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Anke and I live aboard WAYWARD, and wrote about it's design and construction at

Access to the net comes and goes, so I'll be writing in fits and spurts.Please feel free to browse the archives, leave comments where you will and write... I'll respond as I can.

Fair winds!

Dave and Anke
triloboats swirly gmail daughter com

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Storm Tactics: Inshore

Carved handrail from S/V TANTRA
Ried Stowe

You can't stop the storm, so stop trying.
What you can do is calm yourself.
The storm will pass.

-- Timber Hawkeye


If you think it might be time to reef, it's time to reef!

- Sailor's Wisdom

Storm Tactics: Inshore

In life and sailing, storms overtake us.

Most often, if we pay attention, we have some warning before their onset. In rare cases, they pounce like a cat upon a mouse. We're the mouse, at least in scale. Unlike mice, we have a range of tools to meet the storm.

NOTE: When I say storm, I'm speaking of high winds in general. Our standing policy is to NOT be on the water in full storm conditions or worse. Despite this, we occasionally find ourselves caught by surprise.


These are things I recommend which underlie a successful response to storm conditions:

  • Prior Knowledge... Knowledge and skills acquired ahead of crisis are priceless!

    Learn what you can before exposing yourself to storm...

  • Trained Crew... and train up all who sail with you.

  • Sound Vessel... Robust construction and maintenance, uncluttered decks, capable and easily reefed rig, good anchors with ample rode.

    Without these, any ship is at risk in any weather. When Storm comes with its long boots on, meet it with all head and hands on a stout deck!
Rules of Thumb

We use a small heap of rules-of-thumb to help us along our way:
  • Fail Safe vs. Fail Dangerous
  • Preserve Options
  • Layer Redundancies
  • Maintain Margins of Safety
  • Act Decisively
  • Develop Standard Operating Procedures
  • Develop Communication Protocols
  • An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure
  • Get Out of the Wind, Stupid!
  • Avoid Smug
  • Manage Fear and Panic
I go into these at more length here.

Storm Tactics

  • Batten Down - Secure your gear inside and out, dog down hatches, dress for the weather and clip in. MOB (Man Over Board) in storm conditions is a very long shot, no matter how well drills have gone. Stay aboard!

    NOTE: Make sure your harness clips are short enough to keep you out of the water. The USCG warns that a person being towed in the water cannot clear their head to breath from their own bow wake from about 4 knots. We lost an acquaintance that way... his crew didn't know to round up and stop the vessel.
  • Reef Early - Reduce power before you are over-powered. Sail handling is easier and you'll be more comfortable and safer on deck.

  • Reach or Run for Shelter - Shelter ranges from protected coves, to the lee side of islands or points, to mere outcroppings that break wind and especially waves. Consider heading into the best shelter available before conditions deteriorate.

    It's important to note that, while wind can be unnerving, it is wind-driven water - weighing a ton per cubic yard/meter - which can toss your boat dangerously. Interruption of seas driven over a long fetch (open stretch to windward) will give your anchors the best chance of holding. Reefs, spits, and even thick kelp beds can provide effective shelter even as the wind whips over them.

  • Consider Quartering the Seas - Quartering (angling across them at about 45deg) gives a much easier ride in large or closely spaced waves, both for boat and crew. This generally means sailing close-hauled or broad reaching.

  • Consider Heaving-To, Sailing Backwards and/or Drag Devices - These are more often used offshore, but they have their place inshore. They help keep the bow up to wind and waves. You can adjust position to a degree by crabbing (backing or balancing sail to edge to port or starboard) without re-establishing full sailing trim.

  • Look Around and Enjoy the Storm - I mean, they are magnificent! As long as we're fool enough to be caught out in one, we may as well enjoy it.
It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

We've just completed a winter passage - under press of calendar obligations - that pretty well kicked our butts and tried our mettle. So all this is pretty fresh.

A mere 80ish nautical miles as the fish swims, we started out with winds which, unforecast, edged into gale force. Turns out that our main halyard had jumped a sheave and jammed... we could neither raise nor lower sail. 
Fortunately, it jammed in deep reef position... low gear, as it were.
Unfortunately, before we had reached a place to pull in, the wind first died to nothing, then turned foul. 

Fortunately, we had shelter behind us and ran for it.

Unfortunately, that shelter had its own katabatic blowing from it over the ebbing tide with river outflow... with our short sail we couldn't sail in.

Fortunately, after heaving-to in a lee all night, the wind returned in our favor, and we again sailed for our destination.

Unfortunately, the forecast called for gale with storm force gusts due before we could possibly arrive.

Fortunately, there was a small hook of shelter right at hand. We know it from years back and call it Whoa Nellie Nook (Nooks protect from North). It has a good lee, a protecting reef and good holding. So we sailed in, set anchor and got our sail (mostly) working again.

Unfortunately, our lee was SO good that a back-eddy of breeze blew us toward the beach as we slept (contrary to the wind that was howling about four boat-lengths from our position)... we whunkered down onto a rocky bottom as the tide ebbed.

Fortunately, the rocks were pretty round. We buffered with some wood cut ashore and lifted off again after several hours and re-anchored.

Unfortunately, the next morning's wind was blowing into our nook (the opposite was forecast).

Fortunately, there was a bit of sand off our protecting reef and we could kedge out and sail on.


That was two nights and three days of a five week passage. I won't subject you to the rest, but will merely note that we only got two full nights of good sleep in peace and quiet in all that time.

Looking back in appraisal, we find the following:
  • We need to ditch time-bound commitments, especially in spring, fall and winter.

    Each time we commit to some deadline (for a job, for instance) our decisions become influenced by calendar pressures. We're reluctant to back-track and give back hard-won miles. We trim our margins of safety and head out into smaller, less reliable windows. We push fair winds, tides and daylight hours, which can erode our rest and recovery. All together, we take on higher risks to honor our commitments.

  • We need to increase redundancies in some areas.

    For instance, we have a spare block with halyard on our mizzen, but haven't yet arranged one for the main. This turned out to be an ELE (Exctinction Level Event) on this trip (the jammed halyard could possibly have set off a lethal string of consequences).

  • We need to be more skeptical of weather forecasts in high wind seasons.

    Time and again, we sailed or anchored in conditions which proved contrary to the forecast. In one case, this could have cost us the boat (our sheltered anchorage became dangerously exposed in a 180deg mis-forecast blow).

    Area forecasts cover large areas, and 'predominant winds' is a squishy concept. Worse, we were mostly sailing between one weather system that reaches up into the Yukon (Canadian) interior and another that opens on the Gulf of Alaska. We're learning to look up and take the whole chain into consideration, rather than rely on more local forecasts. This is especially true when updating forecasts flip-flop in wind direction and/or strength.

    NOTE: To be fair, SE Alaska is made up of what we call geographical wonders (local places which alter, amplify or diminish weather patterns). Forecasting the weather - both for pros and amateurs - is notoriously difficult.

    Weather data collection points are few and far between, and are often in sheltered or compromised locations (e.g., at points between two weather systems or in towns whose location was selected for sheltered weather). Models and forecasts based on these data are accordingly unreliable.

    Furthermore, a warming planet increases the discrepancies between models (based on historical data) and the real, emerging world. Winds are tending stronger and less predictable across the board. We need to increase our weather pessimism accordingly.

  • New technique for anchoring in marginal lees:

    Our problem at Whoa Nelly Nook was that, as the tide came in, our protecting reef covered and wrap-around waves sideswiped us badly. So we anchored in very close to the beach and ended up too close.

    The remedy for similar spots - now SOP - is to set two anchors aft against potential wind reversal and one or two high on the 'windward' shore. Tend the vessel with the tide to position close in the protected lee of wind and wave, then out as the tide falls and protecting reef uncovers.

    UPDATE: Given a more recent experience sheltering from Force 11 winds in which a backwind clobbered us briefly, we're now making sure to set our BEST anchors aft and lesser anchors/shoreties set into the lee!
  • We're approaching a decline in physical ability.

    This trip was physically demanding. Long hours on deck. Sails and (multiple) anchors up and down. Sculling long distances. Kedging. Swamped dory and recovery, and lots of bailing, often in rough conditions underway. Jury rigging gymnastics. And so on. Meanwhile, we're at the further end of middle age, and looking downslope.

    We're already planning a small, camper-cruiser for high mobility with less physical input. In coming years, we will be sailing WAYWARD less, and in less challenging windows. We are mulling adding an engine down the road (diesel/electric, possibly yawl-boat mount?).
Sooo... we loved this trip for all its challenges. It kicked us hard, but there is no living like that at the edge in a gorgeous seascape of stormy wilderness. But all good things...

As Joan Baez sings the poem by Lord Byron:

So, we'll go no more a roving

  So late into the night,

Though the heart be still as loving,

  And the moon be still as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,

   And the soul wears out the breast,

And the heart must pause to breathe,

   And love itself have rest.

Though the night was made for loving,

  And the day returns too soon,

Yet we'll go no more a roving

  By the light of the moon.

Not there, yet, but we can see the storm ahead. Time to be thinking of shortening sail.


  1. Posted on Behalf of JOHN:

    Hello Dave,

    Your posts never fail to inform and surprise. Thought for sure you'd be sailing on WAYWARD until you were at least 100. But a competent sailor plans ahead, and that is what you are doing. So I'm wondering what your "camper-cruiser" might look like? Surely another triloboat barge? Maybe a little smaller like SLACKTIDE? Or something as small as TRIOLOBYTE? Would permanently moor WAYWARD in a sheltered location but sail your camper/cruiser, or move ashore and just sail the camper/cruiser when conditions were ideal?

    Best Regard for the New Year,

    1. Hi John,

      100... I'd love that and add zeros if I could!  8)  Both Anke and I are descended from pretty long-lived ancestors, so it's not unthinkable, even without advances in longevity sciences that could conceivably grant us all indefinite lifespans (Kurzweil TEOTWAWKI).  But planning has to balance worst, best and probable case scenarios.

      The camper-cruiser borrows from many sources - sampans, dories, flatties and scows - but isn't the typical box barge. It's about 24ft x 5/4ft x 6in (quite a bit smaller than ST; a little larger than TB). It will (hopefully) row easily, sail decently and mode up into tri/proa form to support more sail.

      Small Boat Monthly is sponsoring a 12+ installment video series from us about its design, construction, sea-trials and 1st voyage over the next year... so we should have lots to share as it coalesces.

      We foresee WW being sailed in narrowing windows over the years, and spending progressively more time anchored, eventually set up ashore.

      The future is fuzzy, but this gives us a shot!

      Dave Z

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience. I have been sailing my Paradox cruiser with junk rig on the West Australian coast for the last 4 years. Every time I go out I learn new things and come back more humble at the might of the ocean and the weather and the smallness of my boat and my limited human intelligence. It does seem to me that the weather is more unpredictable but maybe it is just that I am older.

    1. Building my own little junk rigged 15 foot microcruiser here in mexico (for baja) with the aim to garner experiences just like you have. Engineless should teach a lot of things and with intimacy to the weather and conditions. Good times and probably even more humbling for me as I am probably even older than you!!!!

    2. @Waldo Cruiser

      Sounds like a great choice in boat and rig. And Nature does that to us, or we're not paying attention. 8)

      They say we're supposed to get better at reading the weather with age and experience. But I believe we're heading into new territory.


      And a sweet little cruiser it is looking to be!

      Humbly does it.

      Dave Z

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  4. Hi,

    I'm not clear on how you would have moved the halyard from the jammed block to the new one had you had one available, there.

    Also, for what seems to be some large sails, are they hauled with the zero mechanical advantage of a single block? I think I read somewhere that for large sails of this kind, at least a triple block arrangement would be needed. I must be missing something.

    Thank you for your very interesting post.