BOATERS ON THE EAST COAST are mentally preparing themselves for another hurricane season. One owner of a 35-foot sailboat who often crosses over to the Bahamas wants to know if sailboats can survive hurricanes. “How high do the waves get, and how do yachts handle them?” he asks.
Well, certainly, many sailboats have survived hurricanes. For example, Atom, a 30-foot Tahiti ketch sailed by Jean Gau, a New York chef, survived a hurricane that sank a sail-training ship, a large square-rigger, not far away.
But it’s misleading to say a boat survived a hurricane. There are boats and there are hurricanes, and no two are the same. To a great extent, it depends on how far the boat is from the center of the hurricane, and whether she is in the safe quadrant or the dangerous quadrant.
As for the height of waves, here’s what Captain Edwin Harding, author of Heavy Weather Guide, has to say about it: Waves of 35 to 40 feet are not uncommon in an average hurricane. In giant storms they can reach to 50 feet or higher.
How do you deal with waves that high? It depends on the size of the breaking crests, the characteristics of your boat, and where the nearest land lies, whether you heave to, lie ahull, or run off. In extremis, there doesn’t seem much you can do other than take down all sail, slide the companionway tightly shut, and climb into a bunk with a lee cloth to prevent your being flung out. Any jetting crest that is taller than 55 percent of the overall length of your boat will capsize you if it hits you broadside on — a 19-foot crest if you’re aboard a 35-footer. That’s a huge plunging breaker, admittedly, but they do happen and if the wind is blowing against the Gulf Stream, things can get even worse, and very quickly.
So if I were crossing to the Bahamas and back I’d keep a good eye on the weather forecasts. I never want to be at sea in the teeth of a hurricane.
Let him who knows not how to pray go to sea.
John Ray, English Proverbs.
Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #225
The apparent wind direction changes by between 5 and 8 degrees from the bottom of the mast to the top, depending, of course, on high your mast is. The rule of thumb, therefore, is that the leech at the head of the sail should lie further off the wind than the leech near the clew.
Mary had a little watch,
She swallowed it one day,
So now she’s taking purgatives
To pass the time away.
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