Voyager recommends going doublehanded with care

In considering a return trip from Bermuda double-handed this summer, I wrote to Dorsey Beard asking for her advice as she and her husband Bruce Beard raced down to Bermuda last summer double-handed. Here is her reply:


Bruce and I love sailing double-handed. We do pretty much all of our recreational sailing that way, so entering the DH division of the NBR was pretty natural for us. If you’re thinking of doing it yourself, I guess there are several primary issues to consider:

1. Is your boat set up well for shorthanded sailing? For instance, I would never recommend going off with a #1 headsail on the foil, with or without a furler. The real hard-core shorthanded sailors will race with their boats set up this way, but as cruising sailors, we would never do it (even when racing).

2. Are the two of you practiced in double-handing together? Having procedures that work for two hands, and good division of labor for any maneuver, is tremendously important.

3. Are both sailors competent and confident? You don’t really want to go with a #2 who is not experienced. It’s very important for both crew to be able to get sleep when stuff gets bad, and that means being able to trust your pal on deck alone.

4. Agree on strict safety measures beforehand. For us, this means that no one EVER leaves the cockpit without being clipped in, and no one leaves the cockpit without the second person on deck and awake. If there is only one person on deck, that person MUST be clipped in at all times, even when in the cockpit (this rule sometimes gets relaxed in really mild conditions, but it shouldn’t).

5. What sort of conditions do you anticipate? If it looks like it’s going to be a rough one, consider delaying departure or picking up a third (competent) hand.

6. Be conservative. In this regard (since we have two captains…), we agreed beforehand that when the two of us can’t agree on whether or not it’s time to shorten sail (or add sail), the more conservative opinion rules.

Beyond these basics, when sailing shorthanded it also becomes even more important that your boat, gear, electronics, rigging in sails be in tip-top condition. This should go without saying for any passage, but because of the fatigue factor, you do not want things breaking down and needing to be fixed. You have enough to do anyway and don’t want to add bleeding the diesel, replacing a water pump or re-packing a stern-tube while under way.

While we like sailing double-handed, especially when the weather is good, I think three people is really nice for a 4-6 day passage because everyone gets plenty of sleep, there’s little work relative to cooking & cleaning, there’s plenty of room, everyone gets a good bunk, and when things get difficult you have one person on the helm and two people to deal with the situation. This threesome makes rough stuff much more acceptable. Also, if one person is disabled in any way, you still have two to sail the boat. On the way back from Bermuda last year we had a third person, a competent friend of Bruce’s who does lots of single handed racing but had never sailed offshore. Bruce came down with the flu the day we left, so for the first 48-hours we let him sleep, and the two of us basically double-handed. We were fine, Bruce got rest and recovered, and it was a successful, fun trip.

Anyway, double-handed sailing is a great adventure and I’d recommend it to anyone who feels competent in their skills and confident in their boat.

By Ocean Navigator