According to Bernard Moitessier, I am not a natural borne solo sailor.
I think that nothing is better than sharing the joy of sailing and a fair share of the work, with a good companion. However I do sail solo a lot of the time and discovered many years ago that being trapped in harbour waiting for crew did not suit my temperament!
The following are ways of going about single-handing that I have evolved over the years. They are very far from a ‘how to do it’ instruction kit! I offer them in a spirit of humility to any sailor who is nervous about giving single handing a try.
It should go without discussion that you the Skipper have spent considerable time sailing your boat in light and strong conditions, under main or foresail or both. You are totally familiar with boat systems, handling under power and coming along side. In short, you know your boat.
1. Before going off on any sail longer than a lazy afternoon day-sail, I spend the night aboard at anchor or on a mooring. My pontoon berth is far too protected and insulates me from the motion of the sea, so physically tuning in to my boat is not possible. Next morning, after a light breakfast, I set off before the day breeze has built up to its full strength.
2. I have a five day weather forecast when available. Even though it is only accurate for about three days as a rule the best guess of a professional is useful. I have a navigation plan, which can change if things are not as expected. I keep a plot on my paper chart and in my navigators logbook every hour.
3. I set sail under main alone, not motor. I work my way clear of moorings and then unroll the genoa when I can set a good tack. For most of my sailing life I sailed boats with hank-on foresails, but I’m getting a bit lazy as I get older.
4. I take short hops; no more than fifteen or so miles, or about six hours duration. I avoid overnight sailing for the first few days.
It is a mistake to dread sailing at night. Indeed it can be easier to navigate, observing other vessels lights, than it is making out what they are doing on a hazy summer day. Going into an unknown harbour at night is another matter. I find the leading lights get confused and hidden in a background shore-side clutter. Under these circumstances I hove to till daylight.
5. When I am clear of traffic, or expect to be for a while, I fiddle with the sails and the elastic chord holding the tiller and try to balance the boat. I want to be able to make tea, check the log, move around the boat and not be chained to the tiller for the duration of the passage.