Sailing in Dangerous Weather

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Sailing in dangerous weather tests your skills and guts, but with the right amount of knowledge of what you’re doing, having the right boat, backed by efficient preparation, a sudden weather change won’t cause you to fret.


Be Prepared

Apart from the usual mechanical and safety checks, a turbulent weather dictates wider planning and thought. For larger boats, keep loose objects secure inside the boat, make sure internal cupboards and doors are closed and objects inside are properly packed. Put off the water to the heads, then empty the bowl. 


Remove the bags from the bunks and put them on the floor, as long as they won’t be in the way. Secure mats on the deck because they can slip if not well fastened. Also secure fold-down tables and similar fittings. Make sure that potholes and windows are closed and rig deadlights. Do a swift check for security. In terrible situations, I have witnessed clears destroyed by the wind, so you should open your clears to allow the wind easily flow through. 


If you have a tender, check again that it is properly tied. Tie the anchor down, so it doesn’t become a missile, give the fenders a doubleknot, and secure any boat hooks, lines, and life rings. The engine room also requires a check-over. Examine fluid and oil levels and test bilge pumps for adequate operation. 


Know Your Boat

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about sailboats from, it’s that they are can by fully or partially propelled by sails. As such, being able to handle your boat in turbulent weather can be as personal as the skipper himself. No two boats respond the same way given the same sea conditions. For every hull design, there’s a different reaction to the sea-variables and even boats with the same design may act differently based on their trim and load. Every skipper must be fully aware of the distinguishing characteristics of his boat and know how it will react to specific changes in conditions.


Check the forecast before going out on your sail and be smart

A smart captain knows he should always look at the weather forecast before taking off from the dock. If you know how to read them, wind conditions and cloud formations also provide lots of information. 


In past times, all we had was the local radio and if you weren’t a constant listener, you would have found yourself in trouble. But now, we have smartphones which bell a push notification for serious weather alerts.


But what if you lose cell signal or your phone dies? Yes, a battery charger or a backup cell battery could come in handy, but even that’s not sufficient. Cell phones aren’t invulnerable. Anything could kill them, from overheating, to playing our music all day long. They even fall in water and we lose them occasionally.  Never depend on a smartphone!


Meeting Head Seas

You should have the ability of slowing down your speed so as to ride up and over the waves, instead of driving the bow right into them. You would also not like to get to the top of the wave and all from the backside, burying the bow. In worse situations, slow your speed until you’re making bare steerage way and keep your boat’s position at an angle of 45 degrees to the swells.

As you reduce your speed, the strain put on the hull and superstructure is lessened.  Continuous pounding can break windows and ports. You don’t want to know how much water can come in a 12″ porthole. 


Crossing Bars

Most of the general preparations and techniques handling heavy weather can be used for crossing ocean bars, only that bar crossings have to do with sharp, short pressure waves, which have to be carefully handled.  In addition, space to move is usually limited and the depths may differ. When making preparations to cross a bar, we make use of local knowledge, wear PFDs, and follow navigation marks.


Be careful when you outrun the swells

Sometimes you can run ahead of the waves by riding the crests. Never forget that what goes up, must come down, either the wave or your vessel. Outrunning the waves is tricky and usually leads to broaching. This means you crash into the wave in front, usually as a result of overspeeding on your part, which results into the waves behind pushing the boat sideways along the trough. A sharp and sudden turnabout of breaching can cause capsizing.


Enroll in a Boating Class and Practise

Sailing in turbulent seas depends on knowing how to operate your boat safely. You can practice with some of the above techniques which are manoeuvres, on calmer seas, to be well prepared. However, I can safely recommend signing up for a USCG Auxiliary Boating class, or even two, maybe on Weather& Boating or a well-rounded Seamanship course and Boating Skills. Majority of the accidents on water are usually caused by an error on the human part. It will be easier to handle boating in rough areas, if you’re really comfortable handling your boat.


Be calm and safe and you’ll have a smooth sail!

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