Sailors of small boats prepare for the snappy cold months ahead
Sailors, we have quietly passed into the hibernation side of the year. Daylight is shorter than the dark hours, but we’re not quite driving home in total darkness; temperatures are cooling but haven’t yet hit November’s free fall of cold rain. We’re still sailing and racing, but with ever-thickening layers of neoprene and hats trending from baseball caps to winter beanies.
Doesn’t mean it’s time to put our boats away for the winter (and some frostbiters will keep at it through the snappy cold months), but that day is just around the corner. If you know your season is drawing to a close, October can be the perfect time to find a day still warm enough to work outside with water and not end up with cold fingers as you cozy your dinghy up for the winter.
Prepare your boat to hibernate happily! Here are a few tips to implement before you close up shop for the winter so that a happier boat greets you in the spring.
You can simultaneously ensure your spars overwinter well, set yourself up for a solid rigging check, and reduce stressful windage issues by taking your mast down for the winter. For most dinghies, this is a pretty quick process—well worth the hour or so with a friend to make it happen. In the process, you’ll end up removing old pieces of electrical tape that may be hiding and corrosion that have built up over the season. You may make some troubling discoveries: Most halyards and shrouds are made of wire. Go over these carefully to see if any of the strands are broken. Any issues? You’ve got a long winter in which to overcome any supply chain issues—place your orders for replacements now!
Keeping your mast down over the winter is also a nice little break for your boat, as it removes the stress inherent in having a mast and tensioned shrouds for a few months. And it’s a nice head start for keeping your boat ready to roll in the face of any super windy nor’easters.
Of course you’re giving your boat a nice little freshwater rinse after every excursion, but step it up before putting it to bed for the year. Salt is a corrosive! Give your boat and all its parts a nice wash-down. As you have your mast down, give that a good cleaning, too. Be sure to give a good sudsing and rinse-out to parts with crevices and moving parts: I’m looking at you, blocks and cam cleats!
Ice is not your friend
We small-boat sailors love a great romp in a blow with water spraying everywhere. And we get back to the boat park, rinse things off, and walk away. Fine game, unless things will freeze. Recall from your school days: As water freezes into ice, it expands. And that can cause chaos if it expands in a place where it shouldn’t. One prime example of this: ILCA (formerly Laser) mast step wells.
To avoid a cracked mast step (and therefore structurally unsound mast step), it’s vital to ensure this area is dry when you’re tucking your boat away for the winter. Borrow a friend and have them help you flip your boat over for a moment to let the water drain out. Or attach a sponge to the end of a stick (kitchen sponge rubber-banded around the end of a paint stirrer works well) to sop it up. ILCA mast steps aren’t the only place at risk; inspect your boat as it may have its own little bowls of potential ice challenge.
Snug as a bug in a… boat cover
Now that you’ve gotten hull, spars, and parts all happy, it’s time to wrap ‘em all up. A good boat cover is an important element to stowing your boat away for the winter. It will keep snow off, hopefully keep the rain out (see “Ice Is Not Your Friend” as rain that settles into those crevices can become ice), and protect your boat from other challenges as it hibernates. Make sure it’s in good condition. A tattered and torn cover doesn’t stand up well to winter’s fury.
Some sailors will choose to use a top and bottom cover for longer-term storage. If you are using both covers, be sure that—depending on how your boat will “sit” for the winter (deck up or flipped over hull side up)—the cover facing the sky is overlapped on top of the cover facing the ground. That helps water flow off the boat, rather than into the other cover.
Secured and ready for snow
Your boat is now a happy cocoon! But it’s not quite time to walk away. Recall those bone-chilling winter gales… and tie your boat down as best possible for where it will spend the winter. On a boat rack? Tie your hull and spars down well. On a dolly? Check to see if there are tie-down loops in the boat yard that you can use to secure your boat. And tie your boat onto your dolly. Doesn’t need to be road-trip tight—just tight enough that you’ll sleep well when it blows 30, and it’s pelting ice, and you definitely don’t want to venture outside to check on it.
If possible, remove all the “stuff” you usually keep on your boat and store it inside—in a dry, above-freezing spot—over the winter. I’m talking sails, handheld radio, spray can of WD-40, leftover energy bars from that regatta in September. Bonus: Do you have room in a garage or other storage building for your boat? Keeping your boat out of the weather for a handful of months is a great boost!
Putting a boat away for the winter is bittersweet. Sad indeed to say goodbye to sailing for a bit until it warms up, but it’s a great time to take a breather and start daydreaming about next spring. Plan ahead for next season—did you notice anything that should get replaced or could be upgraded as you worked over your boat? Order it on up—or put it on your holiday wish-list!
By Kim Couranz
About the Author: SpinSheet columnist for more than a dozen years, Kim Couranz has earned several national and world titles in Laser Radials (ILCA 6) and Snipes. She has also raced J/22s, J/24s, and Ynglings on an international level.