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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 06-15-2011
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Steering in waves

Having only sailed on a small lake, I now find myself wondering about what the techniques are for steering a 27' long keeled boat in moderate waves. I am now on lake Michigan. The waves might only get to 8-10 ft, but they can be really steep. (obviously they get much bigger than that, hopefully I won't be out on the water in those conditions)
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Old 06-15-2011
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Sail a little fat to keep speed, pinch up to get the bow over, as soon as it does drive down so you ride the backside of the wave and don't pound.
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Old 06-15-2011
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As zz4gta says, use active steering to avoid pounding as each slam knocks speed off your progress, several slams in a row can stop you...

I would add that you want to steer where you have a clear view of the oncoming waves (typically siting up or standing to windward), head up a bit as the bow rises, turn down as the bow falls. Get the rhythm right and it'll feel like sailing on a lake...
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Old 06-15-2011
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Barq, I just had my first experience doing exactly what you're talking about in the offshore race we just completed. We only had 5'-6' but they were relatively tight and steep.

Pinching into them, it's not bad at all - and the guys above have nailed what the crew taught me about how to take them. You'll get used to it really quickly. I was lucky to be on a PSC 37 that was super solid. My C27 would have been a lot more work.

Steering with the waves on the beam is more challenging, but still the same concept.

Just keep a controlled "S" up and over to avoid pounding and use the wind to keep the boat stable. It's really just a balance...and most importantly, anticipation game. You really have to think ahead on the steering and anticipate. Fool's advice on being able to see everything while at the helm is critical. AND you have to stay balanced yourself!

I'm still not great at it, but dude, it was really, really fun for this lake sailor.
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Old 06-15-2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by zz4gta View Post
Sail a little fat to keep speed, pinch up to get the bow over, as soon as it does drive down so you ride the backside of the wave and don't pound.
This is great advise. I would add that unlike the open ocean or large bays, on the Great lakes (particularly in the shallower bays) the waves may not be that high, but are often VERY steep and close together. Don't be too worried if you have a hard time timing your pinch and slide action for every wave. If the Saginaw Bay it is not uncommon for the stern to be sliding down one wave while the bow is already near the top of the next one. Just try to get into a rhythm and avoid pounding as much as you can. Those short but steep waves will bring you to a screeching halt pretty quick.
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Old 06-15-2011
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I agree with all that’s been said. There’s two related issues here, steering in high winds and waves. In high winds I’m sailing on the edge of luffing. As the wind gusts up I’m letting more wind go in the back side if the jib, actually pushing it a small but to windward but not actually luffing. I’m heading up to the point that I feel the boat ease up just enough. This pushes the boat to windward a boat speed to steer well. If you don’t can find yourself falling off then as the wid moves abeam it pushes you over. In these conditions the is in flat with the leading part being backed a bit.
Add waves and you need to keep up steerageway. Otherwise the waves can tack you, or put you in irons or leave you pounding. In waves I’m looking for a path through them that’s flatter. Hard to describe but its always there and it’s always changing. So I’m constantly changing course by small amounts. This makes a big difference in boat speed and avoiding pounding. After a while it becomes a reflex
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Old 06-15-2011
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Cool discussion. We just got back from sailing off Florida's Atlantic coast, and found the most difficult steering to be with quartering waves from astern. Really wanting to turn the boat, and didn't have much room to adjust. All good time though!
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Old 06-15-2011
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Barquito, you want to avoid 8 to 10 foot waves on Lake Michigan in the first place. My first thought, if you were out in 8 to 10 footers, is that you misjudged their actual height. 8 to 10s on Lake Michigan are MEAN. If you're fairly new to Lake Michigan sailing, and you're in waves of that size, your best option is to sail to the nearest port. My boat's a 31 footer and I've sailed Lake Mich for the last 30 years and don't care to crash about in the 10 footers.

Handling moderate waves on Lake Michigan, from 4 to 6 feet, only becomes tricky when they are on your stern or your rear quarter where they can keep you busy maintaining your course.

On other points of sail in moderate waves, you can pretty much ignore them and let your properly trimmed sails keep you stable. Staying on course isn't an issue in moderate waves. You'll find your boat absorbs them nicely.

If you find yourself in the big nasty waves between two ports, pick the port where you can sail into the waves. Going long distances with the waves on your stern is tiresome as the waves try to cause you to broach. At the very least, you'll find yourself constantly spinning the wheel to keep your course. Personally, I find tiller steering on a 27 footer preferable on Lake Michigan...instead of constantly spinning a wheel, you simply establish an easy push pull motion on the tiller.

More than once I've been happy to drop my sails in the big waves and motor directly into them to get back to port.
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Old 06-16-2011
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Great input everyone.

Quote:
My first thought, if you were out in 8 to 10 footers, is that you misjudged their actual height. 8 to 10s on Lake Michigan are MEAN.
Hopefully I won't be in 8-10 footers for a few seasons. I delivered the boat from Chicago to Milwaukee in a small craft advisory (motoring). The waves were probably 5 foot, but they looked plenty big to me.

Is it possible to look ahead a few waves to plan which spot is best to aim for, or does the profile of the wave front change too quickly to make a difference? (maybe to avoid what looks like could be a breaking wave)

Is it the same idea going downwind? Square-up the stern to the wave as you approach the peak, then head back up to your course? (ie:go over the peak perpendicular to the wave)
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Old 06-16-2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Barquito View Post
Is it possible to look ahead a few waves to plan which spot is best to aim for, or does the profile of the wave front change too quickly to make a difference? (maybe to avoid what looks like could be a breaking wave)

Is it the same idea going downwind? Square-up the stern to the wave as you approach the peak, then head back up to your course? (ie:go over the peak perpendicular to the wave)
I think you need to take the waves one at a time, as they come, if you start getting ahad of yourself, the boat will pound...be sure someone else is on lookout duty (as should be SOP), as your world needs to shrink to just the next wave, so its quite mesmerizing...

Down wind your challenge is just to minimize yawing, not pounding, dont correct you angle any more than essential.

FWIW, I have always found getting anywhere in rough water to be more comfortable, and usually quicker, under sail than power, excepting perhaps directly againstboth strong wind and current. The sail pressure greatly limits the violence of the boat motion.
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