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Old 09-25-2013
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Question Lee Shores

I was wondering when reading some threads about something I wished to ask about. In the Age of Sail the boats made it seem that 10 miles off a lee shore was terrifying when faced with a low or long headland ect. I assume from reading and thinking over much time this was due to their sail type (square sails) and size.

However I have experienced the horror of a lee shore in the shape of a railrow bridge jutting out in the st. Johns river that was within 10' of the stern when I finished the gybe and filled wind to pull away.

In dinghy boats Ive been right on top of objects like docks or shallow water before tacking or gybing and maneuvering around. So I suppose Im wondering now a day with modern era sailboats how dangerous a lee shore really is when not passage making. (Since you face the trouble of having to possibly gybe or tack back around from south to north for example and then head back out on a 90 degree tack to gain more sea room before going back north or south)

I mean I get the risk. In my boat Strong Back in 30 knots I sailed her one day with a ripped main both at the foot and head that spilled way too much wind to allow for sailing upwind. As it was I could not head back upwind after running because I kept stalling out during my tacks and falling back down wind. The shore line was approaching and the river was very sloppy and sizeable so again I had to tack around and run down to another marina where I sheltered 2 days until the wind changed.

So it seems that skipper error (as in all my lee shore experiences) are the biggest danger to boat and life when dealing with lee shores. It seems, and this is where I am seeking discussion, that lee shores with modern sailing rigs are now only an incovnience made dangerous at times by skipper and crew actions. Since with traingular sail shape and auxillary power one can gybe, tack round, or motor out of a dangerous lee situation I am wondering if the dreaded lee shore is not really so dreaded after all? Inconvient? Totally. Worrisome? At times. Dangerous? Thats what im wondering about.

Side note: yesterday was terribly rainy and today is very residual so tomorrow looks to be the day for the night trip.
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Old 09-25-2013
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Re: Lee Shores

If the wind is light and you can tack your boat easily then you can come in quite close.

This is one of the things that racing gives you wondeful experience. Racers will come right in close.

There was one off LA(?) last year where a race boat was quite close and lost his rudder and ended up on the rocks killing a crew member.

In the old days of sailing ships, as you rightly pointed out, they had to be careful of 'embayment'. Thats where they couldnt tack out of a bay and would ever so slowly lose ground till they were on the beach. It still happens today with modern boats but usually only in strong winds. If its between 10 and 15 knots you can go as close into shore as you line imho, because you can tack out. If its 15 to 20 knots leave it to experienced sailors. Above 20 knots never approach a lee shore. In unsatble, squally, chagable weather never close on a lee shore.

If you stay 10 nms of the coast you see nothing. 5 miles you see nothing. 3 miles you see nothing. 200 meters you see the nipples of the girls sunning on the beach... but its dangerous. I am quite happy a mile off an unfamilier shore. But if I am a local a few hundred meters is fine.

Start by keeping off a few miles and as you experience increases come in.

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Last edited by MarkofSeaLife; 09-25-2013 at 11:44 AM.
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Old 09-25-2013
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Re: Lee Shores

You rarely see sailboats washed up on windward shores. From a geographical standpoint, wind will tend to lift and separate from the water in order to get over the land so you may encounter "dead" spots or wind eddies that will hurt your performance. That, and not enough room to recover from an equipment problem or missed tack should make you cautious. There are some lee shores I get close to, others I give wide berth… It all depends.
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Old 09-25-2013
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Re: Lee Shores

I sail on a Lee shore a lot (west coast of Michigan). I think its depends more on the wave height that a boat can power through (sail power, I don't count on engine power). I worked my way up in wind speed and wave height on my old cutter to see the limits. Never topped out, I quit before the boat. No point in breaking something and it wasn't fun anymore. I was surprised by what a shoal draft (4 foot ) boat could do.

So yes I think a "modern" boat its not as big a issue. But if things break or go wrong it will get ugly fast.
I'm still learning the new to us boat, so starting small waves lower winds again.
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Old 09-25-2013
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Re: Lee Shores

I think most references to lee shores as a dangerous situation relate to heavy weather. I wouldn't have any problem sailing waters that I know, with a lee shore just a safe distance (depth wise) off in 15 to 20 knots, but wouldn't consider sailing the same lee shore at anything under a mile or more in 45.
Should anything happen (a parted sheet, blown sail, unfavorable wind shift or the need to reef further, etc.) I would want a much greater distance between the rocks and my boat in heavy weather, which brings larger waves with the wind and a faster drift, if not making way.
As one gets closer to a lee shore the waves get larger and the backwash creates an outgoing wave which further increases the size of the waves and adds to the difficulty of making way by adding another wave (or more) to plow into. Never mind what adding an adverse current does to the mix.
Distance off is your best friend on a lee shore.
"Any idiot can make a boat go; it takes a sailor to stop one." Spike Africa aboard the schooner Wanderer in Sausalito, Ca. 1964.
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Old 09-25-2013
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Re: Lee Shores

I like to leave enough room to allow me to completely mess up everything regardless of the weather. I always assume that the next tack is the one where I get everything hung up, or a halyard parts, and that the motor is not going to fire up, and I try to avoid any "hold my beer and watch this" type manoeuvres, especially when single/short handed.
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Old 09-25-2013
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Re: Lee Shores

Originally Posted by PaulinVictoria View Post
I try to avoid any "hold my beer and watch this" type manoeuvres, especially when single/short handed.
What fun is that
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Old 09-26-2013
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Re: Lee Shores

The Ol Man
It's very hard to get someone to hold your beer when singlehanding!
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Old 09-26-2013
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Re: Lee Shores

The examples cited above come down to this: real problems rarely are the result of a single failure. Real problems are because two or three or four things go wrong in sequence. Getting too close to a lee shore, particularly when conditions are sporty, simply increases the impact if something (or a number of somethings) goes wrong.

That isn't to say there aren't times when sailing or anchoring off a lee shore isn't the right thing to do, or perhaps the "least bad" of alternatives. Make your judgments carefully and thoughtfully.
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Old 09-26-2013
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Re: Lee Shores

Square riggers had/have very little ability to point very high, if at all. Many were only able to get a few degrees above a beam reach and some apparently could not even get to a beam reach. Therefore, when plotting a course around a headland, they had to figure on a lot of leeward slippage and if the wind shifted a bit, they were toast. Modern Marconi-rigged boats can point into the wind to varying amounts and so do not need to worry so much about being pushed ashore. Nevertheless, as pointed out above, if something goes awry and you're pressing your luck by moving in too close, you could be grounded in short order.
There was a long thread on the Farralon Island wreck which was caused precisely because Low Speed Chase got too close to a lee shore, got into the break and lost control.

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Last edited by smurphny; 09-26-2013 at 07:27 AM.
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