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Old 08-16-2006
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How Much Can My Boat Take

I know that my thread is vauge and kind of amaturish but I'm new to sailing. Monday night I was sailing my new to me 1986 O'day 272 from Sailors Haven to Bellport. My totally inexperienced guest and I set out running downwind with 3 foot rollers in the bay. As the sun set the wave height increased and they began breaking. The wind was a steady 25mph with gusts to 35.

We were way overpowered with the main (no jib) when we switched to a broad reach. Dropped the sail (kind of scary) and continued to motor the course. The boat was really rolling and pitching and there was a lot of pressure on the tiller whilst we slid down the waves. Can a 272 with the wing keel capsize under power? Aprox what kind of seas/winds would it take?
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Old 08-16-2006
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As a rule dropping sail alltogether and resorting to the engine renders a SAILboat less stable in just about all conditions.

The idea is to balance the pressure and placement of the wind on the sails and thereby find the sweet spot to sail by. IN some conditions all the sail looks like two hankerchiefs left out on the line, but they are doing their job.

I have an Endeavour26 and at 25knots we start we are going down to the number 2 headsail and leaving the full main. In 35 we are down to the number 3 blade heady and are seriously considering putting a reef into the main, but that is just how our boat behaves.

The condition of your sails and how flat they are also plays a big role in the equation.

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Old 08-16-2006
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You were finding out what kind of seas and winds your boat can take. It sounds like you got to Bellport before the waves built to the point that one might have swamped you. If you'd started out later, the waves might have had more time to build. If you'd been heading on a different course, the boat might not have handled the waves the same way, and the results might have been different, with you not around now to ask questions. Your motor might not be able to fight upwind against 35 knots of wind and waves, and you could have ended up beached on a lee shore. Keeping the boat moving, and on a reach, may have been what kept you from getting swamped. Based on your description, it sounds like the conditions maxed out your boat. We were out in something somewhat similar on a Saturday a few weeks ago. Luckily for us we were in the somewhat protected Gardiner's Bay, and the waves didn't have the fetch to build much past 4'. Powering upwind into them, we only buried the bow a couple of times. If the waves get big enough, any boat can capsize or pitchpole. Ocean racers are required to have battery tie-downs and floorboards and cupboards with positive catches so that if the boat goes upside down they don't all fall out and fly around the cabin. Last summer we went out to see what our boat would do in 40 knots of wind. LaGuardia Airport was closed because the gusts were going even higher. We set the main only, with a reef in it, and promptly took off at about 10 knots on a tight reach. We sailed out into Long Island Sound until the waves got bigger and the spray started to get us wet in the cockpit. We tacked back to where it was flatter, and then headed downwind with the speedo hitting better than 12.5. The bow wave was making rainbows as it shot spray out past the boom. The rudder was almost humming. It was exhilarating. Now we know that to go upwind in conditions like that we'd need two reefs and full foul-weather gear. The boat can take it, but the crew might get tired and make a serious mistake, so I don't plan to go out in such conditions unless we're fully prepared.
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Old 08-17-2006
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I think in this case it's more a matter of what you can take not what the boat can take. Next time you are in this sort of situation try a reefed main and a storm jib instead. Stay calm and see what the boat does. If you don;t have a storm jib go get one. The small amount of sail cloth doesn't cost much. Some might say it's not worth it but a storm jib is cheap and really makes the boat managable in higher winds. Obviously try changing sails and reefing in nicer conditions first. There are a few basic storm tactics you should try out in light conditions too. Learn how to heave to. A smaller jib might make it easier but it is a vital skill. Heaving to is usefull for everything from waiting out a squal to calming the motion of the boat for lunch. I think the most important lesson is check the weather. Your boat could survive ten foot breakers in the right hands or it could be lost in five foot waves in the wrong hands. It really depends on what you do. Good luck. It's good to see a new sailor who isn;t afraid of a little wind and water.
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Old 08-17-2006
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Yo Simple,

In general keep a sailboat under sail. She will handle the conditions better and be more survivable that way. The rule of thumb is; shorten sail until the boat feels comfortable.

Do you have reef points on your main? Do you have a small jib (60%).

Way back when I had a small daysailor and sailed on a killer lake in the midwest where the winds would come up suddenly into force 3,4, and 5 routinely. I had no reef points on the main (1st season, after that I added lots of things). I would drop the main and leave that little handkerchief of a jib up. When the jib overpowered the boat in a gust, i would let it out keeping little "Red Hot" on her feet. thence sheeting her in to continue her journey.

Remember The famous captain Charlie Barr " any fool can carry sail, it takes a sailor to know when to shorten it"

You are doin fine, hang in there.
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Old 08-17-2006
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I don't know about the boat, but here is a good technique for downwind sailing in waves
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Old 08-17-2006
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I think every sailor makes mistakes (certainly me!) but the question is, how had do you try to only make them once?

The best thing I can say about reefing is, if you have to ask yourself "should I reef soon?" you should have already done it! Forgetting the macho thing, most boats actually will sail flatter and faster when they are reefed sooner than you think, often in as little as 12-14 knots. If you can get, or generate, polars for your boat, and they allow you to check performance reefed/not, you may be surprised.

As for stability, try looking for "capsive stability" or "rollover stability" figures for you boat on the web. That will give you some comparative numbers as to how far you can heel, and what will happen if you exceed it. A 27-38 foot boat that is properly rigged and secured for weather can easily take 6-8 foot seas and 40 knots, if you don't mind a wet ride. Or, just as easily broach, flood, and sink.

And in 3-foot waves, you also have to remember than every time you ride down in a trough, you're now 1-1/2 feet closer to bottom than you would be in flat water. You can get a nasty surprise that way.

So, capsize under power? I suppose, certainly roll of it took the wind and waves broadside. You might find "Fastnet, Force 10" to be fascinating reading, it details the aftermath of a major storm on a racing fleet and goes into a great deal of analysis about weather, boat design, and crew as all being factors. It won't give you black and whites--but is worth reading. There are some heavier tomes about what is proper for an offshore sailing yacht, stability, etc. in general, but while they all give you good background--none will give you a certain answer for your boat. The capsize/rollover stability numbers are your best predictor for that.
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Old 08-18-2006
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Did you say breaking?

A 3 ft wave should be nothing for a 25 footer, unless it's breaking.

If the waves you experienced were breaking, that changes the formula. I have sailed my 26 ft water ballasted boat in 6 footers on the great lakes with no problem. Even on a beam reach the wave rolls under me, lifts me high in the air, I wave to Cleveland and Detroit, then it rolls away gently lowering me in the trough.

A large wave on the quarter is different because it tends to push the stern off to the leeward side possibly causing a broach putting the boat beam to the next approaching wave. You will roll a little but still, not a bad problem if the waves are not breaking.

If the wave is breaking, it is not going to roll gently under you. The face of a breaking wave is vertical and it slams into your boat instead of lifting it.

If you get broached by a breaking wave, even a 3 ft breaking wave, your boat will be pushed beam to the wave and rolled sharply, possibly causing a knockdown.

This may have been what you were experiencing. First, something was causing the waves to break. Usually the cause is shallow water which you can sail away from into deeper water. Sometimes a quickly building wind can cause the waves to break.

There are a few ways that I might have handled this situation. I would probably have first trailed a long line in a loop over the stern. I cleat the line on one of the stern cleats then put a couple turns around the free winch on the other side (to haul it back in later) and cleated it. This should help keep the boat lined up with the following seas so that you don't broach. If the line doesn't help, I might have tried trailing an anchor or something over the stern. A sea anchor is best for this but I never bought one.

But it could also slow you down too much causing the breaking waves to poop over the stern. If your cockpit doesn't drain fast enough, you could swamp.

If the situation was getting too dangerous to continue, I would hove-to. To do this in breaking seas, I would get the motor running, be under reefed main and jib, preferably a smaller jib, let the jib run free, then, with the help of the engine, turn the boat in the trough into the wind and seas. Then I backwind the jib and put the tiller all the way over on the same side as the jib. The wind against the backed jib tries to push the bow away from the wind while the main keeps the boat moving slowly
but just fast enough that the rudder can attempt to steer the boat into the wind. The two forces counter each other.

In the hove-to position, the change from wild seas to reasonable calm is amazing. You could probably take short cat-naps in the cockpit between taking lookouts. If it blows all night, you could stay hove-to all night in relative safety. Be aware of your postion, you'll make a lot of leeway and a little headway. You can sight your wake over the compass to to get an idea of where you are going. You can hove-to on the other tack if you are getting near shore.

If you have never tried to hove-to, you should try it next time you go out. Usually, you don't need the engine and you don't need to let the jib run; just cross the wind as if you were going to tack then push the tiller or wheel over as if you changed your mind and tried to resume your former course. You might need to let the boat slow some more. If it's going too fast, the rudder will overpower the backed jib.

If the hove-to maneuver doesn't help, I would probably put the anchor over the bow to keep the boat facing the wind and splitting the seas. If you are in shallow water, the anchor might grab but probably not. I have never done this so some of the other sailors might want to help me out with their experiences.

If anyone sees any errors in my judgement I hope you will respond.

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Old 08-18-2006
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Whenever I try the above manuever, the backed jib overpowers the rudder and she comes on around.
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Old 08-18-2006
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Most boats will heave to but not all. It still sounds like the jib is too tight and too large and the mainsail is too loose.

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