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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 03-27-2012
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What went wrong while sailing downwind?

Hey all,
Most of my questions are gear or DIY related but today I'd like to take a different approach and offer up my recent experiance for others to critique.

I sail a 1977 Bayliner Buccaneer 200. A link to the dimensions is in my signature.

On Sunday a buddy and I went out for a sail on Pensacola Bay. Winds were forecast as northeastern @ 5-10, then southwestern @ 5-10 after noon with a light chop. We made our way southwest around noon for roughly 4 miles, anchored to fish, and weighed anchor around 4. We departed on a reciprocal course but we found that winds were increasing.

Roughly 2 miles across the bay I was having a tough time keeping the boat stable flying wing on wing until at one point we developed a harmonic ocilation (death roll) with the jib to starboard and the main to port with the traveler 80% of the tracklength to port as well. Winds had increased to 10-15 (guestimated at time) and my thinking was that with increased winds, a traveler well to port would allow the mainsheet to pull more downwards, thus decreasing draught in the main to depower. When the ocilation began I recognized the pattern and sheeted in to prepare to gybe onto a port tack broad reach. Upon gybing, I recognized the error I made in not adjusting the traveler fast enough. We ended up with a backwinded main while sailing downwind. This configuration almost resulted in a broach as the main presented excess sail area perpendicular to the wind. The boom crossed the deck with enough speed to tell me winds had picked up above 15 knots and looking behind us I noticed the bay was beginning to build towards choppy+ conditions.

At this point the decision was made to drop jib and sail under main alone. Having only logged roughly 50 miles in this boat locally around the bay I realized then that my boat sails with much more control under jib alone - a discovery I won't forget. However at this time the boat was stable and with following "bays" (read "seas") I decided to continue the remaining 3.5 miles under main alone. The next 40 minutes were spent riding wave after small wave across the bay until rounding the point on the SE side of NAS Pensacola at which time the fetch went from 3.5 miles to 0.5 miles and wave action calmed significantly. At that point the jib was raised and the main dropped and we continued under headsail until we got back to the dock.

Upon looking up the weather records for the day I found that winds were hovering in the 8 kt range all day - except for a period from 4pm-5pm where speeds increased to 18 kts - right when we were making our transit across the bay.

I learned a considerable amount that day. One of the questions I have regards sailtrim: On a deep broad reach, to depower the sail do I want to loosen lines to allow the sail to billow, or tighten everything down to reduce draught?

For the majority of the sail back I felt a shade out of my comfort zone. I feel like this is a good thing because I learned a fair amount about my boat and how it handles. On one hand I learned that I think myself a better sailor than I actually am. On the other...I brought my boat back in one piece through conditions I'd never been in before, with all hands and gear, with minimum damage to my pride (said damage coming in the form of "style points" and the potential for damage from a hard gybe). Lastly, I reconfirmed someone else's statement: "It's usually not the bad situation that gets you...it's how you react to it that determines the outcome." I realized that I need more practice.

For what it's worth,
Matt
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Old 03-27-2012
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Re: What went wrong while sailing downwind?

Nice post.. having a breeze go from 8 knots to 18 in a short time can be quite drastic. Sounds like you handled it pretty well. It can also be pretty sneaky if it's coming up behind you .. by the time you feel the increase in apparent wind it's well upon you.

When death rolls start we always steered more onto a broad reach rather than continue to run DDW, and gybe (or 'chicken gybe' - a 270 degree 'tack) as required to avoid actually sailing DDW. Now that you know your boat is somewhat prone to that you might want to consider that move when the wind pipes up behind you. It's more relaxing than wing-on-wing and you get to practice your gybing.

The other trick you learned was to center (or release) the traveler before a gybe.

We all need more practice.. you done good!
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Old 03-27-2012
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Re: What went wrong while sailing downwind?

sounds like you did good. if you have the shoal draft model then you did really good. some have less the 2' of draft and would be handful dead down wind in a blow. like Faster said sail on a broad reach and as you jibe pull the traveler and sheet all the way in and then turn the boat to jibe and then let it all out again.
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Old 03-30-2012
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Re: What went wrong while sailing downwind?

I do have the shoal draft ha...It can be a bit of a handull but its usually enjoyable. I think I draw something like 1.75' but in practicality its closer to 2'. Either way...its not much
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Old 03-31-2012
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Re: What went wrong while sailing downwind?

Before answering your question - do you have a vang?

Easing the vang downwind will spill wind off the top part of the leech and depower the sail.
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Old 04-11-2012
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Re: What went wrong while sailing downwind?

If you had the main to port, having the traveler to port would power the main up. To power the main down, you want to let the boom rise to spill air out of the main. This means having the traveler centered or to starboard (also known as a fishermans reef, works from beam reach downwards). This only works if the boomvang is loose also.
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Old 04-11-2012
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Re: What went wrong while sailing downwind?

Do you have a means of reefing the mainsail. If yes, then you should have done that as soon as you realised the wind had risen beyond your comfort level.

One of the best pieces of advice I got early in my sailing days was " Reef the first time you think about it "

Like wise if you have a smaller jib change to that too.

It is always much easier to add sail area that to reduce it.
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Old 05-12-2012
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Re: What went wrong while sailing downwind?

Downwind sucks pretty much most of the time if it starts to blow and you're in a small shallow draft boat. Adjusting the vang(s) or lifting to let some air blow off before you make the tack works, but can be a little unnerving. In a pinch especially if you don't have reef points on the main is to sail directly downwind and furl the foresail, then apply your tack, making sure your lines are clear and the boom can swing. EG loosen or release the vang(s) and clear your track. Keeping in mind sail adjustments should be done when the hair on your neck begins to tickle, not when you see your cap and sunglasses blown overboard.
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Old 05-15-2012
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Re: What went wrong while sailing downwind?

Matt, if you're following this older post, if you can't reef, I would generally let the sail(jib) billow to depower downwind. If you tighten up you depower only on that point of sail. If you head up from a deep broad reach you will repower the sail, which may not be desirable, and if the wind shifts or the helmsman makes an error(unlikely, I know) you could backwind it which isn't fun at all
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Old 05-15-2012
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Re: What went wrong while sailing downwind?

I'm not sure releasing the boomvang to depower in a shallow draft boat is good advice. I flipped a laser that way.

Going to a broad reach, I would have turned to starboard, (tacking the jib). to get both sails on same side and stop oscillation. Loosening the jibsheet would tend to force boat to turn into the wind, maybe not a bad thing, as then you are back in control.
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