Join Date: Dec 2002
Location: Columbus OH
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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.