Review: Thoughts, Tips, Techniques & Tactics For Singlehanded Sailing

Over the weekend I read Thoughts, Tips, Techniques & Tactics For Singlehanded Sailing (3rd edition) (3.9MB) by Andrew Evans. Although I found the prose rather long-winded at times, and skipped some of the author's countless detours and side notes, I still rate it as a must read for any single-handed sailor, or aspiring single-handed sailor. I'm mostly in the latter category as my single-handed experience to date has been limited to about a dozen coastal sailing trips of a few hours duration. Yet I yearn for longer trips. You may be wondering: "Why single-handed though? Why not take a crew?" Evans puts it succinctly: "a singlehanded sailor is freed from the schackles of socialization." I agree!  It's not that I'm particularly unsociable.  However, like many busy people, I value my alone time, and I also love the challenge of being entirely self reliant - if only for a few hours. Mentally, single-handled sailing in coastal waters is not so different from the solo sports of windsurfing and kitesurfing that I also enjoy; only the water toy is bigger!  Also let's not forget that crews can sometimes be hard work too, or as America's Cup skipper Ted Turner puts it:“The chance for mistakes is about equal to the number of crew squared.”

Evans made me realize the importance of being in the harness at all times when single handed.

"A singlehander is just as likely to fall off the boat on a stormy day with high winds when he is being extra careful as he is on a nice day when nothing significant is happening, but is just off guard for a fraction of a second." 

Although I have jack lines down each side of my cat, I confess that I don't always bother to tether.  I have absolutely no excuses, since when solo I invariably wear a harness-style PFD with PLB attached. Hence forth, I'm going to make it a rule to always tether when singled handed. Further, I'm going to install an additional jack line running the width of my cockpit. You read it here first!

Perhaps my biggest complaint with Evans' treatise is his blithe dismissal of multi-hulls, which I believe is horribly dated. To quote him:

"Multi-hulls are constantly sailed on the razor’s edge. It takes an experienced helmsman to keep them under control. An autopilot cannot reliability perform this role, but singlehanding relies on an autopilot."

Of course modern autopilots can reliably steer cruising cats. I think Evans is confusing racing mutihulls with their cruising counterparts. It is true that racing cats capsize quite often, but that is because they are hardly more than super-sized Hobie Cats, regularly pushed beyond their limits. Sadly, the recent Oracle America Cup Team capsizing illustrates this. Cruising cats, on the other hand, are safe and stable, and offer redundancy at many levels - two engines, two rudders, and two hulls. An engine failure, rudder failure or even hull breach is typically devastating to monohull, but not so to a cat. 

Evans states "Experience has proven, time and time again, that the motor is the single most unreliable piece of equipment on a sailboat", yet he fails to mention of the benefits of redundant motors. In fact Evans mentions redundancy only once, and that is with respect to autopilots and steering systems.  

Evans is also very harsh on electronics too. Statements like “electronics is bad” and 
"electricity is the greatest cause of frustration to every singlehanded sailor. Electrical problems will lead to more voyage cancellations than any other issue..." seem dated to me. Perhaps I haven't logged enough miles to experience these failures yet. My autopilot did fail once in rough seas recently, but simply power cycling it brought it back to life quickly. I only wish broken rigging could be resuscitated so easily!

Nevertheless, I found Evans' work to be an incredibly informative and I encourage every sailor to read it. In addition to heaps of practical tips, there are some fascinating stories, such as Skip Allen's gripping account of his return to California aboard “Wildflower" after winning the 2008 Singlehanded Transpac.


PS Since my original blog post, Andrew Evan has published this book with the slightly different title "Singlehanded Sailing - Thoughts, Tips, Techniques & Tactics" featuring even more content than the online version. It is a useful addition to any sailor's library.