CD makes some excellent points...
I'd emphasize a few of them though.
1) Seasickness is a problem, and having medication or treatments for it that work once it has set in is key to staying functional. This is extremely important if you are sailing short-handed. Suppositories and pills aren't ideal, since the effects of seasickness can prevent you from absorbing enough medication that way. Transdermal patches are probably a better solution if it has taken hold.
2) Many sailors, especially newer ones without the experience to draw on, don't realize how much more dangerous it is to head in towards shore in a storm. Many harbors and inlets are essentially unpassable in any kind of heavy weather, and even the ones that are relatively benign in such conditions should only be entered if you have fairly good knowledge, preferably experience as well, of the passage. What may seem like horrid conditions within 10 miles of the coast, may be much more bearable further out to sea. Also, the closer you are to shore, the more danger you are in of dealing with a lee shore position should the wind shift—the further you are out to sea, the more options you will generally have.
3) Most cruising boats are crewed by a couple—husband and wife, two friends, what ever... However, I can't stress how important it is that both individuals have the knowledge and the skill to single hand the boat, as if the other was not aboard. If one is injured, seasick, or exhausted, then you are going to be single-handing the boat for all intents and purposes. If you don't know the boat and the equipment on it, and have the skills to manage it—you are putting yourself and your partner at risk. Learn the skills, and practice them. If your partner tends to take over, force them to stand aside until you are comfortable that you can handle the boat by yourself, even in heavy weather or other abnormal situations.
4) CD's point about the Gulf of Mexico not being a really suitable training ground is very valid. The conditions that you see out on the open ocean is far different than what you would see in the shallower coastal areas of the Gulf.
5) Charts are just approximations...and a snapshot of the area at some point in the past... The area can have changed considerably, especially if it was subject to one or more severe storms. Sandbars, shoals, and even buoys can be moved. Also, some of the charts out there are based on readings taken many years ago...
6) Sleep is a weapon... it is a resource... without it, you are very vulnerable to making dangerous mistakes. In heavy weather, slowing the boat down, so that the crew can rest is vital. Whether it is heaving to, or using a drogue... make sure that you have tactics that will allow you to get some rest... Even short periods of rest can be helpful.
7) Schedules, other than a radio or watch schedule, have no place on a sailboat. Distance covered and days spent on a passage are up to the whims of the weather and sea... and expecting to keep to a firm schedule is both foolish and unrealistic at best, and fatal at worst.
8) CD's point about wind is pretty good. Wind isn't really the danger... high winds, without the corresponding waves are relatively harmless to well-found boats. Wave heights, their frequency and whether they are breaking or not matter much more. I've been out in 45 knots of wind...but the wind hadn't lasted long enough for significant seas to build...and it wasn't a problem. Those same strength winds, given a counter current or time enough to build, could have easily been very dangerous, rather than just exciting and challenging.
One bluewater sailor I know, who has decades of experience, told me that bluewater passages, even rough ones, don't really worry him.... he knows he and his boat can handle them. "It's when I get near landfalls that I start to get nervous... other boats, the shore, the shallower water depths all add complexity and danger to the situation. Out on the bluewater... you can't really hit much of anything, and a good boat really won't sink, even in a pretty serious storm—once you get near land, all bets are off. "
Knowledge is good... Experience is better. When I was asked about how you get heavy weather experience... my answer was—go out and sail in it. Practice reefing and your other heavy weather tactics in lighter conditions—and as you get more practice, try doing so in heavier winds and higher seas. Eventually, you'll get to know how to do them so well that it is instinct rather than thought... and when you need to do them in 40+ knots and 15+' seas, it will be second nature.
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You know what the first rule of sailing is? ...Love. You can learn all the math in the 'verse, but you take
a boat to the sea you don't love, she'll shake you off just as sure as the turning of the worlds. Love keeps
her going when she oughta fall down, tells you she's hurting 'fore she keens. Makes her a home.
—Cpt. Mal Reynolds, Serenity (edited)
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Still—DON'T READ THAT POST AGAIN.
Last edited by sailingdog; 03-07-2007 at 08:46 PM.