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.
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).