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Old 21-09-2012, 22:45   #1
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Surfing downwind on a cruiser?

Hi,

I used to love surfing downwind in big waves with the kite up, I remember doing 233nm in 24hrs once on a 45 foot plywood Spencer (whispers) racing across the Tasman, exhilarating fun... Hit 23 knots.. and a whale! But we broached about once per hour, trashed at least one set of guys/sheets, and had about zero sleep for the whole time (about 2 days).

A few years later I was in the same patch of water, 200 miles SE of Sydney in the same conditions (30-35 knots southerly) on my folks 45 foot concrete gaff ketch (a Herreshoff Mobjack). We reefed, we set the windvane, I read a novel while the boat did about 198 Nm in comfort. Plenty of sleep for all, we ate good meals, not muesli bars and didn't break a thing! So I learnt that the extra 35 nm was not worth the hassle, unless winning a race was the object.

All my subsequent sailing has only confirmed this view, reef early downwind, don't bother to surf.. (well maybe just a little bit once and a while for fun!)

Now the racers have a different idea, speed is safety, fast is good. and the new crop of cruisers feature the same wide powerful sterns and boast of surfing and impossibly high daily runs.

I watch my brothers Youtube vids (search for BoobooNZ) of him surfing the crazy racing machines he sails on (like hugo boss and the TP50's) and I think he is mad. He thinks I am a wimp!

My questions are, in reality how often do you get the chance to let her go and surf? Normally I find I have flat calm.. then a headwind..

How much faster are your real averages when surfing. Are they well above the normal hull speed for your boat?

And does the autopilot, windvane and boat cope with this abuse. It it even possible safely on a heavily loaded, lightly crewed boat?

Cheers

Ben
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Old 21-09-2012, 22:54   #2
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Re: Surfing downwind on a cruiser?

I like to have less sail up especially at night. I pay for it in mileage, but I can read and enjoy my life, sleep better, do less sail changes, and honestly be safer. If you want to go fast, by all means, go fast. If you want to measure your manhood by your knotmeter, that's your thing. I'll be having lunch with my family and reading my kindle at 5 knots, happy as a clam.
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Old 21-09-2012, 23:22   #3
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Re: Surfing downwind on a cruiser?

Crossing the Tasman, day 7 from Bundaberg, Its on youtube,
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Old 21-09-2012, 23:25   #4
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Re: Surfing downwind on a cruiser?

Night time, I had no choice, Ran before the waves and wind, A little bit of Genoa and dragged the Motor, With the winward side Centre board fully down, I only got 3 or 4 knots, But I did it safely,
And I cooked all my meals,
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Old 21-09-2012, 23:36   #5
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Re: Surfing downwind on a cruiser?

Quote:
Originally Posted by rebel heart View Post
I like to have less sail up especially at night. I pay for it in mileage, but I can read and enjoy my life, sleep better, do less sail changes, and honestly be safer. If you want to go fast, by all means, go fast. If you want to measure your manhood by your knotmeter, that's your thing. I'll be having lunch with my family and reading my kindle at 5 knots, happy as a clam.
I am with you there Rebel, I like to trundle along with a book a poled out headsail and a windvane doing all the work, just wondering though, Have I got it all wrong?

I recently delivered a Young 88 down to Hobart from Sydney and found I quite liked the boat, though I ended up with 2 reefs in the main in 20 odd knots of wind trying to stop the beast from launching herself down the waves in some kamikazi suicidal attempt to make me pay some more attention to her and not the book!

I did like how she took off in a gust without loading anything up, the normal heavy boats I sail just keep loading up until something breaks or you manage to drag some sail down.

The light air speed was also a revelation, she slipped along in a whisper of wind. but what would she be like loaded with all my liveaboard gear?
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Old 22-09-2012, 01:03   #6
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Re: Surfing downwind on a cruiser?

I crewed on a 40' home-built cruising yacht a few years ago, returning from Fiji to NZ. We picked up a nice NE never below 25 and never over 45 knots and had a magic trip, with a crew of five, of whom three loved helming in strong conditions off the wind. (One of the others had an excuse: he wasn't long out of nappies/diapers). We never carried enough sail to be at risk of a broach, and as the system followed us down the track we could modulate the wind strength by heading up when it got too light, to bring us closer to the center of the low, and vice versa.
We weren't in a particular hurry, in fact we generally hove to for evening meals so we could relax together down below and eat what would be decent meals in any situation, around the saloon table (engineered with "tack"able wings).
Nonetheless it was a lot more enjoyable to be carrying enough sail to be exceeding hull speed on the bigger waves. I don't think we ever quite got to 16 knots but close a couple of times. We did experiment with the B&G hydraulic pilot, and at one point it held the speed record, but it was basically too much fun to leave it to it, so we pretty much hand steered throughout except at meal times.
The skipper's cruising mates were all pretty bewildered when we talked to them on skeds, saying things like "You must be doing it wrong, mate"

The boat was a Dick McBride design, nice moderate modern shape at the time of the design, twebty-odd years ago (powerful buttocks, moderate U sections in the forefoot, large efficient rudder and a deepish moderate fin keel with ballast in a bulb.) Superbly built in strip-planked kauri, with carbon fibre in strategic locations (particularly in the rudder and steering quadrant) to keep the ends light.

I'd already done another trip on the same boat, in the course of which we set off (eastabout) round Puysegur point in the certain knowledge of wind strengths which would be considered show-stopping anywhere else .... but we'd been waiting a couple of weeks for it to come good and that was the first decent window. In that part of the world, given a suitable vessel, you're "good to go" almost regardless of strength, if it's NW and no prospect of going SW in the time it takes to get a lee from Stewart Island.

Admittedly in both cases, the trip was nearing an end so the stores were run down and the ship relatively lightly laden.

I've sailed on a couple of similarly vice-free, easily driven cruising yachts of different sizes, and they've been an absolute joy in brisk going off the wind.

So, yes, it is possible, IME
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Old 22-09-2012, 01:22   #7
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Sounds like you had a lot of fun there. Thanks for that report. I always like Dicks designs.

What sort of days runs were you getting when you were hitting the 16 knot top speeds? Any problems with broaching or roundups?
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Old 22-09-2012, 02:11   #8
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Re: Surfing downwind on a cruiser?

The philosophy behind cruising and racing is very different.

Cruising is generally about setting a setting a comfortable amount of sail. The idea is arrive rested, relaxed and no gear breakages.
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Old 22-09-2012, 02:31   #9
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Re: Surfing downwind on a cruiser?

Hey Snow Petrel, nice to see you here. I enjoy your blog especially that video of your family sailing adventures!

OK, I sail my ketch downwind in blustery winds using a stout little Genoa. She almost balances. I have had her sailing along with a touch of helm and the tiller tied over slightly.

If I want another knot or so I put the mizzen up. In this configuration you either have to steer or use the tiller pilot. I could almost pull nine knots on a mild surf! Great thing though about my stupidly solid (and slow)little boat is that I don't have to worry about broaching or any other of those bad habits.
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Old 22-09-2012, 05:45   #10
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Re: Surfing downwind on a cruiser?

Snow Petrel

IIRC on the Fiji- NZ we got within ten miles of the 200 per day a couple of times, which was pretty good for a boat that size, I thought, considering mealtimes were unhurried....
I don't recall ever rounding up on this particular vessel, even racing, it's remarkably well-mannered almost regardless of provocation... certainly not on the trip from Fiji.

On the Fiordland - Oban trip, when a reliable wind being from the desired quarter trumped the fact that there was so frigging much of it, we really covered some miles - partly because I'd written an Excel worksheet to explore all the scenarios ahead of time, to come up with a departure time which gave us the absolute maximum tidal assistance. This was well rewarded, not least because the seas were dramatically better behaved with a strong following tide all the way through the bottleneck. I'd hate to have seen them six hours later...

The other strong tick on the list of points in favour of a 'go now' was that, unusually, there was no discernable ground swell coming up from the deep south -- hence the seas we had were largely of local origin, and prismatic rather than pyramidal.

Steering was a dream, too, because all we needed was a storm staysl to be able to stay at hull speed even on those occasions when we squirted some way up the back of the wave in front. (Always nice being able to set both runners up hard - causing the mast to take on that steely glint!)

It's strange heading out into conditions like that knowingly. One would go to a lot of trouble to avoid them under normal circumstances. However, we had a relatively close destination, and could rely on getting into Oban regardless of conditions. This meant the crew would stay fresh, and given that were well acclimatised in addition to being well rested before setting off, it felt to us like a good option. Winter was coming on, and it could have been months before such a sure thing would come again - by which time we might have been prepared to go in pretty much anything (and been on iron rations for some time, hence considerably less sleek and glossy in condition)

I personally take a lot of notice of the degree of complexity of weather systems, discounting the reliability of the predictions significantly as the complexity increases.

I'd rather set off in bad conditions, but with a simple system of large scale, than venture into the unpredictability of an apparently benign but unfathomably complex system with lots of wriggles and multiple centres, and/or marked differences between what's happening aloft and alow.

I guess it's a bit like facing an adversary whom you expect to be fierce but straightforward, in preference to a nominally lesser foe who is devious and potentially full of surprises.
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Old 22-09-2012, 05:55   #11
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Re: Surfing downwind on a cruiser?

I almost always chose to sail for comfort over sailing for speed. It's easier on the boat and way easier on my nerves. Besides if I didn't want to enjoy myself why would I do it to start with?
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Old 22-09-2012, 06:45   #12
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Re: Surfing downwind on a cruiser?

It depends a lot on how easily driven the boat is. My J/37 surfed easily in tradewind situations while loaded for cruising without using a chute. The boat isn't going to broach in those situations, as it is not being overdriven for speed. The AP can easily sail it as the boat feels like it is on rails when at that speed. The boat will be doing 9 to 11 or 12 kts going down the waves without any fuss. The main will probably be reefed and the 100% headsail may also be reefed. This means there isn't that much pushing the rig -- making the pressures on the boat and the crew fairly light.

If you were on a boat that requires massive sail area to do any consistent surfing, then I think it is too much to handle for a Mom and Pop crew.
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Old 22-09-2012, 07:35   #13
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Re: Surfing downwind on a cruiser?

formosa my life i sailed a sloop--they were fast and fairly simple to sail--but in weather i wasnt happy. was a lot of work. so now i have formosa ketch. is nice n slow--yes i hit 8.4 kts in a 60+kt breeze off cabo--prolly wont get thqat kind of speeds again--lol was jib n jigger in a chubasco off cabo san lucas, early early am--0400ish--was fun. that is the of-normal kind of stuff that happens. wasnt hard/difficult to surf or to sail the winds. one person can do it easily, in this boat, as opposed to doing same thing in a 37 ft sloop---much easier-----i wouldnt cruise in a lighter weight or lighter made boat--this is perfect.
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Old 22-09-2012, 07:41   #14
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Re: Surfing downwind on a cruiser?

My wife & I just sailed our J/120 across the Atlantic in July. We averaged 167nm per day for 20 days and had 3 days over 200nm. Our top speed was 14.7 kts. We only used 20 gallons of diesel and about 1/2 of that was with the engine out of gear to charge the batteries while we were sailing faster than we could motor. But we never pushed, we sailed downwind almost the entire crossing, but we spent much of the trip with just white sails, and much of that reefed, and some of that with just one sail up. As we reduced sail, our speed stayed more or less constant. Our autopilot steered 99% of the trip. In general our faster days were the more comfortable, because the sea state was better and we were able to maintain a steadier speed.

We had a really great time and I certainly wouldn't have wanted to spend a few more days out there on a more "comfortable" boat. We were already comfortable and having fun too.

We took a whole bunch of video of our crossing (see link below) and you'll see a whole bunch of us sitting around relaxing while the sail area changed up and down. I'm sold on "performance cruising". With a good design and a good autopilot it is perfectly possible to go fast without any fuss.
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Old 22-09-2012, 08:04   #15
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Re: Surfing downwind on a cruiser?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Snowpetrel View Post

My questions are, in reality how often do you get the chance to let her go and surf? Normally I find I have flat calm.. then a headwind..

How much faster are your real averages when surfing. Are they well above the normal hull speed for your boat?

And does the autopilot, windvane and boat cope with this abuse. It it even possible safely on a heavily loaded, lightly crewed boat?

Cheers

Ben

never surfed with a head wind, but have set her on the edge of the trough with wind on my quarter. Shes an IOR design and a bit ugly DDW
but if the conditions are right and the waves are a good shape, I can set her on her edge and she'll set in the mid to high teens without any issues..
Its not for everyone but on our FIRST 42, the faster you run her, the more comfy she becomes.. at slower speeds she wallows in the water,
Hull Speed is something I know nothing about, never needed to, never wanted to..
and If the shape of the waves, and the direction of the wind fall into the right conditions Our average speed over 24 hours is High, a couple times over 200 and auto helm on most all the time
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