Back to Basics

By George Sass Jr.

One of the main attributes that sets Grand Banks owners apart from other boaters is that they collectively know a heck of a lot about being on the water. That’s mainly because, well, they spend a heck of a lot of time on the water.

I once worked for a captain, however, who told me that if I ever thought I knew everything, I’d better hang up my foul-weather gear and take up pottery. He was right. There are so many scenarios, combined with a multitude of variables, that it would be mathematically impossible to experience every challenge while at sea. To that end, we wanted to communicate a few skills that we thought every Grand Banks owner should know or be reminded of whether taking a GB46 up the Inside Passage, cruising the Florida panhandle on a GB42, or exploring the North Sea on an Aleutian. We’ll be employing some of these tactics in September when Grand Banks CEO Mark Richards takes the all-new Grand Banks 60 Skylounge from the Chesapeake Bay to Bermuda before returning for the Annapolis Boat Show on October 11.

Know every inch of your yacht

It seems like a basic prerequisite is that you should be familiar with the innards of your Grand Banks, Eastbay or Aleutian before leaving the dock. But ask yourself: Do I know the location of every through-hull fitting? If I begin to smell burning electrical wires, can I access my battery-disconnect switches easily? When was the last time I inspected the steering gear—hydraulic or cable? Take a tip from some of the commercial vessels that often post a plan-view schematic around the helm, which points out all the through-hull fittings and locations of the fire extinguisher and other emergency gear. This is also helpful if you tend to have a captain move your boat from time to time. 

Keep those dead reckoning skills polished

If you have a solid understanding of navigation, you’ll be able to get home in the event your electronics fail. Even the US Navy announced in 2017 that they were employing the basics again after several tragic, high-profile mishaps. For instance, any prudent yachtsman must understand dead reckoning. The key to dead reckoning is knowing your previous position, and then plotting the course using course steered, speed and elapsed time. We highly recommend you plot your position on a paper chart, even when your electronics are working. How often you do this will depend upon your distance from land and hazards. Once you have your starting point on the chart, you can draw your intended course. Then it’s a matter of plotting the distance (D) along the course using speed (S) and elapsed time (T). Three formulas we all should know are D=ST, S=D/T and T=D/S. You may want to get kids or grandkids involved in learning this as well. It will keep them busy and help to develop future mariners who know the basics.

Understand how to operate in heavy seas

We wouldn’t dare try to explain running in heavy seas in a few hundred words. But the point is you can’t rely on textbook explanations to pilot your Grand Banks in heavy weather. Learn your yacht’s capabilities and its specific handling characteristics while the conditions are still manageable. For instance, in a large following sea a Grand Banks 42 Classic has different running characteristic than a Grand Banks 42 Europa. This difference is primarily due to weight distribution. The trick is finding your particular yacht’s sweet spot in a specific set of conditions, and this will take a little experimentation. And remember, in heavy seas you still have to drive your boat.

Be able to read the clouds

Even with a sophisticated weather overlay on your plotter, you should be aware of what’s going on around your Grand Banks. Obviously, clouds are among the most visible indicators of weather and can predict thunderstorms, an approaching front, rain or a squall. Although there are infinite shapes a cloud can take, the common classification system includes 10 types: cumulonimbus, cumulus, stratus, stratocumulus, nimbostratus, altostratus, altocumulus, cirrostratus, cirrocumulus and cirrus. Learn the characteristics of each cloud type. Books such as Chapman Piloting & Seamanship offer a good overview. Next, watch how clouds form in your area, determine whether they are increasing or decreasing in amount, and understand what shape they are taking. As a general rule, lowering or thickening cloud formations indicate wet weather is on the way.

Take a first aid and CPR course

There’s nothing worse than seeing a loved one wounded or sick—except maybe seeing them that way and not being able to do anything about it. Some yachtsmen will have $100,000 worth of flatscreen televisions on board, but are only equipped with a basic first aid kit that can barely mend a scraped knee. Buy the best kit you can, then ensure you and your mate take a first aid course. Even if you’re within sight of land, knowing how to dress a wound to stop bleeding, or brace somebody until help arrives, will make a crucial difference. For long-distance cruisers, we also strongly believe in equipping a boat with an AED to address cardiac arrest. Make sure you also sign up with your local Power Squadron or firehouse and take a CPR course.

Have a plan before weather turns foul

The basic goal of any cruiser is to avoid foul weather, but as we all know, it’s bound to find us sooner or later. If you cannot make it into a safe port, you’ll need to take some action. We’ll assume that you already took the time to go through the yacht with your crew for a proper safety briefing before you left. Also, if you have a properly maintained boat, you’ll fare better. (That’s the subject of many books!) If you find yourself with an approaching squall or sustained gale-force conditions, you can take steps ahead of time that will improve the safety and comfort of your crew.

Understand weather chart basics

I once sent weather forecasters into a tizzy when I published an article on forecasting weather. I wasn’t suggesting that we can all become armchair meteorologists. It is, however, up to individual captains to understand current conditions. Thanks to new electronics, getting an accurate forecast has never been easier. Yet, you still need to understand what you’re looking at on the screen. Charts for surface-weather analysis, surface-weather prognosis and extended surface prognosis will help you make sense of atmospheric weather conditions just above the water. Wave-height analysis and wave prognosis will keep you abreast of what’s happening on the water. Radar charts and satellite-weather pictures are good for providing up-to-the-minute information about local disturbances.

Do a MOB drill

If you have ever participated in a long-distance sailing race, chances are you were required to execute a man-overboard (MOB) drill. Before I did an Annapolis-Newport race, we did our duty and filmed the drill, which then needed to be submitted to the race committee. Before we deployed our friend into the water, the captain ensured everyone knew his or her role. During the initial drill we discovered a few issues that needed to be corrected before the race. It got me thinking about how we would handle a MOB situation on a powerboat. We suggest Grand Banks owners also perform MOB. Do you have a high freeboard model like a Grand Banks 50? If so, how will you get back on board? Do you trust your crew to be able to mark the spot on the GPS, deploy a flotation advice and get you back on board safely? Take your time to answer. A MOB drill will help.

 

Any tips we missed? Let us know by emailing georges@grandbanks.com.