Thursday, February 17, 2011

Storm Tactics Part 2 Before the blow

Yes this is a lame picture,about 35 knots so get some sleep now.

The answer to the Blizzard question from part 1, We were kind of reverse hove to with just a backed storm jib and the helm down, this steadied us up somewhat but we were still lying more or less beam on, or maybe the bow was abit down, perhaps 110 degrees relative. The wind was touching 50 in the gusts so probably about 35-40 knots of real wind, and the seas were still pretty low, no more than 3 meters? We were really just taking a break, it not being worth bashing into for the miserable progress we would have made. The wave that came over was definitely a rogue wave, and much bigger than the normal. I sensed it just in time to swing the camera around.

But to move on, I made a mistake in Part 1 Did any of you notice? See I knew you weren't paying attention.... (mind you I didn't notice it either) The caption on the first picture reads "Careless is the ass, who sleeps with a low and falling glass" when in fact this is probably exactly what you should be doing.

Rolf and Deborah from "Northern Light" drummed this into me as a kid when I spent hours reading my grandfather's copy of their excellent book "Northern light". They have a term called the sleep bank, you put hours into it and you take hours out. simple, and you do have an overdraft facility, but go to far into debt and you are in serious strife... It is scary how quickly your decision making part of the brain gets defective with lack of sleep. You start doing really stupid things... Like writing blogs..

So Number 1, get some sleep. Also:
  • If you haven't already (and you really should have been..), get the best weather info you can and work out if you can set a course to clear the worst areas.
  • Study the chart, make sure you are no where near a seamount, edge of a steep continental shelf, or fractured zone these may cause upwellings or somesuch that can make the sea state horrendous. Two deep sea fishermen I have talked to like to get 30 or 40 miles clear of even very deep seamounts if there is any bad weather forecast. They also report 3+ knots of subsurface current at times near these areas. These fishermen are the only good source of info I can find on this, so don't take it as gospel. Here is an interesting link about the schooner "Orbit" capsizing, make sure you also check out the technical notes at the bottom of his page.
  • Start logging weather info as often as possible. Then you can possibly track the low center. If the storm force winds aren't forecast you have an obligation to let the nearest met office know, and broadcast it to other vessels.
  • Cook up a feed, eat and drink lots of water, organize some snacks.
  • Tidy up all that mess that always accumulates (on my boat anyway, maybe you are a tidy person)
  • Secure boat (ie lash down that heavy sextant box)
  • Get storm gear ready
  • Make sure batteries are topped up
  • Lash spinnaker pole down well (it is your emergency mast). I must set mine up to store below.
  • Put clothes, computers and stuff in dry bags
  • Get crap off the deck (fold and stow sails) 
  • Top up any day tanks, empty all bilges, and make sure they are clean and the pumps work.
  • Put the small vane on the wind vane
  • maybe consider seasick tablet if you are so inclined
  • I put extra lashings on my liferaft, to disable the hydrostatic release. You can make up your own mind about this.. BUT definitely make sure a sharp knife is handy...
But also SLEEP.

I'm sure there are many points I've missed. This list is not definitive, let me know if you think of any others and I'll include them.

You are allowed a moment of panic, abit of fear, and quite alot of worry,(unless you really are a robot) but try not to let it stop any of the above. And if you have crew, don't let it show to much...

I will try to write something on sleep patterns latter, but for now I will just note that kind of meditating and relaxing in my bunk seems to work almost as well as sleeping, so now I just get my head down and relax, rather than trying to force myself to sleep. Even 20 minutes of not quite asleep refreshes me alot. You shouldn't be in nasty stuff in the first few days (if you are you need to learn to read a forecast..). So at least  you should be in sea sleeping mode (It takes me a few days).

At this stage the boat should be making its way out of the path of the worst weather and hopefully towards your destination. You may have some great sailing, as the winds and sea build, slowly reducing canvas. I don't push the boat hard at this point unless I really need to get out of the way of something very nasty.

I like to study the sea, Especially the swell directions - there will be two or even three swell patterns overlaid, and of course the wind-driven sea on top of this. Getting this info may prove vital later, because this will give you some idea of the direction of any rogue waves, and may give you some idea which is the best tack or gybe be on latter if things start to get really nasty. Rogue waves tend to come in the average direction of the swells and seas - ie a NW swell with a SW sea will likely give a rogue wave from the west, It also may not, but on probability it is more likely, so if running it would be better to be on the Starboard gybe heading east rather than on the port gybe heading north. Or if hove to, be on the port tack heading west, rather than south. You really want to minimise the chance of a rogue hitting you on the beam... So pay attention to the waves.

I think rogue waves are the big killer, and ultimately the best defence is a strong boat and a bit of luck -  the specific tactics have less to do with it, but certainly can help. That's why I like to prepare for the worst before leaving the wharf.

I have run with drogues in the past, With mixed results, and I would like to talk about this at some later point. But for now need to leave this topic a bit. There will be a part 3, or more, but for now this will have to do, I have already spent too much time deleting and rewriting sentences, and I am still not really happy with it...

All the best, and I hope you never need to use any of this stuff.


1 comment:

  1. Great stuff, Ben !

    A couple of thoughts:

    Check battery lashings and engine mounts (ideally both should have backup strops)

    Crank down any ventilator blanking plates.

    Some friends nearly lost their yacht in a storm which blew them clean through Cook Strait most of the way to the Chathams when their destination was Wellington (from France)....
    just because of a piece of Lego.

    When Jean-Paul had gone through the boat and screwed down the mushroom caps in the dorade boxes, accessible from inside the boat (a good design) it hadn't occurred to him to feel around first and make sure no small fingers had secreted anything there for safe keeping.

    The vent in question was in an interior walkway, alongside the cockpit to the large lazarette. The walkway was separated from the cabin by a normally closed door, and it was only because he happened to be passing through when a wave came over the stern, half way up the radar arch, that he 'noticed' a column of green water disappearing into the bilge, and discovered the cause of the problem.

    By then (and this happened fairly suddenly) enough water had already accumulated to cause a degree of sluggishness which invited regular inundations over the stern, so things might have gone rapidly downhill from that point.

    Andrew Troup