January 13, 2013

Handling gales at sea

THE IDEAL WAY to experience your first gale at sea is on someone else’s boat — preferably someone with experience of gales in that very boat. Then you can see for yourself what a gale feels like. You can look and learn, and not be weighed down by responsibility. You can figure out what you need to do with your own boat when you finally make the break and cross an ocean.

But all too often the ideal situation never arises, and one day you find yourself heading to sea wondering what will happen when the wind pipes up and you have to reduce sail and do your best to find the combination of canvas and helm that will make her comfortable, or at least as dry and steady as possible under the conditions.

Some of the world’s most experienced long-distance cruisers recommend the use of a sea anchor and a trysail to heave to in violent gales. Now, while powerboats and shallow-drafted centerboard sailboats will often lie quietly to a sea anchor streamed from the bow, few deep-keeled cruising yachts will lie bow-on to the sea in this fashion.

But by deploying a parachute sea anchor on a bridle, the bow of a sailboat may be angled within 50 degrees or so of the wind and waves, and the boat’s forward motion will be checked. She will then lie directly to leeward of the turbulent currents caused by her sideways drift through the water.

This  churning “slick” encourages approaching waves to trip, plunge and dissipate most of their energy before striking the boat. Because every hull reacts differently, and because sea conditions vary widely, the best combination of sails, and the sea-anchor size and position, must be found by experiment.

It’s definite leap of faith to sail over the horizon for the first time when your only knowledge of correct procedure has come from reading books; but you can improve on things by practicing near home in heavy-weather conditions whenever you can. That will fine-tune your book knowledge to the particular unique requirements of your boat and  give you the confidence you need when you set sail on your first sea passage.

Today’s Thought
The goal is not to sail the boat, but rather to help the boat sail herself.
— John Rousmaniere

There used to be a time when a fool and his money were soon parted. Now it happens to everyone.

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

No comments: