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Old 03-04-2021, 11:11   #1
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Question Sailing questions from a novelist

Hello all. I'm writing a story in which a crew is sailing from Bermuda to the Azores (on a Hallberg-Rassy 44), but midway through their journey they encounter a severe storm which damages their sailboat.

My big question is this: What kind of storm damage might occur which would render a sailboat inoperable, say, unable to sail and also unable to motor, basically leaving it adrift in the Atlantic?

I've read of "death rolls" and masts being broken, but would the damage need to be that extreme to leave it stranded?

Also (and please correct me if I'm wrong), a well-built sailboat can capsize and get rolled by a wave but not sink, as long as it's companionway washboards are in place, and it's essentially watertight...true?

Thanks in advance for your help.
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Old 03-04-2021, 11:29   #2
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Re: Sailing questions from a novelist

Yes, a strong sailboat can get rolled and survive, many have though they lose all or part of their mast necessitating a jury rig to get somewhere for repairs.. however this will rarely incapacitate the engine unless some of the rigging entangle the prop.. also some water will get in but not enough to sink her.
One scenario could be losing the mast in a roll and due to poor fuel tank maintaince or bad fuel could clog all the filters and any spares after being fitted..
Loss of the rudder is also another reason boats are abandoned though there are techniques to regain some control under sail but under engine more dubious.
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Old 03-04-2021, 11:31   #3
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Re: Sailing questions from a novelist

Rudder damage/loss would be a good type for total loss of ability to move well.
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Old 03-04-2021, 11:48   #4
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Re: Sailing questions from a novelist

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Loss of the rudder is also another reason boats are abandoned though there are techniques to regain some control under sail but under engine more dubious.
Thanks for all that info! If the sailboat has twin rudders, do you think both could be damaged in a storm? (And by what--weight of crashing waves, perhaps? Or an underwater collision with the broken mast?)
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Old 03-04-2021, 11:50   #5
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Re: Sailing questions from a novelist

A knockdown with dismasting really ruins your day. If the mast is damaged in a bad way and hitting against the hull during the storm, the text-book answer is to cut it lose with the always-ready heavy bolt-cutters or the steel saw.

Once the storm is over, no more mast and sails. If the crew manages to save the boom or spinacker pole, they might jury rigg something for a little.

I strongly advise you to watch this series by Yachting Monthly for inspiration, specially the episde about jury rigging:
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?lis...pBt6sjD6XMdY7a
The episode about holes in the hull is also interesting and the one about gas-leaks is nightmare-material.

About the engine, you can be as sadistic as you want from fouled diesel-filters over seawater in the diesel to submerged and dead batteries. Also, the engine won't get you across the atlantic anyway, you want to save it to recharge the batteries to keep the pumps and navigation going.
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Old 03-04-2021, 11:51   #6
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Re: Sailing questions from a novelist

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Rudder damage/loss would be a good type for total loss of ability to move well.
Makes sense. That would render the steering wheel useless, right?
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Old 03-04-2021, 11:52   #7
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Re: Sailing questions from a novelist

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A knockdown with dismasting really ruins your day. If the mast is damaged in a bad way and hitting against the hull during the storm, the text-book answer is to cut it lose with the always-ready heavy bolt-cutters or the steel saw.

Once the storm is over, no more mast and sails. If the crew manages to save the boom or spinacker pole, they might jury rigg something for a little.

I strongly advise you to watch this series by yachting Monthly for inspiration, specially the episde about jury rigging:
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?lis...pBt6sjD6XMdY7a
The Episode about holes in the hull is also interesting and the one about gas-leaks is nightmare-material.


About the engine, you can be as sadistic as you want from fouled diesel-filters over seawater in the diesel to submerged and dead batteries. Also, the engine won't get you across the atlantic anyway, you want to save it to recharge the battery to keep the pumps going.
This is excellent stuff. Thank you, and thanks for the youtube link. I'll check it out.
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Old 03-04-2021, 11:53   #8
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Re: Sailing questions from a novelist

Is it the HR44 with the twin rudders? Jammed, broken or lost rudders could render a boat adrift for a while. Seems like the most likely scenario, but it is possible to sail without a rudder, though directions are pretty limited. Now if you can work it out that the mast is gone and the rudders damaged, that would do it. Maybe the boat slid back on the face of a breaking wave damaging the rudders and then rolled causing a dismasting?
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Old 03-04-2021, 12:02   #9
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Re: Sailing questions from a novelist

Don, the HR44 has twin rudders, the HR43 didn't. Now how the other rudder will work in case one is bent into a pretzel by hitting a submerged object and blocking movement is another question. Seems someone will spend some time in the lazarette figuring out how to uncouple the rudders and wonder whether it wouldn't be better to destructively disassemble the pretzelised rudder.

The submerged object can also take care of the propeller and bend the prop-shaft a little solving the issue with the engine. The HR44 doesn't seem to have a saildrive.

You don't even need a storm for that, a floating container will be enough during a night of briskly sailing.
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Old 03-04-2021, 12:41   #10
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Re: Sailing questions from a novelist

Read the Novel “Ship Killer” by Justin Scott.

It has every possible sailboat emergency I can think of.
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Old 03-04-2021, 12:53   #11
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Re: Sailing questions from a novelist

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Thanks for all that info! If the sailboat has twin rudders, do you think both could be damaged in a storm? (And by what--weight of crashing waves, perhaps? Or an underwater collision with the broken mast?)
Just a side note, there have been reports of killer whales attacking and disabling rudders for unknown reasons. I believe they don't like the noise some make under the water but there are lots of opinions out there.

You might be able to have the whales attacking the rudders after the rudders and rigging were damaged in a roll over, the damaged rudders might now create the sound that pisses off the whales.
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Old 04-04-2021, 06:17   #12
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Re: Sailing questions from a novelist

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Originally Posted by boatman61 View Post
Yes, a strong sailboat can get rolled and survive, many have though they lose all or part of their mast necessitating a jury rig to get somewhere for repairs.. however this will rarely incapacitate the engine unless some of the rigging entangle the prop.. also some water will get in but not enough to sink her.
One scenario could be losing the mast in a roll and due to poor fuel tank maintaince or bad fuel could clog all the filters and any spares after being fitted..
Loss of the rudder is also another reason boats are abandoned though there are techniques to regain some control under sail but under engine more dubious.
I'm with Boatie. +1

Oftentimes, bad weather stirs up all the crud at the bottom of fuel tanks and (if the engine is diesel especially) bad fuel is a simple diesel engine problem arising that is hard to correct at sea.

If you had the boat partially dismasted and the full rig cut away before the hull were holed...with maybe a spin pole and some remaining sails (which had been stored below so they could eventually jury-rig) and resultant dirty fuel so engine couldn't be restarted... plus the rudder damage as part of the damage...

Although, boats can be steered rudderless using sail(s). I would venture to say that the majority of sailors don't know how to steer by sails alone. (It's part of Yachtmaster training, which is on the level of survival-at-sea types of scenarios, so essentially taught as part of captain-level tuition.)

Good luck with your passage-plotting!
LittleWing77

Good movie resources:

Shailene Woodley's Adrift
https://m.imdb.com/title/tt6306064/?ref_=m_nmfmd_act_9

Robert Redford's All is Lost
https://m.imdb.com/title/tt2017038/?ref_=m_nmfmd_act_16

Adrift, especially, would be useful to you specifically as the movie is based on Tami Oldham's true experience. The boat was rolled, she cut away the rig before the hull was holed, interior cabin was awash, so no electrics and no engine (remember - ocean is saltwater). She set up a jury rig with the boom or spinnaker pole and was able to sail in (mostly) one direction.

Also note that she was below when the boat rolled, and sustained a severe head injury and with blood loss, concussion-related symptoms and severe dehydration...
[How macabre!]

P.P.S. Also re Bermuda to Azores... pay attention to what season they're doing that trip - as it's sort of backwards sailing. Most boats sail downwind FROM Azores to Eastern Seaboard somewhere...
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Old 04-04-2021, 06:38   #13
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Re: Sailing questions from a novelist

Perhaps a plug for Jimmy Cornell's "World Cruising Routes" is in order.

It documents the routes that cruising sailors use, from where, to where, and what time of year.

If your characters are in Bermuda and want to get to Europe, it will list the possible routes. (And as you said, Azores isn't one of them.)
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Old 04-04-2021, 07:34   #14
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pirate Re: Sailing questions from a novelist

That's funny.. When I sailed NC to UK I went over the top of Bermuda to the Azores then NE to the UK.
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Old 04-04-2021, 08:10   #15
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Re: Sailing questions from a novelist

taking the scenario in which there is either mast or rudder damage, and then, on top of this, when they try to start the engine (say, even if to try to recharge the batteries) and find that the sludge in the fuel tanks got all kicked up, they will probably spend quite a while in rolling seas trying to sort the engine.

it only happened once to me so others can chime in with more material, but the engine sputters and dies (doesn't cut of just like that or with a click) as guck clogs up the fuel filters (two usually). and these fuel filters are usually dismantled and changed (so your crew needs to find their spares). and once this is done (it takes a little while), one or two of them will be down there (very uncomfortable, with not a lot of air, in a cramped engine space) letting air bubbles out of the fuel lines (called 'bleeding' the engine).

lots can go wrong with the engine, this is usually the most common situation (as far as i know).

guys?

as far as masts go, there are masts (deck-stepped masts) that actually sit right on the top of the boat (on the cabin top) and are held in place by those wires that go down on each side (shrouds). those wires can be very dangerous as they come down and swing around with the weight of the mast. someone could get very hurt, thrown overboard, lose a member, or killed.

if the seas are up, most will not try to recuperate a heavy, dragging mast that has fallen overboard, sometimes the shrouds must be cut quickly so to regain control of the boat. i've only seen one boat dismasted in the real: a deck-stepped kind that went overboard very quickly and thereafter recuperated

correct me if i'm wrong guys...

in other boats, older ones (you'll need to come back to us with the kind/type of sailboat you are featuring, what fun!), you may have a mast that goes down through the boat into its keel. this is a keel-stepped mast. from what i've read, these are less likely to get ripped off the boat in a roll, but they may cause damage to the cabin top with the force of the roll. you'll need to look into it, but i imagine that, if this were the case, water would be coming in around the mast as waves crashed over the decks. could make for a hectic-in-here scene.

all very exciting, of course!

and just a thought: sailors love to read stories about ships and boats and adventures and storms, but, please know, for us, authenticity is fundamental. it is a total turn-off for us when the info is wrong, when it doesn't happen that way.

for this reason, i suggest that you ask a seasoned and knowledgeable sailor (lots here on CF!) to look over your transcript and make the needed changes.


hope this helps

wolfie
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