On Yachts and Yacht Handling

On Yachts and Yacht Handling

Thomas Fleming Day
Thomas Fleming Day

Author: Day, Thomas Fleming, 1861-1927
On Yachts and Yacht Handling

Yacht Handling


The Rudder Publishing Company


Thomas Fleming Day
All Rights Reserved.



On this Book 13
On Seamanship 19
On Boats in General 37
On One-man Boats 55
On Sea-going Boats 67
On Rigs 81
On Sail as an Auxiliary 109
On Reefing 119
On Anchors and Anchoring 129
On Rigging 161
On Stranding 175


“Books were made that man might pass his knowledge to his fellows; through them he speaks to a vast audience, and his power to enlighten is only circumscribed by the ability to impart this knowledge in lucid and interesting language.”

My reason for writing this book is, that it is wanted; my excuse, thirty years’ experience. In those years I have handled many boats, upon many waters.
You will find this book very different from other works on the same subject. In the first place, I believe that all text-books should be written in a manner to please, as well as to instruct; that they should be agreeable reading; and, aside from their teaching value, have a certain excellence as a writing. Again, there is nothing in literature so interesting as the autobiography, real or fictional. Nearly all our great works of fiction are of this class. Robinson Crusoe’s history from any other lips than those of the castaway would lose half its interest; Gil Blas in the third person would lack warmth and be wholly devoid of its peculiar zest. The flavor of the individual is lost when you speak for, and not as him. The puppet talks like a puppet. It is the difference between John Alden pleading the cause of Captain Standish and John Alden pleading the cause of Master John. Let a man talk to you and he will interest and amuse; let him write for you and he will prove trite and dull. Therefore, when imparting information, I like to talk, not write. I want to infuse into my words my person, to endeavor to give my ideas an I-am-with-you tone, so that it will be me and not the book that is present, and with whom you are in communion.
But this method of handling a subject is apt to breed dogmatism, especially as the reader is unable to question or deny the statements made until they have been chilled into ink. So you will find in many of my chapters that I am exceedingly dogmatic. It is unintentional, simply being a manifestation of the spirit peculiar to this style of addressing an audience—one that must hear but cannot answer. Therefore let me warn you to question all my statements, and to accept only those that harmonize with your own conclusions, after you have carefully thought them over. Those that you cannot reconcile to your own knowledge and experience, lay on one side to be tried out at a future day.

Never, no matter how high the authority, accept any man’s coin by its minted face. It is as easy to strike a base as a sterling piece, and the king’s head on the reverse and his arms on the obverse won’t make lead silver, or copper gold. This in regard to statements made by those who set themselves up as authorities on a subject is particularly true, when the subject is one like this under discussion; one in which no fixed rules may be established, and where so much depends upon the man, the place and the means. I make a statement of practice; it was deduced from my personal experience, and in my case gave a perfect result; you follow it, but owing to certain complicating circumstances, in your case, it fails. For instance, I tell you, that when a vessel gets sternway on in a seaway to keep your helm amidships, and cast her with the headsails, and not to put your helm hard over. You accept my method as being the correct one, try it, and fail to cast your boat so as to fill away. This does not prove that I am wrong in making such a statement, but it shows that I am wrong in not having qualified it. It also shows that you are a lax thinker in not having questioned my method before putting it in practice. My error is the too frequent error of men who write on vessel handling; yours the too common error of men who study their books.
The object of this book, of these talks, is not to fill you, parrot fashion, full of rules of action or methods of practice, but to furnish you with food for thought; to lay before you certain statements from which you must, to a large extent, deduce your own conclusions. Take what I say, mix it with your own knowledge and experience, and put into action the result.
These talks are not intended for men who are what we may call seamen, men who are thoroughly versed in the art, nor are they intended for those who aspire to boats larger than forty feet over all. A boat above that size is too valuable to be trusted in the hands of an inexperienced or half-trained man. The owner of a large yacht, if he is not perfectly capable of handling her under all conditions, should hire some one who is. My sermons are addressed to the man who is learning to handle a small vessel, who wants to be a seaman, and who, to be free of all paid assistance, is willing to study the art thoroughly and make himself master of all its branches.


“The tar’s a smart tar that can band, reef and steer,
That can nimbly cast off and belay;
Who in darkest nights finds each halyard and gear,
And dead reckoning knows well, and leeway;
But the tar to please me must more knowing be.”—

I have been all my life a lover of the sea; an observer of its natural and social conditions; a student of its phases and fabrics; but while my mind in its long and wide search has touched upon almost every subject connected with ocean life, the one that has constantly interested and fascinated me is that which relates to the care and government of sailing vessels. This art, which is called seamanship, is one of man’s oldest and noblest attainments. What does the world owe to him who possessed it?
To him the civilization of to-day owes its existence. Man cramped in the confines of a continent, a prisoner at low-water mark, a dwarf in a dwarf world, was released, lifted and enlightened by the Master of the Sail. It was he who found the universe upon the sea, and brought it home; a free gift, with the more costly but less valuable trophies of distant trade. It was he who, broadening the world’s world, broadened the world’s mind. With the spices and silks of the East, with the gold and tobaccos of the West, he laded his ships with the new knowledge, a commodity that paid no revenues to the crown, that added nothing to the wealth and glory of princes, but, flowing slowly and steadily into the minds of men, incited the intelligent few to broader, nobler and more splendid achievements, and filtering through the masses, long steeped in inveterate ignorance, uplifted, enriched and regenerated all.
In the shadow of his sail hamlets became cities; wealth increased, suffering diminished. In his callous hands, the helm, that through daylight and darkness guided his vessel from land to land, was more marvelous in its powers than the famed ivory wand of the Eastern genii; and to all who sought to receive, his sail bore more jewels than ever burdened the magic carpet, or came into the hands of the daring and fortunate through the incantations of the Sons of the Hidden Light. While with one hand he struggled with chaffering Trade for her sordid coin, with the other he threw into the laps of Science and Art innumerable treasures. Impartial in his generosity as in his gifts, he gave to Astronomy new constellations, to Medicine rare and efficacious herbs, to Art fresh and invigorating colors, and to Literature a strange breed of heroes, novel situations and unfamiliar plots.
The freedom that he found upon the high seas he brought back to cheer the slaves of the mart. Kings bargained for his services, nobles and merchants offered their purses to assist in his ventures. In return for three paltry vessels he presented Spain with an empire; to prove a chimera false he perished among the northern ices. No sea was too broad to daunt him; no land was too distant to escape his search. The miseries he endured, the hardships he underwent, were forgotten in the joys of a new discovery. He opened roads of trade that brought riches and power to his country, and sprinkled these pathways with the bones of his companions—victims of exposure, famine and disease.
No reef lifts above the water, no shallow spreads its treacherous sands, but the frames of his vessel have been broken upon it. The hurricane and calm have taken toll of him; he has paid the penalty of recklessness and greed. He has given to the annals of war its most desperate and bloody conflicts; he has perished that nations might live, and that a people might be free.

His life gave him strength and endurance; his art made him skillful and courageous. He created and used a language of his own, and his customs were not those of other men. The inventor of the sail, the user of the elements, the discoverer, the trader, the protector, the world’s benefactor—the seaman.
A noble art makes noble men, and there is no nobler art than seamanship. As free and changeful in its measures as are the elements it employs and combats, it is prolific of resource, fertile in expedient, and a prompter of mental activity. It promotes skill of hand and tenacity of muscle. Courage is bred in its duties, and the mind broadens in its services.
It is this that makes the practice of seamanship so valuable to those who employ it only as a pastime. The care and handling of the sailing vessel furnishes most excellent training for the young. Aside from the skill it imparts, it takes men out into the open air; it offers to those whom the obligations of life keep at the counter and desk an opportunity to be free, to get away from and completely out of the business world. It gives the mart-worn mind a change and a rest. The sea has no postmen; no telegraph messengers. It prints no newspapers. The feet of society merely tread its borders. It is a place where man is really free, and where he can realize his freedom.
Many have written upon this art. Some of these works are an addition to literature and of value to the seaman, but the majority are not. On that branch of seamanship, which we will call yachtmanship, and which is principally the art of sparring, rigging, canvasing and handling fore-and-aft vessels, there has been penned several large works and many small ones. The standard books are by Vanderdecken and Kemp, and the majority of the others, I am sorry to say, are in the most part copies of these two. In some cases the authors have lifted their information bodily, and have forgotten to acknowledge the indebtedness. While standard works of their time, both Vanderdecken and Kemp are now out of date, and, moreover, they deal largely with big vessels, and vessels of a type no longer employed in yachting.
Among the smaller works there are several good ones, but they lack originality and do not properly cover the ground, nor do they contain the information which is most necessary to the beginner. Again, many of them have been written by men who are enslaved by one type, and are therefore considerably biased; others are from the pen of those who have had a special and not a general experience.
But the crowning defect of all these books, to my mind, is that the authors in the portion relating to handling try to teach a man, instead of prompting him to learn. You cannot teach a man to sail—he may learn. In order to do so he must have the sailor instinct. Unless he has that he will never become a seaman. That is why some men can never learn to handle a boat, and why others will pick up the knowledge in a few months.
Again, there are many men who learn to sail a boat; that is, become possessed of so much knowledge as will permit of their working a vessel from place to place, but yet never succeed in mastering the nicer or more difficult points of seamanship. These are the parrots of the profession—men who simply repeat what they see other men do. The skillful seaman is the man who thinks, who studies his profession, and who learns from his own experience what he cannot from the practice of others.
It is often said that experience is the great teacher. To be sure it is; but even experience cannot teach one who will not learn. The most intense and varied experience is of no use to one who casts it aside without first fitting it into place in his life’s record by turning it over and over in his mind. Spasmodic storage of experience is of no use whatever; it must be sorted, checked up, ticketed and stored away in its proper place in the next bin to that which it joins in the sequence of events. Unless this is done it will not be forthcoming when needed.
Properly arranged and stored, experience is the mother of what is called “presence of mind,” the most necessary mental part for a seaman to possess. Without it he will be a menace to his own safety and a threat of danger to others. Presence of mind is simply applied forethought. You do in an emergency without apparent reflection the right thing, and save your boat, your life, or somebody else’s life. People who see the act, exclaim, “What wonderful presence of mind!” but would be more correct, if they exclaimed, “What perfect presence of plan!” You have simply executed at a moment’s notice a plan of action that has been stored away in your mind, perhaps for years.
When a boy, I frequently amused myself when skating by thinking out what I would do if a person fell through the ice. I pictured all possible situations and methods of rescue. One day the accident happened; a boy in skating across the head of a pond broke through the thin ice formed where the river entered the lake. From the hundred skaters present a yell of terror went up, and, as was the case when the immortal Mr. Pickwick met with a similar accident at Dingley Dell, everybody called for help, and nobody offered it. Though at some distance, my attention was drawn to the mishap by these cries. Instantly I responded. There was no mental preparation, no reflection; the proper plan flashed into my acting mind. I executed it, and the boy was saved.
Now, if I had not had that plan stored in my mind, I should have been just as much at sea as the rest were. I should probably have joined them in shouting for a plank or rope, or, like Mr. Tupman, have cried fire, or performed some other senseless act, such as people do when brought suddenly face to face with a dangerous emergency.
One day when running down wind I said to the young fellow at the wheel, who was anxious to learn the seaman’s trade, “What would you do if one of us fell overboard?” “I don’t know,” he answered. “Haven’t you ever thought, planned out, what you would do in such an emergency?” No, he hadn’t. “Well,” I said, “you think it out; put the boat in different positions and under different sail, and plan out what you would do if such an accident happened.” A day or two after, while the same lad was at the wheel, we lost the dingey. Without calling me from below or hesitating, he wore round and recovered the boat, executing the manoeuvre in so clever a manner as to call praise from all the old hands. When, shortly after, I relieved him at the wheel, he said, “I thought that out the other day after you spoke about what to do if a man falls overboard.”
Again, I was on the bridge of a steamer chatting with the mate. “What do you do to pass away the long night watches?” I asked him. “Well,” he answered, “I spend hours thinking and planning out what I would do if certain things happened. I put the ship into every possible danger—fire, collision, shifting cargo, broken shaft, and unexpected land. I then plan how best to meet the emergency created. I place other ships in every position—green to port, red to starboard, lights dead ahead, lights on the beam, lights everywhere—then plan to work my ship clear of them. I have some run into me, am sinking, lower boats, save my own crew and rescue others. I pick up lame ducks, pass hawsers, make fast and tow them in. Everything that could possibly happen I have happen, and plan the ways and means of meeting them over and over again. That is how I while away my eight hours in the scuppers.”
There was a seaman who had prepared himself for an emergency; a commander who had ready for instant use a plan, so, let occasion demand it, he could stand forth the man of the hour.
Let me advise you who would learn the seaman’s art to copy that mate. Spend your idle hours thinking and planning. Never go into a difficult channel without first picturing what dangers may confront you, and how you can overcome them. Never pass through a fleet or come to anchor among vessels without planning beforehand your mode of action. Never turn in at night without first looking about you and outlining in your mind your position in regard to shore and craft, and forming a plan for getting away if anything should happen to oblige you to make sail. After a little practice this thinking ahead will become second nature, and your brain will plan and act with the regularity and cheerfulness of a good clock.
The backbone of active seamanship is confidence—confidence in yourself, confidence in your craft, confidence in your crew. The first and most necessary of these is confidence in yourself. Without it the place for you is on shore, or in a subordinate position. No man should attempt to command who has shaken confidence in his own skill and judgment. I mean by confidence the true article, not the false, which is more commonly called conceit.
Confidence is inspired by action and confirmed by success. You attempt a feat such as you have never attempted before and are successful, therefore you are sure that the skill or knowledge you used in performing it is reliable, and that you are possessed of a mastery over it sufficient to enable you to repeat the act. In plain English, you are sure you can do it again.
Let us suppose it is a feat of navigation. By yourself you have never taken a yacht out of sight of land, but, having the opportunity, decide to attempt to run from one point to another across an open stretch of sea. You take the chart, find the magnetic course and distance, allow for leeway and current, and having thus found your compass course put the ship on it, and away you go. Land soon drops down astern, and you begin to feel a bit shaky. Suppose you have made a mistake in laying off the course; not allowed enough for leeway, too much for current. Suppose you should miss the distant cape. This and a dozen other things begin to haunt your mind. You go below, out with the chart, pass over your figures, remeasure the distance, get the same result for compass course—we will say N. E. by E.½E. You go back on deck confident that your course and distance are correct, and then begin to worry about the compass. You are sure it was correct yesterday, because you took several bearings and found it so, and it was also correct two weeks before, on your last cruise. Then you reason that

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