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Old 09-25-2007
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Heavy weather sailing - question

I'm a novice sailor who has taken some keelboat courses and I'm wondering about why none of the articles I've read on heavy weather suggest motoring (under certain conditions). They all seem to assume a skill level that a novice skipper, caught by accident in high winds, may not have.

If I'm out in heavy weather, (if I cant avoid it) lets say on the great lakes, but the winds are below gale force, why would I not just stow the sails and use the motor? Is this not a safer response for a skipper and crew who are novice?

I'm imagining a scenario where the wind has picked up, I want to head back to port, and I'm not comfortable messing with the sails.

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Old 09-25-2007
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Sails will drive a boat more effectively and consistently than engine power. Especially in short, steep seas, wave impact forces can slow or actually stop a boat moving under power. A boat under sail can drive thru the waves, generally with a more liveable motion than that experienced under power. If you can and do adjust the sail area for the wind strength, you will have a much better and faster trip than you would experience under power.
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Old 09-25-2007
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I believe a lot of heavy weather sailing is focused on journeys not local sailing wher eyou can duck or motor back to a safe harbor.

the whole sail idea is safer, uses less fuel (which can get contaminated or have your motor stall) and you can heave to and let the boat relax while you go do something else like chunder from seasickness or whatever.

No, seriously, for a person a mile from shore, go for it and just motor, although it actually is safer with a reef up or storm jib. Think of it like a safety net.
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Old 09-25-2007
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Motoring is considered unsafe, since the motor can often quit on you, especially in heavy weather, where the wave motion can stir debris and gunk from the bottom of the fuel tank and foul the fuel filters and lines. A boat under storm sails or reefed sails is going to have a far better chance of surviving IMHO. Besides, if the winds are that heavy, you've got plenty of power to harness, even with a double reefed main and storm jib.
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Old 09-25-2007
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Check out this thread over on "Seamanship"... it may answer a few questions for you.
What do YOU do in a squall?
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Old 09-25-2007
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Just from the point of comfort, it helps to have some sail up to help steady the boat. If your in storm conditions on the Great Lakes, you will likely have some nasty choppy seas to deal with. The winds pushing against the sail, even if it is a little piece of sail, will make for a more comfortable ride in. If your not making enough time and want to motor sail you can do this as well. JUST MAKE SURE NOTHING Is dragging in the water. Sheets, halyards, mooring lines, etc.
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Old 09-25-2007
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Trout66 View Post
If I'm out in heavy weather, (if I cant avoid it) lets say on the great lakes, but the winds are below gale force, why would I not just stow the sails and use the motor? Is this not a safer response for a skipper and crew who are novice?
You have received lots of other good advice. I would say it seems logical enough to crank the engine, and that wouldn't be a bad decision. But after a few storms you will probably realize that some sail is helpful. But you have to reduce sail before the winds pick up or things will get very hectic.

The problem you might have is if you need to go directly into the wind to get where you want to go. I have been caught in storms where it was almost impossible to make much headway against the wind with the engine, and even with sails without heading way off, and there isn't always room for that. A partially furled jib won't help going into the wind. If you see a storm coming get a small sail area - ie a much reefed main and a small jib furled a little if possible.
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Old 09-25-2007
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They don't call it heavy weather "sailing" for nothing!

In all seriousness though, there's nothing really wrong with your approach if that's what you're most comfortable with. And in many cases when coastal sailing, it will certainly get you back where you want to be. (Off-shore, you're often too far from your destination for motoring to be of any help).

But motoring is not necessarily the best nor least risky option. In extreme conditions, if you are downwind of your destination, a lot of boats will not be able to make as much progress to windward in high seas and wind as they could under sail power (your sails become more powerful as the wind increases, whereas the engine is the same old engine).

Also, in heavy weather, sailboats tend to be more comfortable with sails up than when motoring (the wind pressure on the sails helps to stabilize the boat). Don't discount how uncomfortable a sailboat will feel in a seaway without canvas.

Another problem is that you risk losing the engine at an inconvenient time. Maybe the rough weather stirs up debris in your fuel tank. Maybe a sheet streams overboard and gets wrapped in the prop. Any number of possibilites could leave you without an engine, so it's good to consider the "what ifs" and be prepared for them. Practicing in heavy weather will build your confidence so you won't have to rely on the engine as much.

Edit: Apologies for the redundant advice. None of the other posts were up when I began typing.

Last edited by JohnRPollard; 09-25-2007 at 04:36 PM.
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One other problem is that many sailboats are somewhat underpowered, and in storm conditions, the underpowered engine on them isn't going to be much good. YMMV.

If you're thinking about reefing your sails...you should already be doing it... it is always easier and safer to shake out a reef you didn't need, rather than trying to put one in, after realizing that you really, really should have put it in 10 minutes earlier.
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Old 09-25-2007
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a must read "Heavy Weather Sailing' by Adrian coles. will give you confidence that if you do the right thing you will be alright.
now it is just a matter of getting the experience and practicing.
if at all possible sail in heavy weather with experienced sailors there is so much all of us can learn.

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