Consideration of A Strategy to Survive Heavy Weather / Seas in a Coastal Cruiser
A great deal of seemingly endless discussion surrounds the question of what makes a blue water or offshore cruiser, and whether some particular boat would be reasonably capable of an offshore passage or circumnavigation, the concern being how well the boat will stand up to heavy weather which can be expected to be encountered.
Apologies in advance for contributing to that seemingly endless discussion ;-)
[Caveat: I have a moderate amount of sailing experience and have survived a few storms, including ~40 knot winds and ~20 foot seas in a 22' Santana off Guam in the Phillipine Sea, and have a healthy respect for what the ocean is capable of, but I have not yet crossed any ocean (by boat) nor do I consider myself a proper "blue water sailor" -- yet, as with many members of this forum, have dreams and plans to eventually "sail around the world"... hence my ponderings on this subject]
Setting aside the frequent (and valid) observations that the suitability of any boat for any conditions depends as much upon the skill and experience of the crew, as upon the capability of the boat, and that a good sailor always keeps an eye on weather and other variables to minimize risk, I wanted to present for consideration a strategy for surviving bad weather or heavy seas in a particular type of boat designed primarily for coastal use in moderate to fair weather, but which has several characteristics which enable a possibly effective strategy for dealing with conditions far more extreme than for which the boat was designed.
In the many and varied discussions that I've followed about what makes a blue water cruiser, there is the frequent re-occurrence of several common presumptions which appear to strongly influence folks judgments and which I'm thinking may not be absolutes for all boats.
These presumptions generally concern the ability/safety of the boat functioning in heavy weather, and the potential for hardware failure from wind or water, or if rolled. It seems that many boats are rejected as suitable offshore/blue water cruisers due to the likelihood of hardware failure (de-masting, loss of steerage, etc.) or risk of sinking as a result of flooding. Namely, it is presumed that
(a) mast and rigging will be up until/unless lost by wind and/or water
(b) substantial flooding of the cabin will result in sinking, thus water tightness is critical
(c) rolling will usually result in irrepairable damage to or loss of rigging
(d) rudder and steering hardware are under continuous stress from the elements
Based on these presumptions, a blue water capable boat must have rigging, rudder, hatches, ports, etc. able to withstand the intense wind and wave energy encountered -- and therefore a boat which does not have rigging and hardware able to withstand continual use under such conditions is not a suitable blue water cruiser. Fair enough. given those presumptions, that's a logical conclusion.
But what if these presumptions are not absolutes, and that one may remove them from the equation, for a certain type of boat?
For the sake of discussion, let us consider a boat which has the following significant, and somewhat less common features:
- Water ballast and Positive hull floatation.
- Mast and rigging easily and quickly lowerable and securable to deck.
- Fully retractable foils (rudder, daggerboard/centerboard, etc).
Let us then consider the following worst case scenario, and an applied strategy for survival: Upon being faced with worstening conditions which soon will exceed the normal safe operational capabilities of the boat in question, the crew prepares the boat to ride out the weather as follows:
1. Mast and rigging is lowered and secured to deck.
2. All foils are retracted and secured.
3. Dual redundant sea anchors deployed from bow, each secured to multiple, sufficiently reinforced cleats, with chafe protection.
4. All hatches, ports, companionway, etc. secured.
5. All gear is secured in cabin in case of (or even in expectation of) rolling.
6. Exposure suits, life vests, donned by crew (or close at hand for donning quickly).
In this configuration, the rigging has minimal exposure to wind or waves, and minimal risk of loss or damage in the event of rolling as there is minimal leverage from wind/water as stowed. All foils, and thus also all steering components, etc. are removed from the stress of the elements. The boat essentially becomes a sealed container bobbing behind redundant sea anchors. Even if both sea anchors were to fail, and the boat is rolled, it should remain water tight with minimal damage. Even if a hatch or port is breached and the boat is flooded, the boat will not sink, as it has positive floatation, and risk of hypothermia is greatly reduced by the exposure suits, allowing sufficient time for the boat to be pumped out and made water tight again.
Given the high probability that such a boat, when applying the above strategy, could reasonably withstand and survive the heaviest of weather and seas which might be encountered in the open ocean, would not such a boat be reasonably considered blue water capable, to a degree, and suitable for offshore passage making, and even circumnavigation? (albeit with much greater caution and consideration of weather systems than with some other more conventional blue water capable boat).
Isn't a blue water boat thus simply a boat which is capable, in one way or another, of getting you safely and reliably across an ocean? One blue water boat may do so more quickly and comfortably (and more conventionally) than another, but getting there is what counts. Eh?
What additional variables or factors to the above strategy might render it less effective? What other forms of failure might occur which are not reasonably addressed by positive flotation, secured rigging and foils, etc?