Sunday, February 28, 2016


In Indiana, we’re seeing sunshine and gradually warming temps. I’m starting to look forward to getting Zen back in the water. I’m anxious to go but it’s still way too early. The docks aren’t even back in the water yet. What to do, what to do.

Start planning because now is the prime time to take on that task. Think about what worked for you last year and what didn’t. For me, it was the fact that we bought Fender Tenders but never pressed them into service.  They are sitting in a storage container, still in their original packaging. It would have been so nice to have them ready to use when we were sailing around Lake Michigan last year but we just didn’t get around to breaking them out.

There are some things that you can do right now that don’t require you being anywhere near your boat or the water.  When we take Zen out for the season, we remove our gear, bring it home, clean it and then stow it until spring. If you do the same thing, you can begin prepare for the sailing season now.

Let’s break our planning down into categories with checklists. Go through these lists, review your gear and act accordingly.

Do you have reliable rain gear?
How are last year’s sailing gloves holding up?  Could you use a spare pair?
Are your non-skid boat shoes still in good shape?
Do you have sturdy, polarized sunglasses?
Do you need a safety strap for your glasses?
Do you have a protective sun hat with a strap? Do you have at least one spare hat?

Do you have an inflatable PFD? If so, does it need a new cartridge?
Are all of your PFDs in good shape, with no rips, tears or worn-through spots?
Do you own enough PFDs to accommodate expected guests?
If you expect children to visit, do you have child-size PFDs?
Are your throwable boat cushions in solid condition?
Is your life sling in good repair?

Do you have all of the galley equipment that you need or would an additional piece of equipment, like a collapsible tea kettle, be a nice addition?
Is your stove clean and working properly? Do you need to stock up on butane or propane?
If you use butane lighters, are they in working order or do you need to buy new ones?
Are your coolers clean and leak free?

Are the deck cushions clean or could they use a good scrubbing?
Are your berth cushions holding up well enough to sleep on or could they use a refresh?
How are the pillows that you sleep or lounge on? Should you splurge on new ones?

Do you need new swim noodles or floaties?
How are those towels holding up? Do you have enough?
Is your swimsuit suitable for you or is an upgrade in size or style needed?

Did you have specific storage issues last year, such as where to stow your sunglasses at night?
Could you add more 3M Command Hooks and lanyards to hang things up?
Could you downsize what you take along? (Think collapsible cookware, a smaller stove, smaller coolers, etc.)
Could you use some new lock-top storage bins or cargo organizers?
If you had little niceties on-board that you want again this year, what kind of condition are they in? For example, do your flameless candles need new batteries?

Those are just some little things that you do now to prepare for the coming sailing season. If you’d like a little more guidance on anything on these lists and more, see my book, Simply Wonderful Sailing.

As the time grows nearer for actually getting back out there, I’ll do another post about the more practical issues of getting the boat ready to sail. Hang in there – spring sailing is just around the corner.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016


I know that there are plenty of sailors who can sail year-round but that’s not so with those of us who are lake-based trailer sailors. In my area, the docks come out of the water on November 1 and don’t return until April 1. So here we sit. If you’re like me, you’re watching the calendar and counting the days when you can get back to it.

What can you do in the meantime? You can still enjoy some sailing related activities. 

Here are my favorites:

  • Visiting boating and sailing shows
  • Reading sailing books, both fiction and non-fiction
  • Watching sailing videos to learn new skills
  • Checking out equipment to make sure it is clean and working well (stove, lanterns, etc.)
  • Sewing projects – winch covers, boom tents, privacy curtains
  • Learning and practicing new knots
  • Visiting Facebook pages hosted by other sailors and making new friends

You could also

  • Check out your sheets and sails, ordering new or repairing old as needed
  • Shop for handy new stuff with that gift card that Santa put in your stocking
  • Name your boat and order some letters to be applied in the spring
  • Recover your cushions

Hang in there – spring is coming!

Friday, November 20, 2015


For many of us, the hardest part of Christmas shopping is figuring out what to buy for our loved ones. If you have a sailor in the family, there are lots of great gift options in all price ranges. (If you are the sailor in your family, you just might want share this post with Santa.)

Note: To make your shopping simple and easy, all of the links (in Italics) here are active and will take you directly to the site.

If you are looking for inexpensive stocking stuffers (less than $25), consider:
Drinking glasses to keep his/her cocktails secure
Fender Tenders to make attaching fenders faster and easier
Drink caddies to keep food and drink near the helm
Floating cell phone case to keep electronics high and dry
Sailing gloves to protect his/her hands
Simply Wonderful Sailing to tell your sailor everything he/she needs to know about comfort and safety while aboard.
West Marine gift cards to buy every little thing that you didn’t.

If you want a slightly more substantial gift ($25 and up), look for:
Fenders to protect the boat from scratches
Inflatable life jacket to keep the sailor safe should he/she fall overboard
The American Practical Navigator, the timeless navigation book, to help any sailor find his way
Coolers for storing food and drink
Rain gear for keeping the sailor warm and dry
Knife for so many chores on the boat
West Marine gift cards to buy every big thing that you didn’t.

No, I don’t work for West Marine or for Amazon. However, I’ve bought each and every one of these items at some point during my sailing career and have found each item, whether large or small, to be a wise investment.

The one exception is Simply Wonderful Sailing. I didn’t buy it – I wrote it. I’ve purposely made the print version small enough to slip into a Christmas stocking. While it is primarily aimed at beginning sailors, even experienced sailors will likely find useful and interesting tidbits information in this little book.

Happy holidays and happy sailing!

Sunday, November 8, 2015


 This is Alfie. When I adopted him, the rescue agency told me that he was one of the most abused dogs they’d ever found. Even though I’ve babied him for ten years now, he is still a nervous little mess. It doesn’t take much to send him into a tizzy. When we started sailing, we had concerns about how he would do on a boat. We didn’t want to leave him at home alone for extended periods of time but we worried about how well he might do on a boat.
Imagine our surprise when this little nut ball took to sailing like a champ! He becomes a whole different creature once he’s on the deck of Zen. He’s confident and cocky, happy as can be. When company comes to our house, he hides upstairs under our bed. When the same guests come to the boat, he sits on their laps. Go figure. I’ve never figured out if Alf is into the Zen of sailing or if he just loves being out with us. I’m just glad that he’s taken to it so well because we would have had a serious problem had he not.
There are, of course, some basic factors to consider before taking your dog sailing. First, is your boat big enough to accommodate you, your dog and any guests that might come aboard? If you have a large dog, you’ll obviously need a big boat if he is going to come along. Most trailer sailboats are large enough for small to mid-size dogs.
Is the dog’s temperament right for sailing? If you have a highly energetic dog, he might not do well being confined to the boat for long periods of time. Also, if you have an aggressive dog, avoid taking him to public docks. It won’t be a pleasant experience because you’ll spend far too much time trying to keep him from bothering other people and their dogs. Also, consider whether you can safely manage tending to the dog while under sail. You don’t want a rambunctious, attention seeking pet endangering your safety by distracting you while you’re at the helm.
Finally, do you have the right equipment? Not much is required to keep a dog safe and comfortable on a boat but a few little things can make all the difference in the world.
The most important piece of equipment you can get for the pet’s safety is a life jacket. Dogs can swim, but like humans, not always reliably so. Panic or injury could inhibit your dog’s natural swimming instinct in an emergency. Pet PFDs (personal flotation devices) not only keep pets afloat but make them more visible whether in water or on land. The handle on top makes boarding and retrieval quick and easy.
The very first time I put a life jacket on Alfie, it proved its value. It was a windy day and, being the skittish fool that he is, he decided that the rocking boat was too much for him to abide. He jumped off of the boat and onto the dock where I was standing. Well, he kind of jumped onto the dock. He landed on the dock but immediately lost his balance and fell into the lake. Having never been in the water before and being terrified of the violent waves, he did not swim. It wasn’t a problem because I was able to drop to my knees and scoop him up in an instant thanks to his new PFD with its trusty handle on top. Thanks to that minor incident, I am a staunch believer in pet PFDs.
Don’t try to go cheap when buying a life jacket for your dog. The first one I bought was the cheapest one I could find and it didn’t make it through one season before shredding into pieces. My first warning came when I read the tag and it said, “Do not lift pet by handle.” Everyone lifts small dogs by the PFD handle. I replaced it with a much better model that cost a mere $5.00 more but has lasted three seasons now.
This is the one that I like.
Although most pets will naturally shun a lot food when they are riding in a car or on a boat, you will need to bring along food and water bowls. Cheap plastic bowls work fine on a boat. We use two plastic deli tubs that Alfie recognizes as his dinner dishes. They are stowed under the sink until needed.
Non-slip rugs or mats will make the salon more comfortable for your pet, as well.  The companionway steps are too narrow for Alfie to walk down, so he generally takes a flying leap from the deck to the cabin sole. Rugs give him a softer landing. The rugs also give him a steady place where he can sit comfortably without sliding around when the boat starts rocking and rolling. I use simple, washable, non-skid porch rugs.
Your dog will also need a leash for going ashore. Most marinas demand them and it is in your dog’s best interest to keep him near you on the docks. You never know when someone else on the dock will bring along an ill-behaved pet who might view your dog as a nice lunch treat. I like this leash because it has a place for clean-up bags (also required at most marinas) and a flashlight for those late evening trips ashore. It’s no fun to search for poop in the dark.
If your cabin is large enough, you might want to bring along a dog bed. Zen is too small for that, so Alf just sleeps with me in the v-berth. He’s not allowed on any of the furniture at home, so that’s probably one of reasons why he loves the boat so much – he gets to cuddle up with me at night.
Now that you have all of the equipment you need, you can plan your pet’s maiden voyage. That first sail should be a short one. If it doesn’t work out, you can just turn around and take him home. Don’t set out for week-long trip if you haven’t tried at least a short day sail first. We started Alf with a day sail and, after that went well, we tried some overnights.
Another thing to keep in mind is that dogs thrive on routine. Your pet will be happier and feel more secure if you develop a routine for him during loading and unloading. It is comforting for any pet to understand his place in the greater plan of all of your activities.
Establish a routine for getting the dog on the boat. Alf knows to sit and watch patiently as my captain takes the dingy to the mooring ball to get the boat and brings it back to the dock. He knows that after we move the coolers and gear bags, I will take him on a short potty time walk, then put his PFD on him and walk him out on the docks. On the count of three, he knows that he will be lifted by his PFD onto the seat cushion on the boat deck. He also knows that when we are done sailing for the weekend, the process will be reversed. If, for some reason, we go off of that routine, he becomes nervous and uncooperative.
If you leave your dog in the car while you are moving your gear, be sure to leave the windows open so that the poor creature doesn’t roast while waiting. I leave the side doors of the van open so that he can watch us while we unload and we can keep a bit of an eye on him at the same time.
Schedule regular shore visits for your dog throughout the day.  It is best if you can maintain the same schedule that he observes at home. If he goes out mid-morning and mid-afternoon at home, try to maintain the same schedule on the boat.
It is important that you protect your dog from extreme heat and too much sun. As you can see, Alf is very dark and the sunlight just bakes him if we don’t shade and/or cool him regular.  Zen doesn’t have a Bimini top and Alf wants to be with us on deck rather than below in the cabin, so we have to be a little creative in making sure that the sun doesn’t get to him. I generally soak an old, light-colored towel in the cool lake water and drape it over him on those hot, sunny days.
If your dog is a jumper, you will want to secure him to the boat. You really don’t want to practice your man-overboard drills with a panicking dog. Alf sits pretty well most of the time but if it’s windy or rocky, he gets a little edgy and seems to want to jump off or wander all of over the boat in a panic. It is simple enough to find an out-of-the-way spot to tie a line to the boat and the dog to keep him safe and out from under foot. I tie a short rope from his PFD to the lifeline that blocks off our swim deck. In an emergency, Alf can be quickly released in three ways: 1) I can open the lifeline and slide the rope off of it; I can untie the other end of the rope from his PFD; or 3) I can unzip his PFD and slide him out.
Preparing and training your dog for sailing can reap so many rewards for you and your dog. You will be free to enjoy sailing without worrying about what to do with the dog and your dog will enjoy spending the time outdoors with you. 
Happy Sailing!

Thursday, October 1, 2015


Liquids on a boat, just like liquids in a car, present a special challenge. Actually, the challenge is two-fold: 1) Keeping the liquid in the container; and 2) Keeping the bugs out of it.
Obviously, it’s all about the vessel that you chose. Vessel as in cup or bottle, not the boat itself. The options for clever cups and cup holders are plentiful and wonderfully inexpensive.
For beer: Opt for cans rather than bottles. Not only are cans safer than glass bottles, but they flatten out in the trash can later – a fact that you will appreciate during a long passage.  Please note, if you are at the helm, you should not be drinking alcohol. It is not only dangerous but it is also against the law. Save the alcohol for when you are docked or anchored for the night – or appoint a designated non-drinking helmsman.
For soft drinks:  Screw-top bottles are better than cans for soft drinks. Being able to put the cap back on the bottle while under way will prevent spillage and keep the bugs out when you have to put your soda down to tend to the lines or take the helm.
For everything else: I love these adult sippy cups.

They keep wine from spilling, staining my clothes and white upholstery and, more importantly, they keep gnats from taking swan dives into my Cabernet. They work just as well as for iced tea, water or lemonade.
Once you have your beverage contained in the proper vessel and it is in hand, what do you do when you need to put it down for a few minutes? Small boats generally don’t come with enough drink holders for more than two people and the ones that they do have aren’t always in the most convenient places.
Zen has just two drink holders. Two!?! We can have as many as six people aboard on a lazy weekend sail. On any given Sunday, we may need up to six drink holders while we fix lunch, eat, chat, swim or nap. We need those drink holders scattered about the boat for the convenience of the crew and the guests.
Thankfully, there are a couple of very affordable options that don’t require cutting holes in your boat. These lifeline drink holders are handy because they can be suspended anywhere on the lifeline and are easy to move around to different spots if you decide to move around.

There are no cup holders within reach of our tiller, nor are there aft lifelines that would accommodate these simple devices. I have always thought that the space just beneath the tiller would be a great place to have some sort of floor mounted model. I looked around and finally found the solution - I’m asking Santa to bring me not one but two of these little suction cup mounted beauties.

Not only would one be handy on deck but I’d also like to have one in the cabin, close to where I sleep at night.
There is one drink holder caveat that every boater should know: No matter what style of drink holders you chose for you boat, be sure to stow them out of sight when you when you leave the boat unattended for an extended period of time.  The very first time we left Zen docked at a marina, we returned in one week to find that some dock rat had pried both of our drink holders from the boat.