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Old 15-11-2019, 10:18   #1
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Heavy weather sailing, your strategy?

I have been doing alot of research on sailing in heavy weather, beyond 3rd reef stuff and the more I research the more confusing it is. Basically our options:
1. Lying a hull- taking everything down, securing deck, and let the boat handle itself. Many do this and many are overturned with beam on waves. Me being on a catamaran, this strategy is not one my go to strategies.

2. Bare poles sailing dragging drogues to slow down down waves. This has two options, surfing down the waves at an angle and risk wave breaking upon you but you never reach the bottom of the wave. Montessior used this method without dragging drogues and found the boat very happy but the helmsman must know how to do it and it is very fatiguing. The other option is straight down the wave and let the wave break over the stern. Unfortunately, this can somersault the vessel as in "Once is enough".

3. Parachute with bow into the wave or as the Pardey's insist in making a slick with 50 degrees to bow on wind. As a catamaran, the go to strategy is bow into the wave with parachute but the pressure on such devices is significant. Many lines break. Deck cleats ripped out. Etc. Plus the rudders are exposed to pressure.

I would like to hear from sailors that have been exposed to big breaking waves and used some of these strategies. The biggest seas, I have encountered was 26' (non breaking) with winds of 50 knots. Nothing big but would like skippers to educate us on how they would handle big breaking waves. I encourage stories and mistakes made as learning tools. If there are other strategies not mentioned-please post.
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Old 15-11-2019, 11:22   #2
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Re: Heavy weather sailing, your strategy?

The best option for a catamaran, IMHO would be: bare poles, downwind, dragging a drogue.
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Old 15-11-2019, 11:24   #3
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Re: Heavy weather sailing, your strategy?

Everybody, I think this is going to be very different between monohulls and multihulls. It may help the OP, if your first sentence describes which types of boats you have experience with in prolonged over 50 kn.

Thank you very much.

Ann
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Old 15-11-2019, 11:35   #4
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Re: Heavy weather sailing, your strategy?

I haven't been through the ultimate. I did try lying ahull for a while in steep big breaking seas. 47 ft boat, prime condition. Every hatch (although they were offshore hatches with 4 dogs ) sprouted water every time a wave covered the 47 ft boat. It was like raining inside the boat. These hatches had been dock tested with a water hose directed toward the seal and not leaked.

I test deployed a parachute once in fairly calm weather 15-20 knots of wind. That would only be a last attempt to survive for me. I would readily be prepared to just cut it free when necessary in the real world.

Bare poles down wind is the only real option IMHO.
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Old 15-11-2019, 13:08   #5
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Re: Heavy weather sailing, your strategy?

Have only been in one serious weather event in a new-to-me boat that was unprepared for the weather. But once is enough and the lessons I learned endure.

Having no storm sails on board, we “sailed” under bare poles at hull speed (about 9kn). We were really kind of directionless, the boat going downwind and seemingly unable to hold a desired course. I believe but don’t actually know (not keen on testing the theory) that sailing with storm sails and a drogue to control boatspeed would be preferable to bare poles simply for the steering control.

Heaving to is only an option in seas that are not breaking. Doing so in breaking seas will see not only seas breaking, your boat will too. A 35ft breaking swell will generate 10ft of rolling white water. Picture that on your local beach and think how your boat will react. Answer? Not well.

Surfing down waves, angled or not, is an uncontrolled adventure made much more exciting at night (conditions motivating this discussion will see you in pitch black darkness) and I personally would do just about anything to prevent surfing on waves of unknown size/period/steepness.

The above scenarios are not speculation - personal experience.

There are conflicting opinions on parachutes flattening seas. One (Pardeys) says it will cause a slick that flattens seas, the other says that a parachute “buried” under an approaching sea acts like a mini reef and causes a breaking wave. I’m not ready to test either eventuality - will never own a parachute. Personal preference, not a recommendation.
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Old 15-11-2019, 18:51   #6
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Re: Heavy weather sailing, your strategy?

Laying ahull with a catamaran may not be not as dumb as it sounds. When catamarans have been abandoned (e.g. Ramtha during the Queens Birthday Storm) they naturally lay ahull and survive just fine. Unlike a monohull that can trip over its keel and bears the full weight of a breaking wave, a catamaran, even one with mini keels, will skid sideways.

Recently we were sailing in 35-40 knots true wind at about 90 degrees to the true wind direction, with short period 5-6m breaking swell. Not at all extreme conditions but an illustration. Several times a breaking swell would catch us on the windward hull and you could feel the acceleration as the boat got shifted a few beam measurements sideways.

Not that I would try laying ahull as my go-to method. Instead, I think a JSD to control speed and basically head dead downwind/down wave is my preference. Unlike monohulls, catamarans track very well so using the autopilot should be just fine. You would need to strengthen the salon door(s) and windows so that they can absorb wave strikes over the stern. Some catamarans may not be as suited to that.

Single element drogues that allow you to go faster probably so need active steering by humans to deal with the surges/surfs that are inevitable. Absent a full racing type crew I’m not sure that’s sustainable by a cruising couple.

For a monohull I expect a sea anchor from the bow is reasonable. But I expect most catamarans yaw too much at anchor for a sea anchor to be safe.
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Old 15-11-2019, 21:01   #7
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Re: Heavy weather sailing, your strategy?

Quote:
Originally Posted by JPA Cate View Post
Everybody, I think this is going to be very different between monohulls and multihulls. It may help the OP, if your first sentence describes which types of boats you have experience with in prolonged over 50 kn.

Thank you very much.

Ann
actually Ann, I would suggest a little different dichotomy - based on two factors (1) boat size, on a small boat a para-anchor is MUCH easier and more reasonable to handle that on a big boat, and (2) boat is easy to get to surf or not, some monos are and some are not (we have had one of each) and some multis are (more than cruising monos) and some are not. If vessel does not surf easily even just warps or single element drogue is practical/useful, while if the vessel surfs at the drop of a wave then series is probably needed.

A question that each crew needs to answer themselves is whether they are willing and able to handle the size para-anchor needed for their specific boat, in difficult conditions (that includes both launching and recovering). Personally, my appetite for that job disappears somewhere around the 40' mark.

Also, one must remember the prime importance of 'the big picture' . . . . you don't want to sit on a para-anchor when if you fore-reach 25 miles you can get in vastly smaller waves - as might well be the case if you are in an ocean current (like the gulf stream) or on the edge of a continental shelf, or in a particular crush zone.

Also its going to depend on how much sea room you have. Single element drogues can chew up sea room pretty fast and even the series can use up some serious distance.

Bottom line - I would suggest to the OP he is NOT looking for one magic tactic which he always turns to in severe conditions, but rather build a tool kit of multiple techniques (from fore-reaching to heaving to, to running bare poles, to drogues and warps and para-anchors if the crew can handle them) and know when and in what situations to use each.

Finally, just a reminder that more than 50kts sustained for long periods (more than a frontal squall line) is really quite low frequency, if you are doing any sort of decent weather routing.
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Old 15-11-2019, 22:13   #8
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Re: Heavy weather sailing, your strategy?

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actually Ann, I would suggest a little different dichotomy - based on two factors (1) boat size, on a small boat a para-anchor is MUCH easier and more reasonable to handle that on a big boat, and (2) boat is easy to get to surf or not, some monos are and some are not (we have had one of each) and some multis are (more than cruising monos) and some are not. If vessel does not surf easily even just warps or single element drogue is practical/useful, while if the vessel surfs at the drop of a wave then series is probably needed.

A question that each crew needs to answer themselves is whether they are willing and able to handle the size para-anchor needed for their specific boat, in difficult conditions (that includes both launching and recovering). Personally, my appetite for that job disappears somewhere around the 40' mark.

Also, one must remember the prime importance of 'the big picture' . . . . you don't want to sit on a para-anchor when if you fore-reach 25 miles you can get in vastly smaller waves - as might well be the case if you are in an ocean current (like the gulf stream) or on the edge of a continental shelf, or in a particular crush zone.

Also its going to depend on how much sea room you have. Single element drogues can chew up sea room pretty fast and even the series can use up some serious distance.

Bottom line - I would suggest to the OP he is NOT looking for one magic tactic which he always turns to in severe conditions, but rather build a tool kit of multiple techniques (from fore-reaching to heaving to, to running bare poles, to drogues and warps and para-anchors if the crew can handle them) and know when and in what situations to use each.

Finally, just a reminder that more than 50kts sustained for long periods (more than a frontal squall line) is really quite low frequency, if you are doing any sort of decent weather routing.

Very good points. I’d also add that you should pick a strategy and stick to it once you go past sailing and into survival mode. Multiple techniques are fine, as long as the transitions are relatively simple. 50+ knots is not the time to decide or to have planned to switch from running with a drogue to sitting to a sea anchor.
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Old 16-11-2019, 03:31   #9
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Re: Heavy weather sailing, your strategy?

Here is my story. About 150 nm off the coast of N. California we encountered 48 h of 40-50 kt winds and breaking seas in the 25-30 ft range.

We had (and still have) a Jordan series droque on board but did not deploy it because we were not concerned at any time that the boat was uncontrollable.

We kept the main up with a very deep 3rd reef. This seemed to help us keep the boat heading downwind, even when surfing down the fronts of the very large waves. We hand steered for some of this and sometimes relied on the Hydrovane which seemed to steer as well as we could once we decided to trust it.

Waves broke on the cabin top and into the cockpit. On one occasion, the cockpit was full to the top of the coamings and all of our cockpit cushions floated away. A crew member was thrown from the aft port end of the cockpit to the starboard front. Fortunately he was tethered, remained on board and was not injured.

But the breaking waves did manage to find their way into the cabin through the dorades. Despite good intentions to plug those prior to departure, I didn't get that job done. There was enough sea water coming in through the dorades that it filled the sink in the head (which was not plugged). Sadly, the water hit the SSB, the pactor modem, the VHF and the small flat screen TV. Ten years later these things still show "green" despite lots of cleaning with WD40. There is a photo in my gallery showing our boat after crossing the Pacific earlier this year. The dorades are plugged AND duct taped. But we didn't encounter any weather requiring this preventative measure.

I was asked by a very experienced bluewater cruiser why we didn't deploy the drogue. My answer remains, because we didn't think we needed to. At the same time, I would very much prefer to avoid that kind of weather - it builds slowly and even when the sea looks like the photos in the books of really bad weather, it didn't seem that bad, because we could control the boat. Once it was over, and we got the water out of the boat, we realized that it was actually pretty hairy, and our outcome could have been quite different if we didn't have the sail up, and could not control the boat. We were going just the right speed to avoid being pitch-poled and had enough momentum to climb up the next wave. Or at least that is my theory - maybe we were just really lucky.

We also realized that if anybody had gone overboard, it would not have been possible to turn the boat around to retrieve them. This encouraged us to keep on with the "tethers are mandatory when outside the cabin while offshore".
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Old 16-11-2019, 10:44   #10
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Re: Heavy weather sailing, your strategy?

I bought into the Pardey's recommendations one hundred percent. Read their book, attended a lecture they gave at the Annapolis boat show, bought a second-hand Para-Tech sea anchor, invested in hundreds of yards of suitable line, swivel snap-shackle etc etc.

But the most important thing I did was practice. I made the crew who were joining me for an early-season trans-Atlantic practice and practice; reefing, heaving-to and setting the Para-Tech until they could do it in their sleep. We practiced in lively sea conditions.

When the night came (this sh*t always happens in the dark!) and we had to do it for real, everything went well.

I can't tell you what the wind speed was when I decided it was time to heave-to and deploy the Para Tech, because by this time our masthead anemometer had been blown away. But it was blowing hard and waves were breaking over us.

The hardest part of the procedure was the one thing I hadn't foreseen and therefore we hadn't practiced, and that was properly securing the furled jib so there would be zero chance of it opening once we had the storm jib up.

As soon as were were hove to, rudder locked, Para Tech 100m out and properly adjusted, things felt so much better I assumed the wind had died down. It hadn't.

Below decks was under control. We ate, got dry and managed to sleep.

No cleats got ripped out. There was no damage to the rudder. There was serious chafing on the line running from the bow to the Para Tech because I'd forgotten the Pardeys instruction to adjust this regularly.

We lay to like this for something just under 24 hours. All this was on a 43 foot monohull, I'm not familiar with the behaviour of a catamaran in similar circumstances.

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Old 16-11-2019, 11:50   #11
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Re: Heavy weather sailing, your strategy?

I don't believe in the idea of a 'best' stratgy. What works for one boat and crew may not work for others or even for a different sea state. A confused cross sea or wond over current may need a different statagy. You need to sort out what works for you and that only comes with experience. I remember reading Larry Pardy on storm tacktics and being most impressed not by his statagy but by the fact that he could sit comfortably on the deck of a small boat in huge seas and whatch how things work. That shows imense experience and confidence!
Not a cat sailor but my understanding is that the critical factor is how much grip the hull has on the sea. A light displacement shallow hulled cat can apparently skid sideways accross the surface and so get out of the way of large waves. A heavy hull with lots of grip can burry the lea hull and trip over it. These two would require very different stratagies in survival conditions.
Remember that what counts is wave face angle and crest stability. I have seen waves of 60ft plus in 50kns plus that presented few problems because they were long period stable waves in deep ocean and all from the same direction. At the other extream I have been in near survival condition in 35kn with 15ft waves in a coastal tide race becuse the faces wher so steep the boat was out of control surfing down the wave fronts and in danger of broaching. No sea room precluded stratagies like hoving too.
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Old 16-11-2019, 15:20   #12
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Re: Heavy weather sailing, your strategy?

Great thread.
I’m interested In the heaving to, and anyone’s experience doing this on a cat. Can you heave to without he use of a para anchor etc ?
Also I’m not sure about a reefed main rather than a significantly furled storm jib. Seems it would be close to impossible to fully pull down the main going down wind. We never sail our cat down wind in heavy conditions with a main up.
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Old 16-11-2019, 15:35   #13
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Re: Heavy weather sailing, your strategy?

By regulation storm jibs must be hanked on or have webbing straps secured as hanks if in a luff groove. So no furling a true storm jib.

But if you’re not subject to regulation than furling is probably fine and you avoid El Ping’s dilemma about which storm jib to use.

The Outremer reefing guide indicates ultimate sail plan 50+ knots is triple reefed main and downwind only. Not sure if that’s reasonable in a storm going well past 50 knots. We’re investigating an inner forestay and true storm jib, as our third reef is still 31m^2 and about twice as large as a trysail for our boat. Of course if going downwind bare poles or a few square metres of jib would be plenty.
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Old 16-11-2019, 17:09   #14
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Re: Heavy weather sailing, your strategy?

My Strategy is I DON'T
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Old 16-11-2019, 18:18   #15
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Re: Heavy weather sailing, your strategy?

Our reefing guide says 45+ kts third reef OR furled jib. For ease of handling & safety we stick to the jib. Interesting regulation says otherwise.
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