May 7, 2015

Thoughts on lying ahull

SOMEWHERE IN Rich Wilson’s book about the Vendée Globe race he makes an offhand reference to the fact that it’s not safe to lie ahull in a sailboat in a storm. I was surprised by that statement because Wilson is one of the most experienced sailors in the world.

In his book, Race France to France — Leave Antarctica to Starboard, he tells how he was the only American competitor in the 2008/9 running of the non-stop race around the world for singlehanders. At age 58 he was the oldest of the 30 skippers in the race, and he finished in 9th place in his Open 60 class boat, Great American III. It was a magnificent effort that placed him among the absolute elite of ocean racers.

But he obviously didn’t know that others in his elite class, some who went to sea a long time before him, did use lying ahull as a storm tactic. It was, in fact, standard procedure in the days when round-the-worlders sailed in boats with deep full-length keels and wine-glass sections. Wilson’s storm experience presumably has been in modern multihulls and fin keelers, which need different handling in storms.

Lying ahull, of course, is a passive and very simple tactic. You simply douse all sail and lash the helm to leeward.  A boat with a full-length keel will drift slowly sideways-on to the waves. As the wind drags her through the water like a barn door, she leaves an area of big eddies and swirls to windward. When a top-heavy swell hits those swirls, it tends to break and expend its energy before it reaches the boat.

Of course, when the seas get so big that they pick up your boat and hurl her bodily sideways, it’s time to change tactics and run off before the wind, but most boats plying the trade-wind routes at the right times of the year never face such bad weather. And meanwhile, lying ahull in a “normal” gale is a safe, approved tactic for most boats with traditional keels — always allowing, of course, for the fact that all boats react differently.

Fin-keeled boats do better in bad conditions if they are kept moving, so that the keel moves through a greater area of water in which to expend the energy the boat accrues from abnormal wave action.

 Anyone needing a more thorough explanation should read C. A. Marchaj’s fascinating book Seaworthiness: The Forgotten Factor.

All of which goes to show how even the most experienced sailors can’t know everything about sailing and seaworthiness. It is indeed a vast subject, and we can all learn more every day.

 Column No. 1,000
THIS IS a special day for the Mainly about Boats column. This is, in fact, column number 1,000. Many thousands of words have gone into these columns, some sucked out of the air, some the product of grinding teeth, many forged in panic with a deadline approaching.
Three columns a week for seven years adds up to about two-and-a-half full-length novels. All 1,000 blog posts are stored in the archives, on your right, for you to fossick through at will.  Sooner or later you should find something there that interests you, or amuses you, or possibly even educates you. That was the plan, anyhow. I hope it  worked.
Fair winds and good landfalls.

Today’s Thought
While the spoken word can travel faster, you can’t take it home in your hand. Only the written word can be absorbed wholly at the convenience of the reader.
— Kingman Brewster, President, Yale

A friend of mine thinks he’s going to make a fortune. He’s working on a dog food that tastes like a mailman’s leg.

(Every Monday, Wednesday, Friday — a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Don P. said...

Congratulations on reaching blog post 1000 and a thousand thanks for writing them. They've brought me much pleasure. I had a couple of your books before I discovered your blog and have bought a couple of more since.

- I used your denaming ceremony when I changed the name of my current boat from Airborne to Galefilero.
- I learned about the tradition of putting a coin under your mast for luck from your blog, and,
- When I installed my coin at the top of my compression post I built a small black box to mount it on as a reminder of where good luck really comes from.

Cheers, and thanks again.
Don P.

John Vigor said...

Don P:

Thank you for your encouraging remarks. That was very kind of you.

Interesting name your boat now has. If I assume correctly, it means something like what the Australians call a walkabout, or a wondering journey, right?


John V.

John Vigor said...

Don P:

That should have been a wandering journey, of course, although wondering could also fit the bill.

John V.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for the information, moments of joy and food for thoughts!

All the best from the Netherlands, Jurriën

John Vigor said...

Jurriën, it has been a pleasure. Thank you for your kind thoughts.

John V.

Don P said...

Hi John,
Sorry for the delay getting back to you but the past weekend was "lift In" at my club.

"Galefilero" is from the Dictionary of Newfoundland English and means:
Jaunt; rambling walk or ride just for the sake of breaking restraint.
I think you're right that it would be similar to the Australian "walkabout" but of shorter duration; more of a day sail than a cruise.
I love the word and its' meaning but I admit that at five syllables it is a bit unweildly for a boat name, especially when you have to do a phonetic spelling over the radio for the harbour master.
Fair Winds,