I'm the FNG still...
Join Date: Jul 2007
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Heave to with a Jib? It saved my life today.
I was out on my little racing dinghy today enjoying some afternoon breezes when along came the 3PM out-of-nowhere wind storm of about 40mph with mixed, confused seas.
My Dynamic doesn't have a way to reef or lower the mainsail unless you climb over to the mast and lower the entire thing, boom and all (it bolt ropes through the mast and boom), so I just let it fly and it flapped about making tons of noise. Next went the sheets for the jib, which I quickly regained, thinking that it was a lot less sail area, and I would be better off holding on to that one, even if it was slamming about for a moment.
All I could think of was that Storm Tactic book I read about how to force the fore of the ship to windward with the jib and then relax the sheet and let the tiller hold full lee, and it worked!
It was a pretty crazy thing seeing me stretched out on the dinghy, leaning for ballast, foot holding the tiller over on the cockpit side, and easing and pulling in the jib with both hands while the main flapped like a flag going a hunderd miles an hour.
If the boat was going too far to lee, I would relax the jib sheet and the tiller would take over and point me upwind a tad, where I could pull in the sheet and the boat would get a little speed (maybe less than a knot) and regain steerageway and then the process would start over.
I tried to actually use the heave-to with the backed jib and tiller, but there was just so much wind and windage from that luffing mainsail, I would have tipped right over. I went into a pattern of rotating back and forth, easing the sheet and pulling it in. It seemed to work well, and the boat smoothed out a lot. I could see that it was working, as the waves almost crumbled next to me and there was a very clear ripple of shimmering tiny waves on the lee side of the hull, extending out about 40 feet!
I was still making a little bit of headway and I was creeping towards the lee shore, which was soft marshy floating plants and sand about 2 miles away. I wasn't stressed about hitting shore in this boat, as it was just a dinghy, but if it was my big boat, I'd be awful mad. It took me about an hour to hit the shore, but I did, and with no big event. I took down the mainsail and jib and waited the rest of the wind out from a nice little cove.
Well, there were other sailboats out there, and I was the only one who still was upright after the gale. I saw lots of little heads floating in the water by keels and hulls sticking up in the wind while the boat patrol hurried around to collect everyone else up.
About the life saving thing; one of the singlehander sailors in a cat rigged dinghy didn't fare so well, he drowned and died before flight for life could pick him up from the boat patrol.
Not so serious results from my excursion: I had the boom vang completely pull itself out of the point where it attaches to the mast. I'd rather replace that than an entire boat, or not go home at all.
Heave to works. Even if you're creeping forward a bit like I was, because in a bigger boat, I would have had time to actually take down some sail area and prevent that forward motion, or toss out a drouge. I wanted to post this to let new sailors out there like myself know that it could really save your life someday. Squint out the noise from the flapping and whacking sails and keep a clear mind. I found that talking to myself (or the boat) helped hold things together mentally, while I held on to the boat.
Thanks for listening to my little sea story!