Top Of The Flops: The Biggest Fails Of 2019

A sailboat looking out at beautiful mountain views at sunset
OUR ULTIMATE SAILING FAILS

This seasons ultimate fails.

We have met two types of sailors. Ones that say they know everything, and ones that will admit they don’t. We refuse to become one of those sailors that pretends to know everything, and never learns. It’s one of our biggest complaints with sailing-these forums where people pick apart what people have done before something goes horribly wrong. How can you possibly know what you would do in these highly stressful situations. Maybe you’ll get lucky and do exactly the right things at exactly the right time. Maybe you’ll do it two seconds too late, or maybe you won’t do anything at all because you’ll be so paralysed with fear that you can’t think straight. Who knows!

We are very happy to publish our mistakes to the world. Perhaps we will never make them again, perhaps we will! And perhaps someone else will learn from them. Who knows! We present Top of the Flops, the top 10…

#10: Not securing the anchor

a sailboat at anchor in sicily
FIRST TIME SAILING

Our first time ever anchoring and there were bound to be some mistakes (watch our first sail here). After deciding the anchorage we had sailed to on our very first sail on Hot Chocolate was not protected enough, we headed back to the marina under cover of darkness.

We had picked up the anchor in the light, using the windlass, and started our journey home. The wind wasn’t ideal, and the seas were starting to grow. With every wave the boat ploughed through it was becoming more and more uncomfortable. Skipper and friend Tom alerted us to an unusual noise, and we took the helm as he crawled forward to the bow to see what was going on. The windlass had failed to hold the anchor and it had come loose, bashing dangerously against the hull with every wave we splashed through.

Adam went up to tie the anchor down again, while Tom held the boat on course and I went into the forward cabin to help with the anchor chain that continued to stick in the locker. It was pretty scary to know that Adam was getting thrown around up there, clipped in but vulnerable to the power of the ocean. After a good 15 minutes wrestling it back into place Adam returned to the safety of the cockpit and spent the next 7 hours emptying the contents of his stomach into the ocean. Not our finest moment all round really!

#9: The saltwater wash down

a boy at the helm of a sailboat looking happy!
SMOOTH SAILING

Our second sailing mishap, one of the scariest that ended up being one of the funniest! After the anchor had got loose on our last voyage the boys checked the hull thoroughly for any damage and were relieved to find we had got away with it. Not even a scratch. We headed off for another day sail.

It was a lovely, sunny day with decent sailing winds and we were pretty healed over heading to wind. Tom was cooking lunch and I went to grab him some kitchen roll from the cupboard in the head. I came back, had a little chat to Tom, turned around and froze in horror when I saw water pouring into the boat.

That may sound like an exaggeration, but it’s not. In the forward cabin, at the bow of the boat, there is an anchor locker and it’s doors have slats in them. When I turned I could see water spurting through the slats into the forward cabin. In that split second I thought the anchor had made a hole in the boat and we were sinking.

On further exploration we realised that the switch to turn on the saltwater wash down is actually in the companionway, which I had knocked on my way past, and the hose was just spraying saltwater all over Tom’s bed. Oooops!

#8: Dragging anchor

a sailboat in a stunning Greek bay
SITTING PRETTY

Probably the scariest of all our top flops, you can watch it here. We didn’t have a windlass at the time, so we set the anchor in Vathy with a 5:1 scope and when it didn’t hold we had to pick it up and start again (luckily for us it’s pretty shallow there). We did this same little dance three times until the anchor finally held when we motored back on it.

After seeing the anchor not hold so many times I was feeling ultra paranoid. I sat and watched transits for ages, and refused to leave the boat for several hours while I made sure we were ok. We were in a busy harbour and weren’t taking any risks. We thought. Needing food we decided to row to shore (it was only a short distance so we didn’t bother getting the outboard down). The wind was starting to pick up, blowing the opposite direction to the way we had set the hook, so we stood and watched the boat from the shore for a few minutes just to double check. All was fine so we trotted off to do our shopping.

We started heading back when we saw the boat that had been next to us had moved. ‘They better not have moved away from us because we’re dragging!’ I joked, as we rounded the corner to see our boat merrily sailing itself straight towards a very expensive looking cat. We ran for the dinghy and started rowing furiously, cursing ourselves for not putting on the outboard. Luckily our old neighbour spotted us and collected Adam in his dinghy and he got the engine on just in time.

We have analysed the situation over and over, but I honestly just think we were unlucky. Our neighbour who had moved had no idea we were dragging, he moved because he was. As we faffed around picking up the anchor the anchorage slowly cleared out, with many other boats dragging their anchors too and others who were holding moving to keep clear of the dragging boats! By the time we actually left the once busy anchorage was nearly empty.

Dragging anchor so early in the season had its ups and downs. We were constantly paranoid and on edge, but we also fine tuned our anchoring techniques to try and prevent it from ever happening again. I feel much more confident in our anchoring technique because of that terrifying incident.

#7: Letting go of the lazy bag lines

A SAILBOAT WITH ALL THREE SAILS OUT, SAILING IN GREECE
FULL SAILS

We have a bit of a hate/hate relationship with the lazy bag. Obviously it makes putting away the sail a lot easier, but it’s impossible to unzip and zip up again, and always, ALWAYS catches on the winch when we try to put up the main sail. It needs a little re-configuring, but the best time to do this was probably not while we were on an eight hour passage.

As Adam decided to have a little play and see if he could sort it out, he let go of the rope that holds the whole bag up and it ran straight through the block on the spreader. The bag was unusable. We spent the passage praying we didn’t need to reef and wondering what we would do with the sail once we got it down, as we had no reefing lines attached.

What we ended up with was a big bundle of sail and a load of line tied round it. Luckily we were heading for the abandoned marina where we knew we would have the chance to go up the mast (check it out here!) and fix the problem. It was a good excuse to have a go at going up there, and actually really fun too. Sometimes these disasters have a good outcome!

#6: Putting oil in the outboard

A GIRL RIDING A DINGHY WITH AN OUTBOARD THAT WORKS
A LOVE HATE RELATIONSHIP

It would be easy for me to just blame this one on Adam, but I am just as at fault, if not more so. When it comes to the maintenance of the boat I hate to admit, but I rely heavily on Adam. I’m learning, but it’s a slow and painful process. One thing I really don’t get is engines, but our inboard engine is a pretty important part of the boat, so I’m trying to get to grips with it. I have read the manuel from cover to cover and had a go at some basic maintenance, but it is all still a little above me. I haven’t even started on trying to understand the outboard for the dinghy, which I hate at the best of times.

It’s always been pretty unreliable. Most of the time I can’t even start it. So I didn’t think much about it when it wouldn’t start for me when my parents were here. But then it also wouldn’t start for Adam. We obviously had a problem.

Adam got stuck into reading up on what the issue could be, and I did what I’m best at-stayed out of the way. About an hour into his research Adam discovered the problem. Our 2 stroke outboard engine is most definitely a 4 stroke outboard engine. For some reason he had spent the whole season maintaining a different engine to the one we actually have. Adam had read the manual and made a mistake. I hadn’t even bothered to read it. Luckily, the things we did to it haven’t caused any lasting damage and it now works beautifully.

#5: Keeping mooring lines too tight

A CLEAT ON THE DOCKSIDE WITH A SAILBOAT ATTACHED
PERFECTING OUR MOORING

We think this was what caused the problem with our fair lead during the meltemi. We had the mooring lines quite tight, thinking it would make the boat more secure during the high winds. But then a swell crept in and because the lines were too tight the boat had no room to move with the new sea state. The boat started to snatch and pull on the lines, making an uncomfortable motion, and when we went to see what was going on the fair lead snapped clean in half. The force on the lines must have been huge.

Once we slackened the lines a little the boat was free to move with the sea and the whole ordeal was a million times more comfortable. Luckily we didn’t snap any lines but I can see how they could have with the amounts of force going through them, as the boat tried to roll with the sea. Now when we moor we try to give the boat just a little room to move!

#4: Putting a line on the winch instead of the cleat

THE HOLDING BAY OF A HAUL OUT LIFT FOR A BOAT YARD
THE HOLDING BAY

Ooops! We feel pretty embarrassed about this mistake, but we will never make it again! For our final night of the season we moored up in the haul out bay, as we were first out the next morning. The bay is a u shaped concrete bay, just big enough for a boat to slot into.

When we moored there was a little cross wind, and we were worried about putting too much strain on our already weakened cleat (from the previous meltemi snatching incident) so we fixed it up to the massive winch we have while we got the boat safely moored and decided what to do. Then we completely forgot to go back to it. We happily filled up with fuel, got the dinghy fixed down, faffed around with a load of other jobs we needed to do and went to bed.

I woke up a few hours later and just had a feeling that something wasn’t right. I looked outside in my sleepy state and was very confused about why we were on the other side of the docking bay. It took me several seconds to work out our stern line had come loose and the stern of the boat had drifted over to the other side of the bay. The spring and bow lines were holding the bow of the boat which had stopped us from being blown (unfendered) against the other side of the concrete wall. So we were now sat diagonally across the bay.

Luckily adrenaline woke us up quickly and we managed to secure the stern line properly this time, before any lines snapped and put us in real danger. Usually when we make silly mistakes like this I spend days beating myself up. I’m really proud of myself for managing to shrug this one off. We made a really stupid mistake and we learnt from it, but we also managed to sort it out. I don’t need to make myself feel bad about it, I just need to not do it again!

#3: Going miles off course for a ferry (that is hours away)

Something I now laugh about. When we first started this adventure I was pretty scared of other vessels. I thought we were on a collision course with everything and took us off course for vessels that were actually miles and miles away. Adam got more than a little frustrated, especially when crossing shipping lanes took about 2 hours longer than it should have because I zig zagged between everything on the distant horizon.

At the time I thought I was just a being a little cautious. Now I can see that I was being ludicrous. Luckily Adam didn’t break up with me over it, though I’m pretty sure there were lots of times he would have quite liked me to end up in the sea!

#2: Trusting the weather forecast (and my weather reading skills!)

CHARTS AND A SAILING LOGBOOK
PLOTTING COURSE

You would think that growing up in England we would be weather savvy. One day it’s sunny, the next day it’s raining and the weather forecast is almost always wrong. I don’t know why I thought the wind forecast would be any different.

With not much else to go from it was easy to follow it blindly. If the forecast said the wind was going to come from the east, then surely it would come from the east. If there was going to be 5 knots of wind then there is no way there would be 30 instead.

Over the course of the season I made the mistake of trusting the forecast over and over again, and got more and more frustrated that I had planned a lovely downwind sail only to find we were beating into it for the whole passage.

Towards the end of the season I decided to become a little more suspicious, and that led to even more mistakes. At anchor in Nafplio I checked only the wind map, which predicted 2-3 knots of wind all day and night. Fine, then, that the anchorage we were in wasn’t the most protected. I didn’t bother to look at what it would be gusting. We sat through a night of anchor watch, when I realised a little too late that the forecast was actually correct for once. It was 2-3 knots gusting 30 knots every few seconds, blowing us right onto shore.

#1: Getting in a tangle

A SAILBOAT AT SEA WITH ALL ITS SAILS UP
LEARNING TO KEEP THE BOAT TIDY

This covers several of our mishaps and tends to happen when we start to relax a little. We get comfy in the cockpit, leave out a book, or some fishing equipment, or a mug, or two cameras, a screwdriver, blankets, a speaker, 3 bowls, a bag of nuts, a hat and a Jerry can of diesel. Then the wind picks up and all hell breaks loose.

The worst time this happened was when we had been at anchor for a while, and for some reason had moved the spare halyard and tied it to the bow of the boat. We forgot it was there, tacked the genoa and it got horribly tangled. It took us a while to work out what had happened, and it was impossible to solve the problem without going up there. We had to turn the boat to wind (all 25 knots of it) and Adam wrestled his way up there as the boat smashed down into each wave.

While he was up there, and I was trying to keep the boat to wind so the sail didn’t fill, the stay sail worked itself loose and threatened to come out completely and get tangled too. I had both hands on the wheel and a foot on the stay sail line, while Adam prayed his safety line was enough to hold him if he lost balance. It went from a great downwind sail to complete mayhem in 30 seconds. And after a few minutes of terror we were back to being in control again.

A BEAUTIFUL SUNSET IN THE MARINA IN SICILY
MARINA SUNSETS

‘If you’re making mistakes, it means you’re out there doing something’

So there’s our top 10 fails. We are very thankful that none of these mistakes ended in anything more disastrous than a raised pulse and a good story. We have learnt a lot and become better sailors because of our mistakes. It’s clear to us too that wrong place, wrong time has a lot to do with sailing mishaps, and that you really can’t ever know it all. Nature is in control, and you do the best you can to keep up out there.

Thank you to all our sailing friends who have offered endless support and guidance, and who haven’t judged us for our mistakes. You are what make sailing great, and the reason we can’t wait for next seasons adventures.

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