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Cruising is about sailing from one interesting place to another,  even more interesting,  place:  around the next headland and into the next bay.

Most dinghy cruising sailors go there in the morning and come back,  often to the same slipway,  in the afternoon.

DCA rallies are usually two-day,  weekend,  events.   Outbound on Saturday,  back to the slipway on Sunday.   Saturday evening might be at an anchorage,  or in the pub;  overnight under canvas,  on the boat or in a B&B.   If,  on Sunday,  the cruise goes on to a new place then the sailors play the two-car trick.

Some dinghy sailors cruise long distances,  a day at a time,  for days or weeks and hundreds of miles.

The boat


The boat

A dinghy is a small open boat,  usually rowed but may have sails,  or even an engine.  On the other hand,  the DCA takes a far more liberal view of the definition:  anything goes.   Most dinghies can be cruised.   A glance at the DCA website reveals a huge range of sailing and rowing dinghies,  canoes and kayaks,  trimarans and catamarans.

There are several criteria:

  • It can be moved from place to place by road,  either on a trailer or on the roof of a car.   That said,  some of the DCA dinghies are too big or too heavy to move by road!

  • It should be seaworthy for the seas on which it sails.   A Mirror dinghy should not be asked to cross the North Sea.

  • It should be able to carry enough equipment and provisions for the intended cruise.   Frank Dye and his companions crossed from Scotland to Iceland and from Scotland to Norway in a Wayfarer dinghy,  carrying everything they needed for the voyage.   Frank was exceptional;  very few dinghy cruising folk attempt these kinds of voyages.

Cruising means different things to different people.

Allan cruises his Tideway for an afternoon,  or for a day,  around the lake or on the Broads.   He usually has one crew and sometimes sails in company with other boats.

Donna cruises her Roamer in the estuaries for a day or several,  sometimes eating aboard,  sometimes ashore and usually sleeping aboard overnight.   She rarely has crew,  but often sails in company with other boats.

Dave cruises his Mirror for days at a time,  sleeping and eating aboard.   He never has crew,  but often sails in company.   Search "Mirror Cruising" on YouTube.

Ala cruises his Paradox along the coast for days or a week at a time,  travelling from place to place,  eating and sleeping aboard.   He never has crew,  but often sails in company.   Rick also has a Paradox;  he cruises only the river,  never with crew and rarely in company.   Search "Building a Paradox" on the web.

Rodger cruises for days and weeks a a time,  often with crew and occasionally in company.

A racing dinghy is usually very light and shaped for best speed through (or on the surface of) the water.   Its crew is agile enough to respond quickly to changes in the wind,  and expects occasionally to capsize and recover the boat.   The crew will sail hard and wet for an hour or two and then change into warm dry clothes.

A cruising dinghy might be shaped for best speed through the water,  but is not designed to plane on the surface.   It carries all the equipment its crew needs for a day or ten away and the crew expects to stay warm and dry throughout.

In all dinghies the crew forms part of the ballast,  but cruising crews don't usually want to move quickly around the boat:  their equipment may get in the way and they aren't dressed for it.   The boat may carry ballast in addition to the crew and provisions,  often in the form of water or rocks.



It's often colder on the water than on the shore.

A racing dinghy sailor might sail hard for an hour or three and get thoroughly wet:  she then goes to the clubhouse,  takes a hot shower,  dresses in warm clothes and eats a hot meal.

The cruising sailor might sail gently all day and hope to stay warm and dry.   At the end of the day the anchorage (or the beach) may not have showers at all,  and the hot meal might be cooked over a camp stove.


Outer clothes should be waterproof.   A poncho is useful:  a waterproof workman's overall is better.   Yachtsman's salopettes and jacket are bulky and expensive.   A few sailors use dry-suits,  which many people find are uncomfortable and claustrophobic.

Middle layers should be warm and comfortable;  slightly loose is better than slightly tight.   Polypropylene fleece is good.

Inner layers should be absorbent and wicking:  they should keep you warm and move the sweat away from your body to keep your skin dry.


The advantage of layers is that in warm weather top layers can be removed:  in cold weather more layers can be added.


You’re more likely to get sunburned on the water than on shore.   In the dinghy you’ll spend far more time under the sun than you normally do.   Also,  the sun reflects up from the water,  so you get nearly twice the dose of rays.   Wear a broad-brimmed hat and be lavish with the sunblock.


Launching and recovering a dinghy is usually a wet business,  especially for your feet and legs.   This is the only useful time for those trousers that have zip-on legs;  take the legs off for launching and recovery,  zip them on again for warmth in the boat or on the slipway.

For your feet,  open plastic sandals are useful.   Wear them while you're paddling,  put your socks back on in the boat or on the slipway.   Neoprene wet-socks are cosy,  but hard to take off,  impossible to put on,  when wet.


It's worth making the effort to change your underwear at least once a day,  even if your cruise is only two days.




This is the most variable of necessities.

Many sailors carry tinned food;  others despise tins.   Plasticised sachets are good and the contents are often tasty,  but expensive.

Whatever you choose to carry,  weight is less of a worry for the dinghy cruiser than for the hiker.   Remember the fundamentals:  protein,  carbohydrate,  fat,  fibre,  fluid.   A balanced diet.

Vitamins and minerals are important.   Some vitamins are dissolved in fat,  some are dissolved in water.   Most vitamins are stable in food,  and during cooking,  for long periods,  but vitamin C is not,  so fresh,  raw fruit and/or vegetables are important.

Fresh water is vital.   Some sailors carry all their water in a large container,  with a tap;  this might be a bad idea;   If the one container gets contaminated you're left with no drinking water.   One,  two or four pint milk containers are useful,  but wash them out carefully before filling with water.   They stow in the bilges,  below the floorboards,  out of the light.

You're unlikely to have a refrigerator in your dinghy;  it'll use too much power.   But if you're cruising for just a day or two,  an insulated cold box might be a good idea.

A proper pantry is essential;  it keeps things together.   It might be a locker with a closeable door,  or a box securely fixed in place with a lockable lid.   It mustn't get in your way as you move around the boat,  and you shouldn't need to move it if you sleep aboard.   Use it for perishables and dry goods,  not for tins.

Tins should be stowed in the bilges,  under the floorboards.   The labels on the tins will get damp (even wet) and fall off:  take them off before you stow them and write on the tins with indelible marker pen.   If they are in the bilge for a long time they might rust:  bacteria will get into the tin through the rust pinholes and spoil the contents.   varnishing the tins will delay rusting;  a rapid turnover will not give the rust time to start.

Fruit and vegetables are best stored in hanging nets,  although that can be awkward to arrange in an open boat.

A galley box is a good idea;  it keeps the cooker,  pans and utensils all together in one place and prevents them scattering around the boat and tripping you up.

You'll probably need to design,  build and secure the pantry and the galley yourself.   Then  when you've cruised a season,  you can rearrange it all!




Very many small camp cooking stoves are available.   Some use compressed gas,  some paraffin (kerosene),  some alcohol,  some petrol,  some solid fuel tablets.  Some are capable of using several fuels.

Your cruising life will be easier if you can arrange your galley box (which canoeists call a wannigan) so that the cooker doesn't need to be moved to be used.

Most dinghy sailors keep their cooking very simple.   Some prepare gourmet meals.   Many look for the nearest pub.




Keep everything clean,  and as dry as possible.   The boat,  yourself,  your clothes,  your cooking equipment,  the trailer.   This may seem obvious,  but the temptation is high to neglect the cleaning of pots and plates when you'll be home later in the afternoon.

Cleaning the boat.  The boat gets muddy and salty;  East Coast estuary mud smells worse than can be imagined and,  when dry,  is almost impossible to clean off;   Salt scratches the paint and varnish.

Food debris falls between the floor boards and mixes with water in the bilges.   It grows bacteria and then it smells.

A loose (muddy) anchor can move around in a seaway and damage a light dinghy.  Equipment not packed away can get underfoot and cause injury.

Cleaning yourself.   You probably won't find showers at your campsite,  unless you find a marina or,  on a long voyage,  spend a night at an hotel.

It's not hard to boil a pint of water in your cooking pot,  mix it with the right amount of cold water and use a flannel and soap.   Be sure to clean out all the little nooks and crannies of your body,  because that's where the bacteria will grow in your sweat; their byproducts smell:  over a week or so they might even cause infections.   If you get the kind of soap that works in seawater (most don't) you don't even need to wash in your precious drinking water.

Moist cotton wipes are good,  if not very satisfying.   Many are treated with antibacterial fluids to keep you clean.

If all else fails,  do as the marines do:  scrub yourself with talcum powder or (in extremis) sand.

Cleaning your clothes.   This is not easy in a dinghy.   Take enough clean clothes to change often (especially your underwear) and then find a launderette every week or so.

Cooking equipment.   Stove,  pans,  plates,  cups,  cutlery:  all must be scrupulously cleaned.   If bacteria grow on food debris they'll smell,  and might cause food poisoning.   Clean and dry thoroughly.

Sea water is fine for the first (even hot) cleaning of cooking equipment.   River water might be OK,  but is more likely to be contaminated with sewage (where did you chuck the contents of your bucket?!).   When they are clean,  rinse with a little hot fresh water and then dry thoroughly.

Tea towels are,  bacteriologically,  the worst possible way of drying dishes.   They are contaminated with traces of food debris and washing-up liquid which,  because the towels are permanently damp,  grow bacteria.   These are then transferred to the next set of dishes to be 'dried'.

Paper towels are a good way to dry dishes but,  in a dinghy,  it's hard to keep the paper towels dry!

The best way is to rinse in fresh,  very hot water and allow to air dry.  The hot water kills the bugs and rinses away the washing up liquid:  the hot dishes dry quickly.

Cleaning the trailer.   Salt from the water and the road will cause rust on the metal frame.   The dirt will hide the rust and it'll get into the wheel bearings & the brakes.

Careful cleaning will reveal the things that need repair or maintenance and that could cause an accident.   Detergent and water and a brush will remove dirt and the sticky,  tarry road grime.   Rust can be held at bay by brushing diesel fuel into the metal and wiping away the excess:  the volatile hydrocarbons will evaporate and leave the heavier waxes to keep oxygen away from the metal.   Proprietary waxes are available which do the same thing.   This treatment needs to be often.   Fuel oils and waxes are lubricants:  keep them away from the brakes!   Some people suggest special paints to cover the rust;  I find that they simply hide the spreading corrosion.

When you arrive at the slipway your trailer wheel bearings will be hot.   When you immerse the bearings in water,  to launch the boat,  they cool rapidly,  contract and draw water (and salt) into the bearings.   This tends to wash out the lubricant and to corrode the  bearings.

Give the bearings time to cool down.   Inject a little more grease into them before and after launching and recovery.   Use the special waterproof caps available for trailer wheel bearings.

Keep the winch clean and well oiled.   Make sure that the ratchet works properly,  both ways,  and that the handle is securely attached.   Keep dirt out of the cog teeth:  a toothbrush is ideal!

Check the strap for wear and UV degradation.   Check the stitching.

If you leave your trailer standing for long (say,  over the winter) the tyres will deform and become damaged and the brakes will seize.

Lift the trailer onto wooden blocks under the frame,  not the tyres.   Leave the brakes off,  and spin the wheels occasionally.   Remember the jockey wheel.


Rubbish Disposal

When Cooke,  Tripp and McMullen sailed small boats it was normal to fill used tins and bottles with sea water and drop them overside.

Now,  in the early 21st century,  it's neither acceptable nor legal:  cruising dinghies will rarely sail far enough offshore to allow rubbish to be dumped at sea.

Tins,  bottles,  packets,  wrappings should be cleaned and stored in bags to be taken ashore.   Crush the cans and packets,  crumple the wrappings but don't break the bottles.

Food waste (banana skins,  apple cores,  orange skins) should be stored separately to be taken ashore.

Sewage is a form of food waste.

It's asking a lot for dinghy sailors to store their urine for disposal ashore,  although special sachets are available which convert the fluid into a gel.   Cat litter works in a similar way.

Many sailors use the 'bucket and chuck it' method of discarding faeces but,  again,  special disposal bags are available.

Ropework (under construction)

Knots   Bends   Hitches   Splices   Seizing   Whipping

Synthetic & Natural line   3-strand   Braided,   Plaited

Stays   Ha'lyards   Topping lift   Lazyjack   Sheets   Painter

Rode   Warps   Horse   Fenders   Preventer   Impeder   Lacing   Nettles


It has been said that 'rope' is on the reel and that when it is cut from the reel and put to use it becomes 'line'.

Line has many uses on a cruising dinghy.   They include stays & shrouds,  ha'lyards & dowhauls,  topping lifts,   lazy jacks,  sheets,  painter,  anchor rode,  mooring warps,  tack lines,  horses,  fender lines,  preventers,  'helm impeders',  uphauls & downhauls for centreboards,  leeboards and rudders,  lacing,  reefing nettles.

It can be used to secure items such as crutches,  oars,  loose items,  or as handles (beckets) for buckets,  boxes and chests.


A knot is the interweaving of a single line about itself.

An overhand knot or a figure of eight knot forms a simple stopper knot to prevent a line escaping through a sheave or fairlead.

A reef knot joins the two ends of a reefing nettle (or perhaps a parcel string):  it is insecure as a bend because it must be kept under tension.


A bend is the interweaving of two lines to make a single,  longer,  line.   A sheet bend,  or double sheet bend is a simple example.   the bend will be secure for as long as the joined lines are held in tension;  for a more permanent bend seize the tails to the standing parts.


A hitch attaches a line to a spar or a ring.   A round turn and two half hitches is a simple example;  probably the single most useful hitch of all.  A clove hitch is simpler and easier to tie,  but not as secure.    (A bowline is a knot when simply forming a loop,  a bend when two are used to join two lines and a hitch when made around a spar or ring.)


A splice is formed when the strands of a line are interwoven with the strands of the same or another line


A seizing is many tight turns of small stuff holding (or marrying) two lines,  or two parts of a single line,  together.


A whipping is many tight turns of small stuff holding together the strands at the end of a line.   It prevents the strands unravelling.

A 'butane splice' is neither a splice nor a true whipping:  it is the melting together of the ends of the strands of a synthetic line to prevent the strands unravelling.   It might (possibly) have a role on a farm or a building site,  but never on a boat.   The melting is achieved with the flame of a gas lighter or a 'hot knife'.   When you buy synthetic rope from a chandler the line is cut from the rope with a 'hot knife' (literally melted apart) so that both ends are sealed.   You should properly whip the ends as soon as possible:  a sailmakers whipping for 3-strand line and a sailor's or common whipping for braided line.

A whipping & a seizing

The line end has a sailmaker's whipping:  the loop is formed by seizing the parts


Traditionally,  dinghy stays and shrouds were made of steel wire,  which was stronger,  weight for weight,  than natural fibre line and early synthetic line,  and stretched less.

Modern synthetic line is now (early 21st Century) stronger by weight,  and less stretchy,  than steel wire so it seems reasonable that stays should be made of materials such as ultra high molecular weight (high modulus) polyethylene (brand names include Dyneema and Spectra).   Knots and bends do not hold well in such materials so joins and loops may be clamped,  but stays and shrouds can now be constructed by amateur dinghy sailors.


Like stays and shrouds,  ha'lyards should not stretch in use,  so high modulus polyethylene (HMP) seems a good,  lightweight choice.

Unlike stays and shrouds,  ha'lyards need to be handled,  if not very often:  HMP is thin and slippery and does not sit well in the hand.

The ha'lyard may be attached to the head of the sail with a ha'lyard hitch,  a buntline hitch,  a round turn and two half hitches or (preferably)  a boom hitch.

Topping lift
Topping lift

A topping lift supports the outer end of the boom (the inner end is supported by the gooseneck).

The lift runs from the outer end of the boom(where it might best be tied with a buntline hitch) to a block near the top of the mast and down to the deck,  where it is best secured to a cleat on the mast or a thwart.

The lift is used only when the sail is handed,  so that it and the boom do not fall down into the boat.   If a boom tent is used the tent can be draped over the horizontal boom,  held by the lift.

An alternative to a topping lift,  for the boom tent,  is a folding crutch which can be set up in the sternsheets or a boom gallows.

Boom tent


Boom crutch


Lazyjacks may be used with,  or instead of,  a topping lift when the sails are handed to gather them onto the top of the boom so that they do not fall into the boat.

A boom tent cannot now be draped over the boom,  but can,  with some advantage,  be slung under it.


Sheets are handled often;  in a cruising dinghy,  almost continuously;  so they need to be comfortably big and soft,  and to bend well around fairleads and small sheaves.   The larger sizes of HMP would be very expensive and still not very comfortable.

They need to keep stopper knots well,  and they should not stretch:  Both HMP and nylon are unsuitable.

Braided polypropylene might be better.

Where the jib sheet is one line,  attached at it's middle to the clew of the jib,  an overhand knot through the cringle (perhaps stopped with a seizing) will be enough.   The ends should have a figure of eight stopper knot,  or perhaps an Ashley stopper.

Where there are two jib sheets each one may be attached to the clew with a small bowline,  doubled through the cringle to minimize fraying.   Again,  the ends will have stopper knots.

Those who sail cruising dinghies with jibs usually secure the jib sheets (with jam cleats or similar) under way,  but often cleat them on the leeward side of the boat.   With the crew sitting close to the weather rail they can be hard to reach:   much better to bring the sheet across the boat to a cleat on the weather side.

The mainsheet of a dinghy should be held in the hand,  never cleated,  so that it can be released quickly in a squall.   It should be thick enough and soft enough to be comfortable.

The mainsheet can be tied to the boom with a round turn and two half hitches:  complex (or indeed,  any) hardware is unnecessary.  The mainsheet may pass through several blocks on the boom or in the boat;  they can be attached through their rings by a nettle tied with a reef knot.

The mainsheet might travel across the boat on a rope horse above the tiller.   The horse can be secured at both ends by bowlines or round turns and two half hitches.   It needs only to be long enough to clear the tiller.   If the sheet itself is in one part it can be tied to a block on the traveller with a buntline hitch:  if in two parts it will need one block for the traveller linked to a block for the bight of the sheet.

A cleat is usually provided where the mainsheet comes to hand but should never be used so that the sheet can be let go quickly in a gust.   Again,  a stopper knot is needed on the tail.


The painter should be a light line,  strong enough to hold the dinghy to a mooring buoy against a wind or tide.   It should float and it should be stretchy.   Polypropylene line is ideal.

The painter should be a little shorter than the dinghy,  so that if it falls in the water it will not reach the outboard propeller.

It should be secured to the ring at the stem of the dinghy with a round turn and two half hitches,  with the tail seized to the standing part.

When mooring for a short time the bight should be passed through the mooring ring and the tail secured to a cleat in the dinghy with a cleat hitch.   When mooring for a long time the tail should be secured with a round turn and two half hitches,  or the cleat hitch might be supplemented with two half hitches on the standing part,  not the horn.

I have not cited Grog's cleat hitch because I believe he makes too many figure eights.   The RYA suggests a round turn,  two figure eights and a round turn,  with no half hitch on the horn of the cleat.


A cruising dinghy will rarely anchor in more than 10 m of water,  so 60m of rode should be ample,  but a dinghy may not want to carry 60m of chain.   A good compromise might be 5m of chain attached to the anchor and 55m of line between the chain and the boat.

The chain should be heavy enough to lie on the bottom and to pull the anchor horizontally.   It should be attached to the stock of the anchor with a shackle moused with monel or copper wire.

The line should sink and stretch:  nylon is ideal,  but it should be replaced if overstretched.   If 3-stranded,  it should be attached to the chain with a chain splice and to the boat with a round turn and two half hitches or a buntline hitch.   The attachment point within the boat should be a strong ring or U bolt,  through-bolted,  not screwed.

The cleat or samson post to which the rode is attached when riding to the anchor should be very firmly attached to the boat.

The rode should be marked for length.   Some people use cable ties,  but they cut your hands badly when handling the rode.   Whipping is good:   it's easy on the hands and it runs through fairleads easily:   one 20mm whipping at 5m from the anchor,  two whippings 10m from the anchor,  3 at 15m,  and so on.


Mooring warps should stretch,  but need not float:  nylon is ideal.   a dinghy should have one warp between the bows (with a fairlead on each bow) and one on each quarter.   They should be attached with a round turn and two half hitches to cleats (or preferably posts) which are big enough and securely mounted.   A dinghy will rarely need springs.

Mooring warps should always be made fast on the boat,  not on the shore,  so that they can be cast off from the boat.   Use a round turn and two half hitches on a post or a cleat hitch on a cleat.


There is no reason for a cruising dinghy to have a metal horse,  or complicated tracks:  a simple rope horse above the tiller is enough to carry the block of the mainsheet.

The horse should be secured at both ends to firmly mounted rings (some skippers simply drill holes at the sheerwale (gunwale)) and tied with bowlines or round turns and two half hitches.


Fender lines should be long enough so that the height of the fenders can be adjusted to the different quaysides.

If the fenders are inflatable plastic they will have an eye at one (perhaps both) end,  and the line can be made to this with a bowline.   The tail should be made to an eyebolt (or similar) placed for that purpose with a clove hitch,  perhaps supplemented with a slipped half hitch.   The eyebolt might be within the dinghy so that the fender can be brought inboard without unshipping it,  and shipped by simply hanging the line over the sheerwale.

Any cord or line is suitable to hang fenders,  but it looks smart if they are all the same.

Rope fenders look very salty,  and are not difficult to make from lengths of old line.   It occupies the storm-bound days in a worthwhile way.


It's a little tricky to arrange preventers on a dinghy:  at the time when you need one you'll be reluctant to leave the helm to tie it to the stemhead and the boom.   So set up a pair of preventers permanently,  beforehand.

Prepare a line about the length of your dinghy,  middle it and lash or tie the middle to a stemhead fitting.   Tie a carabiner or snapshackle to each end of the line,  and attach it to the sheerwale as far aft as reasonable..   Attach a hard eye to an appropriate point on the boom.

Whichever side you have the boom when running downwind one or other of the lines will be immediately available as a preventer.

It's worth asking whether a preventer is a good idea in a dinghy!   With the mainsail locked in position between the sheet and the preventer a gybe is impossible:  but if the mainsail is caught aback it will cause an immediate and catastrophic capsize.   Perhaps it's better to keep the wind on the quarter.


John Huntingford described a dinghy helm impeder which is illustrated in the accompanying self-explanatory picture.

It can be assumed that the braided line is held in the plastic hooks with stopper knots.   The loop attaching the braided line to the elastic loop appears to be seized.

Helm impeder


These are among the most useful items on any small boat.   Both ends should be carefully whipped so that they remain useful.   They should be stored so that they drain of water;  possibly the best way is to  hang them on a rail or line on their own cow hitch.

A couple of reels of different sized small stuff will provide a great number in different sizes and lengths.

The nettles in the reefing points of the sails should be held into their cringles with a simple overhand knot on each side of the sail.  Each should be long enough to tie a reef knot below the reefed or furled sail (not around the boom) but not so long that they irritate the crew.


Most of us need a bed to sleep on:  if you can arrange a flat space a little longer and a bit wider than you are,  that'll make a bed.

You'll need shelter from the rain.   It's easy if your 'dinghy' has a small cabin or cuddy.   If not,  you'll need to drape a tarpaulin over the boom.

The West Wight Potter makes it easy;  it has a cabin a little more than half the length of the boat with flat planks on which to stretch out.   It's a fairly wide boat,  so there's space on both sides of the centreboard.

The Paradox is a little less easy:  it's 'cockpit' becomes a cabin when the hatch is closed and is not quite 6 ft (2m) long.

Most dinghies are open:  they have no deck or cabin.

However you arrange your bed and shelter,  it'll all need to be packed away for cruising.

In an open boat it's best if you can lay your mattress on the bottom boards,  but this means that there must be space between the centreboard and the side decks or the buoyancy tanks,  and there must be space between the bottom boards and the underside of the thwart.   Some boats have removable thwarts,  and this makes things easier.

If there isn't space for you on the cockpit sole then you'll need to arrange a platform on top of the centreboard and the side benches.

A mattress is more comfortable than the bare boards.

Camping mattresses are often self-inflating,  up to a point,  but a couple of lungsful of extra air make a difference.   They deflate and can be rolled into fairly small cylinders.   There's no harm in keeping them rolled tightly while you're cruising;  every time you unroll them the airpockets expand and inflate again.   But between cruises you should keep the mattress unrolled with the filler caps open,  otherwise they eventually fail to self-inflate.

Get the widest that will fit into your bedspace,  and the thickest that you can afford.

You'll need a sleeping bag:  blankets don't really work and a duvet is bulky and awkward to stow.

If you're a fairweather sailor a light summer bag will be enough.

If you sail early and late in the season you'll need a 'three-season' bag.

If you sail through the winter you'll need a serious,  and expensive,  bag,  or a liner.

Get one with a hood that pulls over your head and closes around your face.

Some bags have a zip down one side;  they are easy to get into and out of,  provided that the zip does not jam in the fabric.   Others,  like sacks,  have no zip.

I often wake cold in the small hours;  I've learned to keep a pair of thick socks,  fleece trousers and a top in the bag with me when I turn in.

Some people choose to sleep at night,  so they keep their natural diurnal cycle.

Others sleep when the tide turns foul and progress stops.   They might then be trying to sleep in daylight,  under a bright sun,  when a dark eyecover is needed.




An anchor is an important (arguably the most important) piece of safety equipment in the dinghy.   It'll stop the ebb carrying you out to sea and if the sails,  engine and oars fail it'll keep the boat still.   The anchor will keep the dinghy more or less still while you sleep,  or cook,  or relieve yourself.   Drudging the anchor in a tideway will slow the boat down and keep its bows,  or its stern,  to the stream to give you steering.   Two anchors are useful:  the bower should be heavier than the kedge,  and should always be attached to its rode,  which should always be attached to the boat.   The kedge could be kept in a stern locker,  close to 50m of line,  for use when necessary.

At sea.   Interpret this to mean a few metres from the beach in a sheltered bay or estuary or lake.   Use the bower anchor from one or other of the bows so that the dinghy rides almost head to wind or tide:  counteract,  or enhance,  the sheer with the rudder.   You won't normally need more than 60m of rode,  because you'll rarely anchor in more than 10m of water.   Whether the rode is chain or line is up to you,  but 5m of chain at the anchor is a good idea:  it's weight helps to keeps that part of the rode horizontal,  which,  in turn,  keeps the anchor in the ground.   The line should sink and be stretchy:  nylon is good.   If it has a breaking strain greater than the total weight of the boat it'll hold in most tides and winds.   If you follow the RYA maxim of using a scope of 6 times the depth remember that rode in the boat is wasted.

Mark the rode every 5m:  one whipping for every 5m is useful.   Thin whipping twine won't cut your fingers like cable ties will,  and it runs over fairleads more easily.

Near the beach.   Using a clothesline will enable you to pull the dinghy close to the beach and float it well away from the beach.   You might want to step ashore to relieve yourself or chat with companions.   If the tide is falling,  use the clothesline to pull the boat into deeper water.   When you've finished,  pull the boat to the beach,  step aboard and pull it into deeper water while you sleep or cook.

One way works like this:

Tie one end of a long line to the samson post or a bow cleat.

Pass the other end through the rings of both anchors.

Tie that end to the samson post.

As you approach the beach drop the bower anchor off the stern.

When you land on the beach take the kedge anchor as far up the beach as you can and dig it in.

You should now have a long line from the boat,  up the beach,  through the ring of the kedge,  down the beach and underwater to the bower,  through the ring of the bower and back to the boat.

By pulling on one part of the line or the other you can move the boat to deeper water or back to the beach;  you can do it from the boat or from the beach.

A slightly simpler way works like this:

Drop your anchor 20 or 30m from the beach.

Sail your boat onto the beach.

Take your kedge anchor ashore,  dig it into the beach and attach your rode to it.

Pull the boat away from,  and toward the beach with the anchor rode,

but you can only do this from the boat!

Up a creek.   Overnight in a narrow channel you won't want the dinghy to swing with the change of tide:  it'll touch the channel banks and stick aground as it swings.

Drop an anchor uptide (say,  from the stern) and let out twice the scope you'll need.   Then drop the other anchor downtide (say,  from the bows) with the correct scope.    Recover half the rode from the other anchor so that both are equal.   The dinghy will now ride to whichever anchor is upstream as the tide turns.

Anchor spring.   At anchor,  a deep keeled yacht will ride mostly to the tide.   A shallow draught boat will ride mostly to the wind.

Your dinghy will probably have a centreboard which you'll keep down if you expect to stay afloat,  or raise if you expect to rest on the bottom.   The boat might ride to the wind or to the tide:  experience will tell you.

If you'd like to face in another direction rig a spring to the anchor rode.   Tie a carabiner to a light line and clip the carabiner to the rode:  it'll slide down into the water some distance.   Attach the other end of the line to a cleat at the quarter.   By easing or hauling the line you'll be able to adjust the angle of the boat to wind or tide almost at will.

That spring has another use.   As you weigh anchor bring the rode aboard until the anchor is trailing awash;  secure the rode.   Then use the spring to bring the anchor aft into the well of the boat.   It'll save needing to secure the anchor in the bows and then rushing back to the tiller and sheets.

One DCA member uses a thimble instead of a carabiner:  his spring is permanently linked to his rode and he always carries his anchor in the middle of the boat rather than between the bows.   He does this partly because the 5m of chain at the anchor won't pass through the starboard bow fairlead,  partly because he likes the ballast effect of the anchor in the middle and partly because it's unsafe to handle the anchor on the raised foredeck of a 14ft boat!   He also finds that he can leave the anchor at the water surface while he gets the boat sailing so that most of that stinking East Coast mud gets washed off.






Rode marker


Mooring.  Mooring to a buoy differs from anchoring only in that you don't take the buoy and its anchors away with you;  it doesn't belong to you.   The corollary is that the owner might come back and want his buoy in the middle of the night,  and you'll have to move.   It might belong to the harbour authority and they might charge you for using it;  but beware of the tricksy opportunist in his dinghy who collects mooring fees before the harbour authority is awake!

Picking up a mooring is a little trickier than dropping an anchor.   Try to approach it upwind and uptide:  hand your sails as soon as you've hooked on.   It's easier if you can approach under oars or,  if you must,  under engine.

Leaving a mooring is easier than weighing anchor;  let go the warp,  set the sails and sail away!

There is no question that you should show an anchor light when anchored:  strangely,  it has been disputed whether a moored boat needs an anchor light.

Stability.   Dinghies often have little or no ballast,  except the moveable ballast of the crew:  they might be unstable when anchored or moored.   If the centreboard is weighted,  or made of metal,  keep it down when anchored:  if it's wooden,  keep it up.

In a swell or a chop the mast might act as a pendulum and eventually capsize the boat.   It could be worthwhile to lower the mast if the boat is to be left on a mooring for some time.

It might be advantageous to keep a couple of sacks of pebbles or sand in the bilges close to the centreboard.



Very few dinghy cruisers sail out of sight of land,  so navigation is all pilotage:  line of sight.   Prepare a pilotage plan and use it.   There will rarely be a need to plot a Course to Steer or to Estimate a Position.   Even so,  tidal streams and tidal heights are important.

A cruising dinghy rarely sails fast enough to oppose a decent tidal stream (Geriatrix is an exception) so the wise dinghy cruiser sails with the stream or,  occasionally,  across it.   This means that a tidal stream atlas,  and the ability to calculate the tidal hour,  is important.   A tide table,  giving the times and heights of high and low water,  is not enough:  streams and heights don't always go together.

Never sail without a nautical chart,  even in the estuary.   The chart will tell you where the buoys are,  so that you know where you are.   It'll tell you where the deeps and shallows are:  in combination with your tide table it'll tell you when and where you can dry out or keep your boat afloat.   There's a horse in the middle of the anchorage at Felixstowe Ferry;  you wouldn't know it was there if the chart didn't tell you.

The notes on your chart will tell you where the submarine cables are (don't hook your anchor on one!) and where the big ship channels are.   The big ships will be constrained by their draught,  so your dinghy will be the give way vessel.

When you're at sea,  out of the estuary,  a bearing compass will be very helpful.   One DCA member has a hand-held compass which also clips onto a bulkhead;  it changes from bearing compass to steering compass and back again in moments.   Your compass will tell you which way you're looking and which way the boat is pointing,  but not which way the boat is going.

If you can see where you want to be,  take bearings on it with the compass.   Steer the boat,  not toward your destination,  but at an angle which keeps your destination on a constant bearing.   If you can,  keep your destination in line with something else,  like a tree or an electricity pylon on a transit:  because of the tidal stream,  your dinghy might not be pointing that way.


Offshore means more than 7 miles from the shoreline:  in a dinghy you might not be able to see a low-lying shore.

You'll need a GPS instrument (or,  if you're purist,  a sextant and tables (if you're really brave,  read The Natural Navigator)) and training in offshore navigation:  start with the RYA Day Skipper theory and practical courses.

Crossing Lyme Bay could take you out of sight of land.  Crossing the Thames Estuary could,  too,  but you'd never be more than a mile or two from a large buoy.

A simple,  hand-held GPS,  in conjunction with a GPS web on your paper chart,  will fix your position in less than a minute to within less than a mile.   

A handheld chartplotter is both useful and dangerous.   It will tell you where you are  and where you're going,  but,  depending on the zoom of the scale,  it might hide really important detail.   You'll tend to keep your eyes on the chartplotter instead of outside the boat,  where they should be.   When the batteries fail,  you'll be lost.


Sailing at night is a joy.

The phosphorescence gleams and sparkles and fades in the bow waves and the wake.

The all-round white light reassures of your visibility to other craft;  they will be few.   Most dinghies are shorter than 7 metres,  so they don't need side lights and stern lights:  the IRPCS allow a torch with which to illuminate the sails,  but an all-round white light is more reliable.   It must be high enough so as not to blind the helmsman and low enough so as not to be mistaken for a star.   Don't let it be obscured by the sails.

If the moon is up it will lay a silver trail across the sea like the needle of a celestial compass.  But it won't point North or South!  And it will move over time!   Use it carefully,  because it tells the time and tide,  and its direction depends on the time.

The buoy lights flash and sparkle near and far.   In daylight many buoys disappear in the glare and the wave crests.   When you do find them,  they are black dots unrecognisable until almost aboard.   At night,  the buoy you need can be seen from miles,  perhaps five or ten.   There may be many of them,  spread along the horizon,  each one announcing its meaning and position to you,  the lone navigator.   Your chart tells where each buoy is;  continuously,  you know where you are.

By day the Nass Beacon,  off West Mersea,  masquerades as a tree on the distant shore;  it can't be seen until you're so close that it no longer matters.   By night its VQ.(3).5s can be seen from Clacton pier to guide the midnight mariner home.

By day landmarks might be smudges on the horizon,  obscured by haze or blinded by sunlight.   But by night the brilliance of the coastal towns and villages is separated by deep darkness.

When you reach your destination beach an even greater joy awaits as you snuggle into your sleeping bag,  sip at the glass of warm stuff and the tide leaves you high and dry and safe.

Minimising leeway

Minimising leeway

Because the wind is usually on one side of the boat there is a tendency for it to drift sideways;  all boats have some degree of leeway.

To minimize leeway most sailing dinghies use a centreboard,  some a daggerboard and a few use leeboards.   A few cruising dinghies have keels.


A dagger board is a ludicrous device.   Its case uses up valuable space inside the dinghy and almost always leaks at the joint between the case and the hull.   If the dagger board strikes the ground,  when the water is shallow,  the board or its case tends to break.   Lifting the board in shallow water interferes with the boom and can lead to a capsize.


A modern centre board is a little more sensible.   It pivots around a pin somewhere inside the case, so that when the board touches the ground it swings up inside the case, out of harm's way.   But still, the case occupies a lot of space, more than a dagger board,  inside the boat.

The pivot pin of most centreboards is very low down,  near the bottom boards and below the water line.   This is unfortunate in three ways.

Firstly,  the hole through which the pivot pin passes always leaks.

Secondly,  with the board down there is very little left inside the case to counteract the weight of leeway.

Thirdly,  if the board is removed (perhaps for painting or repair) it's very difficult to line up the holes in the case with the hole in the board to put the pin back.

With the pivot pin very high in the case,  above the waterline,  leaks don't matter.   With the board down the entire case,  not just the pin,  carries the weight of leeway.

Cruising dinghies often take the ground,  often intentionally.   The centreboard is then retracted into its case and mud and small stones get pushed into the slot.   A stone of the right (or is it the wrong?) size will jam immoveably.

Like a daggerboard case,  a centreboard case almost always leaks at the junction of case and hull.   Once built,  it's almost impossible to paint or clean inside a case.


Leeboards are the most sensible way to resist leeway:  the countries around the North Sea have been using them for centuries;  the Dutch still do.   Hanging from the sheer wales, outside the boat,  they use up none of the space inside,  but are as effective as either a centre board or a dagger board.   On touching the ground they swing upward as effectively as a centreboard.   There is no case or pivot pin to leak or block.   They are easy to inspect,  paint and repair.

Better than either daggerboards or centreboards,  leeboards can be shaped as asymmetric lifting foils.


Dagger boards,  centre boards and leeboards can be of high aspect ratio.   For the same area,  a plate of high aspect ratio is more effective at reducing leeway than one of low aspect ratio.   They can also be shaped,  like an aerofoil,  to reduce drag and turbulence.   The first two (dagger-and centre-boards) must be shaped symmetrically.   They need to be effective on both tacks,  so the aerofoil shape cannot oppose leeway by providing hydrodynamic lift.   Leeboards,  in contrast,  can be shaped asymmetrically and,  like an aircraft wing (underwater and at right angles!) can provide hydrodynamic lift to oppose leeway.


Dinghy keels (like the original centre-boards) are usually long and of very low aspect ratio,  so keeled dinghies tend to show more leeway than others.   The keel is always there,  below the boat,   so that when the dinghy is beached overnight it lists at an uncomfortable angle.

The only advantage of a keel is that,  like leeboards,  it leaves the well of the boat uncluttered.

Moving along

Moving along

The most common rig for a sailing dinghy is a triangular mainsail and a triangular jib;  usually known as a Bermudan rig.   The mast will probably be Marconi;  ie,  it has wire shrouds and stays.

If the mainsail is four-sided it often has a boom along the foot and a gaff along the head.   A true gaff might be at almost any angle above the horizontal,  but when the 'yard' is vertical it's known as a gunter.

The lug rig differs from the gaff in that the upper spar (here properly called a yard) extends forward of the mast.   The tack of a standing lugsail is attached at the base of the mast.   The tack of a dipping lugsail is attached at the stem or the leeward bow.   The tack of a balanced lugsail is attached at the forward end of the boom,  which extends forward of the mast.   The Chinese lugsail,  or junk rig,  is a balanced lug,  the sail having several horizontal battens each controlled by its own 'sheetlet' (or are they vangs?).

There are now two forms of sprit sail.   The original,  used by Thames barges,  is a quadrilateral sail the peak of which is held by a sprit supported at the base of the mast by a snotter.   The boomless sail is controlled by a sheet at the clew and a pair of vangs at the peak.   The more modern spritsail,  used by sailboards and small dinghies,  is a triangular sail the clew of which is extended by a sprit (a spritboom?) supported at the mast by a snotter.   This sail (originally a 'shoulder of mutton') is sometimes known as a 'leg'o'mutton'.


Probably the handiest rig for a cruising dinghy is the balanced lug.   It has few control lines (a ha'lyard,  a tack line and a sheet) and no standing rigging;  the mast is unstayed.

A number of DCA members use a standing lug.   Again,  few control lines and no standing rigging.

Possibly the least handy rig for a cruising dinghy is a Bermudan main with a jib and a Marconi mast.



Dinghies rarely have inboard engines,  but many cruising dinghies,  however else powered,  have small outboard engines.

There are no longer any diesel outboard engines suitable for cruising dinghies.

Petrol outboards are either two stroke or four stroke.

Two stroke engines are small,  light,  simple and usually noisy.   They are now ( in the C21) unable to meet European emissions regulations so are effectively banned and unavailable for boats.   Yet it is still (in 2017) legal to use two stroke outboard motors already built,  even the very noisy and polluting British Seagull.   Their fuel is a mixture of oil and petrol in a fairly precise ratio.   They are sometimes difficult to start.

Four stroke engines are smallish,  light,  complex and quiet;  if water-cooled,  they are very quiet.   They are easy to operate,  if less easy to repair.   Their fuel is ubiquitous low-octane petrol.


Electric outboard motors are easy to operate and very quiet.   They are very easy to start!   Electric batteries are less energy-dense than petrol so that the range of an electric outboard is less,  weight for weight,  than that of a petrol motor.   Since,  in a cruising dinghy,  a motor is used for only a short time on each voyage electric power may have advantages.



Many cruising dinghies,  whether they have sails or not,  have oars.   They are quieter,  easier to start and more energy efficient than most outboard motors.

Oars have three disadvantages:  they more than double the beam of the boat:  they are not as powerful against the wind as an outboard engine:  the operator is facing the wrong way.


Single Sculling oar

Wikipedia says that "Sculling is the use of oars to propel a boat by moving the oars through the water on both sides of the craft, or moving a single oar over the stern. By extension, the oars themselves are often referred to as sculls when used in this manner, and the boat itself may be referred to as a scull."

Not everyone can use a single sculling oar;  you need to understand the principle and then practice.

The yuloh,  or ro,  is a specialised oriental sculling oar which is much easier to use.



Mirage Drive

One DCA member cruises the East Coast and its rivers with a Hobie Tandem Island.    This fun (wet) beach trimaran has a triangular boomless sail,  a pair of double paddles and a Mirage Drive.

Trailer and car

Trailer and car

The law   Two-car trick   Reversing   Launching   Recovering

The law.   If you break the law while towing a trailer nobody will bother you.   Probably.

If you have an accident while breaking the law they'll throw the book at you.   It can be argued that there are no accidents;  things collide or break when someone didn't follow the rules.

The law exists not to control our behaviour but to allocate blame when someone gets hurt.


It is now (2018) illegal to build your own trailer for use in the UK,  unless you go to the trouble of gaining Individual Vehicle Approval.

If you use a standard,  production dinghy (like,  say,  a GP14 or a Mirror) you can buy a trailer for it which has European Community Whole Vehicle Type Approval (this,  of course,  might change after Brexit!)

If you have a non-standard dinghy,  you might need to have a trailer made (with IVA) or modified.


A common mistake is to use a trailer bigger (stronger springs) than needed for the boat:  the trailer will tend to bounce on its tyres and become less controllable.   It will damage your boat.

Weigh the boat and match the weight to the springs.

Adjust the balance of the boat on the trailer,  and rearrange the winch bracket and bows snubber to this balance.   The hitch should weigh no more than 7% of the weight of the boat and trailer when loaded and balanced.  It should also be no more than the stated maximum for the towbar on your car.

The hitch should lock firmly onto the towing ball:  there should be a wire or chain link which prevents the trailer escaping if the hitch breaks.


The size (weight) of dinghy that you can tow is determined by the Gross Train Weight of your car.   This is specified on a plate on one of the door jambs of your car.   It refers to the total weight of car and loaded trailer which must not be exceeded.

The weight of the loaded trailer is important too:  it determines whether or not the trailer must have its own brakes.


The number plate (registration plate) should be at the back of the trailer,  but where the load is a boat which might extend well beyond the back of the trailer the law allows the registration plate to be at the back of the boat.

The plate,  its lettering and its lights must conform to the law.   The letters and numbers must be the same as those on the front and the back of the towing vehicle.

Build your own lighting board if you wish (although it must conform with the law) but get the number plate made professionally:  you'll need proof of ownership and licensing of the towing car,  but it won't be expensive.   At any rate,  not as expensive as a fine!


The lighting board must have two red lights,  correctly spaced apart and the correct distance from the side of the trailer.   It must have one or two lights to illuminate the number plate.   It must have two orange indicator lights correctly spaced.   It must have two triangular red reflectors,  correctly spaced.   The lighting board must be wired so that the lights (especially the brake lights) are operated from the car.

Cheap lights have incandescent bulbs which often don't engage properly in the bulbholders,  and which fail often.   They might not be waterproof or weatherproof,  and are probably not vibration-proof.   LED lights are encapsulated and are usually waterproof and weatherproof.   The more expensive ones need no wiring and can be operated from the car by remote control.

LED indicator lamps draw less current than incandescent lamps,  so the flasher unit may not operate properly:  a 50W resistor (with heat sink) should be wired into each LED indicator lamp.


Driving a car and loaded trailer is not like driving a car.   The load distribution is different and the trailer tends to move the back of the car,  however little.

The trailer follows the car,  but not exactly.   As you turn a bend or corner the rear wheels of the car may be a foot or so nearer the inside of the bend than the front wheels.   The trailer wheels are even closer to the inside of the bend.   It's possible to turn a car into a gateway and then find that the trailer collides with a gatepost!

Legally,  the boat and trailer are a load for which you,  the driver,  are responsible.   If anything falls off and causes an accident,  you are responsible.   If the trailer breaks away from the car,  it's your problem.


As soon as you attach the trailer to the car,  the speed limits change!   Study the table at the front of your Highway Code.

Keep your trailer clean.


The two-car trick.

 Let's say you intend to cruise from Titchmarsh Marina,  in Walton Backwaters,  to Aldeburgh,  on the river Ore.

You and a friend drive two cars to Aldeburgh,  and leave the Austin there.

You both drive to Titchmarsh Marina and launch your dinghy.

Hours,  days or weeks later you arrive,  by dinghy,  at Aldeburgh and moor the boat.

You use the Austin to get both of you to Titchmarsh,  where one of you collects the Morris and trailer.

You drive the Morris and trailer to Aldeburgh and recover the dinghy.


What say?  You each have a dinghy,  and you want to sail in company?


Take both trailers to Titchmarsh Marina,  and leave them there.

Take both cars to Aldeburgh,  and leave the Austin there.

Take the Morris to Titchmarsh Marina,  leave it there and launch the boats.

When you arrive at Aldeburgh moor the dinghies,  and use the Austin to get both of you Titchmarsh Marina.

Drive both cars and trailers to Aldeburgh and recover the boats.


Reversing the car and trailer.

This is essential.   You might be able to manhandle the loaded trailer down the slipway;  unless your boat is very small,  you might not be able to drag it back up again.

Practice reversing the car and loaded trailer in a straight line,  then into a parking space.   Then practice reversing down a slipway.   Practice in the industrial estate at a weekend.   Practice,  and take lessons.   Practice some more.

Some people advocate twisting in the driving seat and looking over your shoulder.   This means that the pedals become awkward and difficult to use;  steering becomes one-handed;  and the boat blocks most of the view behind.

Here's a tip from an articulated lorry driving instructor.   Sit normally and comfortably in the seat.   Use the side mirrors of the car.   To keep the trailer reversing in a straight line turn the wheel toward the side where you can see more trailer.   You'll have more control over the car and a better view around the trailer.

If possible,  get someone to walk near the back of the trailer,  so that they can warn small children,  or daft adults,  or you.

Two car trick
The Law
Launching your dinghy

First,  find a slipway.

Then 'phone (e-mail rarely works) to find out whether you can use it,   what time it's available (relative to high water if it's tidal),  how much it costs to launch and recover,  whether you can park your car (and how much).   How busy is it likely to be?   The information on 'BoatLaunch' is provided by people like you:  it might be out-of-date.

When you arrive,  with your boat on its trailer,  park somewhere safe and explore on foot.   Where can you turn the car and trailer?   Is it safe to reverse?   Count the number of children playing,  and keep an eye on them.   How steep is the slipway?   How slippery is it?

Work out how you're going to launch the boat before you start!

Decide whether you're going to step the mast while parked or after you launch.   Are there any low trees or overhead wires that your mast might touch?

What is the tide doing?   Try to launch on a rising tide:  a falling tide might strand your boat while you're re-parking the car and trailer!

Remove the lighting board and cable and stow them in the car;  you do not want these to get wet!

Now reverse the trailer down to the water.   Stop when your tyres touch the water;  you don't want to get water into your trailer hubs.   The trailer hubs will be hot from the road journey;   if you immerse them in cold water the hot,  expanded metal will contract and draw water into the bearings.   The water will rust the bearings and the salt (from sea water) will scratch & damage them and accelerate the rusting.

Put on your lifejacket and put chocks behind the car wheels!

Release the tie-down straps and stow them carefully.

Make sure the painter is attached and hold it (or get someone reliable to hold it).   Carefully release the winch brake and adjust the ratchet;  the boat will (should) move downward off the trailer under its own weight.   Keep the winch handle under control and don't let it run away.   As the boat floats off the trailer use the painter to guide it away (to the waiting jetty,  if there is one.) and secure it.   If necessary,  put someone aboard to take the boat to a secure mooring.

Drive the car and trailer to their parking places.   Move your gear from the car to the boat.   Lock the car and the trailer and put the keys securely in a drybag which can float,  not in your pocket.

Sail away to paradise.

Alastair likes to 'dry-launch' his boat.

He arrives at the slipway at low water,  when no one else is about,  and reverses the trailer as close to the water as he can.

Many slipways end before low water,  so he often can't get to the water.

He then slides the boat off the trailer onto the concrete or the shingle,  sets an anchor as far out into the mud as possible and parks the car.

He puts the kettle on and waits for the tide to flood.   When his boat floats he pulls it into deeper water with the anchor rode.

He recovers the boat in the reverse way by beaching it on the bottom of the slipway an hour or so before low water,  when every one else has gone to the club bar,  and winches it onto his trailer.

Recovering your dinghy

First,  find your slipway.

If you're coming back to the same slipway it shouldn't be hard to find.   (Until this happens!)

If you're going to a different one you'll practice your navigation.

Moor your boat on the waiting jetty and remove as much gear as you can to make it as light as possible.

Reverse the trailer down to the water until the tyres touch.   The wheel bearings will be cold so immersing them matters less;  even so,  keep them dry if you can.

With the painter pull the boat onto the trailer rollers.   Attach the winch strap and winch the boat onto the trailer.   Move the car and trailer and boat to the car park and secure the load.

Sounds easy;  but it might not be.

If there's a cross-wind or tide the boat might not line up with the trailer,  and you might need another person up to their waist in water to keep the boat straight.

For a sturdy (fibreglass) boat a set of variable angle rollers at the back of the trailer will automatically align the boat as you winch it on.   For a light,  wooden boat a pair of vertical posts attached to the trailer will help.

Once the boat is on its trailer,  loaded and strapped down,  it's time for a cup of tea,  some carbohydrate and a short rest.   You need to put the cruise to rest in your mind,  let your body recover from the exertion of recovering the boat and prepare yourself for the journey home.   Then check the trailer again.


A strategy for starting

Can you reef,  can you right?   Both answers should be 'yes' before you start.   The other questions can be answered later.

The first steps

Take your dinghy to the water,  launch it and then park the car and trailer securely.   For the first time,  the water should be a lake so you needn't worry about the tide.

Row the boat out (Yes,  you'll need oars or an engine;  there's no rescue boat and it's too far to paddle.) and hoist the sails.   Your feet are wet;  they need to be dried and kept warm.

Can't set and hand the sails on the water?   Go ashore and rethink your sail-handling.

You're afloat,  and sailing.   It's time for a cup of tea;  where did you stow the flask?

So stop the boat,  by heaving to or by lying a'hull.

If you have a jib and main,  set the jib aback and put the tiller to l'ward;  the boat should lie fairly still,  hove to.   It won't?   OK,  furl the sails and deploy the sea anchor (if the water is shallow enough you could use the ground anchor,  but then you wouldn't be hove to!).

Lying a'hull,  by simply furling the sails and letting the boat do its thing,  is not nearly as comfortable as heaving to.

Can you move around the boat without capsizing?

So far,  so good.   While you're drinking your tea get out your notebook and pencil and jot down the things that didn't work well.   Keep a lookout,  to avoid drifting into danger.

If this cruise is not going well,  go back to the slipway and rearrange the things that didn't work.   Better still,  look at someone else's cruising dinghy to see how they sorted things out.

Let's recapitulate.

You (and your crew) couldn't launch without help?

You couldn't set and hand the sails on the water?

The boat threatened to capsize when you moved around,  hove to?

Your boat may not be suitable for cruising.   If it's a Fireball,  don't even think about it!

But let's suppose your boat is fairly stable,  it heaves to,  or lies well to the sea anchor and the sails don't crowd you out of the boat when you drop them.   You've arranged stowage for the flask,  the sandwich box and your dry clothes and shoes.

Get back on the lake.   Go somewhere:  a beach,  a cove,  around the headland.   This,  after all,  is the essence of cruising.

You've brought a packed luncheon;  will you eat on the boat,  at anchor?

Or will you go ashore and sit on a log?   If you do,  how will you secure the boat?   Will you get wet as you go ashore?   Take your socks,  shoes and a small towel in a bag.

Tea from a flask is not the best.   Next time,  you might bring a little camping stove,  a kettle,  water,  tea & milk and cups.   You'll need somewhere to stow them safely on the boat,  and somewhere to set them while you brew up.

After lunch you'll need a siesta.   Ashore or afloat?   Arrange a flat surface on the bottom boards or across the thwarts where you can lie flat,  perhaps with a camping mattress and a pillow.   Don't fall asleep under the sun!

At some stage,  all that tea will get to your bladder,  which you'll need to empty.

Men think it's macho to pass water over the side of a moving boat:  it's not,  it's just dangerous.   Heave to,  and use a bucket,  or a tin can,  or a little jug and rinse it over the side.

For women it's a little more complicated,  but stop the boat and give yourself time.

If your crew causes embarrassment,  you've got the wrong crew!

Sometimes,  it's not just your bladder,  it's your bowel that becomes uncomfortable.   If you're on a lake you need to get ashore.   Use your folding trowel to dig a hole,  and then to refill the hole,  putting the turf back on top as neatly as you can.   You did bring toilet tissues,  didn't you?   If not,  you could use the lake as a bidet.

Now you need to get back.   This will take longer than you expect,  so there should be no deadline;  no last train to catch.   Treat this as part of the cruise,  not a race home.

At the slipway,  take your time recovering the boat and securing the trailer.   You’re tired;  more tired than you know.   Put on dry socks and shoes (and anything else that got wet).   Check again the lashings and the lights.   Once more secure the loose gear.

Before you get in the car for the homeward journey,  have another brew.   Two columns in your notebook;  one for the things that went well,  one for the things you need to rearrange.

Enjoy your day-cruising.

One weekend you'll want to spend Saturday night on the boat,  and then you'll be hooked.

John Starkie

January 2019

A work in progress

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