February 21, 2012

Storm management

I AM REMINDED very forcibly now and then that while men change, and manners change, and even boats change, the sea does not. I have often heard that the best way of riding out a gale at sea is to heave to, but this is what I read the other day in a 1946 edition of A  Manual for Small Yachts by R. D. Graham and J. E. H. Tew:  "We put forward the view, definitely, that the hove-to position is not the best one to withstand a storm."

When such knowledgeable and experienced sailors as these two make a statement like that, it behooves us to listen well.

"As the weather worsens you may get seriously alarmed by the behavior of the ship," they said. "Make some attempt to render the cockpit partially watertight by filling it with spare sails or cushions; get down the headsails and then the mainsail.  The ship will then lie broadside-on in the trough of the sea and will bob over the waves like a cork. You will probably be amazed at the safe and easy way in which she rides — but, and there is a substantial but, the tops of the waves will slop over the stern and the crests will break with some violence into the cockpit. It is not likely that they will break up things yet, but if the cockpit is not watertight a dangerous amount of water will get below.

"When you no longer dare to lie "a-hull," i.e. without any sail set, either because too much water is coming in aft, or because you fear that the breaking crest will stave in the hull, you must put her before it. Get out two warps, tie bundles of old rope, motor tires or cushions on the ends and pay out on each quarter. Tie up the clew of the foresail in a bunch and hoist the head a few feet. With the aid of the helm the ship will pay off and forge slowly ahead before the wind. Lash the helm amidships or as seems best. The ship will yaw six points on either side but will ride the seas with surprising security. A breaking crest will occasionally strike her, perhaps once or twice in an hour. Her stern offers less resistance than he side, and being struck end-on, she can recoil more easily.

"The slower you are moving through the water, the safer you will be.

"If you allow the ship to run too fast you will probably get a big sea breaking into the stern (pooped). When you feel the ship carried along with the waves and not quickly responsive to her helm, you should slow her down.

"We do not think that a keel yacht when lying a-hull is in any danger of being capsized."

Well, I must say that I have lain a-hull in ordinary gales and weathered them quite well (that is, without excesssive panic), but when the seas grow very large I believe there is indeed a danger of capsize, especially when your boat begins to be picked up and thrown bodily to leeward.

Then, as Graham and Tew said, it's time to run before it.  The trick is to know when to do it, not to leave it too late. The other trick is to arrange to have plenty of sea room.  It's not much use running before solid water if you're going to run into solid land.

Today's Thought
Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves or we know where we can find information upon it.
— Samuel Johnson

"Dad, what's bigamy?"
"Well, son, it's when two rites make a wrong."

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

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