This raises some questions for me. We recently had an experience coming down the lee side of a causeway. We were on a nice broad reach going somewhat slowly in light wind. Suddenly a big gust hit and almost knocked us completely down. The boat was very quick to head up or turn into the wind and she leveled herself out.
1. Shes a 31 bombay clipper, is this normal in a large gust or knockdown that most larger boats will automatically head up and right themselves?
Yes, it's called Weather Helm. The boat should be designed to round up in a gust, as this de-powers the sails. IMO, if you are sailing a 31 foot Keel boat, you should know this already. If it happens with another boat or obstacle upwind of you, it can be ugly if you don't know what to do. Well covered in a little book "The Complete Sailor" by David Seidman. The US Sailing site also has some excellent on line instruction.
2. There was no way to see the gust or predict it and it was gone as soon as it hit. What should I have done differently?
Don't know what a "Causeway" is, but I assume there is very little Fetch (water to windward, between the boat and the Causeway or shore). This makes it difficult to see a gust coming, but you should learn to read the wind on the water when there is Fetch. I would certainly allow for more Fetch until I learned how to control the boat in a gust! "Causeways" sound hard!
3. I read the "reef the main as it builds, but drop the main at 30 or above"
I have two reef points, the boat seems to really come alive in 15-20 should I just drop if it is gusting higher or was the prior statement really for a smaller boat?
My 30' boat is quite happy in 30 knots with a single reef and 100% jib. Depends on the boat. Many variables. Reduce sail WELL BEFORE you feel out of control (better yet, when you first think about it). Err on the side of too much reef. It's easier to shake out reef than put it in after you need it!
4. I understand you can furl the jib to use as a storm sail, I also understand this puts considerable force on the furling system and hardware etc. At what point do you Not want to use the Jib even furled deeply.
I will tend to Reef the main and use my 100% Jib in some pretty stout winds. I'm reluctant to reef (partially furl) the jib as it's no longer a very effective sail. I have a 90%, but find my 100 pretty effective for the stout SF Bay winds. I would think you could furl the jib down to a small triangle without damage to the furler (for what it would be worth!) but have little experience with it.
I have sailed small boats and cats for years but this is our first "Bigger Boat"
We are doing fairly well and my wife is awesome crew. Any advice is well taken. and sorry to hijack this great thread
I'm surprised you are not familiar with Weather Helm from the smaller boats. In any case, I suggest you educate yourself. Plenty of info here and elsewhere. It's not rocket science, but screw up on a 31 foot boat and someone can get hurt (or worse). Keywords: Blowing the traveler (no...not a San Francisco term!), Accidental Jibe, Preventer, etc.