Thursday, February 10, 2011

Storm Tactics Part 1 Preparation

After last nights boring battery discourse I thought I'd better give you something abit more salty, Although truth be told electrics will probably give you more grief than storms...

Careless is the ass, who sleeps with a low and falling glass.

I'm sure what you want to hear is lots of salty sea dog tales of waves washing the ship, while lightning flashes around our stout ship and the low clouds race overhead.. But I can't be bothered tonight (maybe I'll do some as case studies latter). What I can do is give you a glimpse into my thoughts on dealing with very bad weather.

I have been through some nasty weather in many different yachts and ships, There are plenty of people with more experience than me, and plenty with less, and lots of perfectly valid ideas and concepts. My best advice is to read widely, including opposite opinions to what you might think, Ie the Pardeys have a very different ideas to what a round the world ocean racer might prefer. Both are valid for different vessels and sailing styles and also listen to that quiet old sailor in the corner of the bar, his words might make all the difference in some blow somewhere.

My thoughts are that it really comes down to luck, good preparation, a strong boat and a good mental attitude, ultimately it has less to do with the specific tactics involved. I think to many people get tied up in the one magic solution, Hanging all your hopes on one favored tactic is rather dangerous, The sea is too dynamic, each storm will have very different wave characteristics, and each boat can behave unpredictably in extreme winds. what worked well in one case might not work at all in others.

Ok I will give you a salty story to illustrate this point. My friend Dave Pryce is one of the most experienced sailors I know. He took his 20 meter alloy yacht Blizzard down to Commonwealth bay and got caught in a very serious blow. In the past he has always run off at speed, steering down the waves, but this time the wind was to strong, the boat kept surfing down the waves, broaching uncontrollably, He described it as as if he had a spinnaker up in 40 knots. And he was under bare poles. He ended up lying a hull, apparently the wind lay her over so far she just slid down the waves with no rolling, like being hove too. Now this is interesting because if Dave said the storm was something else, it was, and the vibrations from the harmonics in the rig undid one bottle-screw, and the prop shaft bolts (he lost his shaft..). Dave agrees that lying ahull is not normally a good tactic, but he had no other options, and it worked for him. I wouldn't recommend this, beam on is usually the worst way to lie, but it shows that you need an open mind.

I start my storm tactics at the dock before I leave. Mentally I expect to be rolled, that way I am not surprised if it actually happens. And at least some of the lockers will stay closed (because I will have made sure they all have some sort of hold down). I make sure I have the basic gear and an idea how to make some sort of jury rig, because in a rollover the odds are not good that the rig will stay in the boat. I make sure I have confidence in the boat actually staying together. Any specific niggles are dealt with as far as possible, either physically or mentally (I tell myself that cars are much more dangerous..). 

There are always some things that will worry you, That is normal see The wimp, fear at sea . I suppose that's where experience comes in, and the luck. Fix what you can and try not to worry to much about what you can't fix. Remember, the fundamental prioritys, don't do any other nonessential work until these priority's are sorted out.

1 Keep the boat afloat and in one piece (staying afloat also means keeping off the rocks)
2 Keep yourself attached to the boat and uninjured.
3 Keep the rudder attached.
4 Keep the rig up.

If you can maintain at least 1 & 2 from this list you will almost certainly survive any storm. if you are not sure of these maybe reconsider your plans? Not sure who to credit these rules to, I first saw something like this written by John from  many years ago in a magazine and they certainly are spot on.

I know when the boat and crew are ready enough. The key word here is enough, It doesn't mean all the jobs are complete (they never are...), just that the boat is safe and the crew are ready. The crew are familiar with the boat, this is best gained by working on the boat.

On Number 2  Keeping uninjured, I like to have helmets for extreme weather, and some sort of restraining device for my bunk, so even inverted I will not fall out. Quarter berths are good for this, but stick your head up the cockpit end. Lee cloths need to be strong (the only nasty injury onboard was due to leecloth coming undone) , and I like to have another flap that holds me in and protects me from flying sextant boxes and the like.

Enough for today, I have run out of steam, and you are probably bored, I will continue this latter, if my fickle mind doesn't forget and give you more electrical drivel instead.. 

But if you have got this far I have a reward for you, a Video,  I hope it loads OK, I took it from Blizzard on the way to South America somewhere halfway across the southern ocean.  See if you can work out how we were lying and what the wind speed might have been... Its about 3 megs or so, and has a big wave hitting us.

By the way, I think I lost the game (see the video to understand this cryptic remark..)



  1. Couldn't agree more, Ben (about the right tactics being the ones which work)

    It strikes me that the same applies in lots of other (particularly safety related) areas, where these 'high priest' movements tend to have a lot of traction... like anchors, for instance ... and of course the internet has only multiplied the tendency.

    "Anyone who doesn't do it this way (my way) is an idiot!"

    Sailors are a conservative lot, which can make even the very good ones dismissive of counterintuitive or non-obvious learning opportunities. This can be wearying to those who are interested in addressing each situation and each potential solution on its own merits.

    Provided we first endeavour as far as possible to understand the conventional wisdom, and the reasons why things are done the way they are, I think it's a shame not to keep striving for the deeper insights which can only come from venturing into the unfamiliar when we see a need to do even better.

    Good on you for doing your bit to demolish a few sacred cows!

    Andrew Troup