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sab30 10-22-2008 05:45 PM

Heavy Weather Sailing
I was just curious, as there appear to be many offshore experienced sailors on this site, how do you prepare and deal for heavy weather sailing (or worse weather than you have ever seen) without the experience of having encountered it?

I was on a website that does charters between Hilo, HI and BC, Canada. It seems like a great opportunity to learn about passagemaking from an experienced hand? Have most of you crewed first or was it "baptism by fire" ?

I have read alot on the subject but Im not that naive to think that book smart would translate into competance, but maybe just another resourse to draw on.

Many bios I have read on the site seem to promote learning as you go, which to me appears like a dangerous strategy yet many off you are still here posting....

CharlieCobra 10-22-2008 05:49 PM

My first one was trial by fire in a new to me boat on her maiden voyage. After that it was "Let's go play in the crap to increase our skills". I would start crewed in an SCA, not a Gale and in protected waters.

sailingdog 10-22-2008 06:21 PM


This is one reason we often go out in SCA practice heavy weather sailing skills... sailing under double reefed main, etc...

Valiente 10-22-2008 08:46 PM

I have very little ocean experience, but a fair bit of SCA and gale experience on Lake Ontario, and I concur with the above posts. If you go out in 20 knots rigged for 30 knots, the boat will go more slowly, but you can practise sail changes, reefing and steering in more forgiving conditions (try gybing for "action") than the real thing. Later, rig for 40 and go out in 30. Odds are good that double reefed and storm jib will satisfy you quite well at even 30, but you can go at the end of a squall and shake out a reef early if you want that "40 knot feeling at 30 knots".

Hey, it's your money!

Another way is to take out a dinghy in progressively heavier air until you get the hang of how wind forces multiply as the knots grow more numerous.

JohnRPollard 10-22-2008 08:54 PM

I am a big fan of mentoring. That is to say, when it comes to longer distance ocean voyaging, crewing with experienced skippers is a great way to build your own experience levels. It doesn't have to be trial by fire -- sometimes the learning environment is more conducive when all the weight of command isn't on your shoulders.

In time you can take on that responsibility, but it will be a more rewarding experience if you're not simultaneously cutting your teeth on your first off-shore passage.

GeorgeB 10-22-2008 09:00 PM

Do they offer cruises in both directions to/from BC? The big West Coast Race for Canada is the Victoria BC – Maui race (I believe that it is only run in even numbered years). You may or may not always get the rough weather you are looking for on this course as the North Pacific High usually settles in right between the two and the racers have to “sag” more towards North America to skirt around it. The summer gales that blow off of Oregon and California are a result of the relationship between the upper and lower level highs of that system. Returning yachts from Hawaii often put into Victoria when the gales block access to San Francisco. If its wind and waves you’re looking for, why don’t you come down to San Francisco? The Gulf of the Farallones is where they filmed Dashew’s Heavy Weather Sailing DVD so why not learn in the “textbook” conditions?

johnshasteen 10-24-2008 01:34 PM

Paloma has endured two Force 10 storms in the Gulf and from experience, here's the formula: It's 25% strong boat that can take that kind of whipping and 75% sailor that knows the boat inside and out, can keep a clear head and can handle the failures and setbacks that come at the worst times in heavy weather. When I say heavy weather, I'm not talking about 30 knot winds and 15-20 foot seas - I mean full gale, 50-60+ knot winds, 30+ foot seas - if you and your boat aren't prepared for that, don't venture very far afield, because the more time and longer distances you are far from sheltered waters, the more likely you are to encounter some very trying circumstances.

Omatako 10-27-2008 04:17 AM


Originally Posted by johnshasteen (Post 389679)
When I say heavy weather, I'm not talking about 30 knot winds and 15-20 foot seas - I mean full gale, 50-60+ knot winds, 30+ foot seas - if you and your boat aren't prepared for that, don't venture very far afield

It is my considered opinion that nothing can prepare you for the first time you're in full charge of your own boat and you come up on deck in a shrieking 60 knot wind and see breaking 30 foot waves stretching from horizon to horizon.

Baptism by fire is the only way you'll experience this because no sucker is going to take you out in such conditions for a mentoring session and when you get into such conditions, you'll learn real fast the first time or you'll not get the opportunity again.

I had sailed for many years before I experienced the described conditions and when I did, it scared the cr@p out of me but I managed and I survived and next time I won't be as scared and I'll manage better. I sincerely hope the next time takes as long to come around as the first one did.

One absolute constant in ocean sailing - when you're out there, you deal with whatever gets chucked at you and interestingly, most of us survive. Learn whatever you can from the books that are available because it'll all help but the final lesson is a practicle one that can only be gained from your own experience.

Valiente 10-27-2008 10:03 AM

Very sound advice. By the same token, Hollywood stunt men don't usually have instructors beside them when they flip their first exploding car <g>. What not to do is clear well before that point.

smackdaddy 10-27-2008 01:19 PM

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Now this is a great thread! Good responses from all. Thanks for the great insight and advice.

Good job Sab30!

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