Sailing Short Handed in Heavy Weather

I received Surviving the Storm for Christmas, and have found it to be a very informative and useful book. It is great that you provide specific advice on what to do in different situations. You also inspire a great deal of confidence in the boat – that most modern boats will survive if the crew is careful.

I do have a couple of questions. How do you maintain active tactics like running off or heading up into large waves when 1) you are shorthanded with a husband and wife only on board and/or 2) it is night and you can’t see the waves coming? Regards, Hank

Hi Hank: You’ve hit the two bottom line questions on the head. While these are covered in some detail in the book, and there are no easy answers, here’s what we think:

1. At night, even under the blackest of conditions, you can usually sense by feel or hearing the waves as they are coming at you. In addition, unless you cannot see because of the wind velocity or amount of water in the air – and in the worst of conditions diving goggles help – you can see the waves on very dark nights.

2. There always comes a point where two people can no longer physically cope, and at this point passive tactics may be necessary. If this is a risk factor, a major issue becomes husbanding your endurance. Do this by resting when possible, by avoiding dehydration, by being in good physical shape to begin with, and perhaps most important, by being secure in your knowledge that you and the boat are prepared – so that fear doesn’t sap your will to fight.

It is often better to conserve your energy during the early part of a storm by adopting passive tactics, so that you will be as rested as possible if and when it becomes necessary to steer. The tricky part here is knowing if pushing on would get you out of harm’s way.

Regards – Steve

Posted by Steve Dashew  (November 30, 1999)

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