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27 January 2008 | Exumas, Bahamas
27 January 2008 | Exumas, Bahamas

Catamaran Storm Tactics

04 February 2016

CruisersForum has a lot of questions regarding storm tactics with Catamarans. I have to confess I asked many of the same when we first bought Ohana and went as far as purchasing a monster parachute anchor which we carried all over the Caribbean and Pacific. We never deployed it. This is my stab at answering, at least, how we did it.

The question is always "what were the worst conditions you were ever in." That answer is a four hour period between Tonga and New Zealand in 2005 where we were averaging 16 knots in some pretty big seas. The video above is from a trip to Tonga in 2010 with the aforementioned Vito onboard. It looks rough but the boat could handle that and much more. That was pretty much it. Of the tens of thousands of miles I've covered those four hours and 60 some odd miles were the most lively.

The 2005 experience? Well later on I'll discuss my philosophy of sailing "with the storm", suffice it to say we were doing just that and the wind was off our quarter where we wanted it and the seas were with us so to speak....and they were big. Reef early (that's a tip), and we had, but even with a triple reef in the main and a handkerchief of jib out we were FLYING and it was loud. The sound a big cat makes going over 10 knots is like living in a waterfall. Going 15-16 is a whole other story.

Down each wave she accelerates and it was those few moments at the bottom where I had pause. Bows please come up.........and each time they would and I would say "elevator up!" This went on for four hours or so as we ducked under the lower part of the system on our way south. That was the most tense I've been while offshore. Believe it or not the girls played quietly on the deck in the main salon and Becky looked up every now and then and asked if we were ok, amazing.

Disclaimer: The advise here is free and you get what you pay for. Take it for it is, know your boat well and be honest about your skill set. I would also equip much differently for sailing in high latitudes or off season.

The other thing I've learned is the boat can take a lot more than the crew. We were in conditions like the video for several days after leaving Opua, several large monohulls actually turned back. Ohana kept skipping along. One night Garth, who was along for his first offshore passage, wanted to go on deck and put one final reef in. My advise to him was "nothing good can happen out there." At 2am, pitch black, blowing stink better to run off a little and let the boat take care of herself.

So-Point 1, trust your boat.

Point 2-Sail on the Fronts. Cats have one distinct advantage when it comes to offshore passagemaking and that is speed. Averaging 8-10 knots or better over a 24hr period is much different than 5knts. What I found was most boats, particularly in the Bahamas, wait for the fronts to pass glued to Chris Parker then motor like crazy to the next spot (click on the link for his book, great guy!). When a low comes through the winds will clock predictably and if you pay attention you can use these strong winds, from the right direction (off the quarter, not on the nose), to fly you to your destination. The weather will likely be cold, rainy and miserable but the sail will be great and when hunkered down at the end of a long day you can bet it will be followed by a bright clear one as High Pressure fills in behind. Great for short passages, 50-100 miles.

Longer passages same deal but we would pay much closer attention. Here is where the speed advantage comes into play and staying on the leading edge of the storm. The idea being to stay in the favorable winds while NOT getting run over by the front which will result in very un-favorable winds on the other side. What happens to most monohulls on a 1000 mile passage is they get run over at least once. No way around it at 5 knots. It's in those conditions where the horror stories are born.

Point 3-I'm scratching my chin here. All that comes to mind is how important it is to know your personal limits and not put your crew or yourself in a situation you or the boat are not truly prepared to handle. That and DO NOT sail on a schedule if at all possible.

This is about catamarans and if you've read this far you probably own one so here is the final dirty little secret, they all slam (some more than others), they all take 15 knots of wind to really get moving and none of them really go to weather nor should they. All the more reason to sail the fronts in my opinion and keep her moving, when the wind falls below 10 knots and the boat slows to 4 time to kick on an engine.

Time to hit the sack internet friends! Have a blessed day and many happy and safe miles.

Vessel Name: Ohana II
Vessel Make/Model: Hunter Legend 40.5
Hailing Port: Anchorage, Alaska
Crew: Paul, Becky, Madison and Kelsey
Started this back in 2008 and abandoned quickly for other options. Time has gone by and we're back! After many adventures across the Caribbean and Pacific aboard Ohana we are back on it aboard Ohana II. The idea was to find a simple inexpensive boat that Madison and Kelsey could sail. [...]
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