Heave to with a Jib? It saved my life today. - SailNet Community

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Go Back   SailNet Community > Skills and Seamanship > Learning to Sail
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  #1  
Old 09-01-2007
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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!

Robert
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Old 09-01-2007
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Robert-

Great post...and thank you for writing it. I'm glad you made it through. Not many dinghy sailors think much of storm tactics, but it is probably more important in a smaller boat, since the larger boats are more resilient and can take more punishment as a general rule.

Sorry to hear about the catboat sailor.
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Old 09-02-2007
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Good work with the noodle!
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Old 09-02-2007
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Note to self ...

... practice heaving-to.

Quick thinking and good seamanship, sir. Glad you and your boat are all right.

I've been back into sailing for a year now, and heaving-to has held about a constant number five on my list of things to do/practice. It just moved up to number one.

I'd seen this video link before, and offer it here for folks like me who are basically fair-weather daysailors, but may end up needing the technique some scary afternoon like you just had.

http://www.videos.sailingcourse.com/heaving_to_wmv0.htm

Kurt
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Old 09-02-2007
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That video looked almost like what I was doing, but in about 40 more mph of wind, and the jib wouldn't back from the amount of wind (I presume because of the amount of sail area I had up), so it would form a balloon then I would let out when I got too much forward speed.

That video made heaving-to look like a fun activity, but I've learned now that every time I use it, it is not "fun time"! I would put it together like I do for flying; Practice it like you're doing it for real, and when it comes, talk your way through the steps and you'll react like a machine programmed to do whatever task it is.

I also recognized that some things about sailing are very "pershible" in nature, that is, if we don't use them, they either get rusty or forgotten. I'm going to make a plan to practice emergency things like man overboards, reducing sail area quickly, and other things on a weekly basis.
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Old 09-02-2007
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Once more ...

Hiya, Lancer --

Yah, it's not too hard to imagine that gusts of 40 would make that scenario look considerably different, for sure ... especially in a small, light boat. All the more reason to practice in moderate conditions so one has a sense in advance of the forces involved and the feeling of the helm, etc. Well, I'm gonna be out tomorrow and will practice. Even if I never get caught in a storm, it's a handy skill to have on a light wind day when you just want to tie off the tiller, eat a sandwich and make a knot or two headway.

Your experience reminded me of a day earlier this year when a buddy and I went in just a few minutes from the joy of planing to "aw, ****, where did all those whitecaps come from?" We suddenly had our hands full with the boat (Flying Scot), and the wind direction dictated that we carefully plan how to get back to the small harbor and dock.

It seemed prudent at the time to reduce sail, and I'd sailed the boat solo lots of times under the main alone, so my buddy went up on the bouncing foredeck to drop and tie down the jib. We still had our hands full, but got back okay (had to abort a not-very-artful attempt to head up to the dock and ended up beaching the boat instead). The next day, I went back and read some of the material I've collected on my Scot, and the advice was to drop the main, detach the gooseneck and store the boom and sail well up under the deck, and then sail under jib alone. (Not a technique you larger-boat sailors will be able to try.) So that's on my list to practice, too. My point, more briefly ... like you said, know your boat, practice your seamanship skills, be prepared, etc.

Thanks for your original post!

Kurt
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Old 09-07-2007
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Thanks for sharing. Heaving to is great for picnics too.
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Old 09-12-2007
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Heaving to is a great way to wait for the drawbridges on the ICW through Florida. It drives the powerboater nuts. They can not figure out what is going on. Thanks for the video post, just showed it to the new First Mate. After all, she's got the helm.

LakeEscape
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