UKWA Cruising Conference 2013, held at Notts. County Sailing Club

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Friday March 22nd ..

Snow, snow, snow. Friday’s forecast was for a weekend of the white stuff, but despite the unseasonable conditions, the numbers attending outstripped previous years. The weather didn’t deter those spending a couple of nights under canvas either. Fortified by a showing of Frank Dye’s film of his epic voyage to Norway and a rousing evening of music provided by Association members, the majority of attendees bedded down in their tents and campervans.

Saturday March 23rd ..

After a quick re-jig of the programme next morning to bring as many activities as possible indoors, Rance Noon kicked off with an appropriate explanation of how weather occurs in his talk ‘A Glider’s View of Cloud’. He explained the different cloud formations associated with warm fronts, cold fronts and occluded or mixed fronts.

Although thermals are mostly found over land they can make life difficult for sailors on lakes and estuaries. They are preceded by a lull in wind often followed by changes in wind direction and finally an increase in wind speed.

Sea breezes can pass 60 miles inland, and provide gliders with lift. But the effect of sea breezes on Wayfarers cannot be underestimated, said Matt Sharman. This year it will be very marked because the sea is colder than usual. Winds can spring up quickly, he said, and warned sailors to look out for a darkening of the surface of the water.

Why would you ever use a tent? That was the question posed by Steve Williams as he began his very entertaining talk on ‘Tarpology’. Tents suffer from moisture and lack security, he explained. Their zips clog with sand, their poles corrode and when you are faced by a grizzly bear, as he was on one of his expeditions, there is no way out.

Tarpaulins on the other hand are flexible, lightweight and you can do everything in them from cooking to going to the toilet. They can be set up by stringing cord between trees, oars or any other upright. The tarp can be lowered in rainy weather and raised to allow more ventilation. Steve introduced his audience to knots such as the peg knot, sheet bend and cat’s paw that can be used to attach rope ties to tarpaulins. He also showed us various commercial types of tarp.

Steve Payne demonstrated ‘how he packed his boat’ on recent trips to Greece and Scotland. With his guitar safely stowed in the bows he had three priorities:

1) Equalise the weight: put the heavy stuff around the mast.

2) Pack the stuff you want to get to frequently, such as food and fuel, close to hand (he stores food, tools and fuel in the back, along with ties, flares and a buoy, some items in a series of pockets made from a car boot tidy)

3) Stow the stuff you want once a day in the bow. (He also keeps a complete set of clothes up front in a dry bag next to a bag with wet weather gear).

Steve uses colour coded bags and boxes with tags hanging off them to aid identification and inflatable pillows and mattresses that fold to save space. In Greece he could have dispensed with some of the clothes he took. He had both a gas and a meths cooker, but found gas difficult to find in Greece.

“Everything has to do two things, if it can do three so much the better,” Steve explained. “Once you get set on a way of packing a boat, keep to it, so you can always put your hand on what you need.” He is also very conscious of safety. For anchoring he favours a 5 kilo danforth with 10m of chain and a grapple anchor.

Mike Playle is leading this year’s broads cruise which starts at Buckenham in Suffolk. “There are two ways to sail a boat well, one is to race, the other is to spend your days sailing on the broads,” said Mike.

The lagoons that form the Broads were created from ancient peat diggings. The landscape now is totally artificial since most of the marshes are below the river level and are only maintained by pumping. The commercial waterways that were once plied by sailing wherries, have a venerable yachting heritage too with many of the wherries being converted to pleasure craft.

To the north, the Hickling, Horsey and Martham broads are the jewels in the crown so far as Wayfarer sailing is concerned, according to Mike. However, he prefers the southern rivers with their hidden broads and staithes. The biggest hazards are other boats in unskilled hands and the fast tides in some areas

Matt Sharman’s talk on ‘Cruising on the East Coast Rivers’ was a tale of mud and sand. His cruising grounds stretch from Kent via the Thames, past the Essex rivers the Crouch and Burnham, then further north to the rivers of Suffolk: the Stour, Orwell, the busy Harwich docks area and the peaceful Deben. “My favourite spot in the whole world is the Butley Channel, a wonderful place with phenomenal wildlife,” said Matt.

Most of Matt’s sailing over the past 25 years has been done in North Norfolk where the mud gives way to sand. The creeks of Brancaster and Blakeney are high on his list of favourite sailing places, but he has ventured further north to the next nearest navigable estuary – the Humber – and on to the Northumbrian coast.

For all his life UKWA chairman John Mellor wanted to go the Firth of Clyde he finally did so recently, launching from Largs Yacht Haven and visiting Bute and Tarbet. The Puffin Dive Centre south of Oban is a great jumping off place for Mull, Jura, Staffa, Iona and Fingles Cave, he said. “There are some fierce tides but the inner Hebridean Islands are very safe, because the islands provide shelter.”

Ralph Roberts shared his expertise on ‘Anchors and Anchoring’. He demonstrated the pros and cons of the CQR, danforth, rond and bruce anchors. He explained how he uses a 10mm shock cord tied with a bowline to the anchor line and fastened to his boat to reduce tugging on his anchors. With two anchors set at right angles and fitted with shock cord, he has passed the night comfortably in a gale. The same technique can be used to reduce snubbing when tied up alongside.

Another of Ralph’s tips was to use a split tube to prevent lines from rubbing on rocks. A tripping line on a float was essential where there was a danger of an anchor getting stuck, he said. Others described their methods of stowing anchors “There are no two cruising Wayfarers the same,” Ralph pointed out. “The whole idea of this weekend is to share: 50% of the things on my boat I copied from someone else.”

An engineer and an ingenious inventor, Ralph also offered Wayfarers 10% off his patented aero luff spar genoa roller reefing system,, before the end of May, of which has recently gone on sale.

Matt Sharman carried out a poll of ‘what had gone wrong with people’s’ boats during his presentation on spares and repairs. Rudders and tillers turned out to be the most vulnerable items and Matt suggested cruisers should carry spares.

He unpacked the contents of his toolbox which included halliards, pins, bits of rope, a screwdriver, hacksaw, a pair of mole grips, spare universal joint for tiller, glue, two wire strops, electrical ties, pre drilled ply wood patches, adjustable spanner, a bit of electrical wire fashioned into a hook, bradawl, tape, epoxy putty, pliers, rubber bung, rear hatch clip, needles and thread.

After a candlelit supper, Kate Mellor gave a charming illustrated account of the Scottish cruise she and her father John made with a fleet of five boats through the Crinan Canal and up to Arisaig, just south of Mallaig. She even celebrated her birthday in a pink tutu while travelling through the canal.

Sunday March 24th ..

After a hearty breakfast on Sunday and with snow thinly covering the ground, Ralph Roberts and John Mellor turned to ‘Knots, Splices and Ropes’. Ralph ran through the basic knots: reef, clove hitch, round turn and two half hitches and the bowline. The back splice and eye splice were a bit more challenging.

John made sure we knew our ropes. Delegates were asked to identify polyester, polypropylene, nylon and dyneema ropes. There is a balance to be struck, according to John, between a thick rope that may be more difficult to handle and thinner diameters that can cause rope burn and jam in pulleys.

He recommended 8mm rope for mainsheets and 5mm or 4mm dyneema, which is stronger than steel, for the main halyard. He soon had us throwing ropes outside. The trick seemed to be to loop the rope in short lengths, divide them into two parts, one for each hand, and throw hard.

Matt gave a talk on setting up sails and masts to get more speed out of a boat. The first step is to adjust the stretcher and shrouds to provide one to 1.5 inches of prebend on the mast. All sails are cut to have a mast bending backward that amount, Matt explained.

The kicker is absolutely crucial in determining the shape of sails. It keeps the boom down and keeps the sail at the right tension. As a rule of thumb if the top flaps there is too little kicker tension, if it flaps at the bottom there is too much.

Tell tales also indicate how well a sail is performing they should stream back, flicking round the back of the main occasionally. If tell tales at the top of the sail are flicking back all the time the sail is too loose. If the same thing happens at the bottom of the sail, the kicker is probably too tight.

Matt pointed out that the kicker also pushes the mast forward flattening the sail and reducing its power. “People mostly have their kicker on too tight,” he said. Releasing the kicker when running before the wind allows the top of the sail to twist and present a greater area to the wind.

To keep the mast in the best position Matt suggested putting wood or plastic chocks between the mast and the forward end of the mast gate to counteract the push of the kicker.

The genoa car is used to change the sheeting angle. If the top of the genoa lifts move the car forward an inch or inch and a half. Conversely, if the lower tell tales are fluttering then the car needs to move back. Genoa adjustments can be done in the dinghy park.

If the tell tales are flapping on the leeward side of the sail when underway, ease out the genoa. The gap between the genoa and main is vital in increasing speed. Don’t want to constrict the flow of air through the slot, according to Matt, otherwise it will back end the main or channel air onto it from the leeward side.

Good helming, Matt pointed out, is a matter of concentration; he focuses a lot of his attention on the tell tales.

A session on the best rig for reefing which included a film of Matt putting in a reef in 50 seconds, the final sessions of the day were on using rollers to move a Wayfarer and how to winch a boat on a trolley up a slip using minimal muscle power.

Jeremy and Chris Codling rigged a block and tackle to a line coming from the top of the slip and used a climber’s prusik knot to move the blocks up the line. A prusik knot holds fast when pulled one way but will move easily the other way.

As we said our thank yous to our speakers and the welcoming staff at the Nottinghamshire Club and headed for home, I for one was glad we had beaten the snow and got plenty of great ideas for the cruising season ahead.

John Lamb