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Old 22-05-2008, 17:11   #1
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What should we have done?

I figure this forum represents thousands of days at sea in all conditions. Con permisso I would like to tap into this vast resource to help settle my mind on an experience a couple of years ago. I'm going to try and lay out all the relevant facts so either bear with me or come back later to see the responses.

People:
Me - captain - USCG 6 pack - late 50's - primarily day/coastal sailing 14 years - continuose overnight trips to 250 miles and about 100 miles offshore - consider myself an intermediate skill sailor
Mate - early 50's - limited sailing experience - primarily day sails

Boat:
Cabo Rico 38 Cutter Rig
5 foot draft
23,000 lbs displacement
Full batten main - 2 reefs
Staysail - one reef
110 Yankee - roller furled

Location: West coast of Florida around Sarasota

OK, here's the story. We'd left Key West the day before heading for Venice for an overnight stay before finishing in Tarpon Springs. Weather forecast was for light and variable winds all the way for the next several days.

After a day and night of motoring on glassy seas dawn found us about 6-7 miles off of Sarasota. Sail covers were off, we had jackline rigged, and as per my SOP we were both wearing an inflatable PFD with tethers for the night. Water depths, if I recall were around 20-30 feet. Just about dawn we started to pick up local weather on the VHF and we caught the word "severe". A very short time later there was enough light to see the blackest wall of weather it has ever been my misfortune to see - dead ahead.

I turned to head back south but in a few minutes we went from dead calm to 30 knots. Thirty quickly grew to 40 - 45 with long gusty periods of around 50-55 knots. In the shallow water the seas quickly developed a nasty, steep chop. For the next two and half hours I motored, trying to keep our bow into the wind. Wind direction kept changing, the noise was terrible (damn AirMarine wind generator). Later when I looked at the GPS track we were doing circles within circles. Even trying as hard as I could to keep into the wind, the rails were rolling regularly into the water.

I was about as close to being scared shitless as I've ever been.

Now, gentle ladies and gentlemen my question:

What else could we have done? Is it possible to heave to in conditions like this? What could/should I have done if the engine died? Would I have been safe lying ahull?

I don't think I did anything wrong in the planning but please don't worry about hurting my feelings. This has been a thorn in my brain for the last couple of years - wondering what I SHOULD HAVE DONE?

Thank you for your patience in reading all this - I hope that others will find the responses as interesting as I anticipate.
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Old 22-05-2008, 17:17   #2
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Congratulations. You stayed off the lee shore. Didn't injure or kill any of the crew. Kept the boat intact and sailing. Are able to talk about the experience.

My approach would have been similar except I would have headed further offshore and would have been monitoring the weather more regularly. Given the area and the frequency of this type of weather activity, I may have also rigged the stormsails. Your boat is one of those that loves this type of weather so you did good.
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Old 22-05-2008, 17:31   #3
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Since you didn't have to claw off a lee shore, you might have had a more comfortable ride if you were sailing under deeply reefed sails instead of motoring.

Paul L
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Old 22-05-2008, 17:32   #4
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IMHO what you did was good. Other options would have been to set a storm jib forereach but with shifting winds that would have been difficult or to run off. With the sifting winds I think you made a good choice. The only thing that I can think of that worries me is the lee shore. Goping in a circle you would have been headed to a lee shore at some time.
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Old 22-05-2008, 17:38   #5
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Thank you for the fast replies.

I might point out that "lee shore" was changing minute by minute,

I'm sure the term "more comfortable" is relative - lol but the shallow water left me with a confused, steep chop and I question my ability to even raise a double reef main with my lady so new - there's no way the autopilot would have handled it.

Nevertheless, this is exactly the type of input I was hoping for, I'm grateful.

Rich
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Old 22-05-2008, 17:45   #6
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Yea, I used the 'more comfortable' phrase to make a point. I believe it actually would have been more comfortable on board --- still uncomfortable, but a better feeling of control. These are the type of situations where engines love to die. Dirt in the fuel from a wild toss-and-shake, air lock in the cooling side from a bounce into mid-air, ana, ana, ana..... Then you would have been in an uglier situation or, as I might say, less comfortable.

You had some time before the storm to set a double-reefed main or your staysail. I would prefer this condition than motoring. If you were being blown onto a lee shore, and needed the motor to make distance to windward, I'd still want to have some sails set to assist and to deal with engine failure.

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Old 22-05-2008, 18:03   #7
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Good point Paul,

In retrospect, I probably did have enough time to raise some kind of sail. The visions of knockdowns probably kept me from doing it. Plus, as I said, my lady was for all intents not there, I was faced basically with single handing and still feeling responsible for her safety as well as my own.
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Old 22-05-2008, 18:15   #8
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Ya must've done something right. You're here posting about it and the boat stayed upright and feet wet. Having the reefed staysail would've dampened the rolling some and made for a more comfortable ride IMHO.
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Old 22-05-2008, 18:37   #9
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Originally Posted by cabo_sailor View Post
Good point Paul,

In retrospect, I probably did have enough time to raise some kind of sail. The visions of knockdowns probably kept me from doing it. Plus, as I said, my lady was for all intents not there, I was faced basically with single handing and still feeling responsible for her safety as well as my own.
Cabo,
Don't get me wrong. As others have said, all went reasonably well. You asked for comments and have obviously been second guessing yourself a little. Even in an essentially single-handed situation, I think you'd be more comfortable with some sail up. Making you and your non-participating crew more comfortable. Knock downs don't come from doubly reefed mains or small staysails. They come from being over canvased or from breaking waves. Your boat is more stable with the appropriate amount of canvas up.

Paul L
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Old 22-05-2008, 18:55   #10
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Thanks guys,

I've been out in 30 knots with a reefed main and quite comfy. What was bothering me is that the wind direction kept changing. I didn't see how I could keep anything trimmed. I guess what your suggesting is that I use either the staysail or reefed main trimmed in tight and leave it that way until the storm passes.

I'm going to have to close for the night - comp is running out of battery and I still have one more month of having to go to an office.

Rich
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Old 22-05-2008, 19:07   #11
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For the life of me I can't think of the term but I would have wanted to do is set the storm stays'l and then to leave it sheeted in tight and then to tack and not release the sheet. This coupled with the tiller pulled to the windward side would have given you a little bit of forward momentum and a 40 degree or so angle to the wind. Usually with the waves coming out of the same direction you get some relife from the waves but with the wind clocking around I don't think it would work right.

I feel that a little bit of sail would have stablized the boat. Last Week while bringing the boat down from Astoria OR to SF we had 15 to 25 from the stern. The sailing was good but the waves were very confused. When the wind died to 5 to 10 we were left with very confused seas and trying to sail in those conditions would have been difficult at best. We ended up putting the main up to stabilize the boat. The entire main flopped around too much so I put in a double reef and the ride while motoring was alot more comfortable.
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Old 22-05-2008, 20:17   #12
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I believe if it were me that i would have rolled out a little of the Yankee and reached back and forth under reduced sail. You could have done that without getting out of the cockpit and the reach would have been much more comfortable. you took a beating in the short chop because you were powering into it. Thats the wrong direction, and you needed too much power to maintain steerageway. I cringe when I think of what you were going through, and wish I could have given you some advice then. A little bit of that yankee would have made all the difference and gybing to change reaches would have been relatively easy.

Good luck in the future.

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Old 22-05-2008, 20:47   #13
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would've heaved too under backed Stay'sl and seen how she rode, she would have probably maintained aspect to wind as it veered or sheered
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Old 23-05-2008, 05:48   #14
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Hi Cabo,

I'm not sure if heaving-to would have given you a better result. Although, heaving to under reefed, backed staysail and double reefed main may have worked just fine. So much depends on the vessel. At the point of heaving to in storm conditions, you'd probably already have a Storm jib and a Tri-sail set.

In similar conditions, on the Chesapeake with a squall quickly approaching, we set a double reef main, started the engine, closed everything up, tied everything down, donned foul weather gear, life jackets, and tethered ourselves. We finished preparations and turned into the wind, just as the squall line hit us. I like the idea of having a double-reefed main set, so that in the event of engine failure, we are not left laying ahull, broadside to the wind. The engine, definitely assisted us in maintaining bow to wind consistently. Basically we pinched, the wind the whole time.
I think the idea is to use just enough power to remain head to wind.
I don't think you want to reach off, and I'd certainly want my roller furling tightly rolled and tied!

I still have the GPS track, as well, which shows the circular pattern we sailed following the wind until the storm passed. I estimate that at it's peak winds hit 70 mph. I remember the noise. In the same squall we heard a nearby boat calling in a dis-masting. The storm came in so quickly it didn't have time to build much more than a short chop.

The biggest pain, was the driving rain that came in horizontally making it difficult to see ahead.

I think you did good...you brought your ship and crew home safely!...
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Old 23-05-2008, 06:00   #15
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I would have done as Paul L suggested. Since it was obviously one of the notorious FL thunderstorms that popped up out of nowhere, it was relatively short lived, right? An hour? Two hours?

If so, shutting down the engines and running would have reduced the chop's effect on the boat. No more slamming into the chop with spray everywhere, no more loud, stressful sound of the diesel and the thought in the back of your head that it might fail, no more heaving of the hull up and down abruptly in the steep chop.

Just run with it (if there is sea room) under a foresail. Very comfortable and liveable in a situation like that. The less of a foresail you put out, the slower the boat will go and the more it will feel like fair weather sailing. When the seas aren't insane, running presents no danger and is a very comfortable way to ride it out.

And remember... you are the primary piece of equipment that is likely to fail in that situation (although you did well). If you are comfortable and feel secure, the whole ordeal will pass with less anxiety and stress.
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