Sailing over 55,000NM in seven years on board the 9-metre sloop Yarra between the Arctic and the Antarctic resulted in a fair share of strong winds and rough seas at times. I managed to wear a set of hanks on my storm jib and pull my new #2 jib out of shape. Even so, wind […]
Heavy weather at sea is a subject of interest and concern for many. It is sensible: it is a threat after all. The matter loses a lot of this interest once you have seen real heavy weather offshore and dealt with it.
True heavy weather at sea is in fact quite a rare occurrence. Until the sea breaks, there is no heavy weather: it is just wind and it hardly matters. Now and then, it blows hard enough and for long enough to whip up a breaking sea, or other factors like current cause it to break early. This is when accidents begin to happen.
Unlike everywhere else, there is no advice or recipes to be found here about heavy weather sailing. Such advice is often inept and stupid and always dangerous, because conditions are never twice the same, yachts differ in the way they handle and have also changed so tremendously over time.
Incidents offshore with small crafts caught in heavy weather happen in a very limited number of ways that are logical, understandable and predictable. 99% of the time or more, bad luck or fatality have strictly nothing to do with them. Clearly understanding how and why things can go wrong is by far the best preparation one can make.
Choices made ashore when preparing a boat can have a significant impact on the ability of the vessel to be handled safely in bad weather. Many unknowingly make very poor choices nowadays, or even openly discount the matter altogether, claiming “it won’t happen”.
Next, decisions made at sea as the situation unfolds are critical in terms of preventing any such accident scenario from occurring.
Experience is useful, but unfortunately it always comes after the fact. We are only ever as experienced as the most difficult conditions we have faced to date, navigationally, technically or weather-wise. Experience is a testimony of past capability.
Decisions made at sea by others in the past are largely irrelevant. A skipper caught in severe weather is not dealing with averaged statistical conditions or someone else’s gale, but a newly defined event requiring a 100% suitable specific response: the outcome needs to be better than “statistically quite successful”.
In an era where calling for assistance has never been easier, the objective is dealing with whatever happens, whenever it happens, without damage and in complete self-reliance. The motto of the site is “Go to Sea, Stay at Sea, Live at Sea”. Weather is irrelevant. Forecasts are irrelevant. Weather windows are irrelevant. A skipper setting out must be prepared and ready to face whatever conditions may develop and bring crew and vessel back safely on his own.
After having spent many years sailing a very small yacht to many very bad places, over time I wrote a series of articles discussing the dynamics of small vessels in heavy weather as I observed them first-hand. This material is gathered here. Whether you have offshore sailing experience, you are looking for a cruising yacht or just considering offshore cruising in the future, it may change completely what you consider as important.
At sea, it should prompt you to anticipate what could happen based on observation and take appropriate action. If it does, then the goal will have been reached.
Inverted stability applies when a yacht remains upside down. It is a rare, but not unknown event and one situation where some understanding of yacht design and stability can become of crucial importance at sea. Two main scenarios lead to capsize: Loss of the keel or ballast Yacht rolled by a breaking sea and remaining […]
This article follows Transverse Stability, Part 3: Dynamic Stability Part 3 of this series dealt with changes in transverse stability taking place once a vessel starts travelling through the water. This article discusses the way the stability of sailing yachts can be challenged at sea as a result of wave action. Wave action doesn’t reduce […]
Wave theory is quite extensive and complex, but only a very small amount of knowledge about waves is essential to sailors to anticipate the risks that can arise from waves for small crafts. Waves are generated by the wind. There is a relation between fetch, wind speed and the maximum wave height that will result over […]
This article deals with some of the physics involved when a yacht is running before the sea, especially in heavy weather when waves are long and their front faces become steep. Yachts running in heavy weather and following seas face challenges that are very dependent on the characteristics of the design; the ability of the crew […]
With tropical cruising becoming increasingly popular and accessible in the last 2-3 decades, trends have developed in outfitting yachts for ocean cruising. Some of these trends that originated from sailing in moderate settled weather areas have resulted in significantly increased risks when a vessel is caught in severe conditions. Many of today’s cruising yachts, whether […]
This article is a follow-up from Heavy Weather Dynamics: Yachts in Following Seas published some months ago. It has since become one the most read items on this site. While the original article applied to most sea-going monohulls, the following discusses more specifically fast modern hulls, or yachts in very fast following seas, such as can […]