let alone when racing. Be respectful. Listen. Do as you're told and don't stop doing whatever you're doing until someone tells you to stop. If you're unsure about the right way to do something, ask. Let someone know when you need help. Don't guess at things or assume they're all right - ask people to check your work or watch you do things to be sure you've got it right.

I've spent a lot of time on tall ships and these are the most important qualities in a crew member - not terminology, hot-doggery, or experience. In today's world, people rarely experience the kind of serious need for teamwork and consistent standards that you need for safety given the forces at work on a tall ship. Just be as malleable and helpful a crew member possible to get started.

Also, don't let the race part mess with your head. Sailing is sailing, and it's the OOD's job to figure out how to get the best performance out of the ship. Racing is regular sailing, only at peak performance. Again, just do as you're instructed, working as fast as is safe when tacking, furling, etc.

P.S. Terminology tips: a barkentine isn't usually called a schooner. The square sails on the fore mean it's classed as a square-rigger. The word 'schooner' typically refers to vessels that have two or more masts, all fore-and-aft rigged. Also, 'yardarm' is only the outermost foot-and-a-half or so of the yard, the part that sticks out beyond the clew of a sail. You'll mostly be hanging onto yards, not yardarms. But you will learn all this. Vessels all also have their own terms and traditions. "Different ships, different long splices," as they say.
posted by Miko at 8:14 AM on October 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Hm, I made a mistake: those threads weren't tall-ship-specific, though the basic life-at-sea advice is good. Anyway. I'll add a couple of things:

How to survive the dawn watch - it's tough, but you'll have adrenaline on your side. Your whole body clock will be screwy anyway. Just plan to sleep whenever you have the opportunity so you'll be fairly well rested. Also, coffee.

If your clothes are wet, always change them before getting into your bunk for sleep. Otherwise, you'll sleep badly, damply, and hypothermically.

Bring warmer clothes than you think you'll need. You'll do lots of layering. You'll be surprised that you may really need a range from t-shirt, shorts, and sandals to full sweaters, long johns, jeans, foulies, boots, gloves and cap on one trip. Don't worry about bringing a lot of clothes. People's standards of 'clean' are entirely different at sea and you don't need that many changes of clothes, just lots of layers.

You will definitely want a pillow for your berth. Also, take wool blanket(s) in addition to a sleeping bag. Keep your berth organized, place for everything and everything in its place, or you'll go nuts looking for stuff while crouched on top of it all.

Bring a good book and a journal, if you want. It's something to do to relax in your bunk. Privacy is hard to come by, and it's really nice sometimes to lay in your bunk, pull the curtain, and be in your own world.

Make sure you have good sunglasses and put them on a lanyard so they won't fall off when you're aloft. Also, a good hat with a brim for bright sunlight. Remove the hat while working so you don't get clocked on the head by something you can't see.

You'll have such a great time. Good luck!
posted by Miko at 8:23 AM on October 2, 2007

Response by poster: In order:

dowcrag, thank you especially for the snack suggestions -- dense brownies it will be, I think. And I'll be running out to get more ziplock bags today and digging out my spare warm-weather gear. It's going to be cool-ish on land, but of course colder at sea. (And since I have some experience going aloft, I'll either be sent up there or volunteer to go up as often as possible, so colder yet...)

Miko, yes, it is Gazela! Awesome! Thank you so so much for the advice on how to approach this. I'm definitely going in as someone with minimal experience, and having to ask for help, etc has been...a learning experience, let's say? But also a really good one; the kind of teamwork I've seen even on a daysail has been fantastic. Like you said, I'll just try to be open and malleable and ready for anything.

And thanks for the help with the schooner/yardarm terminology :) I had figured a schooner just had to be mostly rigged fore-and-aft, and it was the square sails that set barkentines and barques apart.
posted by kalimac at 9:46 AM on October 2, 2007

Seconding: Bring warmer clothes than you think you'll need. You'll do lots of layering. You'll be surprised that you may really need a range from t-shirt, shorts, and sandals to full sweaters, long johns, jeans, foulies, boots, gloves and cap on one trip.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:44 AM on October 2, 2007

Response by poster: Quick followup -- I got back from the race last Monday, and it was fantastic! I was very, very glad I'd brought a ton of layers, as the temperatures were between about 90 and, oh, 45 or so. Thanks again for all y'all's help :)
posted by kalimac at 1:03 PM on October 24, 2007

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