We have all made them

Sailing mistakes, the best or worst compilation.

21st January 2015
Cygnus III's Top Gear
Cat Driving
Sailing mistakes

The Cygnus III guide to sailing mistakes.

How to cock it up.

Mistakes, cock-ups, gaffes, blunders, fails, errors of judgement or being an idiot.

There is no doubt about it that sailors have an unequalled gift of squeezing a big sailing mistake into a small opportunity. It is not as if we aim to make mistakes but if there is a chance to make one we will find it. For us aboard Cygnus III sailing is something we do between blunders. Yes, I have tried to leave a pontoon whilst still tied on either by lines or the electricity cable. I also didn’t see a buoy hiding behind the mast and I have jumped onto a pontoon and gone straight through. Believe me my sailors faux pas are almost endless.


Others must cock thing up as well?

This got me to thinking. Surely it cannot be just us aboard Cygnus III that are always making sailing mistakes? I asked sailors on various boating forums who supplied an endless list of gaffs they have made. Some of the funniest I included below with the victim’s permission.


A compilation of sailing mistakes.


You always learn from your mistakes!

And never make the same mistake twice

We learn from our mistakes

A few years ago I tried to make it from Woodbridge marina out of the Deben and up the coast to River Ore. Hasty calculations and a touch of optimism showed it was not possible on one tide and I was met with a strong ebb. I just about made it in and crept up the river at 1 knot to the shelter and anchorage of the Butley River. Alas, I cut the corner in my haste and got well and truly stuck in mud. There was nothing I could do apart from set the alarm on for the early hours when I should float in the high water. I slept in my clothes, woke up in total blackness, pulled up the anchor with mud everywhere. I then crossed the river and hit the bank on the other side getting stuck again! I had to sit it out for hours contemplating my errors and reluctantly waving back to the ’round the island’ day-trippers. (Malcolm. www.pianotuning.uk.com)


Sailing rocks!

When we took a sailing course it came with a substantial number of practice hours on the boat. We were feeling pretty good about ourselves one day when we were out practising. We saw a single white buoy, thought that was a strange place for it, and decided to sail closer to check it out.
WHAM! That’s when we discovered it was marking the location of several large rocks.
Local knowledge is a great thing, but I still think it’s stupid to use a white buoy to mark a hazard. (Kimberly, Pegu Club, www.adventuresontheclub.com)


Call me a water babe!

Big sailing mistakes

Have we hit something?

Our most idiotic and stupid sailing mistakes meant getting too excited about coming in to a new harbour. We ran hard aground with a tail wind and waves which were pushing us further and further aground. Finally we got some large power boats to pull us off using halyards at the masthead.
It did have a funny side though as my wife jumped overboard to try to turn bow. She was busy treading water until she realised that she could stand up. It would have been even funnier had she remembered to take the cell phone out of her pocket.

I also dropped a wrench down a cockpit locker. I went after it head first, alone, no-one around all day, slipping down, getting stuck, jammed at chest and nearly suffocating, (Bill, of Cygnus, a 1973 Challenger 32).


A real rib tickler.

I managed to step through an open cabin top hatch, fell 7 feet to the cabin sole, slammed the quarter berth and broke two ribs. I then had to sail 12 miles home because my wife could not handle the boat by herself. Bad day on the water. (Garry from Travlineasy in America)


A sailor’s leap of faith

I arrived very tired and single-handed at L’Aberwrach in France nervously calculating approach to pontoons. I fixed the outboard astern of rudder (Hurley 22) which meant I had no steerage unless I was moving forward decisively. I also had negligible braking power and nil steering in astern.

Biggest wedgie ever

Look before you leap!

Having selected the least worst of the awkward berths available I tried to weigh up the wind, current, etc. I headed in, now committed with no available plan “B” or means of aborting the attempt.

I made the final sharp turn although with the benefit of hindsight, I could have managed with slightly less speed. At this point I also realised I had forgotten to put any fenders out!

I put the engine in astern to take off what speed I could (a largely symbolic action), got the coiled rope ready on my hand, lined the boat up and leapt for the finger pontoon to get a rope round a cleat.

Unfortunately I caught my foot on the guard wire and fell flat on my face! I gritted my teeth for the inevitable crash of bow on pontoon, and could see myself being dragged into the water as the outboard in astern finally achieved some grip.

The boat headed off in some random, vaguely astern direction towards the surrounding boats.

Luckily some French sailors had seen my ill-fated approach and had leapt to hold the bow off the pontoon and then hung on to it while I picked myself up. I managed to get a line on and the outboard into neutral.

Fenders went out later when I had recovered my composure and no-one was looking.(John, http://www.samphireyachts.org)


Stretching a point

How about backing briskly out of a visited marina berth, dinghy secure alongside the yacht… and with its bow still tied to the dock. You would be amazed at how much an old hyperon Zodiac will stretch! And survive! (Jim and Ann on s/v Insatiable II)


 Fire the skipper

Sailing mistakes

I think the bilge is on fire!

I was just off the North Falls in the days before I had VHF . Having been smashed against the pier at Newport we split three strakes on each side of the hull and severely damaged the mast. This was caused by the engine cutting out as we exited the harbour and the wave’s carrying us sideways.
Two days later in lighter airs we decided to make a run for home. We were towed a mile offshore so we could try to motor whilst pumping out water every half hour as the boat rolled and leaked through the broken planks. The engine kept cutting out due to water in the fuel so I decided to drain a cupful of petrol through the line to try and clear it. I could not be bothered to catch it but let the petrol run in the bilge, intending to pump it out with the foot of water in the bilge.
I took the spark plug out and held it on the side of the cylinder to turn the engine over and blow out excess fuel from the cylinder. It should burn off as the plug sparked. As I did this the flame ran down to the carb drip tray and then down to the fuel floating on the water right through the middle of the boat. It went up with a big flash. I lifted a floor board and put the flame out with an extinguisher. However, it just floated back with the water. I had to take all the boards up and blast it with two fire extinguishers right along the centre of the boat to put it out. By this time the crew had the dinghy over the side and were getting into it. (Sam, Daydream Believer)


Kicking the habit.

We got a berth for our first boat, a brand new Jouet 920, in Mercury Yacht Harbour but on the South side with very tight access between the river bank and the marina. On one of our earliest trips, we approached the berth at slow speed. My wife leapt off with the line to the bow while I put the engine in neutral and took the stern line “ashore”. Unfortunately, in my anxiety to make the line fast I jumped quickly over the guardrail before realising that I had kicked the throttle into full astern. As the boat reversed itself out the berth my wife could not hold on and let go her line leaving me to do a kamikaze leap back over the rails. I landed in a heap in the cockpit and put the helm hard over to avoid grounding on the bank. I then had to avoid neighbouring boats and getting ropes around the prop. Just as well it was January and nobody was about. (Name and details withheld)


Jumping in with both feet

I jumped down into an old hard tender when alongside a mooring, and the tender was the only way of getting ashore. Not much buoyancy left with a two-boot-sized hole in the bottom.


Are sailors swingers?

Sailor on the boom

Out on a limb

I enlisted an old mate as crew for a race along the coast to a popular summer anchorage. My old mate is not silly and had been sailing with me before but really is not a natural sailor.
We arrived at our destination anchorage respectably in the middle of the racing fleet to find it full of other sail and motorboats.
I requested my mate to keep the boat head to wind while I lowered and stowed the mainsail in the brisk breeze. His head was turned, literally, by gawking at some of the floating gin palaces and he turned the boat across the wind just as I had the main down and the first sail ties on.
I am sure there are many small minded people who were there that day that still get a chuckle from the memory of seeing the boom as it swung out over the water with me clinging on to it and yelling at my old mate to “head to wind for Christ sake!” (John the Kiwi)


It’s all gone north

Filling a compass with a bubble with pure alcohol – all the little numbers and lines dissolved off the card and floated around prettily (Name and address withheld)


Stevie Wonder does astro-navigation.

Sitting at anchor I had the pleasure of a visit by a well-known local “Old Salt”.
As it got dark, he helped locate and further understand the various constellations and navigational stars. I had great trouble seeing them but it only after he departed and I went below that I realised the problem. I was still wearing my sunglasses.
The night sky is so much clearer without them on.


Hauled over the coals

Finding the inflatable half sunk in the morning……….from emptying the barbecue coals into it after a boozy party last thing at night.


He who laughs last

Sailors, always good for a laugh

They did What?

Well these are just a few examples to show all skippers and would be sailors that you will make sailing mistakes at some point but you also will be able to laugh about them later. A big, big thank you to all those who made a mistake or error of judgement to allow this compilation to be made. I will no doubt continue to contribute my own as Cygnus III continues her journey.

Of course all the images used are nothing to do with the actual events and no animals were injured in the making of this blog.

Why not leave a comment? Let us know which is your favourite sailing mistakes or what gaffs have you made?



Other posts we think you will enjoy


  1. Leaving a spot on a muddy bank near Topsham… hull still resting in the mud? so its okay to let go the shore line… Just drop it there…
    … whats that slithering noise? OMG! Boat leaving without me!!! Boat was NOT grounded… Better grab that line…
    … Ton of boat… Outgoing tide behind her… Dragged off deep into the drink!!! Boat now leaving with me trailing along behind.
    If there hadn’t been a boarding ladder attached I would not have been able to drag myself aboard … dripping … red faced … but ALIVE (and unobserved!!!)

  2. Well I’m one of those holiday charterers who give you serious live-aboards so much entertainment. Very happy to of course…

    One lunchtime stop in Greece we needed to tie up to fill up with water. We went through our usual half-baked stern-to routine – which usually sort of works. Wife was on shore though so just 9yo son on the anchor and me at the helm. All going well until we heard some guffawing from the taverna.

    “Your anchors not dropping!”

    “Yes it is!”, said son.

    “Can you drop it in the water though instead of the anchor locker?”.

    Sure enough the chain was going through the windlass and back into the locker. He’d forgotten the bit where he’s meant to hang the anchor over the bow-roller first. And of course it eventually jammed. Son couldn’t unjam it. There we were drifting around not quite hitting any other boats while I kicked and bashed away with anything I could find to try and unjam it. All the while to the sound of laughter.

    Thanks guys. Glad we made you lunch so entertaining

    1. Brilliant story Mark. Thank you. I did read of the couple of liveaboards who let the anchor down into their dinghy as they were reversing up to the pontoon. Always remember.. you are never alone but the best mistakes are always made when there is no one else around.

    1. Hans.. always remember we have the pictures of your mistake. Then again you did see Angelina’s new knot when she was tying the fenders on going into Calais. We had to do 5 man overboard drills to collect them all up.

  3. Hi mark, off course reading other people’s mistakes is funny, but when one can lough with it’s own then it’s the best time! I’ve had plenty myself. To reach the engine’s exhaust pipe (mine is quite easier) i have to go down my port cockpit locker head first – belly down. The fiberglass walls are dirty and sharp so i used some old pillows. so i was going down and putting pillows in front of me. When i finished the pillows were a mesh but i couldn’t reach them anymore. I stuck! My wife had to dive between my feet to get them but it was deep so she had to use the hook! And many more… Happy sailing!

    1. Yorgos, thank you for sharing one of your own “mistakes” and I am glad you survived to tell the tale. I had a similar one when I got trapped under the front bunk and there was no one around. I was there for 3 hours.

  4. We went out in winds a bit higher than our boat or experience was ready for, around 15knts in our 16ft day sailor. We ended up getting pulled off the opposite shore of the Potomac by a passing fellow sailor when we washed up on the beach. One of the problems we had was we did drop anchor, but we had the wrong anchor for our boat and and not enough scope, so it didn’t hold. That’s how we ended up washed up on the beach. We also lost one shoe overboard, our rudder came off, our motor died so we had to depend on being efficient sailors, which we weren’t yet, and our lunch washed overboard and sailed away before we could catch it. It was one of those ‘murphy days’. But, as my wife pointed out “the worst day sailing is better than just about anything else you’d be doing”.

  5. Lol… I can just see some of those mistakes and if reality is like what I am thinking all you can do is laugh at yourself and others. The white buoy one is my favorite.

Leave a comment