Lynx harbor trips

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The Lynx 16 in Boston Harbor, with the Boston skyline in the background.

This section describes how to take one of MIT's Lynx 16 boats from the Sailing Pavilion to Boston Harbor. This document should serve as a guide only; nothing can take the place of experience of actually going on trips. The procedure is to put an engine on the boat, step the mast, motor through the lock into the harbor, raise the mast, and sail away. The process is reversed on the way back. Further matters pertaining to overnight trips are discussed here.

Sailing safely in the harbor involves many skills not covered here: reading a chart and understanding navigation aids, using a VHF radio, knowing how to use all safety equipment, understanding weather conditions and tides, anchoring, and right-of-way rules. How should you develop these skills? Lynx harbor trips of course are best, but also sails on our real bluewater boat X-Dimension are great opportunities to learn and practice, particularly the training for the bluewater crew rating.

Before the Trip

Create an event on the website for the trip. Six people per boat is a practical maximum for comfortable sailing all day in the Lynx for a harbor trip. Three is a reasonable minimum: you can certainly sail with two but the process of putting the mast up and down will be very difficult.

Plan where you are going, and make sure that other people know the plan. Email dockmaster@mit.edu to make sure the trip is okay. Tell them your float plan. Check the weather the night before and the morning of the trip; if there are thunderstorms, consider rescheduling.

Engine

We need an engine to get to the harbor, since we must step the mast to fit under the bridges between the Pavilion and the Harbor. It is also required to dock at Spectacle Island.

Installing the Motor on the Boat

The engines are not normally installed on the Lynx, so the first task is to put the engine on the boat, either the night before or the morning of the trip. First, tie up a Lynx in front of the bay with the motors, on the east end of the dock. The side of the boat with the motor mount should be closest to the dock. Tie a stern line as tightly as possible so that the motor mount is close to the dock.

Take a Tohatsu 4-stroke engine from the bay, and carry it vertically to the boat. You can gently rest the engine vertically on the metal "skeg" which sticks out below the propeller. Do not rest it on the propeller itself! Then tie a line to the mounting bracket on the engine, so that if you accidentally drop it, you can quickly pull it out of the water. Flip the engine and engine mount horizontally so that the bars on the mounting bracket will fit into the motor mount on the boat. Guide them into the mount and slowly rotate the engine down into the water.

Starting the Engine

After installing the engine, inspect it, and then start it to make sure that it works. First, check the fuel tank. If it hasn't been used in a while, and the fuel is old, then it's a good idea to put conditioner in it. You can get this from the dock staff. If you need to, add fuel. When testing the engine, it might be better to not add too much fuel, since if it's broken, it's easier to take the engine out with an empty fuel tank. The engine takes regular gasoline, the same as the launches. Take the cover off, and check that the engine has oil. If not, ask the dock staff to help you add oil.

When the engine is not being used (when sailing, or being stored overnight), it should be raised up out of the water. Before raising it, make sure the air is closed before to prevent gas from leaking out. Raise the motor by pushing a silver handle near the base and pulling up on the handle. Lower it using a black and metal lever. The engine should always be started with the propeller blades in the water.

To start the engine, make sure that the propeller blades are in the water. Open the air vent by turning the white cap on top of the fuel tank cap. Make sure the fuel line is set to use the internal tank using the lever on the right side of the engine. Check that the red safety button is being held open with the plastic wire. Pull out the choke. Set the throttle to the starting position. Make sure it is in neutral. Then pull the handle quickly to start it. Once it catches, immediately check that water is draining out of the engine; if water is not coming out, then stop the engine by pushing the red button. It uses water to cool itself and will overheat quickly of the cooling system is broken. Slowly push in the choke, and then turn down the throttle to idle. It may take a while to warm up before it will go into idle, especially if the engine has not been used in a while.

Fuel

The engine takes gasoline. It helps to add fuel conditioner, but there is no need to mix it with oil, as with two stroke engines. One tank of gas can get from the Pavilion to the Harbor, to and from the docks at an island, and back to the Pavilion. However it's good to bring extra fuel in case of unexpected events. The Pavilion has containers for fuel; it is generally enough to take about one extra tank. If a tank already has gas in it, it's a good idea to add fuel conditioner to the gas in the tank. If the engine runs out of fuel while running, it can take a while to restart it. It is better to stop the engine, refuel, and then restart it rather than to let it run out of gas. The fuel container can be stored under one of the benches. It should be stored securely and tied down to avoid spilling.

Driving With the Motor

Next in order-of-operations for a harbor trip is stepping the mast. However I will cover driving with the motor here so that all the engine information is together.

When driving with the motor, the boat is classified as a power boat, and must give way to boats under sail and human-powered boats. To steer, use the boat's tiller rather than the one on the engine. The ease of pivoting the engine's tiller can be adjusted by turning a handle underneath the motor; set this to be fairly stiff so you don't accidentally move the engine's tiller. However it should be loose enough so that the engine tiller can still be moved to help turn more quickly if necessary and to make adjustments to the engine's direction.

To go forward, turn the throttle all the way down, and switch the lever on the left side of the engine from neutral to forward. To go faster, adjust the throttle upwards. To go into reverse, adjust the throttle down, then switch to neutral, and then switch to reverse; do not go directly from forward into reverse (or reverse into forward) as this damages the transmission.

When in tight spaces, lower the centerboard to give the boat more maneuverability. When traveling long distances, raise the centerboard to reduce drag. If the boat needs to turn faster, use the engine as well as the tiller.

You should be able to dock with the engine, and maneuver in fairly tight spaces in order to go through the locks and use the docks at Boston Harbor Islands.

Turning Off the Motor

Do not turn off the motor until the boat is controlled in another way, either with a line or with the sail. Set the throttle all the way down, and push the red button to turn it off. Raise the propeller out of the water if it will not be used in a while. Raise it overnight, and when under sail. It is okay to leave it in the water for a few hours when docking at an island.

Lowering the Mast

The Lynx cannot fit under the bridges with the mast up (as has been depicted in a Tech cartoon).

Make sure the sail is lowered, and put on the sail cover. First, install the mast crutch. There is a hole in the seat near the stern of the boat, and a matching hole in the floor. Put the mast crutch through the bench and into the hole on the floor.

Take off the forestay. Take a pair of pliers and a screwdriver. At the base of the forestay is the turnbuckle. Ask one person to lift up the boom, to take pressure off the mast. Ask a second person to push forward on the mast. Then take the ringding off the forestay pin and pull it out. Be careful not to drop it in the water. If you can't take it out, then you need to loosen the turnbuckle. There are two ringdings in the two screws in the turnbuckle. Take the ringdings out of the screws, but leave them attached to the turnbuckle itself. Then hold the flat part of the turnbuckle with a pair of pliers, and use a screwdriver to turn the lower part to loosen it. Be careful to turn it in the proper direction. Never entirely unscrew the screws from the turnbuckle; just loosen it. Try again to take out the forestay pin, and loosen the turnbuckle more if necessary. Once the pin is out, put the ringdings back in the screws on the turnbuckle. Otherwise the screws could fall out.

Once the forestay is off, get ready to lower the mast. Make sure all the lines are loose: peak halyard, throat halyard, and mainsheet. Pull the halyards all the way through the holes in the bow. Make sure the benches and runway are clear, as you will be walking from the bow towards the stern of the boat as you lower the mast.

Next, lower the mast. Stand on the bow with a helper. Lift the mast straight up four inches, using the handle on the front of the mast, and then bend it backwards, lowering it towards the stern of the boat. As the mast lowers, walk back towards the stern to gain a mechanical advantage as it comes down. Carefully lower the mast into the crutch.

Finally, clean things up. Take up the slack in the peak and throat halyards and coil the lines. Make sure there are no lines in the water, especially the forestay.

Checklists

It's a good idea to use a checklist before leaving to ensure that nothing is forgotten.

Stuff to Take

Before leaving, make sure you have everything you need for the trip. It's often 20°F cooler on the water in the harbor than in Cambridge, so be sure to dress warmly!

Here is a partial checklist.

  • nautical charts & hand-bearing compass
  • engine
  • fuel
    • gas line and 3.2 gallon gas tank (filled).
    • four stroke engine oil (1 quart)
    • fuel conditioner (1 quart)
  • soundmaking devices
    • whistle
    • air horn
  • life jacket (minimum one per person)
  • food and water (suggestion: bring a cooler with ice)
  • sunscreen
  • camera
  • VHF radio (perform radio check before departure, e.g. channel 27; agree on working channel such as 72 with all skippers)
  • Cell phone with the Pavilion's phone number 617-253-4884
  • cold and water resistant clothing
  • extra line. (Sets of dock lines are stored in the harbor trip locker.)
    • stern line (20 ft. gauge ??)
    • spring lines (2) - 20 ft. gauge??,
    • fender lines (2) - 3 ft each (gauge??)
    • spare lines (short and long).
  • spare parts for the Lynx
    • forestay cotter pin (2)
    • forestay cotter ring (4)
    • traveller shackle (1), cotter ring (3) and cotter pin (2)
    • peak shackles (2), cotter pins, cotter rings and eyestrap bolts.
  • pills for seasickness
  • binoculars
  • fenders (2) (in addition to the ball fender attached in the boat)
  • flares (should already be in the front compartment.)
  • anchor (should already be in the front compartment.)
  • paddle (should already be under one of the benches.)
  • first aid kit
  • pump
  • bailer
  • throwable life preserver
  • flashlight
  • battery for lights - make sure it is installed and tested - even for day trips - lights are good for a sudden storm.
  • boat hook (currently in bay one)

Stuff to Do

  • The week before
    • Email/coordinate with the dock master to make sure the trip is okay. Sometimes there are special events where they need all the Lynxes. Other times there is a race, and they will want us to leave early to avoid tying up the dock.
    • Create the trip on the MITNA web site. Copy and old trip and change the dates and organizers.
    • Email bluewater@mit.edu to let people know about the trip. Once you send mail to bluewater, it will fill up in a few hours.
  • The night before.
    • Confirm the boat has a reefing hook.
    • Check that the yoke is in good shape.
    • Pump bilge.
    • Install engine.
    • Unstep mast.
    • Check battery. Confirm it's charged, even for day trips, in case of a storm.
    • Tighten screws on the mast and the reefing clips.
  • The morning of the trip
    • Check the weather and tides.
    • Send a float plan to dockmaster@mit.edu and dockstaff@mit.edu that includes
      • Full list of attendees, including card numbers, and cell phone numbers.
      • Weather forcast.
      • Leaving and return times.
      • Where we are going and what route we plan to take.
      • Boat sail numbers.
    • Remind everyone to use restrooms.
    • Sunscreen.
  • Return
    • Wash out the mast knuckle joint with fresh water. Once it dries, spray graphite on it. Otherwise the masts become very difficult to step.

Getting to the Harbor

The path to Boston Harbor on NOAA chart 13272, Boston Inner Harbor, showing 1.) the old lock, 2.) the MBTA railroad bridge, and 3.) the current lock.
The MBTA Amtrak Bridge when open. The Lynx with stepped mast can usually fit under this bridge, but not always.
The lock filled with boats, including a Lynx 16.

Challenges on the drive to the harbor include recreational sail boats, duck boats, and tight maneuvering along the way. The chart on the right shows the main obstacles: the old locks, the railroad bridge, and the operating locks.

First drive under the Longfellow Bridge. Stay towards the center of one of the channels underneath the bridge; avoid the pilings. Don't blindside boats on the other side of the bridge (especially duck boats). Make sure you can see oncoming boats before you drive under the bridge.

Next head towards the right side of the Science Museum towards the old lock and the Craigie Drawbridge. (Mark #1 on the chart to the right.) The channel in the old lock is somewhat narrow. Don't blindside boats when entering the channel. Duckboats often come down the channel at the same time as your boat. Always pass port to port, and avoid the wall and other boats.

If you pass a duckboat, the driver may lead the passengers in yelling "Quack! Quack!" at you. The correct response, of course, is "Meow!"

Once you pass the old lock, the next hazard is the MBTA railroad bridge. (Mark #2 on the chart, and pictured open on the right. This bridge has very little clearance. Depending on the river level, the Lynx can often fit under the bridge with the mast stepped, but not always. The highest point on the Lynx after it is stepped is the base of the mast on the bow. Approach the bridge with the throttle at the lowest setting. Have the crew move towards the bow so it sits lower in the water. About 15 feet away from the bridge, set the engine to neutral, and go into reverse if necessary to very slowly approach the bridge. If the boat fits, the crew in the bow can draw the boat under the bridge hand over hand. If not, back off and give the signal for the bridge to be opened. The horn signal is one long blast and one short blast. However often the MBTA people do not pay attention to the horn, and you have to call them with a cell phone at the number posted (617-222-5986) or possibly reach them on VHF channel 13.

Finally, drive underneath the Zakim Bridge towards the locks. Once about 100 feet away from the lock, sound two long and two short blasts on the horn or whistle, to signal that you want to enter the locks, or radio channel 13. They can also be reached at (617)-727-0488. Idle the motor and wait for the green light before moving forward. This part can be tricky as there is not a lot of space to maneuver and sometimes there are other boats waiting too.

Before going into the lock, make sure you have a bowline, a stern line, and fenders ready to go on one side of the boat. Once the light turns green, slowly drive into the lock towards the far end. Pull up about 3/4 of the way towards the far end of the lock, and put the engine in neutral. Have your crew hold onto the lines running between the cleats on the dock and the lines hanging down from above. If you actually wrap your docklines around a cleat, you may be told off by the lock operator! Do not attempt to stand on the platforms along the walls of the locks. Once the door opens on the other side, release the lines and drive out of the lock.

Raising the Mast

To raise the mast, first make sure all the halyards and mainsheet are loose, and the forestay is clear. Two people should walk along the benches towards the bow, slowly raising the mast. A third person makes sure that the lines are not tangled, especially with the engine. The third person also must raise the boom while the mast is lifted. Once the mast is vertical, it slides down about four inches into a slot.

Next, attach the forestay. First make sure the forestay is centered on the front of the mast, and swing it around if not. With one person holding up the boom, and a second person pushing forward on the mast, attach the forestay pin through the turnbuckle. If it is too tight, then loosen the turnbuckle. Once forestay is installed, put on the ringding and tighten the turnbuckle. Have someone lift up the boom, and tighten it with a screwdriver and wrench until the forestay is fairly tight (with the boom up). When the boom drops back down, it will be quite tight. Make sure to put the ringdings back in the turnbuckle once it is adjusted.

Finally, raise the sail and go sailing.

Navigating in the Harbor

The boat's draft is 4 feet 6 inches with the centerboard down (only 14 inches with centerboard up). Stay in places with more than 5 feet of depth in the chart. Corollary: you should know where you are in the chart at all times. Abide by the rules of the road. Avoid the huge tankers and boats with limited maneuverability. When giving way, make a decisive course change so the other boat knows that you've seen them. The waves are larger in the harbor, so turn into the larger wakes. Know how to use the chart to navigate in the harbor and stay in the channel.

This website is a useful reference for navigating in the harbor: http://home.comcast.net/~bostondavid/bosnav.html. It has pictures of the different types of buoys and advice on navigation and tides.

Information on changes or temporary issues of navigation significance are in the Coast Guard's Notices to Mariners.


Docking at Spectacle Island

When docking at an island, head to wind, turn on the engine, and then lower the sail. Make sure the lines and fenders are ready to go before motoring into the dock. Spectacle Island has a public dock, free of use, first-come-first-served. (In past there was a fee for docking, though, so beware of it changing again.) Moorings are $10 for a day visit or $25 overnight via (as of July 2019) dockwa.com.

Other destinations: Georges Island, Thompson Island, Snake Island, Lovells Island, Deer Island (not an island), ...

Returning Home

When returning back to the Pavilion, lower the mast by the Coast Guard station in Boston Harbor. Return back through the locks, under the railroad bridge, through the old channel and back to the pavilion.

If you are using the inboard fuel tank of the motor, Wally recommends clearing the remaining fuel in the engine. This practice makes the engine easier to start for the next trip. After you are back at MIT, start the engine as usual, close the fuel valve, and run the engine until it stops. It typically runs for about five minutes until the fuel is gone.

Raise the mast, put the engine away, unload the boat, and return all equipment.

Contact and Emergency Info

  • MIT Sailing Pavillion phone: 617-253-4884, or VHF Channel 73 call "Beaver Lodge"
  • Sea Tow call 1-800-4SEATOW (1-800-473-2869) or hail "Sea Tow" on channel 16
  • Sea Tow automated radio check: channel 27 in Winthrop, channel 26 in Gloucester
  • Boston Police Department: 617-343-4200
  • Cambridge Police Department: 617-349-3300

See also Radio Channels in Boston Harbor

Emergency Coast Guard Contact Information

Emergency VHF Radio Call Procedure

  1. Make sure radio is on
  2. Select channel 16
  3. Press & hold the transmit button
  4. Clearly say: "MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY. This is""
  5. Repeat vessel name 3 times: "MIT Lynx #2." (Lynx number is on the sail)
  6. Describe the boat: "Single-masted, gaff-rigged, 16 ft. sailboat. White sail with red numbers." (describe as appropriate)
  7. Give GPS coordinates if you have a GPS phone or other device. Otherwise, if you have a compass, give several bearings to land objects or navigation buoys. Otherwise, give the best possible qualitative description of your location.
  8. State nature of emergency
  9. State the help requested
  10. Give number of people on board and describe any injuries
  11. Give the seaworthiness of the boat
  12. Say "Over"
  13. Release transmit button
  14. Wait for 10 seconds - if NO response repeat call.

You can also contact the Coast Guard by telephone

  • Dial 911 and ask to be connected to Boston Coast Guard Emergency Center
  • Dial Boston Coast Guard Emergency directly: (617) 223-8555. (Telephone number retrieved from http://uscg.mil/hq/cg5/cg534/RCC_numbers.asp, 2011.05.22)

For more details, see Coastal Pilot, Chapter 1.

Contributors

This document was created by Stefanie Tellex, based on extensive teaching by Keith Winstein and Wally Corwin. Additional information provided by Conan Hom.