I can hardly see any such thing as a boat that will take it all, independently of what the skipper
does or does not: any vessel lying around in a truly huge sea can end up in the wrong place at the wrong time and get picked up and dumped in a trough, free-falling a considerable distance. In such a case, the force of the impact and resulting accelerations would make being on board a rather unadvisable proposition.
I remember of a steel
yacht in the North Atlantic that returned with a metre less headroom
in the saloon
Even excluding racers, some designs are much better than others in heavy weather
and design options do matter, but this debate is often too skewed towards the "design" precisely. It takes away the personal contribution. It is rather essential for a skipper
to also know and understand what his/her boat/design can do. What the boat does well, and what it doesn't. This knowledge is key when it comes to making adequate heavy weather
decisions and acquiring it should be a focus.
There are usually plenty of opportunities to play with the boat and start pushing the limits on rough windy days. Does it run ok in steep seas? What happens if the headsail is sheeted in the middle? And conversely will it punch? Is it possible to tack? What happens under main alone? Is it enough to keep some speed and an acceptable angle? Can we haul upwind on a headsail alone? Maybe it doesn't work, but it looks like it might with more wind
. There is a lot to learn from these things. Seeing them and experiencing them is what allows feeling beyond them should it ever become necessary one day.
A parallel of this is that I don't support the "weather avoidance" principle the way it is often understood these days. Boats are seldom perfect, but skippers need to experience weather and high winds and get to know them with their strong points and their flaws. This is at the very core
And - incidentally - if some did, they might not prepare their boats in the same way and those might not look quite the same. A lot of the offshore
preparation I see in fact leaves the boats much worse off, should something reasonably severe actually happen. While this is certainly boat-related, it is no fault from the designer!
Few boats/designs are almost perfect, and few are completely useless. In the middle, it is a matter of getting a grasp of what we can consider doing successfully with what we have, should conditions get threatening. Here I am talking about sailing, not trying to apply never-tested-before canned recipes
Realistically, most of the cruising vessels that do get into trouble offshore these days do so in what I would call standard gale conditions: give or take 40 knots for a day and a half, 4-6m seas after a while with the odd break. Conditions like those should be no problem at all. They just happen now and then. They are sailing - not survival - conditions.
In the meanwhile the talk is about dealing with the Fastnet 79 or Sydney-Hobart 98 and what the boat should and shouldn't be... Honestly, what is the point of worrying about the storm of the century if a good old standard blow is going to be a problem already? Solving that
problem is still the best actual way of gaining an edge should something truly huge ever materialise one day. And in the meanwhile, it is one hell of a lot more constructive and useful.
Beyond this, yes, I like lean and mean boats with a low VCG, clean lines, nothing to carry away, built like battleships with plenty of sail power. I own one. But the reality is that the average modern production cruiser - provided it is well built! - is perfectly fine in virtually all common "bad" weather conditions if handled sensibly and competently
... And most of these boats only achieve an AVS of around 120 degrees through meeting ISO12217. I don't find it great, but I can't say that it is inadequate either and there are many boats that feature a higher AVS and are far worse sea boats.
Anyway, a bit of a different take on this.