In many situations, leaving the mooring under power is the only sensible option. But if conditions allow, why not spare the engine and sail off instead? David Harding offers some tips on how to sail off a mooring.

Manoeuvring a boat under sail in close quarters is a skill that can be extremely useful. It’s often easier to fire up the engine when leaving or approaching the mooring, which is what most people tend to do, but sailing on or off can be quieter, far more satisfying and a good way to practise and hone skills that might otherwise seldom be used.

The best approach will depend on the relative strength and direction of wind and tide, the proximity of obstructions (moored boats, shallows etc) and, of course, on the handling characteristics of your particular boat.

To illustrate how straightforward it can be, here’s an example of how to leave the mooring in perfect wind-and-tide-together conditions and a gentle breeze. Michael Brophy often sails on and off the mooring in his Sigma 33 (as featured in PBOs August and September 2013) and would have done exactly as he did here on this particular day whether or not a photographer had been shooting from a nearby RIB.

Mainsail only
Michael normally uses just the mainsail to sail off in conditions like this, because the boat handles well like that. The headsail would flap around and get in the way, and it’s easy to unroll later.
Even if you’re lying head-to-wind the mainsail can make the boat sail around on the mooring, so it’s important to keep it depowered. Just easing the sheet isn’t enough. Make sure there’s no drive in the leech by taking up on the topping lift as well or, if you have a gas or sprung kicker, slackening it off.

Either way, the effect is the same: the boom lifts and the leech goes slack. It’s the Bermudan equivalent to scandalising a gaff rig (lowering the peak, as demonstrated in PBO August 2013).

With the sheet and gas kicker both eased, the boom is raised and the leech goes slack...

1: With the sheet and gas kicker both eased, the boom is raised and the leech goes slack…

2: ...so the mainsail flaps without generating any drive.

2: …so the mainsail flaps without generating any drive.

3: Michael goes forward and prepares to drop the mooring.

3: Michael goes forward and prepares to drop the mooring.

 

4: With the kicker tight, even if the mainsheet is loose, the drive from the leech can be enough  to make the boat sail around on the mooring.

4: With the kicker tight, even if the mainsheet is loose, the drive from the leech can be enough
to make the boat sail around on the mooring.

 

5: Wanting to sail off on starboard tack, he walks the pick-up buoy down the starboard side before dropping it, thereby encouraging the boat to pay off to port.

5: Wanting to sail off on starboard tack, he walks the pick-up buoy down the starboard side before dropping it, thereby encouraging the boat to pay off to port.

Having tensioned the kicker to pull the boom down and power up the leech, Michael sheets in...

6: Having tensioned the kicker to pull the boom down and power up the leech, Michael sheets in…

 

...and sails away through the moorings. The key to maintaining control under just the mainsail is not to over-sheet: most boats  will perform best if the boom is well outboard of the quarter.

…and sails away through the moorings. The key to maintaining control under just the mainsail is not to over-sheet: most boats will perform best if the boom is well outboard of the quarter.