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Jim H 04-06-2010 02:48 PM

Twelve foot breaking swells today...
We had an interesting sail today. We begain with a 3 a.m. start from Gosport to Poole, and the night sailing was fun, but it turned into the hardest sail we've ever done with the kids.

The night sail through the Solent was a piece of cake, and we had clear skies and half moon to boot. The red lights in our headlamps were also a plus, and the kids just slept. We had 12-15 knots winds all the way, never had to tack, and never used the engine other than to get out of Gosport. Great experience.

At the Needles channel, at the far west end of the Isle of Wight and the Solent, the wind picked up to 22 knots to 28 from the SW, directly against the strengthing ebb tide, and we decided it would be dangerous to run with the wind up the North End, in shore, because it would put us against a lee shore and we could have had a disastrous jibe with just the main up (which we had). So we decided to do the full length of the Needles channel, thinking the wind would slow down after the headland and we would be well offshore before turning west for 15 miles to Poole Harbor.

The seas were rough-- 10 to 12 swells, and some breaking, and we had gusts to 28 knots. We tacked once on the channel to avoid being blown leeward into the dangerous shallows, and when we were a couple miles off shore and turned to sail west to Poole, the sea state was bad and the wind continued at a sustained 22 knots.

Long story short, the beam wind was so strong that even with the boom all the way out the boat wanted to head up and sail to France. We should have been in the second reef, but the 12 foot swells made going to the mast and putting in a reef seem too difficult. Meanwhile, every body but me was physically ill at least once. The Qwells we took helped me, but not my wife.

We burned along at 6.2 to 7.8 knots all the way to the Poole channel entrance, where the breaking swells were worse than ever, AND we had to drop the main because it was impossible to run downwind with the boom out (the boat insisted on heading up, over powering the rudder to the point that I thought the tiller would snap from the weather helm).

So, we fired up the engine (during all this, I broke off the engine kill lever in the cockpit with my foot). And turned into the 10 to 12 foot swells, some breaking, at 2/3rds throttle with my wife at the helm to keep the boat into the wind so I could drop the main. That also meant diirectly into the swells.

My wife could barely do that even with 2/3rds throttle. I went forward to the mast (clipped in) and started to drop the main when we rode up a swell that literally made the boat feel like it was going vertical (Perfect Storm Style) and for the first time ever i was at the mast when the swell broke over the bow and flushed down the decks and over the dodger into my wife's face. I was soaked, but not scared, and i got the main down and barely flaked (only two ties done), before I went back to the cockpit and took over from my wife, who needed to be sick again.

After that, we surfed under 2/3rds throttle down wind, with the swells, into the Poole channel. The boat really lifted a couple of times and corkscrewed down, but the worst was over. We motored into calmer water, hooked around Brownsea Island, and easily dropped and set anchor at Pottery Pier. We all rested, ate and warmed up for a couple of hours, and then we hiked on the island for two hours before dinghying back out to the boat for fajitas for dinner. Everyone seems back to normal, despite the sickness earlier in the day, and the death threats toward me.. :). We're settling in now for a quiet night at anchor, and no getting up at 2:30 a.m.

So, lessons learned-- we should have reefed the main before we were in too rough of seas, but the Solent had been so calm (12 to 15 knots) that the 28 knots of wind at the Needles channel seemed like a short-term fluike. It wasn't. Also, the worst part was the channel swells, and sailing into them or broadside to them with the strong beam wind. It was a work out, but i was happy to have some sea room between us and the shore.

SR handled well, but I don't know how we could have dropped the main more safely. We could steer downwind, and there was no protected waters around to get a break from the wind or swells. I guess it was just one of those grin-and-do-it sort of things..

Next time, reef like crazy, and try to find out what the swell is like first. Its funny, because normally our boat does fine with a full main up in 22 knots of wind, but combining that much wind with the swells was a lot different than 22 knots of wind in protected waters like the Solent.

sailingdog 04-06-2010 03:29 PM

Good report... why didn't you have a bit of the headsail out? Do you have roller furling on your boat??? It would have at least helped balance the boat out a bit.

If the wind was against the current, the seas can get truly atrocious, even in what are relatively mild conditions. The ebb tide against the wind probably did just that... not fun at all.

smackdaddy 04-06-2010 04:33 PM

78 Attachment(s)
Jim - GREAT write up! And great job on the mast!

Sounds like this season shaping up to be epic!

BTW - you've gotta dump this story into the BFS thread. It's awesome. Otherwise, I'll just have to steal it and dump it in myself.

Seercha 04-06-2010 06:09 PM

I was interested in your report of a sailing area I know well (as a former YM Instructor from Cowes). I'm glad to hear you're all OK, however there are a couple of points that you should be aware of:
1. "At the Needles channel, the wind picked up to 22 knots to 28 from the SW, directly against the strengthing ebb tide"
~ Apparent windspeed is increased significantly by a strong 'weather-going' tide.
2. "We decided it would be dangerous to run with the wind up the North End, in shore, because it would put us against a lee shore and we could have had a disastrous jibe with just the main up (which we had).
~ With your reported wind direction of SW, then exiting Hurst Narrows by the North Channel would put you reaching on port tack, with the Shingle Bank to windward of you, before hardening up to close hauled on port tack at the North Head buoy. Thus no gybe needed! Also the Shingle Bank provides an excellent 'breakwater' and smooth water for you to sail fast with minimal leeway. Tacking onto starboard once abeam Mudeford/Christchurch allows you to clear Hengistbury (spelling?)Head and its offlying ledge.
3. "We burned along at 6.2 to 7.8 knots all the way to the Poole channel entrance, where the breaking swells were worse than ever, AND we had to drop the main because it was impossible to run downwind with the boom out (the boat insisted on heading up, over powering the rudder to the point that I thought the tiller would snap from the weather helm)."
~ Entering Poole Harbour downwind against a strong ebb tide is ill advised (in my opinion). Better would be to anchor in Studland Bay under the lee of Old Harry and wait for the tide to turn or slacken. Alternatively, the North Channel is well protected from the wind over tide maelstrom albeit with a draught restriction at low tide. Approaching Poole Entrance from the north puts the wind on the port beam thus allowing you to get inside the entrance before dropping the main in the quiet and smooth of the South Deep.:)

Just my opinion........
"Seercha" Ericson 26, K'port ME

Seercha 04-06-2010 07:20 PM

Correction to my previous post. East Looe channel (not north channel) of Poole Harbour Entrance.
Apologies for any confusion.....
"Seercha" Ericson 26, K'port ME

CharlieCobra 04-06-2010 07:50 PM

Jim, next time you're running offwind in a blow, douse your Main instead of your Jib. No weather helm but it will cause Lee helm if on a beam reach. If ya have reefs in the Main, reef down and fly the Jib as SD said. It'll make life much easier. Having driven into big seas like that at 7 knots under power just to hold position, I remember well shipping green water over the boat. My bowman at the time was completely submerged for a couple of seconds on each wave while he doused the Staysail that trip.

JohnRPollard 04-06-2010 07:51 PM


Great trip and great read.

I kept thinking what my family would have done under similar circumstances. I'm sure they'd have risen to the occasion, but I'm also sure I'd be in the doghouse when we reached port safely. Because, of course, it would be all my fault that the weather went bad.;)

I hope your wife and kids aren't too upset or deterred. These things happen -- it's part of sailing. Can't have fair skies and following seas on every trip.

I knew you'd be fine in your Rival. The only thing I might have done differently was to try a scrap of headsail or get that reef in if I could -- but I wasn't there and I know how it goes when you're in the thick of it. You did well.

jrd22 04-06-2010 10:17 PM

Good post, sounds like the family did well. I've been caught with a full main up in conditions where I didn't really want to go to the mast and put a reef in too, but have learned that it's better sooner than later. Good job.

Jeff_H 04-07-2010 07:18 AM

Very nice write up which should be very helpful to all reading it.

It is always easy to armchair comment on such reports, and I mean no disrespect here, but I would suggest that you have pointed towards one of my key issues with some older designs. On any small cruising boat (meaning less than about 50 feet) I am a big believer in having the main halyard and both reefs run back to the cockpit, rigged and ready to go at all times when you are cruising with a smallish crew.

With a two line reefing system for each reef, rigged properly you should be able reef the mainsail quickly and on the fly on almost all points of sail and end up with good sail shape. The ability to reef on the fly from the cockpit rather than have to bash into the wave train or go on deck is a seriously important safety feature. There are times when reefing quickly is the only safe choice, and going on deck to do is taking unnecessary chances, not just with your safety but that of the whole crew.

Depending on the design of the boat, idea of just flying the jib in heavy winds has its own hazards. In heavy winds, the induced lee helm can prevent you from safely heading up and being able to reduce sail.


Jim H 04-07-2010 02:23 PM

Thanks for all the replies, everyone. I'll have to post more complete responses after we're back from the cruise, since we're entirely on the hook this week and low on electrical supplies.

Overall, I'm interested in the correct use of the headsail in heavy weather. We could have gone entirely with the headsail, or third reef on the main with part of the headsail out. As mentioned, I've heard that only having a headsail, especially a partly unfurled roller reefing one may not always be the best choice.

The second part is the best way to take down the main if there is a heavy swell to windward. Having all lines led back to the cockpit might help with this, but mostly that is done for reefing and not dousing the main entirely. Also, lowering the main turned out to be relatively straight-forward, even in the swell conditions, so maybe it's just a matter of practice.

The best parts of yesterday was the attitudes of the crew-- no one was scared at any point, and everyone bounced back quickly after feeling unwell. We really do trust our boat, and we did have full standing and rigging checks done just this winter, etc.

We hiked all over Brownsea Island today, while our boat bobbed at anchor in winds up to 20 mph (directly on shore, of course). After a chicken Korma for dinner, our daughter is now reading to the rest of us by candelight, so we can save the electrons for the anchor light. I need to get the battery monitor installed...

Tomorrow, we either sail back to the Solent, or spend a second day exploring the island and taking the ferry to Poole proper for fun. Depends on the weather and mood tomorrow.

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