Monday, January 23, 2017

Anticipation: The Approaching Front, Part 1

Umatilla, Florida

Almost invariently, the first question that people ask when they learn that you are a boating cruiser is, "What do you do when storms come?"

Part 1 -- At Sea
Bad weather can not always be avoided at sea.  You only get to choose your date of departure, and before arrival at your distant port, weather can change to anything.

It is true that modern technology, namely, radar, SSB radio and satellite data delivery, gives modern sailors more warning of impending bad weather.  But in a sailboat, your ability to use that knowledge to avoid the bad spots is limited.   No, the real answer to the question about storms is that you ride them out.  The sailor reduced sail, according to a pre-decided sail plan.  Then if conditions are really, bad he goes below to wait it out.

Before going below, the skipper either puts out a sea anchor, or a drogue parachute, or he "heaves-to".   Which tactic depends on the boat.  On a W32, "heaving to" is the usual choice.  I'm not an expert on heavy weather tactics so if you want to know more, you can find better information elsewhere.

Down below can be extremely uncomfortable and miserable, but it is safe.  It is instructive to learn that the W32 Satori in "The Perfect Storm" was found undamaged after being abandoned.  All people and belongings on board would have fared well if they stayed aboard.

Libby and I were conservative blue water sailors, (you can translate that to "chicken").  All of our passeges were 4 days or less (2 days most common).  If the weather sounded uncertain, we didn't go.  Only once did we get stuck in very bad conditions in the Gulf Stream east of Frying Pan shoals, with a strong north wind, and that was because of my carelessness in not checking the weather and the charts before departure.

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