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Old 24-07-2012, 16:33   #1
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Sailing between the Swells..

After learning so much from the Slatting Main thread, i thought I would use you guys to solve an old mystery for me:
During my offshore class many moons ago we were in the Gulf Stream sailing from Miami to Bimini. There was a strong Northerner which caused an increabily steep swell coming from the North and running into the Gulf Stream current. We were in a 50 ft sloop that was getting thrown around like a toy in the bathtub. We were trying everything- sailing just before the swells, sailing on top of the swells, getting clobbered by the swells- and none of it was making things anymore pleasant. Our Captain and Instructior- who had set our course and had retired to go to sleep, finally got knocked off his berth by a swell crashing into our rear quarter. Muttering a long line of curses, he slowly made his way to the cockpit. Then with "Don't you guys know how to sail!!" (we were all experienced sailors) he booted the current student off the helm and took control.
Immediately we stopped yawning, the motion became calm and relaxed. The swells were still all around us, we were somehow weaving between them. "So what's so hard about that!" he retorted, and "do you think you can do that?" We all nodded our head in meek agreement. "Good because I have some sleep to catch up on!" And with that he turned the helm over to us again and retired to his cabin.
Well, we didn't do any better. It was like Merlin showing a bunch of boys how to spin Gold. And I still don't know how he did it- but he did it and I would like to know how. He sailed 90 degrees from steep swells and managed to miss them consistently. Any idea guys?
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Old 24-07-2012, 17:08   #2
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Re: Sailing between the Swells..

When I was about 10yrs old, (57yrs ago), I hung around an excavation company's yard.
The owner had come to Bermuda in 1940 with the CeeBees to build the airfield.
I used to ride alongside him in D-9s and TD-24 bull dozers when he was leveling undulating ground for school playing fields.
He would close his eyes, admonishing me to not let him run into anything, and would gently adjust the blade height by the levers as we travelled along.
In 2 or three passes the ground was flat and level.
He used to say you have to feel the machine in your body, and be part of it.
I often think of him when sailing in confused seas, and if in clear water, close my eyes and try to feel the rythem of the boat.
Not always successful , some just have the touch I guess.
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Old 24-07-2012, 17:55   #3
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Re: Sailing between the Swells..

Interesting topic Newt. I'm curious to see the responses. Don't know if it would be considered the same type of situation but, when I'm faced with a BIG wake from some yacht powering by I try to position my boat so it takes the the wake on the starboard or port aft quarter.
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Old 24-07-2012, 18:11   #4
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Re: Sailing between the Swells..

I always give a bad look to the first mate when I am trying to sleep some while she will ;-) bang our boat into every single wave.

Then I take over and I think I can do better only to find I cannot.

Perhaps there are some people who drive better but I am yet to meet them.

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Old 24-07-2012, 18:14   #5
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Re: Sailing between the Swells..

The skill he demonstrated is something you can learn. Easier to learn in an aft-cockpit boat than a center-cockpit boat. A shame he didn't take the time to explain it.

You want to run at the speed of the swell, if possible. (Easier to do with more waterline, harder to do with less, unless the boat is light enough to surf.) The best place to begin this is at the bottom of an overtaking swell. Begin paying attention to the vertical gain of the transom. When the transom begins to rise, steer down. When the transom begins to fall, steer up.

I've taught people to do this by closing their eyes and just steering according to the feel of being lifted and falling.
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Old 24-07-2012, 18:27   #6
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Re: Sailing between the Swells..

well.... initially i thought that what you experineced weren't just swells (with wind against the current you should have had steep confused wind chop) but assuming it was just large swell, sailing diagonally, cresting each swell just slightly off from swell centerline (15-20 degrees?) should give a reasonable ride. I love that kind of sailing. as noted above use your "feel' senses....
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Old 24-07-2012, 19:20   #7
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Re: Sailing between the Swells..

anticipation old boy,a bit like defensive driving in a car.

it is something that you learn after many many miles of hand steering,without having to look at the compass constantly to keep on course.

something you will never learn using an auto pilot....
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Old 24-07-2012, 19:37   #8
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Re: Sailing between the Swells..

Now we are getting somewhere. The swells were not real big, just steep on the south side. (In fact they were so steep you could reach out and touch them from the cockpit- the only time in my career that I have seen this) He could keep up with his boat, which was fast. When the transom started running into the swell on the port, you steer into the swell on the starboard, and visa versa. Yeah I think I have it. Now just to try in in the wild...
Thanks BTW. I knew you guys had the secret.
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Old 24-07-2012, 19:45   #9
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Re: Sailing between the Swells..

I don't know if this is the same thing or not, but I was taught a little 'trick' that I forget the name of. Something like "steering by the mast".

Kinda hard to explain....When the boat is rockin & rolling, you steer in the same direction the boat is leaning, as opposed to counter steering. If the boat is rolling to starboard, you steer the boat to starboard. This goes against most principals and intuition, but it works.

Maybe someone else can explain it better.
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Old 24-07-2012, 19:47   #10
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Re: Sailing between the Swells..

Quote:
Originally Posted by s/v Beth View Post
After learning so much from the Slatting Main thread, i thought I would use you guys to solve an old mystery for me:
During my offshore class many moons ago we were in the Gulf Stream sailing from Miami to Bimini. There was a strong Northerner which caused an increabily steep swell coming from the North and running into the Gulf Stream current. We were in a 50 ft sloop that was getting thrown around like a toy in the bathtub. We were trying everything- sailing just before the swells, sailing on top of the swells, getting clobbered by the swells- and none of it was making things anymore pleasant. Our Captain and Instructior- who had set our course and had retired to go to sleep, finally got knocked off his berth by a swell crashing into our rear quarter. Muttering a long line of curses, he slowly made his way to the cockpit. Then with "Don't you guys know how to sail!!" (we were all experienced sailors) he booted the current student off the helm and took control.
Immediately we stopped yawning, the motion became calm and relaxed. The swells were still all around us, we were somehow weaving between them. "So what's so hard about that!" he retorted, and "do you think you can do that?" We all nodded our head in meek agreement. "Good because I have some sleep to catch up on!" And with that he turned the helm over to us again and retired to his cabin.
Well, we didn't do any better. It was like Merlin showing a bunch of boys how to spin Gold. And I still don't know how he did it- but he did it and I would like to know how. He sailed 90 degrees from steep swells and managed to miss them consistently. Any idea guys?

I'm thinking they were far enough apart that he could point into the swells at (perhaps) 45 degrees, sail down the waves, sail east between the swells, and then turn into the next swell.

People who sail that part of the Atlantic know to try to avoid being in the Gulf Stream if there's any point of strong north wind (north, north east, north west, etc.)

I expect to be crewing on someone's boat in the gulf stream traveling north in the near future. We have already agreed to go in and either use the ICW (lots of bridges) or to pull into some interesting town and go sightseeing until the wind direction changes. We aren't interested in dealing with that on a 30' boat.
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Old 24-07-2012, 20:23   #11
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Re: Sailing between the Swells..

What was your point of sail? Upwind and downwind are different approaches. Upwind you can see the waves coming at you. Broad reaching you have to anticipate them as they lift you up.

Bash's explanation is good. Make sure you pay attention to your genoa to prevent a gybe.

You do not want to get caught beam on at the top of a wave; you are inviting a slam.
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Old 24-07-2012, 20:28   #12
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Re: Sailing between the Swells..

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Originally Posted by jackdale View Post
What was your point of sail? Upwind and downwind are different approaches. Upwind you can see the waves coming at you. Broad reaching you have to anticipate them as they lift you up.

Bash's explanation is good. Make sure you pay attention to your genoa to prevent a gybe.

You do not want to get caught beam on at the top of a wave; you are inviting a slam.

With the wind from the north and traveling east ... It would most likely vary between northeast close hauled (into the waves) and east (broad reach) across the top or between the waves. Have to wonder what the wind would do between those waves and if the captain really sailed "between" the swells.
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Old 24-07-2012, 20:46   #13
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Re: Sailing between the Swells..

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bash View Post
The skill he demonstrated is something you can learn. Easier to learn in an aft-cockpit boat than a center-cockpit boat. A shame he didn't take the time to explain it.

You want to run at the speed of the swell, if possible. (Easier to do with more waterline, harder to do with less, unless the boat is light enough to surf.) The best place to begin this is at the bottom of an overtaking swell. Begin paying attention to the vertical gain of the transom. When the transom begins to rise, steer down. When the transom begins to fall, steer up.

I've taught people to do this by closing their eyes and just steering according to the feel of being lifted and falling.
Good explanation. After miles at sea you can feel the stern just starting to lift and if you catch it just right, almost anticipating the wave, can get in an easy groove. Let your attention drift and let the wave catch up with you and you end up spinning the wheel to stay on track.

When you get the feel there is a rhythm to it that is very Zen like.

I love it.

But after days at sea I do reach a point where I'm happy to let the AP have some fun.
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Old 25-07-2012, 02:26   #14
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Re: Sailing between the Swells..

From what you are describing it sounds like you need to steer to "connect" the swells.

Bash described it very well and it is standard practice for racers - it doesn just provide a more comfortable ride it also dramtically increase overall boat speed in these conditions even if you arent surfing.

If the period of the sweels is long enough you should be able to develop a rhythm and if viewed from overhead your track would look like a sine wave. You want to slightly anticipate the swell as it lifts your stern and begin to point closer to perpindicular to the swell face (depending on its angle relative to your point of sail and tack) and as it passes the boat and your stern drops anticipate and begin to turn to increase your angle relative to the wave.

Example:
Boat is on starboard tack on broad reach to make its course

As swell approaches begin heading down just before swell starts to lift the hull (when you do this depends on the turning rate of your boat, a light boat you want to barely begin before the stern lifts, heavy displacment earlier) - the idea beaing you dont wat to initiate the turn down after the stern is already lifted.

As the swell passes the boat head up to ease the motion

Repeat.

How much you head up and down depends on the boat, swell, and also the course you want to end up making.

Just remember it is really only a series of connected S turns made with the correct timing. The most common mistkae when "connecting" sweels - is to oversteer!
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Old 25-07-2012, 02:41   #15
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Re: Sailing between the Swells..

Additionally:

You can do similar upwind. But in reverse.

Example:
You are sailing close hauled.

As the swell approaches and lifts your bow you point closer to the wind and closer to perpindicular to the swelland as it passes under point back down to your course.

Anticipation and rhythm are important just like downwind. You are essentially doing a series of S turns here as well - though usually much smaller movements

There are some key differences though when dealing with swells large enough to shadow wind or swells close enough together that you cant steer them.
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