Heavy weather hints

Voyagers John Harries and Phyllis Nickel have a business they call Attainable Adventure Cruising Ltd., that provides training and consulting on voyaging best practices. They live on board and run their business from Morgan’s Cloud, their 56-foot aluminum cutter. They also maintain a blog on offshore voyaging and sailing in the high latitudes of the North Atlantic. On the blog they have just started a series on heavy weather sailing. Swing over and check it out.

From the blog: Before discussing the actual nuts and bolts of our gale and storm survival gear and strategy on “Morgan’s Cloud” I’m going to write a bit about our goals when we are putting together gear and thinking about strategy for dealing with heavy weather at sea.

Keep the Keel Side Down
If you read accounts of sailboat losses at sea due to heavy weather, the series of events that eventually leads to abandonment almost invariably starts with a knockdown, rollover or pitchpoling. It’s also amazing how often the survivors say that everything seemed to be going fine until suddenly and without warning the mast was underwater.

No Requirement to Steer
A boat steered by a good helmsperson can survive amazingly violent conditions with little gear or forethought other than strong storm sails. However, I’m no Bernard Moitessier*. For me, the Zen of steering lasts about an hour on a good day. Add some breaking waves, howling winds, and cold temperatures and my Zen time goes to less than five minutes. Phyllis came to sailing as an adult and, although a surprisingly good helmsperson, she must concentrate and work harder when steering than someone who has sailed from childhood. Realistically I don’t believe that the two of us could steer “Morgan’s Cloud” for more than 6-8 hours in a gale (and less in a storm) without exhausting ourselves and eventually making a bad mistake.

No Requirement for Automated Steering
Although we have a massive autopilot that can and does steer well in near-gale and even gale force conditions when running off, we are not willing to risk an ambush from Mr. Murphy by relying on it in these conditions.

No Sail Changes and No Moving Heavy Gear Around
I’ve paid my dues wrestling to hank on a storm jib on a pitching wave-swept foredeck or standing on a winch and threading the slides of a storm trysail into a track gate above a furled mainsail as the wildly thrashing bunt of the sail tries to take my head off. Been there, done that, and don’t need to play that game anymore. In addition, my middle aged back does not take kindly to dragging sodden bags of rope or sea anchors around, which, particularly when wet, have all the maneuverability of a dead body. Such sweaty exertion also tends to make me puke, not to speak of the fact that it is dangerous.

Relatively Comfortable
Heavy weather at sea is nasty enough without employing survival techniques that, while perhaps safe, result in unnecessarily violent motion.

In the next post we will look at heaving-to, the first in our various lines of defense against heavy weather, and the modifications we have made to “Morgan’s Cloud” to make it easy to do.

* Moitessier survived truly horrendous conditions in the Southern Ocean by hand steering for many hours and even days. Anyone who goes to sea or is thinking of it should read “The Long Way” by Moitessier, a classic of ocean sailing.

By Ocean Navigator