Friday, December 13, 2013

Oh Shit

Marathon, Florida
24 42.352 N 081 05.639 N

No, that picture is not from here.  It was taken off the west coast of Australia.  It shows an approaching sandstorm.  Enough to cause any sailor to say "Oh Shit."

I was going to write about seaworthiness; making sure that your boat and crew are worthy and read for unexpected challenges.   But instead, I'll write about defensive moves. What to do when the Oh Shit moment arrives.

What should you do when that Oh Shit moment comes?   First and foremost, make sure that any large sails are down.  A small jib or a storm jib might be OK, but no genoa and no mainsail.   Reefs are an alternative,  a reefed jib and a double reefed main might get you by, but bare poles would be better.

Here's the scary part.  Suppose you have no warning and all the big sails are flying?  Then you must stay on deck long enough to get them down no matter what the weather.

Second, you should either heave to or lash the helm under bare pole
heave to : To turn into the wind and set sails to stop or gain control in heavy weather. In practice a sailing vessel will reduce sail, back a foresail, sheet in an after sail and secure the helm to weather. A power vessel would turn into the seas and apply just enough power to maintain position. 
Third, go below to wait it out. We talked with a single handed sailor who rode out a direct hit by a hurricane south of Puerto Rico on his CSY 37.   He went below and waited it out under bare poles.  When the storm was over and he went on deck, he found his boat fully operational, but all the paint, varnish, and gelcoat had been sandblasted off from above-water surfaces.

What is right for your boat? Most of what I know about that was from the writings of the Pardeys.  They explain in detail the theory of heaving to.  They say that different boat designs have different ways of heaving to ...  bare poles, hove-to with main and jib, hove-to with jib or storm jib only, hove to under reefed main only, or with a mizzen sail only.  Going with bare poles is called lying ahull.  There are also variants using sea anchors or drogue chutes that I won't describe.

Now the confession.  Libby and I have never practiced heaving to on Tarwathie under really heavy conditions. I've sailed in winds up to 65 knots on Lake Champlain but not on Tarwathie.  Also, the lake is not comparable to the fury of ocean waves.

We also carry a storm jib and a storm trisail (replaces the mainsail), but we have never practiced with those in open ocean heavy weather either.  I'm afraid we are chicken.  When heavy weather comes we are interested only in getting out of it, not in dawdling around for training purposes.  In that respect, we are not fully seaworthy.

I've been told that Westsail 32s do fine laying ahull with bare poles.  I'm also inspired by the W32 Satori in "The Perfect Storm" story.  Below is a picture of Satori in that storm.  She is hove to using a storm jib on the staysail stay, and she rode out that storm in fine condition.

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