I've been debating the merits of heaving-to versus taking all the sails down and going bare poles in extremely heavy weather. What's your opinion of which is better in the scenario below?
Scenario: You're daysailing in smallish (25'-30') outboard-powered sloop about 2 or 3 miles offshore and nasty squall/front/storm rolls in with the potential for 50mph+ winds. What would you do?
My inexperienced thoughts tell me that the boat would heave-to in those conditions, or that something would break if you tried it. However, I've read stories of vessels on bluewater passages riding out storms for days at time while hove-to. Perhaps heaving-to is better suited for taking a break from sailing or stopping the boat in an emergency rather than waiting out heavy weather?? Or perhaps you should heave-to in heavy weather when it's too dangerous to be in the cockpit and you need to stay below and know that the boat isn't going to wander too much??
The problem I see with taking all the sails down in a small outboard-powered sailboat is that you'll have no control over the boat because the wave height will likely render the outboard useless.
My previous boat was a 25ft trailer sailer with an 8HP. The one time I got caught out on the ocean in a strong wind (+30 knots) I furled the jib and beat up into the breeze with the main & running the outboard at about half throttle. The main helped steady the boat and keep the outboard in the water (it was a long shaft which also helped) and the combination of outboard and sail allowed me to beat up to shelter. One tack was definitely better as the outboard was offset & so was a lot deeper in the water most of the time. Admittedly this was early in the strong winds so the waves hadn't had much chance to build up. I was off a lee shore so staying put was'nt an option plus shelter was only a couple of miles upwind so it made sense to keep going.
Prior to that I used to crew on a 25ft keel boat and one time we got hit by a line squall that reached 60 knots. We saw it coming and quickly reefed the main and when it hit the skipper feathered the boat into the wind with the jib sheeted in hard and the main eased to balance the boat (ie sailing close hauled). It only lasted 5-10 minutes and it soon dropped to 30-40 knots and half an hour later we were sailing in 20 knots in sunny conditions.
In the circumstances you described it really depends on the situation, ie what's around you, how experienced your crew are, how long will the strong winds last, etc. In my first example I was sailing with my family and as soon as the sea breeze hit they all headed for the shelter of the cabin and I was essentially single handed. Then it made sense to motor sail. In the second example I was racing with an experienced crew and we never stopped racing.