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Go Back   SailNet Community > Skills and Seamanship > Seamanship & Navigation
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Seamanship & Navigation Forum devoted to seamanship and navigation topics, including paper and electronic charting tools.


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Old 12-17-2009
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Very Scary...What should I have done?

This summer I chartered a 36' Hunter out of MDR California for a sail to Catalina Island. After a day in Two-Harbors we sailed around to the back side of the island and spent the night in Cat Harbor. The next morning was beautiful with the weather report calling for 2'-3' seas with wind 8-10 kts picking up to 12-15 kts in the afternoon. Our plan was to sail completely around the island and spend the night in Avalon.

About 2-hours into our sail things changed drastically. The winds picked up to steady 20-22 kts with gusts up to 28 kts coming from behind me (180 degrees) and I was afraid of an accidental jibe. The seas got big (for me) with what I would estimate to be 12-15' following seas. I felt very out of control. I put my wife and younger son down below while my adult son and I tied onto the cockpit with lines (we did not have harnesses).

After reducing sail I regained some control of the boat, but the following seas were so large and breaking that I was afraid I would get pooped. I made the decision to forego our trip around the island and return to Cat Harbor under motor, which took us a couple of hours.

I am a new sailor and have taken the ASA 101, 103, 104 courses. I have been out with an instructor a couple of other times but never experienced the conditions we did on this day. When we got back to Two-Harbors the next day several boats had their head sails blown out and the Harbor Patrol had to moor all the boats coming in because the wind was so high.

I felt so demoralized because up to that point I was pretty confident in what I had learned over the past couple of years. Here's what I'm asking:

1. How could I have continued with the downwind sail? (When the winds are high I feel more comfortable sailing into the wind than with it)
2. How do you deal with large breaking waves from behind?
3. Any other suggestions?

My confidence is still a bit shot so thanks for not taking unnecessary shots at me, but I would appreciate any solid advice or critique.

Thanks.
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Old 12-17-2009
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Getting comfortablle in rough conditions is jsut a question having the expecerience to realize you can handle it OK, you got something out of the experience, you'll be more comfortable next time.

Generally if you find yourself sailing in rough conditions you will be a much more comfortable ride running, rather than beating, and sailing rather than powering. The boat is most conftollable with the wind off the aft quarter, and the chance of a gybe is greatly reduced. If running you can also just drop the main completely and sail with a partially furled jib, the poor jib shape would no longer matters.
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Old 12-17-2009
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Hey, you lived to write about it. You learned from your experience. I doubt if there is a sailor alive who hasn't been taken by surprise at least once or twice in their life.

It may have been wise to get a little more offshore experience by yourself before you brought passengers along but they have a story to tell now.
No stones from me.

Remember, it's easy to underestimate our vessels ability to rise to a following sea. They look and sound really scary and sometime they get you wet, but your boat is designed to deal with it. Up to a point.
If you have plenty of sea room, it is usually a lot easier to ride out the big stuff off the wind.
If it gets really big, you have to start thinking about drogues. But there is a lot in between.
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Old 12-17-2009
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You said you reduced sail. What exactly did you do?
There is a big difference between first reef and second reef and completely down and from jib rolled up a little or completely.

As was mentioned instead of trying to keep the wind 180 behind you, let it come over a quarter and with sufficiently small sail area it should feel tolerable.

Franky it has a lot to do with getting used to it. You find out that the boat is OK and you are OK and you get used to it. It does feel different, sloppy and such.
The trick is to not look behind you.

Having your family with you and not having harness and experiencing this for the first time will shake a guy. But cheer up, you handled it, next time it will be easier. After a few times it will be boring. Of course you will eventually get gusts of 40k's then it will get interesting again.

Not a personal experience but one lady reported that during a circumnavigation she was in a storm that had 50 knots plus for over a week. She got used to it and when it dropped to 40 knots it seemed kind of quiet.

Last edited by davidpm; 12-17-2009 at 09:00 PM.
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Old 12-17-2009
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Quote:
Originally Posted by seb5thman View Post
This summer I chartered a 36' Hunter out of MDR California for a sail to Catalina Island. After a day in Two-Harbors we sailed around to the back side of the island and spent the night in Cat Harbor. The next morning was beautiful with the weather report calling for 2'-3' seas with wind 8-10 kts picking up to 12-15 kts in the afternoon. Our plan was to sail completely around the island and spend the night in Avalon.

About 2-hours into our sail things changed drastically. The winds picked up to steady 20-22 kts with gusts up to 28 kts coming from behind me (180 degrees) and I was afraid of an accidental jibe. Sailing on a Broad Reach and keeping the wind from being dead on your stern will ease concerns about accidental gybes.The seas got big (for me) with what I would estimate to be 12-15' following seas. I felt very out of control. That's normal in conditions you haven't seen and weren't prepared for. I put my wife and younger son down below while my adult son and I tied onto the cockpit with lines (we did not have harnesses).

After reducing sail I regained some control of the boat, but the following seas were so large and breaking that I was afraid I would get pooped. I made the decision to forego our trip around the island and return to Cat Harbor under motor, which took us a couple of hours.

I am a new sailor and have taken the ASA 101, 103, 104 courses. I have been out with an instructor a couple of other times but never experienced the conditions we did on this day. When we got back to Two-Harbors the next day several boats had their head sails blown out and the Harbor Patrol had to moor all the boats coming in because the wind was so high.

I felt so demoralized because up to that point I was pretty confident in what I had learned over the past couple of years. Here's what I'm asking:

1. How could I have continued with the downwind sail? (When the winds are high I feel more comfortable sailing into the wind than with it) Depending on the boat, you could douse or reef the Main deeply and sail on Jib alone.
2. How do you deal with large breaking waves from behind? What you saw at that wind speed were white horses. The wave tops collapse and hiss along with a foamy froth but they aren't really breaking waves. They run up to the stern, towering over you and suddenly the stern rises up and they slide under the boat. Breaking waves are large, unstable waves with overhanging crests much like what ya see in surfing competitions on TV. All you can do with those is try to steer away from the centers. If at night or if ya can't steer away, prepare for a bath.
3. Any other suggestions?

My confidence is still a bit shot so thanks for not taking unnecessary shots at me, but I would appreciate any solid advice or critique.

Thanks.

Don't sweat it. The only way to gain experience is to get out there and do it. Classroom doesn't prepare one for that.
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Old 12-17-2009
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Hey Seb,

You got your ship and crew home safe, and that's the most important thing!

To answer your question; dropping the main, furling the jib to a small profile and taking the seas a little off the quarter might have smoothed the ride out for you.....at that point, you sail the "seas"..and try to make the best course you can...keeping a safe distance from shore

So, you were going south..around? winds out of the northwest ?

Was it past sentinel rock and the turn to SE that you turned back?
Were you Halfway yet? How did the motor back into 12 ft seas go?
That had to be a wet, bumpy ride? Did you keep sail up coming back?

Anyway...it was a new boat to you...part of the confidence also comes from knowing your vessel and it's capabilities....sounds like you just need some more time on the water in similar conditions with an instructor or someone with experience in those conditions.

Best of Luck!
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Last edited by Tempest; 12-17-2009 at 09:45 PM.
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Old 12-17-2009
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Quote:
Originally Posted by davidpm View Post
The trick is to not look behind you.


On our first cruise there was a night where I was following the reciprocal course of the one which I had followed for the previous day.
We had left Turtle Bay (the north anchorage) after listening to the morning VHF radio talk among the cruisers, deciding to get underway for Madelina Bay. (despite our gut feelings)
After motoring into a slowly building southerly for the entire day, we finally gave up, turned around and ran back. Under bare poles we were doing a consistent 5 knots. All night.
I could hear the waves breaking behind me. All night.
I turned around once that I remember. Holy Freaking Crow that thing was big. I didn't turn around the rest of the night. Just listened. And cringed.
Once, early on in the night, Jen slid back the hatch to check on me. As she looked over my shoulder, I watched her eyes grow to the size of saucers and her jaw drop. I told her, "Just don't look!".
We dropped our anchor back in Turtle Bay (the south anchorage) about 22 hours after we left.
I slept for the next twelve hours.
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Old 12-17-2009
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Tempest wrote:
Was it past sentinel rock and the turn to SE that you turned back?
We had not made it to the 1/2 point on the day cruise to Avalon. I thought about continuing on, but being a new sailor and new to those conditions I decided that safety was the primary concern, not gaining experience, possibly at the expense of my family, and turned back.
Were you Halfway yet? How did the motor back into 12 ft seas go?
At first I was taking the waves head on in order to furl all sails. The boat took a beating as we came off the top of the waves. After that I took the waves at an angle and 'surfed' down the backsides of them, which made the ride much easier. It took a long time though to get back.
That had to be a wet, bumpy ride? Did you keep sail up coming back?
I did not keep any sail up. After we dropped the sails I did not want to risk anybody being on deck, so we motored back.

I will admit that after arriving in Two Harbors the following day I was relieved to hear that others had a difficult time on the sail over from the main land. Not to say that I was glad they had a difficult time, but that other more experienced sailors had difficulity too. Selfishly it was good to know that I wasn't the only one having problems.
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Old 12-18-2009
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I agree with the comments that it takes getting used to. I've been out in 25 kts and 8-10' seas on a beach cat, flying along at a max of 33mph. I had fun.
That was when I was sailing in that crap all the time and I was still closer to 20 than 50. Today I'd be shaken, at best, and probably scared out of my wits.
Same guy, same boat, different recent experience, very different feelings about it.
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Old 12-18-2009
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I think most of the practical advice has been given above by those far more experienced than I, but I do have to agree that what you have been through is very much part of becoming more experienced as a sailor....

I have had similar experiences, including being offshore in an charter yacht with scared inexperienced crew in 40+ knots and sizeable seas.....I was petrified, but I learn't from it and next time I will be comfortable and confident in similar situations.

The reality is that while the conditions you described would continue to scare both you and I, the bulk of blue water cruisers I know who would consider running in 25kts ideal....

Hey do you have your own yacht??
If so may I recommend that you go out and seek say 15kts with some bad chop perhaps with your adult son aboard and practice reefing and also controlling the boat in these conditions....then(if boat suitable and with necessary safeties onboard of course) deliberately go out again in 25kts....
Practice some reefing, dousing sail in a hurry, running and beating, and particularly a Man overboard.....
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