Sail Fast!

Just Go Sailing

Posted by By HEATHER STEINBERGER on Thu, May 16, 2019 @ 02:12 PM

Just go sailing

2018 March 1

A family raised on the water preaches that life is short; go sailing

As we age, we’re able to look back and see the little twists of fate that had massive reverberations in our lives. Mary Orme Ellis knows this better than most. When she was a 19-year-old college student in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, she started dating a young man with a sailboat, and her life was forever changed.


The young man owned a 25-foot Coronado that he sailed on Wisconsin’s Lake Winnebago. He was, Mary remembered, exceedingly passionate about it. 


“He started working on the boat in the spring, and all I could think was, this better be worth it,” she said. 


Mary grew up in Milwaukee, one of four children in a family that wasn’t attuned to the water. For her, that one intense summer changed everything.


Samantha Orme and Mary Orme-Ellis share a special mother-daughter moment.



“I became transformed,” she said. “Maybe I was a sailor in another life. We sailed every weekend in June, July and August. Then I met a guy with a bigger boat, and we sailed out of Milwaukee the next summer.”


Mary finished school at age 24, armed with a business degree. Although she had a new job as a secretary, she couldn’t ignore the lure of the sea. She wanted to go sailing and was surprised when support came from a surprising quarter.


“My boss had chartered in the Virgin Islands, and he told me I had to go to the sailors’ capital of the world,” she said. “He gave me six months’ leave.”


That was in 1979. Mary bought a one-way ticket to the U.S. Virgin Islands, boarded a plane with two duffel bags, and began a six-month journey that would end up lasting three and a half years.


She started in Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas, where it was fairly easy to pick up crew jobs. She moved onto the British Virgin Islands when she met a Tortola-based skipper with an 84-foot ketch.  He hired her to be the vessel’s cook, responsible for feeding six to eight guests. 


After the owner was killed in a 1981 dinghy accident, Mary moved onto a little boat in Road Town. She was living there, at the Village Cay Marina, when she met the folks at The Moorings. A new job opportunity dawned.


“They sent me to New Orleans for an interview, which was their headquarters until they moved to Clearwater, Florida, in 1984,” she said. “I spent 15 years with The Moorings in various capacities (in the BVI and Florida).”


Along the way, she met a fellow sailor named John Orme, who had sailed from his home in Cape Town, South Africa, to Tortola. He participated in the iconic Cape 2 Rio Yacht Race three times and he worked as a charter captain. They married and became parents to Tanya, born in 1985, and Samantha, who came along in 1987.


“Sailing goes back many generations on John’s side, and he introduced both girls to sailing,” Mary said.


The Orme sisters were raised on and around the water, showing off their skills as girls on a Laser with their dad.



The family, which had settled in Tampa Bay, Florida, started chartering together when the girls were in diapers. With The Moorings, they could charter a boat whenever they wanted, provided they covered airfare and expenses. Over the years, they made many happy memories in the BVI, and cruised the Eastern Caribbean islands as far as Grenada.


After the Ormes’ marriage ended in the early 1990s, the newly single mother had to make ends meet as a yacht broker. Business was good during the tech-boom years, but boats stopped selling in the wake of 9/11, and commissions dried up.


Fortunately, Mary found a new calling, and a new life partner. While she was working for The Moorings, she met Creative Director David Ellis. The duo, who enjoyed beer can racing together out of St. Petersburg, married in 2000 and, after taking a course in copywriting, Mary joined her husband at his business, Affinity Marketing & Communications.


The family continued to spend time on the water together, enjoying the charter experience without “the headaches of ownership,” as Mary put it. Her girls remained enthusiastic participants, even as teenagers.


“They were always asking, ‘When can we go?’” she said. “Sometimes they’d bring a friend, but they always loved travel and sailing. In a way, we become models of our parents without realizing it.”


The teens also spent time on the water with their father, who built a large catamaran to sail out of  Tarpon Springs.


“The girls had so much sea time, they developed great sea legs,” Mary said. “They learned to handle any size boat.”


Both also were determined to travel as much as they could, as soon as they could.


At 18, Tanya took off for Costa Rica with friends, and as a college student, she spent time in Australia and New Zealand. 


“She was always looking for a new place to explore, and sailing trumped everything,” Mary said. “After she graduated from Florida Atlantic University, summa cum laude with a degree in anthropology, she just wanted to go sailing. Like me.”


At the time, the 1960 reconstruction of HMS Bounty was berthed in St. Petersburg, and the owners were seeking crew who weren’t afraid of heights and were willing to learn. Tanya took on the job of deckhand and eventually worked her way to rigging.


“She wasn’t afraid to be up there, handling all those sails,” Mary said.


Tanya Orme took to the rigging of Bounty without hesitation.



Aboard Bounty, Tanya sailed on a six-month passage to the Bahamas, Central America, the Panama Canal, the U.S. West Coast and Canada. The crew participated in tall ship events, races, festivals and meet-ups along the way. When the ship returned to San Diego, Tanya jumped off and headed for Tijuana, Baja California. From there, she and a friend embarked on a backpacking-and-hitch-hiking adventure across Mexico, which Tanya documented in her extensive journals.


“She traveled on a pauper’s per diem, but she made her money last, and she turned every adventure into a life lesson,” Mary said. “She was fiercely unconventional. She just rolled with everything, and somehow, she also found time to paint. Hundreds and hundreds of paintings.”     


Tanya finally came home for Thanksgiving in 2008, and then she took a job as cook aboard A.J. Meerwald at New Jersey’s Bayshore Center at Bivalve. She was living there when, on June 21, 2009, she was killed in a car accident. She was 24 years old.


Her sister, Samantha, was backpacking Europe with a friend when she got the news. She immediately booked a flight back to the States.


“I didn’t know how the rest of college would go down for her,” Mary said. “When you’re in shock and can’t even think straight, how do you study and do homework? But she’s so smart. She did it.”


Samantha graduated with honors from Florida State University with an industrial engineering degree. Although she would go on to use that degree in the industrial, solar, environmental, digital and financial arenas, she first chose to dive into her own adventures at sea. 


“I saw a link about a superyacht crew application, and I shared it with her,” Mary said. “She knew how to crew, and she knew big boats. So she applied, she made the final cut, and she got hired.”


The application was for Bravo’s new reality series “Below Deck.” Samantha appeared as a cast member, working aboard the 164-foot yacht Cuor di Leone (renamed Honor for the show). The 11-episode first season aired in summer 2013.


Young Tanya takes the wheel.



“We saved every episode,” Mary said. “The show actually had a lot of reality in it. Sami is outgoing and gregarious, she was voted ‘Most Memorable’ in high school, and she isn’t one to take authority well. She questions everything.”


Samantha left the show after the first season and moved to Los Angeles, where she worked for roughly three years. She and a high school friend toured North America for a year, and then she moved back to Florida. 


These days, Mary continues to work with her husband at their marketing firm. And they continue to enjoy chartering.


“We bareboat charter somewhere in the Eastern Caribbean every chance we get,” Mary said. “Usually, a friend or family member will suggest going and invite us along to captain and cook. Well, that’s a no- brainer!”


Samantha lives and works nearby, and she continues to enjoy sailing on her father’s 70-foot catamaran Rena. And elder daughter Tanya’s seafaring and adventuring spirit lives on, thanks to the creation of a book called Non-Local Flow: Good Chi, the Sea and Me.


Producing this book, which shares Tanya’s life journey through her art and writing, was a labor-of-love mission for her mother. Mary dedicated a full year to compiling and editing the project, with the help of her husband and their colleague Michael O’Keene. It was published in 2010.


“I spent every free moment on it,” she said. “I didn’t want Tanya to be forgotten. Even long after I’m gone, I want people to say, ‘Who is this remarkable young woman?’”


Tanya and Samantha grew up listening to the sea stories of their parents, traveling to other countries, experiencing other cultures, and reveling in every moment under sail. Mary said she believes this transformed them and deeply influenced the adult lives they would create.


“In their childhoods, they saw an unconventional America,” she said. “They were very blessed that way. They understood the importance of travel, especially to Third World countries. They had opportunities to see life on the other side.


One of Tanya Orme’s paintings, which is included in a book of Tanya’s art and writings called Non-Local Flow, depicts the artist’s love of sailing.



“They also developed their creativity and imagination,” she added. “We encouraged them to interact with real people, and engage with real things rather than the nonessential stuff. I suppose all of us are like-minded — travelers, adventurers and sailors who know that life is short, so get out there, and go sailing.”

Tags: Belle Haven Marina, boating, US Sailing, youth sailing lessons, teaching sailing

Great beginners manual

Posted by Jess Miller on Mon, Jul 24, 2017 @ 07:36 AM

How to Sail: The Ultimate Guide

Learning to sail can seem like a daunting process. Besides just learning how to sail a boat, the terminology of boating is completely different, and most of what needs to be learned can only be acquired by doing, meaning practice is required. But before you head out on the water, you can increase your knowledge by reading up on sailing, which will further help to keep you safe while on your boat.


Table of Contents

Sailing Defined

Sailing is the art of taking a boat, turning off the motor, and harnessing the power of the wind to make the boat go where you want it to go. It might seem difficult, but it is really very simple, provided you take the time to understand how the boat utilizes the power of the wind. More than likely your boat will also have a motor (for times when there is no wind), but we will mainly focus on the actual process of sailing, and how that can be achieved.

Before you leave the dock

Before you head out on your own boat (or before you go to purchase a boat), search online and find the nearest sailing school or yacht club. You can find the local sailing school where you can take one on one sailing lessons, or even take an instructor out on your boat to show you the ropes, and how to safely sail. There are also free classes you can take online, which can better prepare you in learning the basics of sailing.

Make sure and check the weather before heading out. If there is a storm headed your way, or in the direction you want to go, it might be prudent to wait a few days until calmer weather is in the forecast. It also can be quite boring to head out on the water if there is no wind, as you will be forced to motor the entire time.

Dress for the weather, but be sure and bring lots of layers. Even if it’s hot out, while out on the water there is nothing to shield the wind, so it might seem colder than on land. Always have a jacket, hat, sunscreen, long pants and or shorts, shoes, and bring lots of water and snacks. Better to be over prepared than under prepared.

Make a Checklist

Make a checklist for necessary equipment you will want to bring with you on the boat (or even things that are US Coast Guard required). This could include items such as:

  • Life Jackets
  • Drinking water and snacks
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses, hat, jackets, extra clothing
  • Engine fuel and spare parts
  • Binoculars
  • Chart (handheld GPS as well)
  • Bucket (can be used to bail water, clean off the boat, or as a restroom if need be)
  • USCG required equipment for the boat
  • Sound signals (whistle or fog horn)
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Visual distress signals (flares or flashlight at night)
  • Navigation lights (required at night, or if visibility is reduced)
  • Anchor and chain/line
  • Extra line (mooring or various other uses)
  • Fenders (Plastic hard ‘balloons’ that keep your boat from bumping on the dock)
  • VHF radio and cellphone
  • First-Aid Kit and booklet
  • Tool Kit and Knife
  • Lifesling or throwable buoy
  • Bilge pump
  • Radar reflector
  • Ditch kit (full of life saving necessities in case you have to abandon ship)
  • Life raft of some sort (depending on where you are sailing, and the size of your vessel)

These are all useful and necessary items to have stocked on your boat: some are required by the Coast Guard, and some are just common sense. It might also be helpful to bring a sailing buddy when you head out, to assist with docking, hoisting the sails, or just giving a second opinion in case something should occur.

Know your boat

Before heading out on the water, make sure and inspect as much of your boat as you can: understand where the lines (ropes) are going, how the sails are hoisted (lifted) and lowered, and where the safe places to walk or sit will be once you are out on the water. This article will discuss the basic terminology (with important words defined in bold), and try to explain as much as you need to know about the basic parts of your sailboat.

Let’s start with the simple terminology first.

When you get on your boat, and are facing towards the front of the boat, that would be forward, with everything behind you being aft. The very front of the boat is the bow, with the aft part of your boat called the stern. The left of the boat is the port side (think left and port both having four letters), with the right side being the starboard side. That seems simple, right? So let’s keep going.

The mast is the vertical pole the supports the sail. If you only have one big sail, there will only be one mast. Some boats have more than one mast, but sailboats always have at least one. The horizontal pole that comes off the bottom part of the mast is called the boom (which is also the sound it makes when it hits you in your head… be careful of this one!). The tiller is a horizontal lever arm that turns the rudder (steers the boat), and is either by itself or is attached to the wheel, which is what you use to steer the boat. Standing in the boat you will be on the deck, but if you go inside the boat you will be below-deck. The sides of the boat are called the hull, and the draft is the distance from the surface of the water to the deepest part of the boat under water (important to know if you don’t want to run aground).

The lines that hold up the mast on the starboard and port sides up to the top of the mast are called the shrouds, while the wire that runs from the mast to the stern is called the backstay, and the wire that runs from the mast to the bow is the forestay (also called the headstay). The beam is the width at the widest point of your boat, and the total length overall is the horizontal length from the tip of the stern to the tip of the bow (necessary to know depending on where you want to dock or store your boat).

It may seem like quite a few terms to know, but while being on a sailboat everything is called something different. But we are only concerned with the most important terms at the moment.

When you start putting up a sail, you will be pulling on a halyard. If you are putting up the mainsail (largest sail that is attached to the mast), you will be pulling on the main halyard. To let the sail move towards the starboard or port side of the boat, you will let out the main sheet (line that is attached to the bottom aft section of each sail, which moves it side to side). You may need to use a winch, which is a round drum that increases your power capabilities to pull on a line (rope).

Check out this video where someone demonstrates on a boat all the different parts of a sailboat: 

Now that we have discussed the basic parts of the boat, let’s leave the dock and head out on the water to set the sails!

Leaving the dock

It is possible to sail off of a dock, or a mooring ball, but usually that takes a bit more practice. For the beginner it’s best to start up the engine, and wait to set the sails until you have the space to work on doing it correctly. If you are at the dock, look around and know what’s around you. You should be aware of where the wind is coming from; even with the sails down the mast is a sail in itself, and the wind will tend to push you once you untie your lines from the dock. This can help you get off the dock, but it can also push you into another (probably more expensive) boat, or even another dock.

Make sure you don’t have any lines dragging in the water, or anything that can get twisted up and foul the prop. Leave at least one line on the dock to help guide you out, and then untie that last line when you know you won’t hit anything else on your way out. Remember to steer the boat slowly, things tend to happen quickly, even at slow speeds. Take turns wide until you are out of the marina, and watch out for boats that are heading in.

Check out this video from the Maryland School of Sailing and Seamanship, as they teach you how to properly dock a sailboat:

Don’t Run Aground!

If you have sailed for any time at all, you will eventually run aground (it happens to the best of us). But you want to avoid this at all costs, so there are a few things you should think about as you head out of the marina.

  • Make you sure know what the draft is on your boat. There is a big difference between a 4 foot and 6 foot draft.
  • Turn on your depth finder! It is also good to know where your depth finder sensor is located on the hull. If it’s under the stern, you might run the bow aground before the depth finder displays that it’s too shallow.
  • Know how to read or follow the charts. Depths at low tide are recorded on marine charts.
  • Understand the channel markers. The markers are there for a reason; sometimes right outside of the channel the depth is only a foot or less.

If you do run aground, try not to panic! Here are some steps to work through to get your boat back out into deeper water.

  • Immediately stop your engine (and drop your sails if they are up), and then put the engine in reverse. If you have just barely run aground, the engine might be able to push you back off the low point, and you can feel lucky that it wasn’t worse. If not, access your situation before going further.
  • Depending on where you have run aground, and where the wind is coming from, you might be able to raise your mainsail and use the wind to push you off the bottom. If the shallow area is on your starboard, and the wind is coming from the port side, when you raise the mainsail the wind will push the boat over on its starboard side. That means that the keel (part of the hull underwater that sticks down), will go in the opposite direction, hopefully decreasing the boat’s draft by tipping the boat onto its side. At this point you might be able to sail off the bottom, or simply use the engine to slowly push the boat off the hard (bottom).
  • Use the anchor: get in your dinghy (inflatable or hard smaller boat that you pull behind your sailboat), and load the anchor and as much chain/line as you can safely pull in your boat. Then drive your dinghy out into deeper waters, and drop the anchor over the side. Wait a few minutes, and then slowly use the windlass (electric or hand-operated machine that pulls up the anchor chain into the boat) on your sailboat to pull the boat out of the shallows. This maneuver might need to be repeated several times, depending on how good the anchor is stuck into the ground, and how far your sailboat will travel before the anchor gets pulled up.
  • Look around for fellow boaters. Perhaps someone nearby might feel pity on you, and come and tow you off of the shallow area. Never hurts to ask!
  • If all else fails, call a tow service. BoatsUS BoatsUS or SeaTow SeaTow are both companies that operate like AAA does on land. You can purchase a membership for the year, and if you get stuck, just give them a call and they will come and tow you back to deeper waters. They will also come and give you fuel if you run out, or tow you back to the dock if something should occur and you can no longer operate your vessel. If nothing else, it will give you peace of mind when you head out on the water.

Let’s Get to Sailing

Now that you are in your boat out on the water, find a calm uncrowded area to start sailing. This may mean you head out in the center of the lake, or perhaps you have to motor for a few minutes to get away from the local boat traffic, but having some space while you figure out your sails will make all the difference.

Time to put the sails up!

  1. Point the bow of your boat into the wind before putting the sails up. No, you cannot actually sail into the wind, but if you want to put the sail up without fighting the wind pushing on the sail and halting your progress, you will heed this advice.
  2. Take your sail cover off the mainsail, and take off any lines that were tied around the sail to keep it in place. Find your halyard, and start pulling on the line. The mainsail should start going up the mast. Keep eyes on the lazy jacks, which are the lines running from the top of the mast to about the middle of the boom. Make sure the mainsail is pulled up between these lines, and is not getting caught on any part of the lazy jacks.
  3. If the sail is getting too hard to pull up, you might need to use a winch to assist you. Wrap the halyard around the winch several times, and then use the hand crank to turn the winch and pull up the rest of the sail. Make sure you make fast (stop) the line before you walk away to do something else.
  4. Depending on where the wind is coming from, you will probably want to slowly let out the sheet, so the sail can fill with wind and push the boat forward. If the wind is coming from the port side, you will end up sailing to the right, and vice versa.
  5. Now it’s time to hoist the jib! It’s easier to hoist the jib while running downwind (wind at your back), if only because it will keep the sail from flapping against the mast while it is being raised. Either way, make sure the sheet is loose, so the sail will not fill with air, making it difficult to raise up completely.
  6. The sail will luff (flapping motion the sail makes when it is getting blown about by the wind), so don’t worry: that’s normal.
  7. Once the jib is up, now you need to figure out in which direction you can sail.

How to Use the Wind to Sail

As already mentioned, sailboats can’t sail directly into the wind. In fact, there is a handy diagram that has been made that describes the ‘points of sail’ as the face of a clock. At the top of the clock, from about 10:30 to 1:30, is the no-sail zone. It is physically impossible to sail a boat in this zone.


The zones where you can sail can further be divided into three basic points of sail.

  1. Close-hauled: This is the closest to the wind that you can sail efficiently. This would be right around 10:30 and 1:30 on the diagram.
  2. Reaching: Anywhere between close-hauled and running.
  3. Running: The course you steer when the wind is dead at your back (6:00).

You may not always be able to sail a perfectly straight course to your destination, usually you end up having to tack or jibe to reach your desired location. But that’s where the real fun of sailing comes to play.

Tacking and Jibing

Tacking and jibing are simply the way to get a sailboat to turn a different direction. Which direction you turn based on where the wind is coming from is what makes the difference. Tacking is turning the bow through the wind so the wind will be on the opposite site. Jibing is turning the stern of the boat through the wind so the wind will be on the other side. Jibing is generally more dangerous, as the boom will shift sides during a jibe. But let’s discuss the process of each a bit more.


Tacking is necessary when you are headed one direction, but you need to turn to go in another direction. So you will need to sail through the no-sail zone (refer to points of sail). This can be done very simply, but also safely is you follow these basic steps.

  1. Prepare everyone on the boat by announcing that you are about to tack.
  2. Tighten up the sheets and get ready to turn.
  3. Call out ‘tacking’ and begin turning the boat towards the wind.
  4. As you begin to tack, the jib will start to luff: do not be concerned, this is normal. At this point, tighten up the jib sheet if there is any slack in it.
  5. As you turn and sail through the ‘no sail’ zone, slack the jib sheet and take up the sheet on the other side.
  6. You may need to duck under the boom if it moves as well, be cautious!
  7. Once the jib fills with wind again, stop turning, and trim (adjust) the sails as need be.
  8. Don’t stop turning when you are in the no sail zone, or you might lose momentum and have to start the motor to continue your turn.

Tacking is very straightforward, and is perhaps the easiest way to turn under sail. Jibing is a bit more complicated, but can be achieved and accomplished simply with some practice.


Jibing is a way to change directions by turning away from the wind, or turning the stern of the boat through the wind to change directions. When you are sailing downwind (on the points of sail diagram), jibing should technically be easier than tacking, because there is no ‘no sail’ zone to get stuck in. But it is also quite a bit more dangerous, because of the force behind the boom as it swings over your head. If you are on a broad reach, the main sheet will be let out, meaning the boom will be hanging out over the side of the boat. When you jibe, the boom will travel all the way across the cockpit to the other side of the water, sometimes very quickly. Ready? It’s time to learn how to jibe.

  1. Let everyone on the boat know you are about to jibe by yelling, “ready to jibe!” This is to remind them to duck as the boom swings overhead… sometimes it happens faster than you realize.
  2. Call out ‘Jibe Ho’ and start steering the boat away from the wind, at the same time that you begin taking up on the main sheet and pulling the main to the other side. The more you can pull before the boom swings over, the less speed the boom will attain as it swings over.
  3. You do not need to turn quickly, as you will have the wind during the entire turn. As you turn past being dead downwind, the mainsail will jibe to the other side.
  4. Stop steering at this point, and trim the sails. You may need to tighten up on the sheets, or rather let some more line out.

If it is an extremely windy day, you might want to change tacks without jibing. Jibing puts a lot of strain on the main as it swings across, which can be quite dangerous as well as hard on the sail and other equipment. Consider turning towards the wind, tacking around, and then heading down until you get to your desired course. It might take longer, but it will be safer for everyone on the boat, as well as for the boat itself.

Safety on the water

Now that you understand the better points of how to sail, you should think about how to sail safely. Things can happen quickly, with lines coming across the decks at high speeds, or having tension on lines when you need to adjust the sails. Here are some handy tips for how to maintain safety while sailing.

  • Pay attention to where your crew is at all times. When tacking and jibing, crew can easily be struck by the boom, or tangled in a line and injured. Make sure everyone is aware when you are changing directions, so they can assist and stay out of harms’ way.
  • When you need to adjust a line on a winch that is under a lot of strain, be careful! You could end up burning your hands on the line, or even losing a finger if a ring gets caught. Be extra careful if you are wearing gloves, as they can get caught up in the line as it spools out. To ease a line out, hold the line with one hand, and put the other hand on top of the wraps on the winch. Slowly let the line out, keeping pressure on the winch so that the line doesn’t get out of control as it feeds out.
  • Always pay attention to where lines are coiled up on the deck. Never step in a bight (loop of line), as you could get caught if the line suddenly was pulled tight. Always be aware of where you are stepping, and keep lines off the deck if possible and in a safe place.
  • Always wear a life jacket: it might seem that it’s not necessary, but if you were knocked overboard while jibing you would want to be wearing one.
  • Always know what to do in an emergency before an emergency happens. Practice man overboard drills by throwing a life jacket overboard and retrieving it. Know what to do when the bilge alarm goes off, or if the engine dies at the worst possible time.
  • Have a generator on board in case you need to recharge the trolling motor batteries because the alternator isn’t operating correctly (it happens…). Or perhaps you want to run the air conditioner while you are out on anchor somewhere: an equally useful thing to have on board.

Sometimes sailing safely can be simply thinking ahead and not putting yourself in a situation that can prove to be too much for your skill level.

The following are some tips to think about when plotting a course for your next sailing adventure.

  • Think ahead to where you will be sailing, and what obstacles will be in that general area. Try to pick a good course for the weather that might be coming. If there is heavy weather coming, try to sail to leeward (side that is protected from the wind) of an island, where you will be protected from the wind.
  • Avoid shallow water. In storms waves tend to build in shallow water, because there is nowhere for them to disperse. It is also harder to see reefs and shallow spots during storms, as there are waves everywhere, not just on the reefs.
  • Avoid sailing upwind during heavy waves, meaning that you will end up sailing up and over wave after wave. If the waves are really large and the winds are strong, you can actually end up sailing backwards, or simply making no ground at all in a storm.
  • Avoid a lee shore. If you are sailing on the windward (side from which the wind is coming from) side of an island, the shore the wind is blowing on is the lee shore. If you sail with the wind blowing you towards the island, and something happens and you can’t sail away from the island, you will be blown by the wind onto the beach, or worse: rocks.
  • Watch out for jibing accidentally. This can be very dangerous in high winds. Be careful never to let the wind get right behind you, as this could result in an accidental jibe. Waves can easily move you 10 or even 20 degrees as you move down a wave, so be careful to keep the boat on a broad reach in heavy seas.
  • Be careful when heeling (boat leaning) over while sailing. If you heel over too far, anything unsecured might fall and make a mess inside the boat. It might also be a bit unnerving the first few times you heel over and the rail (edge of the boat deck) goes into the water. Sailboats are made for that; water drains easily over the side, just be cautious until you are comfortable doing it.

When it’s too windy

The wind doesn’t always blow exactly how you want it to, so sometimes you need to decrease your sail area so you can sail safely. But how can you do that? You can either drop one of your sails (either the main or the jib, depending on which is bigger), or you can reef (make smaller) a sail. Reefing a sail can seem a bit tricky, but once you understand the concept and do it a few times, it becomes old hat.

How to reef a sail depends on the type of sail you are trying to reef. If you have a roller furling jib, you might be able to roll it in part way, which could decrease your sail area by half. If you have a standard jib or mainsail, there are a series of steps you need to follow to properly reef the sail. Reefing a sail is much easier accomplished when the sail is not set (still on the boom), so make sure and follow these steps before you hoist the sail up.

  1. Make sure and rig up the reef line. The reef line runs from the leech (diagonal part of the mainsail), down to the boom, and is normally tied up on a cleat on the boom near the mast. This line should be made tight as this line of reef points (horizontal reinforced holes with lines tied through them on the mainsail) will now be the new foot (bottom) of the sail.
  2. Use a line to tie the tack cringle (forward most reef point) to the tack horn (area at the forward bottom corner of the sail, where the boom and mast meet). This will secure the sail to the boom, and keep it from riding up the mast by accident.
  3. Go along the sail, and reach above the boom, but below the sail and pull the opposite end of a reef point through. Then tie a reef knot with the two ends (knots will be explained later on). Continue along the sail and tie all the remaining reef points with reef knots.
  4. Now you can raise the sail! The sail area will be decreased, allowing you to continue sailing even in strong winds. And if the winds do die down, you can simply shake out (untie) the reef points, and untie the tack cringle and reefing line, then hoist the sail up to its full potential.


Learning how to tie basic sailing knots is not only a beloved pastime for many sailors, but it can save your life if done correctly or it can result in broken equipment if done wrong. You can learn to tie knots in many books, one of which is Book of Sailing Knots.

The following is a list of knots you should learn to tie, with their designated use. Check out the following video to watch someone tie these knots:

 “9 most useful sailing/boating knots”.

  • Figure Eight: This knot is incredibly easy to tie, and is commonly used as a stopper knot at the end of a line. It can be untied even when a line is wet.
  • Reef knot: This type of knot is used when reefing a sail. It is extremely simple to tie, and can be untied quickly if the reef needs to be shaken out.
  • Square knot: A square knot is just two overhand knots tied with the first being right over left, and the second left over right. Square knots are used to tie two pieces of the same type of line together.
  • Clove Hitch: A clove hitch is a way of tying a line around something, such as a lifeline or a piling. It is extremely useful on a sailboat.
  • Sheet Bend: This knot is used to tie two pieces of line together, where one piece of line is of a smaller diameter than the other one.
  • Bowline: this is probably one of the most useful knots to know. It is used to tie a loop in the end of a line, but can also be taken apart even when there is tension on the line.
  • Rolling hitch: This line can be used to tie one line to another line, where it can grip the line and take the load off of the first line.
  • Round turn and two half hitches: it is two overhand knots tied around anything: a pole or even the mast. It can be used when tying a quick knot to something, where you might need to untie it in a hurry, even if it is under strain.
  • Fisherman’s Bend/Anchor bend: This knot is less likely than a bowline to loosen, but can be difficult to untie. It is the perfect knot to use when you want to leave it in place for a long time (such as to attach the anchor chain to an anchor).

There are a multitude of other knots to learn, but those are the basics. You can also learn how to splice (join two lines together), but that is not for the novice sailor.

Check out sailing books such as How to Sail: An Introduction to Sailing for Beginners, and Sailing for Dummies.


Learning to sail is definitely an adventure, but one that is worth undertaking. But be mindful of how you set about learning: read some books and take some sailing classes before heading out. Bring a friend who has sailed before to give you some pointers on your first few times out, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Learn more about your boat, and understand how the sails work, and are raised and lowered. Practice tacking and jibing in a large non-busy area, so you can take your time and not feel stressed. And above all, be mindful of safety. Think before you act, and try to think about what you would do before situations occur. But don’t forget to have fun, and enjoy being out on the water!

As Mark Twain wisely said, “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than those you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from safe harbor. Catch the wind in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.


Tags: Belle Haven Marina, Clean Marina, Alexandria Virginia

Ten Tips for Clean and Green Boating

Posted by Discover Boating on Mon, Mar 06, 2017 @ 09:39 PM


  1. Prevent oily discharges from the bilge. Keep your engine well tuned to prevent fuel and oil leaks. Secure an oil absorbent pad or pillow in your bilge and under your engine where drips may occur. Check the pads often, do not let them clog the bilge pump, and dispose of them as hazardous waste at a marina or local hazardous waste collection center.
  2. Spill-proof your oil changes. For oil changes, use an oil change pump to transfer oil to a spill-proof container. Wrap a plastic bag or absorbent pad around the oil filter to prevent oil from spilling into the bilge.
  3. When fueling, stop the drops! Prevent fuel spills by filling fuel tanks slowly and using absorbent pads or rags to catch drips and spills. Don’t "top off" or overflow your fuel tank. Leave the tank 10% empty to allow fuel to expand as it warms.
  4. Do not add soap. Never use soap to disperse fuel and oil spills. It increases harm to the environment, and it is illegal.
  5. Minimize boat cleaning and maintenance in the water. If possible, save maintenance projects for the boatyard. When performing work on the water minimize your impact by containing waste. Use tarps and vacuum sanders to collect all drips and debris for proper disposal.
  6. Reduce toxic discharges from bottom paints. Minimize the discharge of heavy metals found in soft-sloughing antifouling paints by using a less toxic, or nontoxic antifouling paint. Use only non-abrasive underwater hull cleaning techniques to prevent excessive paint discharge. Remember, dry storage reduces the need for antifouling paints and saves money.
  7. Dispose of hazardous waste properly. Dispose of paints, batteries, antifreeze, cleaning products, oil, oil filters and other hazardous wastes at a hazardous waste collection facility or event.
  8. Plan A-head! Manage sewage wastes properly. Never discharge sewage within 3 miles of shore. Use harbor pump-out stations and shore-side facilities. If you don’t have an installed toilet, use a port-a-potty and empty it at a harbor dump station or bathroom.
  9. Stow it, don’t throw it! Keep your trash on board. Never throw cigarette butts, fishing line, or any other garbage into the ocean. Take advantage of shore-side facilities to recycle plastic, glass, metal, and paper.
  10. Reduce Greywater discharges. Use a phosphate-free biodegradable soap to minimize the impacts of greywater on the marine environment. Also minimize discharge by doing dishes and showers on shore whenever possible.

Tags: Belle Haven Marina, Potomac River, Clean Marina, Boat US, adult sailing lessons, Boating in DC

Boating in DC

Posted by George Stevens on Sun, Feb 19, 2017 @ 12:16 PM

There are many places to rent a boat in the DC area. You need to know where to go for sailing vs. kayaking or paddleboards. There are no powerboat rentals out of the major marinas at this time though there are private boats that can be available.

For the Sailors;

Belle Haven Marina

Washington Sailing Marina

Gangplank Marina


For kayaks & paddleboards;

Belle Haven Marina

Fletchers boat house

Key Bridge kayaks

National Harbor

Thompson Boat House


Tags: Belle Haven Marina, Flying Scot, Learn to Sail, Potomac River, Dyke Marsh, US Sailing, Boating in DC

Just Imagine by John A

Posted by George Stevens on Tue, Mar 10, 2015 @ 02:56 PM

Just imagine if if all sailing facilities across North America and beyond threw open their doors and invited the public to experience sailing on the longest day of the year right at the start of summer!  And then publicized it all in their local area - on Craig's List, in the local paper, in a Blog, Facebook and Twitter Feed.  All sailboats, all sailing, all together.  Summer Sailstice is the opportunity for everyone to do this for this year's 15th annual Summer Sailstice.

We always love seeing more sailing organizations coming on board to just do it so it's great to find a post on the Washington DC area Craig's List for Mariner Sailing School in Alexandria, VA.  

Mariner Sailing School is publicizing free one-hour sailing lessons on Craig's List.

The Summer Sailstice events page now has two options for posting your event:  Public Participation events with yellow pins are events open to the public.  Red pins are demonstration events, i.e.  cruises, races and other events which showcase the best of sailing but where public participation isn't available.  

We'd like to see as many events as possible on Summer Sailstice so all of sailing is on display and we especially like seeing US Sailing training centers like Mariner Sailing School offering open houses and other opportunities for uninitiated sailors to get on the water.  

Tags: Belle Haven Marina, Washington Sailing Marina, Clean Marina, adult sailing lessons, Mariner Sailing School, US Sailing, Sunfish, sailing lessons for children, Washington DC sailing marina

Become “Boat Smart”

Posted by George Stevens on Fri, Mar 06, 2015 @ 09:40 PM


education and training

Learning the basics of boat operation and safety is best done before your first trip to the marina or launch ramp. In fact, a number of states require powerboat operators to take a boating education course and carry a license or certificate proving successful course completion any time they're underway.

Resources for You!

The US Coast Guard Auxiliary was established by Congress in 1939, the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary is Semper Paratus(Always Ready).

US Power Squadron was organized in 1914, USPS is a non profit, educational organization dedicated to making boating safer and more enjoyable by teaching classes in seamanship, navigation and related subjects.

Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatUS) has worked to provide quality service, savings, and representation to the boating community since 1966. The BoatUS Foundation is the only FREE online safety course developed specifically for individual states.

Safely Moored is a professional, hands-on boating instruction, safety training, yacht management, dockside services & Yacht Sales in South Florida.

US POWERBOATING™ is the nation's leading, on-the-water organization, offering courses for powerboat operators and is an affiliate of US SAILING, the national governing body for the sport of sailing.

The Recreational Powerboating Association™ (RPBA™) is the leading authority for hands-on powerboat instruction, powerboat certification & powerboat schools in the United States.

The American Sailing Association (ASA) is the oldest and largest keelboat certification authority in the United States, with 300 affiliated sailing schools worldwide.

The United States Sailing Association (US Sailing), the national governing body for sailing, provides leadership, integrity, and growth for the sport in the United States.

The US Sailing Keelboat Certification System is a cooperative effort among sailing schools, charter companies, the sailing industry, and US Sailing volunteers and staff.

Tags: Belle Haven Marina, Potomac River sailing, boating safety, Alexandria Virginia, Boat US, Mariner Sailing School, sailing lessons for children, Sailing Instructors

Peer-to-Peer Boat Rentals: What Do You Need To Know?

Posted by George Stevens on Tue, Feb 24, 2015 @ 03:50 PM


10 Tips From BoatUS for Owners and Renters

ALEXANDRIA, Va., February 24, 2015 – Airbnb may a popular “peer-to-peer” lodging site on the web, but if you want to rent a boat in your local area or away, you’ve got options, too., and are just a few of the new crop of online websites offering a chance to rent a boat for the day or weekend. These services, which connect private boat owners to renters, can help owners recoup some expenses, and can also give non-owners a chance to get on the water with friends without the cost of full-time ownership. So what do you need to know? Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatUS) has some information for both boat owners and renters.

  1. Renters do not want boats that are not safe and or can barely get out of the marina, so these services are often better suited to newer vessels less than 10 years old. Older, larger or faster boats may require a survey or inspection. Rental costs vary widely based on boat size and location, and renters typically are required to have some boating experience as well as a deposit.
  2. These peer-to-peer boat rental websites generally handle every part of the transaction, including taking deposits and payments. They typically take 30%-40% of the rental fee, which covers overhead, profit, as well as insurance and on water towing services (more on both of those in a second…read on).
  3. For boat owners, most boat insurance policies don’t provide coverage during the rental period and some companies may not provide coverage at any time simply if you list your boat with a rental program. If you happen to own and insure your boat but desire to rent another, your insurance company (including BoatUS Marine Insurance) may offer a temporary endorsement for liability coverage while operating the rental boat – but damage to the rental boat still is not covered. That’s why these “peer-to-peer” boat rental companies often provide additional insurance coverage. However, it’s up to owners – and renters – to read the fine print. For owners, know what happens if your boat is damaged, the claims process, how depreciation may figure in, and, in the event of total loss, how the insurance will value your boat. For renters, ensure you are OK with the level of liability coverage being offered during the rental, know how much you would have to pay if you damage the boat, and whether injuries to both you and your passengers would be covered.
  4. TowBoatUS and Vessel Assist towing fleets provide on water towing and assistance service to some peer-to-peer rental services at no additional charge to the renter or owner. For the renter that means simply calling BoatUS’ 24-hour nationwide dispatch (800-391-4869) if there is a breakdown.
  5. Renters need to ask about any other costs or fees, including fuel or other charges like pump-outs. They should also clarify with the owner what happens if the boat breaks down and becomes unusable.
  6. Boat owners have the full right to say “no” to a renter, starting with an initial phone call. BoatUS member Bob Kellet, who has successfully rented his 30-foot sailboat, says owners are in full control of the process, from pricing to vetting renters. After speaking to a potential renter on the phone, if he’s comfortable, Kellet will meet at his boat for a full run-through. He may even take the renter out for a few minutes to show how everything works.
  7. Kellet also suggests having a detailed instruction guide for the boat’s equipment and a step-by-step guide for things like starting the engine. Be sure to include safety gear.
  8. Having a walk-through, pre-rental checklist is good for both parties, as is taking a few date-stamped photos showing the condition of the vessel.
  9. While there is a certain element of trust, owner and renter reviews tend to weed out bad apples quickly, so be sure to check the renter’s history or the owner’s reviews from past renters. “Reviews are the best indicator of whether there will be a positive rental experience,” says BoatUS Consumer Affairs Director Charles Fort, who adds, “These services may also help those looking to buy a certain boat to try it out, if you will, before they purchase.”
  10. One man’s experience: BoatUS Member Kellet said he was apprehensive the first few times he rented his sailboat to a stranger, but after a couple rentals he realized the renters cared about his boat, too, and they were there for the same reason: a love of the water and boating. A couple rentals a month easily pays his Seattle, Washington, area moorage fees. The only downside Kellet reports are scheduling conflicts when he’d like to use the boat himself.

Tags: Belle Haven Marina, Learn to Sail, boating, boating, Potomac River, boating safety, Boat US, Mariner Sailing School, Safety


Posted by George Stevens on Wed, Nov 19, 2014 @ 06:28 PM


The shape of the land to windward of the race course will affect the wind. The first thing to look for is any low area that will let the wind onto the race course. In a flat country with no valleys to funnel the wind, what will affect the wind? There will still be geographic sweet spots, and fairly rhythmic, yet unpredictable, shifts. In shifty conditions you can’t be right all the time. Successful sailors punch out into the first shift, using their speed to stay in the front row half way up a first beat. In shifty conditions the middle of the starting line is usually a good home base. (Until one end is more than 15 degrees favored – then you have to get there). If the oscillations slow down then they become, effectively, persistent shifts. To be world caliber you need an aggressive starting mode on a lake just as on salt water.Deep Creek Lake

Geographic Effects

The land upwind of the race course will affect the wind. Trees and man-made features will cause wind shadows and holes, but also will create sweet spots that have more wind, more often, than the rest of the lake. The puffs tend to fan out as they hit the lake. Sail the edges of a fan puff to ride the lifts. The land can also bend the wind, for example, the wind aligning with streets and buildings which tend to be perpendicular to the shore. Perhaps this is why it usually pays to head towards shore. If one shore is in or near the race course a smart sailor can usually make it pay. It is not as simple as hit the beach, but play lifts and headers on that side. Look for an acceleration of the airflow in a near-shore band, and/or a heading shift on the tack headed most directly toward the shore that permits a boat to shorten its course by tacking to the lifted offshore tack. Generally, all other things being equal, the friction of a shoreline will bend the gradient wind left in the Northern Hemisphere compared to open water. So if there is a shoreline on the left side of the race course, the left will often (dare I say usually?) pay by providing port tack lifts.

To chase puffs or not?

The trick is to meet puffs, not chase them. The race is to the mark, so all speed should be directed in that direction. Small detours are permitted to catch or intercept puffs. Try to identify the geographic effects to find the places puffs touch down.


You will see oscillating, persistent, and geographic wind shifts on lakes, which is why lakes are more fun to sail on than open water.

Tags: Belle Haven Marina, Potomac River, adult sailing lessons, Sailing Instructors

For Paddlers, It’s High Season for Safety - NEWS From BoatUS

Posted by George Stevens on Mon, Oct 06, 2014 @ 02:01 PM

For Paddlers, It’s High Season for Safety

ANNAPOLIS, Va., October 6, 2014 – It may be sunny outside with blue skies above, but waters are deceptively cold and unforgiving in the fall. For paddlers with just a few inches of freeboard to spare, getting wet this time of year can have serious consequences, so the BoatUS Foundation forBoating Safety and Clean Water has these seven tips for fall paddlecraft safety.Kayaking

Know how to re-board: All paddlecraft are different, so before you hit a lonely, remote stretch of river or bay, learn (in a safe place) how to get back in the boat quickly and efficiently as hyperthermia is a threat that increases by the minute. Some paddlers add extra floatation inside the boat as it can help reboarding. (Tip: this can be accomplished simply by inflating a beach ball or purchasing aftermarket float bags). If you do ever fall out and can’t get back in, stay with the kayak or canoe – it’s a bigger target for rescuers to see.

Don’t keep it a secret: Tell people where you’re going by filing a float plan. It could be as simple as telling your spouse, in writing, where you are going and what time you plan to return. Writing it down makes it become habit. Be as specific as you can – this isn’t the time to forget to mention you’re heading to your hidden fishing hole two miles off the beaten channel.

Understand the basic rules of navigation: You may not be out there with icebreakers just yet, but there may still be some recreational boating traffic and potential ship traffic. The simple challenge is the smallest boats are hardest to see. One simple tip to help visibility is to spray the tips of your paddles a bright color. Paddlers also can help themselves by understanding some basic rules of navigation.

Don’t leave without a bailer: With low freeboard -- or the distance from the water to the gunwale -- paddlecraft are prone to getting water aboard. Once it starts, it’s only a matter of time before your canoe or kayak becomes ever lower to oncoming waves. Keep water out and buoyancy up by having a bailer ready (Tip: tie one to each seat).

Thermal up or down: Neoprene gloves, a drysuit or wetsuit tops and hats are the ultimate protection in retaining body heat this time of year. However, have outdoor gear that offers versatility by being able to cool down or warm up when appropriate. Even if it may feel like summer, never leave shore in just a t-shirt and shorts. It only takes just a short change of weather or a dunking to drench you and the hypothermia clock starts ticking. A bright colored rain parka can also be seen at great distances.

Going remote? Go Personal Locator Beacon (PLB): Advances in GPS technology have brought down the cost of personal locator beacons, but if your budget is tight you can still rent a PLB from the BoatUS Foundation for $45 weekly, plus shipping. There are no additional subscriber fees and paddlers going to remote locations can order online at or call 888-663-7472 (Tip: mention code “DISC10” for a 10% discount on the weekly PLB rental rate through December 1, 2014).

Keep it secure up top: If you need to get your favorite kayak or stand-up paddleboard to the lake on your car or truck’s roof this fall, go for a quick read on the three basic types of roof rack systems and ways to safely tie down the load. Your kayak has no desire to meet the road or become a hazard for oncoming vehicles.

Tags: Belle Haven Marina, currents and tides, Potomac River, Inflatable life jackets, boating safety, Cold Water, Boat US, adult sailing lessons

Eight reasons to Sail from US Sailing

Posted by George Stevens on Mon, May 12, 2014 @ 10:44 AM
    • Sailing is fun!  Sailing is Adventurous. 
    • Sailing is social.  It is the only sport that all ages, genders and physical capabilities can enjoy---all at the same time.
    • Sailing is a lifetime sport (‘If you are going to do this for the rest of your life, is it not best to learn to the highest certified standards, the first time?  ergo, USSA)
    • Sailing makes one’s life bigger and the world smaller.
    • Sailing continually expands one’s knowledge of the physical world in many natural ways (STEM)
    • Sailing is transformational.  It is often a demarcation point in many lives (before vs after becoming a sailor)
    • ‘Sailing is for you’.  achievable, affordable, available,
    • Sailing is a quiet escape from daily tensions/pressures


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Tags: Belle Haven Marina, Learn to Sail, sailing, adult sailing lessons, US Sailing, sailing lessons for children, Sailing Instructors, teaching sailing