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Reef navigation

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What is the issue?
Sailing in reef-strewn waters is very dangerous. The only safe way to operate in tight reef waters is to use eyeball navigation. To do this you need to get at least six feet above deck level to view the patterns in the water.

Why address this?
Pleasure sailing will take a vessel to reefs at one time or other as the most beautiful sailing waters and temperatures are to be found where they are situated. If you are planning to go to waters where reefs are prevalent, setting in place a system to quickly and safely get aloft is critical to the safety of your vessel.

How to address this?
A simple cost-effective approach is to rig up a set of ratlines upon the shrouds terminating at a point where it is possible to comfortably stand and securely clip-on.

Crosstrees viewpoint
Photo: Michael Harpur

To achieve this on our vessel we ran a set of ratlines up between the port side and inner cap shroud, as you only need one side. Solid pieces of teak were used top and bottom to act as spacers and to provide the topmost solid platform to stand upon whilst resting against the spreader as shown above.

View from the crosstrees
Photo: Michael Harpur

You do not need to go to as high as the crosstrees. Ascending about 2 metres (six feet) above deck level should provide enough visibility to clearly pick out reefs. However the higher you go the better the operational view is provided, as the above picture shows. But you may not want to go all the way up if the motion is particularly pronounced. Having ratlines to the crosstree level was also a major maintenance convenience as we could use them to repair sails whilst underway. We also found them very useful to come up in harbours with particularly high pier walls.

Repairing a sail whilst underway
Photo: Michael Harpur

The ratlines were very simple to set in place. Four millimetre UV proof line was more than adequate with a pair of clove hitches on either end to fasten them onto the shrouds. The secret we found was to bind these in place with a little insulating tape then tightly whip over the hitches. Although the whipping is a laborious art, once complete the ratlines’ grip were rock solid and there was not a millimetre of lateral sliding in three years of use. Nor did it do any damage to the shrouds in that time. We found the extra windage to be negligible. Walking up light ratlines is however uncomfortable barefoot so you will need to use deck shoes.

With thanks to:
Michael Harpur, Yacht Obsession.
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