This may seem strange but I learned a lot about heavy weather sailing on a fishing trip aboard a 40' commercial charter fishing boat. We set out into the Pacific about 2am across the Gray's Hbr bar in 40K of wind and 20+' breaking seas. Almost everyone except the crew (and myself) were terribly seasick immediately. All night long we crashed into huge unseen waves, those in the foc'sle frequently in midair. The next morning as daylight broke it was a surreal landscape of giant waves as far as you could see when we were on top, and a dark, quiet trench when we were between the swells. I was exhausted from lack of any sleep, scared because of the size of the waves, and concerned for several of my fellow "fishermen" that were basically comatose. At this time the skipper proceeded to start cooking a big breakfast of eggs, sausage and hash browns. This did not help the profoundly sick passengers at all. The most interesting thing about this was that the skipper just put the boat on autopilot and was cooking looking aft the whole time like this was no big deal, do it all the time, cracking jokes about the sickest of his charges and telling stories about the sickest people he had ever had on board (definitely a sadist, if I could have figured out a way to get some of my fellow fishermen off that boat they would have gladly signed the deeds to their homes over to me). It was at this time that I started relaxing and enjoying the ride, we were just riding up, and then down the huge waves like a cork. We were approaching 100NM offshore and we were doing about 8-10 knots quartering into the SW swells that were occaisionally breaking (20-24' @ 16 seconds IIRC). How he managed to cook eggs in that to this day I don't understand, but they tasted pretty good ( I was the only one that ate, and kept it down, that entire day). It was the fact that he was so nonchalant about the seas that made me realize that we had survived the night before and we were merely riding up and over huge, steep waves. At that point I began thinking that my then 34' Northsea could do the same thing if caught out in it. Since that time I have been in some nasty weather and some large waves, and I have been able to remember that a boat is just basically a cork in those conditions, you just need to keep the water out and quarter the waves one way or another and you will more than likely be OK. Of course there are more extreme storms that require more advanced techniques, but the principle is the same. If you reduce sail and speed enough, and have enough sea room, more than likely the boat and you, are going to survive. Having said that, it is prudent to avoid these conditions at all costs whenever possible.
SV Laurie Anne
1988 Brewer 40 Pilothouse