preping for heavy weather
As always, Jeff offers good advice.
You , also, make an important point. Although you will find it instructive to test your set-up & yourself in heavier conditions - please do so in mannageble increments (having experienced 15Kt, you might try 15 - 20 Kt), and under the otherwise most favourable conditions (unobstructed waters, shore to windward, closer to shelter, etc) possible.
You will eventually get caught out; but as you say, to start out (in foul/deteriorating conditions) is madness, unless you have VERY COMPELLING reasons (cannot think of many).
You ARE on the right track, and I''m certain your forsight & prudence auger well for your future cruising.
Regards & best luck,