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  #1  
Old 07-24-2009
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Light wind, lumpy seas

Our trip to Catalina Island included what was, for us, a completely new experience: very light winds (<3kts true) and the usual Pacific swell. As inland lake sailors, we are used to linear relation between wind speed and sea state, and I frankly didn't handle the wallowing, slatting, and drifting very well.

Okay ... it drove me flat-out insane. Our SJ21 is a marvelous light-air boat, but we simply could not keep the sails inflated on most headings. Trying to run down from Two Harbors to Avalon was the worst. We'd catch a puff, the boat would accelerate, apparent wind would drop to zero, and SLAT ... SLAT ... SLAT. Couldn't even keep the spi from collapsing for same reason. It would backwind as each swell picked up our counter. Eventually made it there by jibing thru nearly 90 degrees: broad reaching moved the apparent just far enuf forward to keep the sails semi-filled. But God, it took forever and was way too much work.

Upwind, we could milk the apparent as long as we were willing to accept lower pointing angles, but the swell would likewise cause the boom to swing, and if we sheeted hard to control that, we'd flatten our main too much and screech to a halt (no traveler).

So what are your tricks (on each various heading) for keeping the boat moving when the swell is stronger than the winds? How do you set your sails, course, sheets, etc? Don't say 'fire up the damn motor' -- that's cheating.

(BTW, our trip also included 25 kts and short-period chop running 90 degrees to the swell ... but that at least made sense....)
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Last edited by bobmcgov; 07-26-2009 at 10:38 AM.
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Old 07-24-2009
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Old 07-25-2009
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I go through this all the time on Lake Ontario. Upwards of 3' swells with little wind. You either just ride it out while hoping for wind, or as CalebD says, crank up the motor. Putzing around in those swells will actually break more gear than a 20knot breeze. Everything is just slapping back and forth.
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Old 07-25-2009
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Old 07-25-2009
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May want to look into some kind of a preventer setup. Others will know more about this than me but the idea is, a preventer will prevent the boom from an accidental jibe (great) BUT if I understand correctly, the preventer can also keep the boom locked in position when there isn't enough wind to fill the mainsail but the boat is still rolling around. I'm considering setting one up, it happens a fair amount to me out here that I'll be in waves with no wind, and it sucks having the boom gear crash around from side to side.

For now though I just fire up the engine whenever the wind dies.
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Old 07-25-2009
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*checks name of website is SailNet*

There was a pretty 42ish-foot erstwhile sailboat moored in Desconso Bay that had been converted to a powercruizer -- mast removed, semi-permanent awning over the cockpit. Most of the sailboats at Catalina could undergo the same surgery without anybody noticing.

Four sailboats out of five were either motoring or motorsailing regardless of the wind. Motorsailing needlessly & incompetently, may I add. We beat up from Avalon to Two Harbors in perfect 10 kt west winds, averaging 5 kts on a bowline; it was hands down the finest day of sailing in my life, distilled joy, the sort of day any sailor lives for. We passed a 35 footer heading down to Avalon -- under power, no headsail, but with his main up and sheeted to a close reach. The swell+following breeze was causing his boom to jibe back and forth about 6 feet -- and his bow to plunge violently around. Boat was barely under control. I said, We may be about to see the world's first Motorized Death Roll.

So let's pretend that our motor isn't very reliable, or that we don't want to rebuild it every two seasons -- or that it's sixty years ago when most sailboats didn't have motors and yet Catalina Island's harbors hosted many dozens of them. Let's pretend, that is, that we are sailors. How would sailors deal with light winds combined with goodly-sized waves?
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Old 07-25-2009
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bobmcgov View Post
snip...
Okay ... it drove me flat-out insane. ...snip But God, it took forever and was way too much work.

Don't say 'fire up the damn motor' -- that's cheating.

(BTW, our trip also included 25 kts and short-period chop running 90 degrees to the swell ... but that at least made sense....)
I think you kinda' answered your own question. The conditions you describe produce the results you saw. You can suck it up and "enjoy it" or cheat.

Due to its shallow depth and long fetch when winds are from the north or south (and they are one or the other about 90% of the time), the Chesapeake is renowned for the short, steep chop that whips up when a strong wind opposes the tide. Many times you'll have a light air day after a few days of wind like that, and it will produce the absolutely miserable conditions you were dealing with. When it does, all you can do is stay in the anchorage/at dock, suffer the slattering or motor to where you need to get to. We've done several races in those condtions and they were something close to torture. Any time you got the boat moving upwind, you'd soon slam into a big wave and spend agonizing minutes until the boat got going again, just to repeat it. Downwind, its constant trim and ease, trying to keep some speed as the sails fill and collapse. Like you say, "God it takes forever and is way too much work".

I wish I had time to always choose the "pure" choice, but "I got to be at work on Monday" so, its iron genny for me when I encounter those conditions.
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Old 07-26-2009
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Oh, it's not that I'm a purist so much; our electric trolling auxilliary takes motoring off the table. It's that "Fire up the engine" is the obvious -- and therefore completely uninteresting -- response. I have no idea what among the following ideas would help and what wouldn't, and most I only came up with after the fact ... but a discussion of these or other tactics might actually improve everyone's sailing knowledge:

1. Induced heel. Twenty degrees or more? Move ballast in boat?

2. Full-batten mains: better or worse? Should we drop the main and add pre-load to the battens?

3. The 0.5oz nylon Drifter: why it is your friend. Design, attachment options, and use.

4. Best TWAs; ways to make apparent wind angles work for you.

5. How to present bow or stern to waves to optimize performance. Swell vs. chop.

6. Active sheeting, sail pumping, rudder sculling, hull rocking.

7. Best mast rake; shroud & stay tension; sail draft adjustments.

8. Fake up a traveler. Shorten topping lift and sheet down hard to stabilize boom without flattening main. Rig similar topping lift to jib clew. Bungees, preventers, corn starch, weights hung from reefing points....

9. How to work a symmetrical spinnaker in these conditions, from beam reach to DDW.
-------------
See? There seems plenty of room for trying stuff. Perhaps it's all crap and the choices indeed boil down to "Suffer, Motor." Perhaps, tho, there are clever and arcane methods of eking motion out of nothing. Sailing is about cleverness, arcana, negotiating passage, doing things the hard way ... isn't it? Or are we secretly just powerboaters with pretensions?
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Old 07-26-2009
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Sailing requires wind. Believe me I've tried to get more out of my boat in conditions like your original post stated (calm or <3kts). Easing backstay, outhaul, and halyard tension. Rudder skulling I did in sunfish when I was a kid it worked kinda but even in that light boat with light me in it, with calm winds I was stuck until a puff came by. In my boat now nothing seems to make much of a difference no wind=no go. Like I said the preventer is probably the next upgrade I will make for light-air sailing so I can at least wait it out longer before going nuts. If I had a code zero or some gargantuan sail it would help but that's more money.

It may seem completely uninteresting to you, firing up the motor ... to me, when I've got a current moving me backwards and waves are causing the gear to crash around the boat I think going to the iron genny is the prudent thing to do.
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Old 07-26-2009
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You could allow time to pass, that usually works for me. Play a game, fix some dinner, take a nap, that kind of thing. Given enough time the wind always picks up, might take hours, days, weeks, but it will eventually show up. The best solution to not having enough wind is to have enough wind.

Of course I am being a smart ass, but there do seem to be a lot of people out there on the ocean who do not have enough patience and don't account for the fact that they are going to be becalmed a good bit of the time. Even in the middle of the ocean sometimes you just have to sit there on the glassy water and entertain yourself while you wait, right ? Too many sailors seem to treat windless days like they are broken in some way, when that is just the way it goes, sometimes there isn't any wind, doesn't do any good to wish it were different ... it is sort of like going camping and getting upset because it rains, it just rains sometimes, that's camping! Windless hours and days on a boat aren't deficient in some way, they are just part of the experience.
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Last edited by wind_magic; 07-26-2009 at 06:20 AM.
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