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Old 05-06-2015, 07:38   #1
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Offshore novice question

Seems like I'm seeing more stories about offshore sailors getting into trouble when sailing in/through storms. Abandon boats; coaster rescues; deaths; etc... Why wouldn't one just "heave to" until the storm passes (if only for a couple of hours to regroup)?


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Old 05-06-2015, 08:08   #2
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Re: Offshore novice question

There are a number of storm tactics that are used in practice. A specific tactic is dependent on the crew, type and size of yacht, storm intensity, wave height and form, current, and position wrt a lee shore.

A prudent cruiser will have a number of arrows in the quiver, one of which is heaving to.

There are a number of books dedicated to this subject including "Storm Tactics", Dashew and Storm Tactics Handbook, Pardey. Additionally, there are 1000's of posts on CF concerning this very topic. Using the CF search function will access you.
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Old 05-06-2015, 08:14   #3
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Re: Offshore novice question

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Originally Posted by Christiansailin View Post
Seems like I'm seeing more stories about offshore sailors getting into trouble when sailing in/through storms. Abandon boats; coaster rescues; deaths; etc... Why wouldn't one just "heave to" until the storm passes (if only for a couple of hours to regroup)?


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A fair enough question, but not all yachts heave to well at all and not all sailors know how to do it anyhow. Long or modified keel medium to heavy displacement craft heave to best, by and large, especially with a ketch or yawl rig. Light high aspect flat bottom wedges really don't do well at all in the heave to by and large, and for cats it is almost a redundant question.

There are many other possible strategies: running off and before, fore reaching (seldom used now it would appear probably as it requires a strong and skilled crew), running with drogue (of whatever stripe), lying to a sea anchor, or lying ahull.

You are right about the simplicity and utility of heave to however, and I always teach it as a basic skill to students for RYA courses, which are mainly by happenstance aboard modern cruiser racer type boats. I do this even though for some odd reason it does not really feature much on the RYA syllabus, a fact I find odd and wrongheaded. I normally get them to heave to tolerably well, though they take a bit more management and are jumpier in that configuration than more traditonal type vessels. However, it is always a joy to see the light go on in the heads of the noviceish sailor when they realise what a great tool it is. Usually I will get the rig powered up on a hard beat, rather overpowered actually, but balanced, and have the least experienced sailor/helmsman take the wheel for awhile with me standing by giving tips on helming. Just about when the begin to relax and have the idea of it well enough, I (depending on boat and conditions but in most cases) will tell them to let go of the helm and sit down. This usually takes 2 or three tries before they realise I am serious. I think they expect disaster. What they get is a round up and tack through into the first and most basic form of heave to, whereupon I ask them to ease the mainsheet (usually) and steer back up to windward, lock off the wheel, and we make a cuppa to discuss… Of course the second topic of discussion is why the let go and sit down is not such a great idea on certain other points of sail…
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Old 05-06-2015, 11:49   #4
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Re: Offshore novice question

Hiding your head in the sand (a.k.a. heaving to) may be a first class ticket to one of those horror stories you have read: the smaller the boat, the bigger the storm, the higher the probability.

It is a good and valid storm technique, but as the case is with any tool: it all depends on the hand that is holding it.

Unfortunately, storm handling techniques cannot be mastered onshore. Sailing is a practical skill and you learn as you go. If you go early and get hit by a storm that puts you outside of your skills box then either you are lucky (and you learn something) or else you are unlucky (and people get their stories to read).

Probably the first time you get involved into seriously nasty weather you will know why at times heaving to is not the right thing to do.

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Old 05-06-2015, 12:23   #5
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Re: Offshore novice question

Also many people are not as tough as they thought that they were . It seems to me that the ease of rescue today makes people abandon ship , what with sat phones and epirbs . In the past when rescue was not possible you had no choice but to carry on , now you just push a button and a million dollar rescue is on the way .
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Old 05-06-2015, 12:34   #6
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Re: Offshore novice question

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Originally Posted by barnakiel View Post
Hiding your head in the sand (a.k.a. heaving to) may be a first class ticket to one of those horror stories you have read: the smaller the boat, the bigger the storm, the higher the probability.

It is a good and valid storm technique, but as the case is with any tool: it all depends on the hand that is holding it.

Unfortunately, storm handling techniques cannot be mastered onshore. Sailing is a practical skill and you learn as you go. If you go early and get hit by a storm that puts you outside of your skills box then either you are lucky (and you learn something) or else you are unlucky (and people get their stories to read).

Probably the first time you get involved into seriously nasty weather you will know why at times heaving to is not the right thing to do.

Cheers,
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Yep, it's a tool, but often wont work that well. the force of breaking waves is stronger than the force of the sails trying to keep the boat hove to. So you end up sailing down, then beam to the seas , then rolling a lot. Spent a miserable night trying that.
Even the Pardeys allude to trying to solve that problem with bridles etc. and their little boat had a pretty full forefoot on the keel, which usualy helps to counteract the problem.
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Old 05-06-2015, 13:54   #7
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Re: Offshore novice question

The worst part heaving to is it leaves the boat sideways to the waves. That leaves the boat subject to being rolled by the not so mythical 'Rogue Wave'. If conditions aren't too bad, you need a break and/or you don't want lose any hard gained ground against the storm, heaving to is an option. If you are in a major storm where you could be hit by a breaking wave, running off dragging a drogue or wharps to slow the boat down is a better way to go. Of course that requires sea room to run off into. You won't be making a lot of way because of the drogue or whatever but it sill will be a few knots to leeward. When planning a passage, plan to stay as far offshore as possible till you need to make a landfall.

You really do want to practice heaving to in at least strong wind situations to see how the boat will behave.
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Old 05-06-2015, 14:09   #8
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Re: Offshore novice question

Christiansailing,

IMO, heaving to is something you should take your boat out and practice doing, in 30-50 knots, in protected waters the first times. You may have to make sheet lead adjustments to help the boat stay stopped.

When you try it in big seas, you may find it does not work as well, especially when the waves are higher than your spreaders.

Really, the guy who wrote that it is only one of the storm management tactics, is right, some waves are so big you'd just keep getting rolled.

I think the other poster who remarked on the ease of rescue also makes a valid point. We see a lot of under prepared people who think they are prepared, they get scared and they lack background of working through the fear to find solutions so they pull the plug.

The point of this rambling is that if you, personally, want to sail the oceans of the world, you can't depend on the conditions always being ideal, and if you want to behave responsibly, you should practice using and retrieving your storm management gear. Those who don't ("we're only sailing coastally"), may pay the price.

By the way, there's a CF poster here, Morgan Stone, who is at this moment, beating northwestwards to try and clear hurricane Blanca and a tropical storm. His plan is to reach Cedros Is, and shelter off it if the hurricane doesn't turn east before it gets to him. If you put his name in the CF Search, you'll be able to get to the thread he started.

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Old 05-06-2015, 14:16   #9
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pirate Re: Offshore novice question

Personally I heave to or lay a hull..
I have noticed most folk do it with way to much foresail.. you only need just enough to stop the main putting you in irons.. for reaching is fine in little seas up to 3 metres.. above that forget it.
All the Hero to Zero stuff I leave to better men than me..
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Old 05-06-2015, 14:22   #10
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Re: Offshore novice question

I am still in the experimental stage at this point. Although I have been caught out in squalls a couple of times at more than 60 knots true.
At this point I am thinking my storm riding strategy would be to run off with a storm jib, trailing a series droug.
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I have to say though, I have been very happy with the performance of the boat in heavy weather to this point.
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Old 05-06-2015, 14:23   #11
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Re: Offshore novice question

I love my full keel cutter. I've had no problem heaving to in 30-35 kt winds. My wife was below praying to the porcelain gods, I was on the coach roof throwing paper towel spit balls to leeward. I was also chuckling like madman. "IT WORKS". after a couple hours we had only drifted about half a mile downwind.


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Old 05-06-2015, 15:10   #12
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Re: Offshore novice question

What I do depends on where I am going... going to where the wind is going..keep going. Going towards where the wind is coming from...heave to.

Many boats are abandoned because, as stated above, the crew just aren't up to it having sucked up too much BS from the magazines as to what a wonderful life it is out on the ocean wave.
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Old 05-06-2015, 15:42   #13
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Re: Offshore novice question

Speaking as a former commercial fisherman that had to be out in most weathers...
The best way to avoid being a news item is to avoid going out in bad weather. If you are out too far to return to a port, pay attention to weather reports, even weather several hundred miles away. Don't read too many sailing adventure books.
Learn to read weather maps. After awhile you will predict weather trouble better than NOAA.
The only thing worse than risking your life is causing the Coast Guard to risk their lives rescuing some idiot.
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Old 05-06-2015, 15:59   #14
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Re: Offshore novice question

As mentioned, there's no such thing as an "all purpose" storm tactic, but I will say that statistically lying ahull is one of the worst tactics there are and basically shouldn't be used in breaking waves. Yes, you don't have cloth up to blow the boat over, but in breaking waves lying ahull puts you beam-to and increases your odds of being rolled.

In both the Fastnet and Sydney-Hobart disasters, all of the boats that were capsized were lying ahull, and none of the boats that hove-to were. That's a pretty meaningful statistic.

The closest thing to an all-purpose passive storm tactic is deploying a series drogue off the stern and battening down. That will give you the best odds of avoiding capsize or rolling, but in breaking waves > beam width, there is no certain passive tactic to avoid rolling or capsize.

Best tactic is to avoid weather to the degree possible.
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Old 05-06-2015, 16:06   #15
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Re: Offshore novice question

Heaving to works well on our cat. About 1/4 jib backwinded, helm lashed hard to windward puts it at about 20 degrees to the wind so easy enough to approach the waves on a good angle. Fore reaches at about 2kn in 40kn wind, probably technically fore reaching rather than being hove to, but comfortable enough.
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