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Old 03-01-2016, 20:29   #1
er9
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Which is a safer direction to head/turn when overpowered?

iv'e only been sailing for about a year and a half. i learned on 22ft catalinas and have been sailing a 30' ranger most weekends for past year. its a friends boat so most sails are social get togethers. once in a while me and friend (owner of boat) actually get to go out and practice techniques, not often enough though.

I'm mostly the one at the helm as she controls sails. we are getting pretty good at most condition under 20kt winds in protected bay. i would like to do more sailing further out in the ocean but one thing i still dont understand that effect my confidence a bit is which way is the best way to turn when you find yourself overpowered, heeling at 30deg or more in heavier winds than expected or in sudden gusts.

we know how to de-power the main and furl in the jib and we usually do, especially on social sails when its uncomfortable for guests to heel more than 20deg. but every once in a while though we get in conditions where we get hit by sudden gusts in already strongish winds and the boat heels over dramatically, past 30deg (for us 35+ degree of heel is very uncomfortable). my question is if on a close haul or when heading into wind, is it safer to suddenly turn upwind or downwind if i want to de-power the sails quickly? if sailing downwind....which is better? assuming strong winds and small (under 3ft swells) for simplicity of answer.


i usually turn upwind instinctively but i'm not sure thats correct. it definately heels way more it seems when turning into the wind as opposed to turning off the wind. i think i understand a little about broaching and i assume broaching happens when turning off the wind. even though it seems to heel less when turning off the wind i would not want to poop a sailboat by doing this.

i realize i probably could never broach her sailboat or knock it over, even if i tried in the conditions we sail in but i'm thinking further out. if i was on my own boat (which i hope to have soon) much further out, maybe single handed in much more serious conditions which is a safer tactic?
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Old 03-01-2016, 20:37   #2
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Re: Which is a safer direction to head/turn when overpowered?

turn upwind, but not much to lose steerage way.
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Old 03-01-2016, 20:39   #3
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Re: Which is a safer direction to head/turn when overpowered?

I say that in general it is easier and safer to head upwind. You will be in a better position to reef if appropriate, and less likely to broach. You will have to manage the flogging sails, as they can be damaged by too much of this.

However, if you have a boat that surfs, and/or are flying a spinnaker, then you want to turn downwind. This reduces the apparent wind, especially if your boatspeed picks up (and you can handle it).

Finally, if you are in extremely strong wind, your only practical option may be to reef as much as you can get away with and run downwind (and down-swell). It doesn't sound like these are the conditions you are asking about, but I figured I would throw that in.
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Old 03-01-2016, 20:41   #4
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Re: Which is a safer direction to head/turn when overpowered?

Pinching slightly (heading into the wind) is a good option to momentarily stabilize the boat when going up wind. However, if you find you are doing it a lot its probably time to put a reef in.

It would be worth going out and practicing pinching. Although its not as efficient as other options its a good one if you dont want to put your beer down ;-)

Of course the other option is to ease the main sheet or traveler.
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Old 03-01-2016, 21:00   #5
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Re: Which is a safer direction to head/turn when overpowered?

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I say that in general it is easier and safer to head upwind. You will be in a better position to reef if appropriate, and less likely to broach. You will have to manage the flogging sails, as they can be damaged by too much of this.

However, if you have a boat that surfs, and/or are flying a spinnaker, then you want to turn downwind. This reduces the apparent wind, especially if your boatspeed picks up (and you can handle it).

Finally, if you are in extremely strong wind, your only practical option may be to reef as much as you can get away with and run downwind (and down-swell). It doesn't sound like these are the conditions you are asking about, but I figured I would throw that in.
Actually i appreciate you putting that in. i would like to know what is better so we / i can practice so if i unfortunately get caught in severe conditions i know confidently my chosen tactic is better. no matter the conditions. i would like to do a lot of solo sailing on my own boat in the future much further out, hopefully to hawaii in the next few years and maybe, eventually a solo circumnavigation in years to come.
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Old 03-01-2016, 21:08   #6
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Re: Which is a safer direction to head/turn when overpowered?

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Pinching slightly (heading into the wind) is a good option to momentarily stabilize the boat when going up wind. However, if you find you are doing it a lot its probably time to put a reef in.

It would be worth going out and practicing pinching. Although its not as efficient as other options its a good one if you dont want to put your beer down ;-)

Of course the other option is to ease the main sheet or traveler.
lol well actually today it was a really good red wine. funny thing is i actually did have glass in hand in a sudden, very strong gust. instantly went from 15 degree to over 30 in a second or two. even funnier thing is no one spilled their drinks...one hand on the wheel i didnt actually have much choice in the direction...boat instantly went to windward as most of the crew went to leeward.
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Old 03-01-2016, 21:11   #7
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Re: Which is a safer direction to head/turn when overpowered?

Yeah, not only is it uncomfortable, but getting over-powered short handed is not good because you won't be able to manage other things, like your glass of wine! Where we sail, we call them "puffs" even when they're above 25 knots. You can often anticipate a puff by watching the other boats or seeing a darker color change on the water ahead of you, but don't head up too far or flog your sails. What you're trying to do is find that fine line where you keep power in the sails and just take the lift that the bigger wind gives you. Too much wind, however, and the boat is going to round up on you even while you struggle to hold the wheel. When that is happening (before that happens ideally), you need to reef. You talk about "depowering the main" but you don't actually refer to reefing the main....do you have reef lines set up, do you know how they work? You should also mark the halyard for each reef point so you're not guessing on how far to drop the main. You could also try flattening the sail as much as possible, but that might not be possible if your sails are old and blown. So, just reef, if you can't flatten. Have fun
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Old 04-01-2016, 00:31   #8
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Re: Which is a safer direction to head/turn when overpowered?

Nice post, Gamayun,

We've all been assuming the boat's a mono. I'm wondering whether, if it were a cat, and the sailing social, whether reefing is the best option, as in adjust the sail area to the expected puffs, not the average breeze on the forecast.

If it's a mono, then it depends on what you want to do: a social sail with "crew", or singlehanding to Hawaii. If you want the latter, and you are not racing, then obviously put a reef in and relax. You've a couple of weeks to go. If racing, you might want a different strategy.

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Old 04-01-2016, 00:38   #9
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Re: Which is a safer direction to head/turn when overpowered?

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We've all been assuming the boat's a mono.
I did assume it's a monohull: The OP mentioned sailing on two monos, and if he's heeling a cat at 30+ degrees the he probably needs more advice then we can give him here!
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Old 04-01-2016, 01:41   #10
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Re: Which is a safer direction to head/turn when overpowered?

The OP noted "strong winds, 3 foot swell to make answering easier". In those conditions, asuming you have searoom - I'd definitely turn downwind. let the boat accelerate and fall back onto my course when the gust died down. you'll lose a little leeway turning downwind, but the extra speed will usually let you make it back again.

If you are heeling too much due to a gust- you'll need to turn more into the wind than just "pinching" to stop the heeling. This means your sails will be flying and you'll lose speed. you'll also come off course and in the end probably end up having to fight your way back upwind to get back on course.

As others have noted - if you're constantly being hit by gusts that are causing excessive heel - then you need to reef.
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Old 04-01-2016, 01:48   #11
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Re: Which is a safer direction to head/turn when overpowered?

What an interesting discussion. I am surprised anyone turns upwind. There must be something to it I don't understand.

I always turn downwind if I get overpowered. If you have some way on, it's like taking one Force or even two Forces off the wind, to turn from sailing close hauled, to sailing downwind. It's like pushing the "pause" button. Heel is reduced, and usually you are no longer overpowered at all. Then you can get yourself sorted, shorten sail, etc., and head back up at your leisure. Assuming you have searoom, of course.

If you don't have searoom, or if you're really badly overpowered -- and I'm surprised no one mentioned this -- heave to. Shorten sail and then get back underway, or make a cup of tea and take a break.

Heading up increases the apparent wind and exacerbates the problem -- in my experience. As you head up, heel increases and you get more and more overpowered. If you pinch up, the sails will start to flap, and this can damage them in a blow, and flapping sails are not easy to handle.
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Old 04-01-2016, 05:38   #12
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Re: Which is a safer direction to head/turn when overpowered?

It depends. We had the situation yesterday sailing in 20-25kn, 2.5m seas with wind and waves on the beam with one reef in main and jib. Our usual approach is to loosen the jib to spill some breeze, followed by turning upwind more. We were hit by a 40kt squall for 30 mins so turned higher, took in another reef in the jib and sailed at around 30 degrees to spill the wind, take the pressure off the rig and reduce boat speed from 8 to around 3kn. This works well but one downside is you are heading into the waves rather than with them. It has another advantage of not losing ground to windward. The main advantage is we were in a position to easily reef the main and jib further without issues.
Turning downwind in that situation would mean a fairly comfortable ride, but boat speeds of 10kn plus and still apparent wind of 30kn+and no chance to furl the main without coming through with wind on the beam as well as losing miles to windward. In other situations we choose to turn downwind more, especially if flying a spinnaker as we can decrease apparent wind and drop the kite easier DDW. I'd use the same techniques in monos or cats.
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Old 04-01-2016, 06:37   #13
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Re: Which is a safer direction to head/turn when overpowered?

While I generally agree with the consensus of pinching up for the puff, Dockhead's advice has great merit too...

I think the most important factors will be:

1. "know your boat"
Depending on the responsiveness of the boat for what's happening at the moment can be a big factor... On my full keeler, it's not obvious to anybody but me that I've made a course correction up until the boat starts pinching.... Laying off is a "faster" response... Pinching up with this boat in heavy wind is an acquired skill, as it's fairly easy to head up too much... Too much being a very bad thing, as swinging through is a monkey cluster...

2. "know your conditions"
Sea state and current can change your strategy for spilling some wind...
If you've got adverse current, and/or your wave/swell is going to stall the boat too much... (or get everybody wet) falling off is usually better...

The best advice I can give is "go play"... You'll shortly become so accustomed to the "combined factors" that pinching up or laying off will be an automatic response depending on the situation...
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Old 04-01-2016, 07:24   #14
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Re: Which is a safer direction to head/turn when overpowered?

dockhead, monte, HappyMD - perfect combination of ideas . . . IMHO.


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Old 04-01-2016, 08:05   #15
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Re: Which is a safer direction to head/turn when overpowered?

When I sail a dinghy, and when there are no obstacles (wharfs, shallows, etc), then I always turn 'towards the closer line'. Meaning: I will head up when sailing courses between close reach and beam; I will bear off when sailing courses between beam and broad reach.

Now you can ask what about courses close to beam reach. Right. I bear off when we have a kite, I head up when there is no kite.

I very rough going (for survival reasons) I will often bear off in any boat that has no standing rigging (say a Laser, an Opti) but I will head up on other boats: I have been caught flying downwind in hell of a squall with no sail reducing options (the main pressed to the stays ....). This is only fun when the boat has a planning hull, in displacement boats they do tend to get less stable the faster you go, and in the above scenario you simply have no ways to slow down.

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