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Heavy weather sailing

20 June 2006
I really enjoyed reading through your website. My major concern is heavy weather. My wife and I are looking at sailing away, but we are concerned about encountering and coping with haevy weather. We have a 41ft steel yacht, which has an excellent pedigree. What are your thoughts?

I'm glad you enjoyed my website.

Many years ago when talking with a fellow who had just had a difficult single-handed sail to St. Martin in the Caribbean plagued by tropical wave after tropical wave, I mentioned that although I knew we had had a few rough weather trips, I couldn't really remember them very well. He responded that he, too, didn't really remember many details of the rough passages, and speculated that the next good sail drove out memories of the less-than-good ones.

I thought that I would first review some of my own stories about heavy weather to jog my memory. Here are a few links that you might not have read.

http://www.cruiser.co.za/hostmelon51.asp - Solomon Islands to Vanuatu.
http://www.cruiser.co.za/hostmelon16.asp - Sailing to Australia, first paragraph
http://www.cruiser.co.za/hostmelon22.asp - Kota Kinabalu to Singapore

I also notice that some of our bad weather experiences are not in my logs on our web site. Probably because they were of too short duration to have been noted, and perhaps also because none of the bad weather we experienced caused us more than a little discomfort. I can't remember ever feeling that we were in danger.

With a well-found, neatly kept seaworthy vessel, heavy weather is something to get through, but not something that should terrorize you. In general, I would say that the best anxiety reducer is experience. Some of the best "heavy weather" experience is probably the Caribbean, where the boisterous trade winds gives you lots of practice in reefing sails and cooking while underway in less than ideal conditions. It also has the advantage of short distances between islands, so you should never have to suffer for more than a day if you don't want to.

Read: "Adlard Coles' HEAVY WEATHER SAILING" by Peter Bruce (link to it on Amazon.com, http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0713668679/sr=8-2/qid=1146161204/ref=pd_bbs_2/002-0173244-5604815?%5Fencoding=UTF8 ) I haven't read Peter Bruce's revision to this classic, but found the original to be most helpful. See also the selection at Cruising Books

Some people recommend Lin and Larry Pardey's "Storm Tactics Handbook", but I'm not a fan of their suggestions, perhaps because their boat has so little in common with our larger, lighter, fin-keeled boat.

I think that you should practice storm tactics before you take off and lose sight of land. Reefing sails, heaving to, setting up storm sails, planning routes, listening to weather reports and making predictions of how it's going to affect you; these should all be considered and practiced before you really need them. And a day in strong winds and choppy seas is a good way to test your skills and perceptions of weather and discomfort.

Play "what if", with yourselves, and with what you read about in the various magazines and on line.

You'll be okay, you just need some experience and conifidence in yourselves. Read the stories of Fastnet '79. Read "Rescue in the Pacific", and pay close attention to the fact that in both those meteorological "bombs", unusual and pretty terrible weather, the sailboats came through, even the ones that were abandoned (with only one or two exceptions).

Fair winds,
Vessel Make/Model: Jeanneau Sun Fizz
Hailing Port: THE TROPICS
About: Jeanne and Peter Pockel - Cruising in the Tropics
Extra: We left Boston in 1986 to go cruising for a few years. Sixteen years later we are still "cruising for a few years".
Home Page: http://www.sailblogs.com/member/melon/?xjMsgID=3624
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