|Carved handrail from S/V TANTRA|
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!
- 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
- 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.
- 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?).
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.