Sailing Etiquette
By Donna Wolfson

If you have never taken a sailing vacation, learning sailing etiquette and a few tricks will make it even more enjoyable. And you are in for a real treat.

British Virgin Islands & Sailing Etiquette!

There is something magical the first time your sails fill with wind and you find yourself gliding through the turquoise blue waters of the Sir Francis Drake Channel off the coast of Tortola, BVI.

There is nothing more peaceful or relaxing than sailing in the British Virgin Islands.

I first experienced this thrill about six years ago when I joined my husband's passion for sailing.

I have learned a lot with his patient guidance, but there are still some things that puzzle me. For instance, why I cannot seem to tie a bowline, why a rope is called a line - unless it is a mainsheet or halyard, or why the bathroom is called the head.  But learning sailing etiquette made it easier.

Despite this, more than error than by trial, I quickly mastered some lessons for life on board before I ever took my first Caribbean sailing vacation.

In order to ensure you have a great trip, you need to remember that you are not at home hence the importance of sailing etiquette. Rather, you are living onboard a sailing vessel and everyday tasks are done differently.

By following these simple rules of sailing etiquette, life onboard will be as easy as soaking up the sun off the magnificent azure blue waters or fabulous white sandy beaches of the British Virgin Islands.

Lessons For Using the Head (aka The Bathroom)

Head lessons involve teeth brushing, showering, and using the toilet. The main thing to understand is that fresh water is held in tanks below deck. Thus, there are limited gallons of water that can be carried on your sailing vacation.

Refilling the tanks takes time away from the fun, and can be expensive since the availability of fresh water is limited on the islands as well. Therefore, "less is best" applies to fresh water usage.

In terms of teeth brushing, you cannot let the faucet run while you brush. It just wastes too much water. Simply wet your brush, turn off the water, brush, and then turn on the water again to rinse. Easy!

If you are like me, I enjoy long, hot showers when I am at home. You will have hot showers onboard, just not long ones unless you want to make the rest of your party really mad when there is no water left.  Not good if you're looking at sailing etiquette.

The water is heated up every time the engine runs, so if you have sailed all day, you may need to run the engine for about an hour if you want a scalding hot shower.

In some sailing vessels, there will actually be a walk-in shower, but usually the shower is just a pull-out extension hose on the water faucet. You will find a button on the faucet that will convert the steady stream of the faucet into a shower head.

Make sure the head door is closed before you start your shower or you will soak your cabin. Like teeth brushing, you cannot leave the water running. Turn the water on and get wet, then turn the water off. Lather up with your soap or shampoo, and then turn the water back on just to rinse.

There will be a pool of water at your feet, but the charter company, where you pick up your sailing vessel, will show you how to operate the shower pump prior to your departure, all part of sailing etiquette.

All you really need to do is make sure the shower bilge pump is turned on at the navigation station. Then, somewhere in the head, you will find a button to press that will drain the water from the floor. Continue holding it until you hear the drain start sucking air.

As an alternative, you can take what is known as the "Joy Shower."

My Husband and nephew actually prefer this method when they are on a sailing vacation because they find it so refreshing in the warm Caribbean waters.

All you do is jump into the sea. When you are done splashing around, climb up on the ladder or sit on the platform on the back of the boat. Lather up with Joy dish soap. (Most sail charters have a bottle onboard when you pick up the boat.) Joy actually lathers up nicely in salt water without harming any marine life.

Jump back in to remove the soap and then rinse with the fresh water shower located in the back of your sailing vessel. For something, no bigger than an airline toilet, the marine head can be somewhat intimidating for the first time cruiser on a sailing vacation.

The first time I went sailing, I was determined to wait until I got ashore to "go", but as the saying goes, "the best laid plans...." A major rule is that only two things are ever flushed: 1) toilet paper - small amounts at a time, and 2) that which has already been eaten.

Anything else can and will clog it up, and the only way to remedy that is to take the toilet apart, which is not a pleasant job.  Totally against sailing etiquette!

Before using the head, pull the lever on the side of the toilet to the water symbol and pump some clean water into the bowl.

After using, pump the lever until the bowl is flushed clean.

Sometimes the pump works hard. A couple drops of vegetable oil in the bowl may help with the action. Keep pumping the lever 10-15 times more to flush any sewage right through the system.

Although this may be a delicate subject, the reality is, that on occasion, there may be some waste that is hard or is what the kids refer to as, "a log". If you have a piece of waste that does not want to go down, pull out the faucet hose from the sink and run a bit of hot water into the bowl. This usually breaks up or melts large/hard pieces sufficiently to be able to flush. Next flip the lever to the dry side and pump the bowl dry or nearly dry.

Sewage is either expelled through the hull or into holding tanks.Since you will not know which system you have on your sailing vessel, assume it is going though the hull.

This leads to the most important sailing etiquette tip: Before you flush, always make sure no one in your party is swimming around or near the boat because as my 8 year old niece so eloquently stated, "Floaters are nasty!"

Occasionally, on a sailing vacation, there may be a small leak in the head seals. This allows sea water to back up into the head bowl. It is really no problem, except that it sometimes looks like someone forgot to flush. Simply pump it out.

Lessons for Trash Storage/Disposal:

The beauty of the BVI is the pristine condition of the water and beaches surrounding the islands. Imagine what it would look like if every cruiser on a sailing vacation dumped their trash overboard.

Trash storage and disposal is actually relatively simple. First, in terms of storage, any plastic grocery bags can be used to store small amounts of trash. This includes cans, bottles, and assorted food debris since there are no garbage disposals onboard. When full, these small plastic bags can be placed in larger plastic kitchen trash bags.  Protect the environment this is also part of sailing etiquette.

These trash bags can be stored inside a storage locker until you are ready to dispose of them. There are two ways to dispose of your trash. One way is to throw the bag in the dingy and take it ashore with you for disposal in a dumpster.

Many anchorages have such dumpsters specifically designated for cruisers' trash. Another way is that there are often garbage pickups in the various anchorages. A local will pull up along side your boat and for a couple dollars will take your trash ashore for you.

Lessons for Using the Refrigerator:

All charter boats have refrigerators that cool when the engine is operating. Thus, it is important to run the engine at least half an hour twice a day. At other times, the refrigerator essentially operates like a large cooler.

It stays cold by placing blocks or bags of ice in the bottom and then placing the food on top. Therefore, unlike home, you cannot stand with the hatch door open deciding what you want to eat because too much cold air will escape.  Bad move and definitely not good sailing etiquette.

Thus, you need to know what is in the refrigerator and what you want to eat. It is also a good habit to ask anyone else in your party if they want something to eat to avoid excess cold air escaping.

As an additional tip, we have found that during the day, you fill a Styrofoam cooler with drinks and ice. This also helps keep the cold air in the refrigerator during your sailing vacation.

Lessons for Keeping the Vessel Clean:

Since you are sharing a relatively small, living space with others, during your sailing vacation, it is really important to be considerate of common areas.  Here's a few things to keep in mind on sailing etiquette.

First, do not place wet towels or clothes on cushions or on interior floors. It makes it unpleasant to sit and can be dangerous if floors are slippery.

Second, if your shoes are sandy from trips ashore, leave them in the cockpit rather than track sand all over the deck or into the cabins. One of the chores I do first thing in the morning is to take a bucket of seawater and flush the cockpit floor to remove any dirt/sand.

Third, if you hang clothes or towels on the rails to dry, remove them once they are dry. It is somewhat of an eyesore to pull into a perfect picture postcard anchorage only to find the "Beverly Hillbillies" and their dirty laundry ruining your view.  Consider others and remember your sailing etiquette.

Finally, make sure any loose items are stowed away when not in use. This prevents items flying when your sails fill with wind, and it keeps the cabins and salon from being overly cluttered.

Following these simple lessons on sailing etiquette will make your life on-board safe, easy and fun. The most important thing is to enjoy the sun, sea and exciting adventure of taking a sailing vacation in the BVI!

Donna Wolfson also know as "Sailgirl" at Virgin Island Sailing, has been sailing in the Caribbean and writing about it for years. Learn more about a Sailing Vacation.

Article Source:Ezine Articles by Donna Wolfson

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