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AndrewMac 09-30-2009 10:35 AM

Heavy Weather Points of Sail
I was hoping that you all could help me out with some feedback on handling heavy weather. I am realtively new to SN and in previous posts have mentioned that, while I have 25 years sailing experience, it has almost exclusively been as a day sailor within the shelter of Penobscot Bay. My father and I recently upgraded to Decision - a Baba 40, Bob Perry design out of the Ta Shing Boat Yard, cutter rig, 40' LOA, 12'10" beam, 29,000 lbs displacement) with the intention of doing more cruising. To that end, I returned yesterday from a 5 day, 4 night sail around Penobscot, Jericho, and Blue Hill Bays.

I had one realtively inexperienced crew with me for the first two days. The first day was mild 10-15 knots and we made it to Isle au Haut and anchored in Duck Harbor beyond which lies the gulf of Maine. My intention was to drop out into the Gulf on Day 2 and, with a forecast NW wind of 30 knots, hoped to make it down to Winter Harbor on Schoodic Point, a distance of about 35 nm to the northeast (I needed to travel more easterly for about 20 nm, then turn nne for 15 nm once I cleared the Duck Islands and headed to Winter Harbor) . As we came out from under the lee of Isle au Haut, it was immediately apparent that the winds were higher than forecast at 35 knots gusting to 40. As we moved further into open water the wind built so it was a steady 40 with gusts over 45. I had headed out under staysl only with the equivalent of one reef in the main (have inmast furling for the main - btw, kept remembering the inmast furling debate that CD started and thinking "I really don't want this thing to jam right now :D). I immediately put in the equivalent of a second reef and, as the wind built, a third reef shortly thereafter, but left the staysl up. With the northerly wind, my point of sail was slightly above beam-on.

My problem was wave height/period. The seas had been forecast at 4-6 ft which didn't overly concern me, but they ended up larger - I would put them at 7-10 (the observation buoy a couple miles further south recorded 13), very steep and tightly packed together and seemed to be starting to break. We were a couple hours into it and getting smacked around a fair amount at this point, took a couple of waves across the bow and then dropped off a couple waves - not a complete drop-off I suppose, but certainly not something I had experienced before. At this point I came as close as I care to a knock-down. It wasn't a knock down, the sails didn't go in the water, but we went way over to the point where some sea came into the cockpit on the leeward side (hard to do in this boat). I had enough, changed course and beat up under the outer most islands (Marshall and Long islands) to get cover from the sea (this put me in Toothacher Bay, which i had to laugh at) - took me a good 3 to 4 hours to go about 3 nm. Oh, and I put the engine on, took in the staysl and let out a reef in the main. While we had to cross those conditions a couple more times to work our way back into Jericho Bay, once I made Marshall Island, I was largely able to leadfrog from the lee of one island to the next - didn't cut the wind much, but the sea was more manageable. We were picking up another crew member that night and I emailed him to change the place as we weren't going to make winter harbor. Sorry, this is getting long - a couple questions that came out of this:

1. Was going beam-on a dumb idea in those conditions?
2. Beating into the waves/wind was no fun (buried the bow a couple times, another first) - I actually considered falling out into more open water - this would have allowed me to be on a close reach straight to Winter Harbor. My thinking was: (a) that if I got further from land, the seas might have more room to separate and be more manageable - I have no basis for this, but was briefly tempted by my theory - does that make sense to anybody?; (b) I Could be on a close reach, which seemed preferrable to beam-on or close-hauled and (c) I could still make my intended destination.
3. Did I leave the staysl up too long, or maybe I should have left it out for the duration for better balance.
4. My dumbest move - not pulling up the tender and lashing it to the deck before we left - my greatest fear once I was out there was that a wave would flip the inflatable and I'd end up having to just cut it loose - was amazed that it just bobbed like a cork and never was an issue.

Any thoughts about what I should have done differently would be appreciated. Sorry this got so long..

smackdaddy 09-30-2009 10:42 AM

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AMac - HERE'S A LINK to one of the best Heavy Weather Sailing threads I've seen. Lots of tactics and discussion on various methods and techniques. Extremely informative.

I have also taken this opportunity to steal your story for the BFS thread. Thanks.

AndrewMac 09-30-2009 10:56 AM

Thanks for the link. I had actually read some of that before I left. While I was out there, I kept remembering Omotako's line:


One absolute constant in ocean sailing - when you're out there, you deal with whatever gets chucked at you
Obviously what I saw wasn't close to what he was describing (60 knot winds, 30 ft waves) I did find it a useful mantra nontheless!

smackdaddy 09-30-2009 11:05 AM

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I sail in a lake - so I'm uber sheltered. I've sailed in 40 knots once with a double reefed main. And it was still too much for my C27. That was scary.

And I was working on the boat a few weeks ago at the slip when a 50 knot squall hit.

I love big wind. But that was truly frightening. Even in the slip! Then I add to that a seastate like you're talking about...

That's some serious stuff. I'm definitely not ready for that kind of sailing.

At 45, even with a double reefed main - did you feel overpowered? Is that when you broached? I'm still trying to figure out - besides a knockdown - at what point you should just drop the main altogether.

blt2ski 09-30-2009 11:05 AM


Not sure that it will help. but if you go to 48&#176; North - The Sailing Magazine the oct issue may not be online today, but maybe tomorrow, there is an article on heavy wind sailing. BUT< heavy wind is described in that article as 20-40. 40+ as mentioned is a different animal. Still some good stuff in the article.

I picked up a paper version yesterday, the online usually does not show up until the 1st of the month. I can not tell if you are local to the puget sound region or not. but am assuming you are not!


AndrewMac 09-30-2009 11:13 AM

blt2ski - thanks for the recommendation.

smack - I had put a 3rd reef into the main as the wind built to over 40. I was making very little headway, but kept feeling like it was the waves slowing me down as much as anything. in retrospect, I think I probably left the staysl up too long. I put the engine on when I tried coming about a couple of times, only to have the sea smack me back - fact is that I didn't have enough omentum to come about, which in retrospect makes me think I was overpowered and left the staysl up too long. Frankly, I was amazed at how basically calm I felt - the boat is built for ocean sailing and I had complete faith that the boat would be fine as long as I didn't do something too stupid....of course that was what worried me!

smackdaddy 09-30-2009 11:26 AM

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Heh-heh. Sounds like you did fine. I hope to have that calm when "Omatako's Law" kicks in on me someday.

One other question - when should you drop the main and leave a storm jib up, versus dropping the staysl and leaving the main up? I assume it depends on if you're running or beating?

blt2ski 09-30-2009 11:38 AM


Which to leave up does depend upon the which way you are going, along with how you boat handles different conditions. Unfortunately for most of us, we can only swag as to what we will do in those conditions, as most of us will be lucky or is that unlucky to be in conditions described but 1-3 times in our lives. To my way of thinking, not that I should be thinking. is to have a general plan, follow as best as you can, then after, figure out what went well, what went wrong, and what you could have done better.

Kind of the same thing that I did at FWB race two yrs ago, then followed thru last yr, and followed thru agin in March at another race before I had to drop out when the boom broke! Same as when Jodie went aground.


AdamLein 09-30-2009 11:40 AM

What were the currents doing at the time? What you describe sounds (in my limited experience) like a strong current-against-wind situation, pretty common around here. My feeling about closely spaced, steep waves is that you've got to keep some drive for control and balance on a beat, and that heeling is better than being tossed about. I would say you did the right thing keeping up a scrap of main. Can you reef your staysail?

hillerpd 09-30-2009 11:48 AM

My usual response to getting caught out is to head for deeper water where I can decide on the proper heading to make the ride as "easy" as I can. I like the idea of lots of searoom to allow me to pick the best angle to the waves. As you go farther out the waves period is usually longer making for a more comfortable ride.

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