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Story by Tor Pinney                                                                                                                                        Back to List of Tor's Tales


© 2011 Tor Pinney - All Rights Reserved


Four decades, five boats, and 150,000 nautical miles ago I bought the ketch “Autant.” Built in 1927, Autant was a William Hand designed classic with a sweet sheer, 40-feet overall, double diagonal strip planked and gaff rigged with a club-footed jib. She was a Spartan vessel to be sure; no electrical system, no tankage, no electronics, and no engine. I believe the polite term is “traditional.” The youngest thing aboard was her skipper. Nonetheless, that first day of my new command was, indeed, one of the happiest days of my life, and the ketch Autant, being mine, was the most beautiful sailboat I’d ever seen.

I procured a friendly tow down the Miami River, where I’d bought the boat, to the outer anchorage in Coconut Grove. Among Autant's gear was a great, 100-lb. navy-type anchor. I selected a likely spot amid the fifty-odd anchored boats and shoved the massive hook overboard, where it settled snugly into the soft sand bottom. It would, I decided, be my mooring while I remained in the Miami area.

The next morning I was up with the dawn, anxious to take my new charge out for a sail. The day was clear and favored us with a mild but steady breeze. My girlfriend and I soon had all sails up and luffing at anchor. We cast off the mooring line buoyed with a fish trap float on a 6-foot pendant. Autant fell off, her sails filled, and away we went.



All that day we sailed on Biscayne Bay, beating, reaching and running as we pleased. The wind freshened a bit as I practiced maneuvers, learning something of my new boat’s character - her strengths, limits and idiosyncrasies – how she handled and tacked under various sail combinations, how she carried when I rounded up, and so on. Autant performed wonderfully!

Too soon it was time to head in, but I smiled to think how impressive we'd look, sailing to our mooring under the boat’s salty gaff-rig.

Into the crowded anchorage we flew, carrying full sail in a 15-knot breeze, under the watchful (and, I was certain, envious) eyes of a score of seasoned liveaboard sailors. My classic old ketch wove smartly through the other craft with a bone in her teeth, dodging anchor rodes and tethered dinghies. We neared the critical point to leeward of our mooring on a beam reach. My mate stationed herself at the bow, boathook in hand.

Directly downwind of the little Styrofoam ball, with all sails drawing I rounded up, Autant moving at a fast clip. I was more concerned about undershooting the mooring than overshooting it. Stopping short of the mark would require us to fall off in tight quarters or else risk drifting back in irons onto my nearest neighbor to leeward.

The slatting sails set up an awful din, drawing the attention of all within earshot. Autant slid sleekly ahead. The buoy came under the bow and still she carried forward. My girlfriend stabbed frantically at the mooring pendant with the boathook as it slid past.

"Do you have it?"


"Do you have it NOW?"

"No! Wait, uh, yes! I've got it!

I scurried to the foredeck to help. The boat continued forward, dragging the mooring buoy alongside. Hands clutched and tugged, the mooring line eye splice came up, the boathook flipped overboard. Finally, with a desperate heave, we secured the line onto the stem post. The two of us leaned back and grinned at each other. "We did it!"

But the fun wasn't over yet. All the sails were still up and luffing and Autant was still making way, the mooring line now streaming aft from the bow. Then the line stiffened and the boat stopped short. Instantly the bow became a pivot around which Autant swung broadside to the wind. The sails filled.

In a moment we were broad reaching under full sail around the anchor. A jibe was imminent. I fled to the cockpit and hauled in on the mainsheet to ease the shock on the rig. Just in time! WHAM! The sails slammed over and the boat sailed on, the taut rode now pulling the bow around to windward again. The sails luffed and we breathed a sigh of relief.

But the next breath was a gasp of horror as Autant once more coasted past the mooring, snubbed up on the rode, and proceeded to repeat the entire sequence. Back to the cockpit! Haul in the mainsheet! WHAM! What the hell should I do now? The boat was already heading for her third donut.

An old salt on a nearby schooner decided he'd had enough entertainment for the afternoon. He cupped his hands and yelled, "DROP YOUR JIB!"

The jib! It was an enlightening moment. Autant was nearly hard up on the rode again when I clawed the headsail down. Instantly she stalled, settled to leeward, and came to rest with the mizzen and mainsail luffing easily at anchor. Home is the sailor, home from the sea.


Before we sailed again we had a long chat with the old schooner captain who’d saved us. The next time we picked up our mooring line the jib was furled, the main running free and the mizzen sheeted in hard, and the whole maneuver was as smooth as silk - as everyone in the anchorage can tell you.

What We Did Right

  • We sailed off the anchor/mooring smoothly that morning, although luck probably played a part in that the first time.

  • We practiced with the boat during that maiden sail, getting a feeling for how she handled.

  • We managed to maneuver Autant through the crowded anchorage without snagging any of the myriad anchor lines, dinghy painters and mooring floats.

  • We spared the rigging a couple of harsh impacts by sheeting in the mainsail ahead of each jibe.

  • We had the sense to listen to the experienced schooner captain when he loudly advised us to drop the jib.

  • Later, we visited the old salt and talked at length with him about ways to better handle an engineless gaff ketch. He possessed a wealth of knowledge and shared it willingly. We paid close attention and learned a lot.

What I Did Wrong

  • I hoisted the jib before we cast off the mooring. Better to have waited until the boat had fallen off.

  • I did not decisively control which way Autant’s bow fell off when we let go the mooring line that morning. Luckily it went the right way, heading us out of the harbor rather than farther into it. I soon learned to use the mizzen sail to push her bow one way or the other when she’s in irons.

  • Although I did practice rounding up out in the bay to see how the boat carried, clearly I didn’t practice enough and I underestimated her way when we approached the mooring.

  • I flew into the anchorage under full sail in 15 knots of wind. Bad idea! I got away with it, but it’s much smarter to pass through a crowded harbor with minimum speed and maximum control. On my ketch, the “jib & jigger” (jib & mizzen) sail combination would’ve been just right, de-powering the boat while maintaining good balance.

  • Obviously, I had the boat moving too fast when I rounded up to the mooring buoy. As a result, we had too much way on and overshot the mark. Much better to have approached the turning point more slowly or, barring that, to have headed up from a point farther away from the buoy. Alternatively, I could’ve (should’ve) let the boat carry past the mooring ball and, when she finally came to a full stop, lowered the bow anchor and eased her back to the mooring by feeding out rode.

  • Last but far from least, I failed to douse the jib when we rounded up towards the mooring. The next time I knew better.


My years sailing a 40’ gaff-rigged ketch with no engine provided a unique if sometimes humbling education. In time I got pretty good at it, acquiring sailing and seamanship skills that I might otherwise have missed in what has turned out to be a lifetime at sea. This episode was only one lesson in an endless succession. I’m still learning.




~ End ~


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