Tag Archives: reefing

5 Things To Remember When The Wind Comes Up

5 Things to Remember When the Wind Starts Coming Up

You leave on a gorgeous sunny day with a 12-knot breeze blowing out of the south and a forecast for much of the same. It’s going to be a great day. After a solid two hours of sailing in perfect conditions, more white caps begin to emerge and the sky seems irritated. You know the mood of the wind is changing and, as a sailor, know you’ll be adjusting along with it. Here are 5 things to keep in mind when you feel that feeling. We encourage you to add to the list in the comments below…

  1. Tidy Up
    Look around the boat and make sure everything is “ship shape.” When things get hairy, a messy boat with lines to trip over and things to slip on and get in your way is no good. Being disheveled in a howling wind can be a disaster. A fully heeled over and powered up boat is actually fun if everything is where it should be. If something happens to snap or go boing on a disordered boat, things can become chaotic quickly. Always be tidying in all weather but definitely if you feel it starting to pipe up.
  1. Hunker Down
    Make sure everything that could get loose won’t. Perhaps some things in the galley are usually fine for a normal daysail, but will create an obstacle course when the boat starts slamming around. Or maybe you have some things lashed down that need to really be lashed down now. Do a survey above and below and make sure it all looks solid for a rockin’.
  1. Reef
    It’s important to practice reefing on medium-wind days so when the time arises, it’s not a new experience. Sailing leaned over in 30-knots and choppy seas is not the time to learn how to work a seldom-used system on the boat. So, when you notice the wind may be changing her tune, look to the reefing system and make sure it all looks good to go. As it builds more, throw a reef in sooner than later. It’s a great feeling to put a reef in, see the wind come way up and be in total control – no bug-eyed fear, no heart racing, just a calm shift to another gear and more sailing!
  1. Change Clothing
    There are times when the weather changes pretty quickly and the tee shirt and shorts become a serious liability when the sun goes away and the wind bears down. It’s very often the case in heavier weather that the skipper and crew will be stuck in their respective positions to keep the boat sailing and passengers safe. To be shivering and stiff is obviously not the best way to face a challenge. As things begin to shift remember this and grab the foulies. If you’re dressed correctly for the event you can face it without compromise. Seems like an obvious point but the environment can suddenly get colder than one might anticipate.
  1. Grab that PFD
    If it isn’t already on, put one on. No one wants to think that they could end up in the drink but heavy weather can get wild. There might be call to go up on a very slippery deck in an extremely bouncy environment. It’s flat out foolish to not wear a life jacket in heavy weather – the chances of survival plummet should the worst happen. Throw that baby on, plow through those big ol’ waves, enjoy this essential part of the sailing experience and have a story to tell later…one with a happy ending.

Reefing is Important

Ah yes…it’s summer and life is sweet. Air temps are 80-plus, the water is warming up and you haven’t put on a pair of long-pants for at least six weeks. Sailing is part of your weekly routine now and sometimes your face actually gets sore from the constant smiling. This is all great – we endorse this of course, but sometimes it’s this very euphoria that can lead to a complacency that could end in problems. We don’t want that. We’re talking about reefing – a foreign concept for some, a tried and failed practice for others, a studied and untried theory for the academics in the house and an important and often used skill for real sailors.

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Managing Weather

In this guest post, Captain Tony Wall of Biscayne Bay Sailing Academy recounts delivering a 46′ sloop–while managing the effects of a nearby hurricane.

As a professional sailing instructor and USCG captain, I was contracted to sea trial a 46′ Bruce Roberts sloop named Harmony. Everything went satisfactorily, the deal went through, and the new owner, Veli-Matti Alho, asked me if I would be interested in delivering the yacht from Port Everglades to Galveston, Texas, crossing the Gulf of Mexico. My work schedule did not permit this, but I offered to teach him the ASA certifications Coastal Cruising and Bareboat Cruising, with extensive practical offshore and advanced passage-making, during a trip from Port Everglades down to Key West.

Beautiful weather accompanied our trip south to Miami, and we sailed into Biscayne Bay for a night of rest on the dock. Engine/charging problems meant we could not re-start the engine, so we were required to sail through the Biscayne Ship Channel in the dark without auxiliary power–a daunting prospect, but successfully accomplished. Several days of repairs followed, during which Veli and I tracked the weather closely.

A late season tropical storm was developing into Hurricane Ida and heading rapidly west of Cuba heading for the Gulf of Mexico. As the storm hurtled up the gulf, Miami experienced gale force winds from the east–a good direction but not for us! Harmony strained the docklines, safely tied up at Dinner Key Marina. The third day brought 20-25 knots from the south, and rather than heading straight into it, we waited for a better window. Day four’s forecast was 20-25 knots north-west–there was our chance!

We left Biscayne Bay around 10:00am with full sail–a conventional mainsail and a 150% genoa. By late afternoon approaching Key Largo, I suggested we put on the heavy-air staysail and put a single reef in the mainsail to reduce the overall sail area in a balanced way.

Since our draft was 6ft 8ins, our strategy was to head south and south west outside the reef, rather than going inside the Hawk Channel, which would require too much concentration (especially considering we were hand steering). Overnight, as expected, the wind accelerated to 20 plus knots with gusts into the upper 20s. We were able to progressively take in the large furling genoa from the cockpit to reduce the force on the rig. Flying the staysail only in a situation like this is a great example of the offshore flexibility of the cutter rig.

We were running on the ocean side of the barrier reef that extends all the way down the keys, from near Key Biscayne to Key West, a total of 150 miles. Dawn came slowly–all night we were sailing at hull speed or above, pushing towards 9 knots of speed. It was an exhilarating sail, but definitely hard work and not conducive to sleep! When dawn finally came, I took this video of the boiling sea to starboard (north and north west) and encouraging light from golden-red sunrise off our port quarter.

As we approached Key West, we realized that we had covered 154 nautical miles in 22 hours–certainly the fastest voyage I had ever made. The moral of the story is to choose your weather window carefully to ensure favorable winds, and to be ready for deteriorating conditions by reefing down early. With a prepared boat and crew, you can manage strong weather and use it to your advantage.

Captain Tony Wall
Lead Instructor, Biscayne Bay Sailing Academy
Tel 954 243 4078