Lots of good advice already but sailboats are options waiting to be discovered.
First off, if motoring from the dock seems actually dangerous, it's already time to hit the bar and watch the whitecaps pass by as the umbrella blows out of your rum
High winds are what challenges sailors and experienced sailors live for. Some of us are crazy enough to go out in 14' O'Day's at the tail end of a hurricane
, but that's not for beginners.
I hate engines. I only use engines leaving a dock on rivers because the current
can push a boat faster than the wind and you irreverently lose that battle every time. As soon as possible, I often sail on the jib out of anchorage, since it's easier to set solo and easier to tend overall. If wind is a problem, roller furling
partially to find the sweet spot that yields forward momentum in any wind and prevents passengers from losing their lunch works just fine. Sailing on the jib is good practice, for those days you just ripped your main and would prefer to take it down for mending rather than destroy it totally.
On the main, I've actually never reefed a sail, despite conditions. Spilling wind up to 95% just means you're in conditions you should not be in and it's time to drop sails OR it's FREAKIN GREAT, novices need not apply!!!!
The main is complicated. Reefing a main or changing a headsail in high winds is actually potentially deadly and should never be a 'I wish I'd done this sooner' event. Dousing/resetting sails are actions you prepare for AHEAD of conditions, not as an afterthought. I AND another sailor were nearly blown off the bow of a 54' ketch
when the owner was in 1-4 knot
winds and had a 120% genny on and declined to take down the headsail BEFORE we sailed into harbor CLEARLY seen with binoculars beyond Small Craft Advisory conditions (Gale Warning), where EVERY sailboat was pitched at 45 degrees.
In any conditions, you can always duck, let all sails fly free, head into the wind, collect your thoughts, start the engine
, point her into the wind, safely douse all sails, and turn the boat wherever you'd like to go (short of a hurricane) and head for home. WAY more important in this scenario is 1) did you REALLY check the engine
status before you went out and 2) do you REALLY have enough fuel
to get home. It's a sinking feeling to be 1/2 mile out, out of gas/diesel, and realize your going home under sail in a gale. It's an even WORSE feeling to realize 1/2 your guests are suffering heat exposure, your out of drinks, the wind totally died, and your going to have to hail call for a power boater to tow you in or face a medical emergency
Any complement of sails has a storm sail. Setting a storm sail for rigging
before the storm ensures safe passage
home. If conditions are picking up, fine. So be it. Set enough sail to be comfortable and plan your backup actions before you go for when things go wrong. They always do. It's not what happens to you, it's how you respond.
My first thought would be safety gear
My second thought would be life vests
My third thought would be a last chance trip line. That's 100' line prepositioned in the cockpit
you throw behind the boat clear of harbor. If anyone goes over, they have 100' to grab and you have an easier recovery
My 1st actual action would be to file a float plan w/the USCG. You should start out right. That includes the plans on when/who/how you check in. It's WAY better to hear 'it's pretty rough out here but we're dealing w/it Okay' then overdue dead silence followed by darkness and worry.
My second actual action would be checking all stowage aboard, standard stuff.
check, frequencies set. portable radio that floats on my hip.
In severe conditions, every person has a handheld signal device on their person. I'd rather live with their fear than live w/the consequence of losing sight of them in a sea state 3.
Finally, underway, my first clear maneuver is to ALWAYS teach everyone to take over and pull off a man overboard
drill. They don't need to be good at it, they just need to stop my boat from running away from me while I'm treading water. Fortunately, I likely already would have the last trip line.
It's all truly serious stuff. Remember, have fun. I'm not kidding. When storms come up the single most important factor is the captain
exudes calm. You panic, they panic, and it's all over. Either you make it back safe and they never go out with you again, or you don't and it all ends badly. My rule
is simple. The bigger the wind and waves, the bigger my smile. I've literally been in storms with women and children
screaming in fear and tears and knew I was in desperate shape if I didn't keep focus on the physics...and the fuel
... always the fuel...
That's a worst case scenario. Likely you'll go out, spill the wind a bit too late a few times, come into the wind a few times too many, and tip a bit more than you're comfortable with. The goal in high gusting winds is to keep to the course you've set and to set courses you can keep. Do that, despite mother nature's fury, and you collect what us old guys call 'an experience'.
keep sailing. Life is lived best at the foot of a mountain or the edge of a sea...