Skip to main content

Life After 30 Knots Page 2

How do we define “heavy weather?” For example, a small family cruiser sailing upwind in open water might have a tough time of it in a 25-knot wind even though the same blow is perfect for a boat twice her size. And what about a vessel crewed by a retired couple who don’t spend much time in the gym, compared to the same craft manned by the local firefighters’ tug-of-war team? With the obvious

HAZARDS

Lee shore: It isn’t usually the sea that causes the real trouble, it’s the land. The most serious threat is being blown onto a lee shore. In heavy weather, keeping clear of any potential lee shore is priority number one. A lee shore may not look too bad when your boat is in good order, but if she were to be disabled—typically by an engine failure—a lee shore can take on a horribly different aspect. Perhaps it’s because I spent my youth disappointed by unreliable engines, but whenever I’m motoring to windward of a nasty obstruction, I’m never happy until I’m well clear. I’m also constantly working out contingency plans just in case everything were to suddenly go quiet below.

Apparent wind: Six knots of boatspeed downwind turns a 30-knot near-gale into a 24-knot stiff breeze. Six knots of speed upwind ratchets up the same blow to 36 knots—a whole gale, with pressure on the sails virtually doubled. Bear this in mind before making a major course change in hard winds. Even when your plan is to plow straight downwind, an emergency can still find you out, so the best advice is to never be caught over-canvassed. Reef early.

Along these same lines, because everything is so much quieter when you run off, it’s great for dealing with minor crises. Let’s say your roller headsail gear snags. Anyone trained in dinghies would turn automatically into the wind and let everything flap. This is because the dinghy’s first priority is to not capsize. But a keelboat won’t tip over and a flogging sail is a major hazard; luffing up can make a disaster out of a nuisance. By contrast, running off—if you have sea room—immediately defuses the situation. As an added benefit, the main will blanket the foredeck, which can make working up there a relative pleasure.

STRATEGY

The most obvious advice if a bad blow seems likely is to stay in port. If you have to go anyway, at least make sure your passage plan includes some ports of refuge.

Being caught out at sea is a different matter. Any decision out there will be governed by the wind direction relative to where you’d like to go. The state of your crew, the amount of sea room and the proximity of dangerous areas such as tide rips will also be factors. Here are some typical choices.

Carry on regardless: If you reckon you, the boat and the crew can do it, it’s often best to batten down the hatches, tell the crew it won’t be fun and then slug it out.

Go into survival mode: Unless a knock-down seems likely, the boat isn’t in any immediate danger from the water, but a lee shore could finish her off. A summer gale probably won’t blow for more than 24 hours at the most, so if you can’t reach shelter, employing survival tactics in the open sea may be the safest option. The crew won’t like it, but it might keep you off the statistics list.

Hide somewhere: If you don’t fancy carrying on and shelter can safely be reached, this is an obvious answer. However, a harbor entrance that’s safe one day may be a death trap in different conditions. Running downwind for shelter is generally less stressful than beating to weather; It’s also easier on the boat. But don’t forget that the coast you’re approaching is a lee shore.

In even a near-gale, it can be tough smashing your way to shelter upwind. But as the coast approaches, the waves will smooth out and the going will get easier. The bottom line is that almost any refuge lying to windward with a sheltering shoreline behind it can be entered safely. The problem is getting “up” there in the first place.

When assessing a harbor, remember that one on a lee shore must have an unambiguous entrance that is broad enough to allay fears you might have about controlling the boat as you run in. If a narrow entrance is tidal, will the stream be slack, flooding or ebbing? If it’s ripping out over a bar against a gale, the seas may become dangerous, especially if they’re whipped up by wave reflections from piers or walls. Any sudden shoaling will also pile up the seas.

And how about any turns to be made inside? I once ran for shelter into a river that swung immediately to windward inside the entrance. I came in easily enough, but when I turned the boat up into the breeze inside, she wasn’t powerful enough to face it, and I was left running back out to sea with my tail between my legs. The factors to consider go on and on. The trick is to be coldly objective and not create fantasies that may prove to be at odds with reality.

TACTICS

The volume of literature on open-water storm survival is so vast that anyone sailing across an ocean has no excuse for not being thoroughly informed. For sailors caught out in a summer gale along the coast or between islands, things are usually less extreme and there are fewer choices. The key to surviving dangerous waves is never to be caught beam-on by a breaking sea.

Heaving to: Skippers of boats with a deep forefoot are fortunate in having this ultimate option available. Boats with no draft forward are unlikely to be able to heave-to in heavy going, because their bows will be too readily blown off the wind. This includes many modern designs, so be sure to try it before you need it.

The principle of heaving-to is that the boat is set up with its jib aback, driving its bow to leeward, while the main is filling conventionally, shoving the stern downwind and balancing out the headsail. The rudder serves as a kind of fine tune, leaving the boat in a state of equilibrium lying about 45 degrees off the wind and waves.

You can achieve this state by hauling the jib across to weather and waiting for the boat to slow down, but it’s a lot easier to just tack and leave the jib sheet cleated off. Once the boat is through the wind, shove the helm hard to leeward (wheel hard to weather) until she stops. Lash the steering, and that’s it. If the boat is suitable, she’ll lie there making a knot or two of leeway, asking no more from you than to keep a good lookout.

Running: I’ve already noted that running off makes the world go quiet. It’s a great survival option, so long as you’ve enough sea room and can keep the speed down. Too fast and you may end up broaching. Bad news. Maintaining control may involve taking in all sail and letting her blow along under bare pole(s), which works well in as little as 25 knots for many modern boats. When it breezes up seriously and too much speed makes steering tricky, it’s time to trail warps astern. But then you’re into a serious read of Adlard Coles’s Heavy Weather Sailing

Motorsailing: The third option, and often the best one for most unmodified production cruisers, is to roll up the genoa, deep-reef the main, start the engine and motor slowly upwind. You’ll make little progress over the ground but you won’t get rolled over. So long as the engine keeps turning (did you clean the filters this year, and do you carry a spare or two?) and you have fuel in the tank, you’re in with a good chance of sitting it out without problems until the front blows through, the kettle’s singing and you’re on your way once more.

Related

fa70b13c-8eec-4c35-b30f-f89e497b469a

Crowdsourcing Age-of-Sail Weather Data

Although big, multi-million-dollar projects like the Large Hadron Collider and the human genome project with their legions of PHD’s tend to grab headlines, there’s still a part of play for the “citizen scientists” of the world. Amateur birders have long contributed to an ...read more

01-LEAD-Ultime-race-Yvan-Zedda,-OC-Sport-Pen-Duick

Ultims to Race Solo Around the World

For years now, maxi-trimarans, both solo-sailed and fully crewed, have been racing the clock on their own around the world in an effort to set ever faster records for the world’s fastest circumnavigation under sail. Back in 2000-01 there was also a no-holds-barred ...read more

P1-01-LEAD-018_CARYNBDAVIS_AMISTAD

Juneteenth on the Water

Discovering Amistad and Mystic Seaport Museum have partnered to organize their third annual Juneteenth festival, featuring concerts, speakers and a reflection on the lasting legacy of racial injustice in America. Declared a National Holiday in 2021, Juneteenth celebrates the end ...read more

Lead-2021-01-17-vue-03-34-av-tb-01

New Multihulls for 2022

Lagoon 51 In keeping with many of the more recently launched models created by French multihull builder Lagoon, the Lagoon 51 is all about comfort, “en plein air,” in particular, as the French might say. Topside, a whopping 80 percent of the boat’s flybridge is given over to ...read more

bermuda

How to Spectate on the Newport Bermuda

The biannual Newport Bermuda Race starts on Friday with the first warning signal at 1 pm. Whether you’re tracking a loved one’s progress or just spectating an event that draws pros and weekend warriors alike, there are plenty of ways to stay up to watch. The starting line will ...read more

03-Hyeres-220429_SOF2022_SAILINGENERGY_1933_3184-copy

US Sailing Strikes Gold in Hyères

After being skunked or nearly skunked at multiple Olympiads, could the US Sailing Team (USST) now under the direction of Olympic veteran Paul Cayard, be finally turning it around? If its performance at the 53rd French Olympic Week regatta in Hyères, France, where the team posted ...read more

P1480042

New York City’s Newest Fleet

120 children enrolled in Brooklyn Boatworks’ STEM and life skills-focused program launched their hand-built optimist prams on June 14 from Pier 2 in Brooklyn Bridge Park. The launch is the culmination of years of student work, with boats in process before the pandemic caused the ...read more

AdobeStock_197518370

Charter: Off the Beaten Path

So, you like to charter in the Caribbean with its warm waters, swaying palm trees, steady trade winds and strong rum drinks. What’s not to love? It can be easy, though, to get stuck in a rut when chartering year after year in the same place. Sure, the British Virgin Islands are ...read more