TECHNIQUE How to get by in 5 moves in high winds


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To sail safely even in strong winds, preparation begins ashore: there are many arrangements to be made regarding equipment, but also the crew, who must always obey their captain.

Once at sea, we explain how to manage shifts, helm best in the waves, and how to adjust your sails for power and balance at the same time. Finally, here are revealed a number of tricks for maneuvering correctly even in port, when space is tight and you cannot afford mistakes, even on occasions when you are sailing alone or with an inexperienced crew. (photo by Loris von Siebenthal)

The role of the person in charge on board, the captain or skipper as the case may be, is crucial, especially in the face of critical conditions; it is he who must guide the crew according to clear priorities and precise instructions.

Before we leave/on-call shifts If the crew consists of at least four people the watch shifts should be decided, which should be a maximum of three or four hours, each shift should have a “leader” of the watch on duty who should have all the skills, knowledge of the boat and know how to effetture any maneuver so as to make any decision. If there are only two shifts (minimum of four people on board with two-person shifts) those who are not on duty can rest, but they must always be ready to intervene if needed.If there is a large crew (minimum of six people), three shifts can be arranged: the first is on watch, the second rests but is ready (stand by) to intervene, and the third is at total rest.

Before you leave/Clothing On a boat, when the wind is strong, the worst enemy to fight is always the cold (not only in winter). While it goes without saying to reiterate the importance of a good oilskin and a comfortable pair of boots, remember to wear them as soon as the weather worsens, without waiting to get wet. A pair of gloves, in addition to warming you up, will make it easier for you to maneuver.

In Navigation/Safety If the captain decides that all crew must wear vests and seat belts, everyone must comply with the decision. No personal choices are allowed. In sailing/Fatigue, seasickness, fear Everyone reacts differently to fatigue, seasickness, fear threshold. The commander must be attentive to how each member reacts. Ready to adjust shifts, dispensing with those in need.

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Sailing in high winds requires careful preparation of the boat before letting go of the mooring and some caution when sailing. Here are the main ones to remember.

Sea Intakes When sailing, it is good practice to always close them, but in strong winds this rule becomes absolutely imperative. And be careful, not only those of the toilet should be closed but also those of the sinks, especially the one in a possible linear galley: being offset from the centerline of the hull, in fact, can trigger dangerous water ingress when sailing with the walls opposite its position.

Weight arrangement The rule is always the same: the more weights are concentrated down and in the middle of the boat, the better the pitch on the wave is obviously. If you are forced to face a long upwind in heavy seas, it is advisable to transfer anchor and chain to the stern locker or, better yet, to a box placed at the mast foot before leaving. If you are already underway, at the very least secure the anchor on the nose well with at least a restraining line. And remember to empty the water tank if it is located in the bow.

Watch out for the engine When you sail and motor together, pay close attention to your heeling angle. And this is not only because the cooling sea inlet could come out of the water, but also because of problems related to lubrication. In fact, the pump that fishes in the oil sump may run dry due to the liquid moving to the side. The owner’s manual for the engine shows the tolerated degrees of skidding.

Jack lines This is the correct name for life lines, those webbing to be mounted on the deck, from bow to stern, on which the carabiner of seat belts is hooked, to be worn especially at night in strong winds. Prepare them before setting sail; it will be much easier. Remember that it is wrong to keep them armed all the time: in fact, UV rays reduce their strength.

Screenshot 2014-12-19 at 12.13.38How to reef with ease Most modern cruising boats adopt quick reefing: this is a system by which the closed-circuit borosa can act on both the mainsail leech and the luff. Maneuvering in this way can be done entirely from the cockpit by yourself, with an obvious safety advantage because you no longer have to go to the mast to snag the mainsail tack. A great advantage especially when weather conditions are challenging (why else would you take reefers?…). But for those who do not have this system, there is a perhaps even more effective and reliable alternative that has been adopted on large boats for some time: just use a cunningham for each coat of reefing, in addition to the usual borosa that retains its traditional function. It basically involves employing a line to be deferred to the halyard winches to lower the mainsail luff. To realize this system, two Screenshot 2014-12-19 at 12:14:35 p.m.eyebolts on the mast at the height of the boom trough, which serve as tack points for each reefing hand in place of the classic steel hook. In some cases it is possible to mount the eyebolts in the same trough, thus avoiding drilling holes in the shaft profile. The important thing is that the tack point of the reefing hand is positioned to keep the mainsail luff as close to the mast rail as possible, so as not to stress the carriages or gaffs. The cunningham circuit therefore starts at the eyebolts, where the lines are fastened with a bowline or capstan knot, enters the eyelets on the mainsail luff, descends on the other side of the mast to the base and, through a block, goes to the halyards winch passing first inside the stopper. On the luff loops you can also attach a webbing loop to which you can attach a loop and, if desired, a block. This will give you an even smoother circuit.

What if you have a furling genoa? As many people know, to windward in thirty knots a foresail to be mounted on the removable forestay or a lean, heavy jib to be rigged on the forestay is undoubtedly more efficient than the partially furled genoa. But, let’s face it, it is often more likely that your rig will include a rollable headsail. And that’s it. Let’s start by analyzing the fabric: compared with traditional dacron, a taffetate laminate has the advantage of holding its shape better over time because it is stiffer. And it is precisely the elasticity of the fabric that goes into the excess of fat in the central part of the sail, which, when you partially reduce its surface area, creates that “sack” that increases your heeling, to the detriment of your progress. The same can be said about biradial or triradial cutting, which works better than horizontal ferzial cutting (so-called cross-cut). In any case, a skinny trimmed sail is more efficient than a fatter one at the start: in any case it is up to you to decide whether to limit the performance a little in light winds or to improve the performance of the genoa when it is partially furled. Fabric reinforcements or at any rate those systems adopted by sailmakers to thicken the luff of the sail and make it thinner in the central part when semi-rolled, thus also reducing creases, have proved useful. Regarding adjustments, it is the backstay (if the boat has one) that is of the greatest importance in getting the genoa profile correct when you partially furl it. Before rolling, it is necessary to stretch it to the maximum so as to facilitate drum rotation and reduce catenary. Halyard tension, on the other hand, is a topic that is often controversial: while a lot of it should be given to thin the profile and bring the fat forward, there is a risk of not being able to furl the sail anymore, as friction on the drum balls increases. One solution is to furl the genoa entirely, avoiding overtightening the coils of fabric on top of each other; at that point cock the halyard with the genoa closed and finally uncoil just enough surface area to windward. The tip: Roll the headsail by sailing to leeward, with the genoa not fully foiled so as to prevent creases from forming. Once the sail is reopened, remember to retract the sheet point slightly from what you usually do.

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There is often a tendency to underestimate the importance of the helmsman, as if reducing the sail is enough to best steer the boat. Instead, first of all, it is the helmsman who most of all has to decide how much canvas to have, because he is the one who “feels” the power of the boat, which is necessary to “ride” the waves. He must indeed take the rhythm of the wave motion in this way deal with the “ascent” and “descent.” And this is not an easy thing to do. First, because the waves are different from each other, sometimes steep, sometimes longer, in close series or in isolation. Not to mention when they arrive crossed. So get over it, when the wind picks up and the sea forms, not even the best helmsman in the world will prevent you from getting a few dunks! Let us try to reproduce here a typical situation that you may face. The wave comes and you orbit to get on it. Once your bow is out of the water (herein lies the importance of having a sail surface that provides you with sufficient forward power), whoever is at the helm should have already brought the boat to the lean-to, perhaps with some help from the mainsail trimmer who leaves him some sheet. As you go down, you will increase the foresail and the mainsail will be almost entirely foiled at this point. So here you are in the hollow of the wave, sailing at a rather wide angle: the mainsail trimmer has already retrieved mainsheet and you are about to heel in to tackle the next wave at full speed. Tiller rudder purists argue (even rightly, in some cases) that catching waves is easier than with a wheel: this is true in case the latter has considerable gearing, however, if you find yourself sailing with waves for several hours, in terms of fatigue the wheel wins hands down. The response of the wheel rudder, especially if very demultiplied, will be slightly delayed: take this into account.

The importance of the motor If you cannot get enough power to maneuver properly by sail alone, don’t be ashamed to use the motor as well! In fact, in this way you can maintain a more regular speed, which will also improve your pace at the helm. Our advice is to ‘shift into forward gear, lightly throttle and possibly accelerate a little to get over higher waves. If the wind is so strong that you have to drop the sails completely to sail with the help of the motor alone, avoid catching waves directly off the bow, but keep more leaning a few degrees. In this way, the boat will be more stable because of the buoyancy of the wind on the rigging. In addition, the blows, once on top of the wave, will be less strong.

Here we are, you have ridden the waves and finally arrived in port. Don’t let your guard down, though! In fact, unless there are very rare cases in which harbors are perfectly ridged, in really strong wind situations, even the usual mooring maneuvers can reveal traps.

Never bow to wind without speed It is important to avoid finding yourself without speed with the bow to wind, otherwise the boat will never stay in the direction of the wind, but will be pushed sideways, to one side or the other. In this case, the drift will no longer have lift and you will find yourself drifting without the ability to maneuver. And it will not be possible for you to regain control of the boat until after you have gained some motor speed, either in forward gear (thus trying to bring the boat back to its initial position) or in reverse gear, thus gaining some space to be able to try the maneuver again. But remember that picking up speed in reverse takes a while, and while waiting the rudder will not be able to maneuver, thus letting the action of the wind continue to make your boat drift. The anti-drift plane brakes the boat a little, but in the absence of forward speed, it works poorly. The boat thus continues to glide like a sideways skier down a slope, drifting, drifting drifting…. If there is sufficient space downwind, there will come a time when you can pick up speed and unblock the situation, but in any case it would be a maneuver somewhat left to chance. One must always, therefore, try to avoid being bow to the wind without speed. And even at low speeds you are not safe from problems.

Maneuvering with the “butt” in the stern With the wind in the stern, the boat is balanced: the stern is held low by the weight of the engine and the boat is in the wind axis. To keep the boat stationary, simply adjust the motor in reverse, thus creating traction to compensate for the buoyancy of the wind. One finds oneself as if attached to a dead body. If you take off some gas, the boat moves forward; if you increase it, it moves backward. Remember: maneuvering in reverse is the only way to have, in strong winds, maximum control of your boat. A smart choice is to put the boat with the stern upwind already in the foredeck, especially if it is a small harbor: this is the right time to put up the gerli (and thus prevent the mainsail from bothering the deck), prepare fenders and mooring lines. At this point it is advisable to look for a berth that will allow you to moor with the stern upwind at all times.

Screenshot 2014-12-19 at 12:15:22 p.m.How to get in and out between two rows of boats with a crosswind(Figure 1) In this situation you cannot turn 180° to go back, because as soon as the boat is in the wind axis, the game ends. In fact, the boat would no longer be able to rotate, and if you try to break free by giving forward gear, you probably will not have enough room to maneuver. Here’s what to do if you find yourself in this situation: get as close as possible to the bow of the upwind boats, straightening the bow to bring it as close as possible to the windward axis, making it stop. At this point engage reverse gear, keeping the rudder straight. It will be the wind that will bring down the bow while you are already reaching the exit. In the case of very strong winds, you may have to repeat the operation.

Screenshot 2014-12-19 at 12.16.02Mooring alone in high winds (Figure 2) You don’t always have the space in port to maneuver to present yourself stern to the mooring. We see here an even more complicated case: in the boat you are alone. If the wind is quite strong, one should not hesitate to show up windward and lean on a neighbor (taking out the fenders first!). Patience if it is not exactly your place, you will think about it later. The approach is simple: you advance parallel to the dock, wind to the crosswind, and just before you get to the height of the boat on which you have decided to lean, rotate 90 degrees, put your stern to the wind, then with your bow toward the dock. When you reach two meters from the dock lean against the neighbor (if the wind is a bit slanted, the neighbor that is downwind will be chosen), keep moving forward, and at one meter from the dock stabilize the boat, engaging the motor in reverse. You will need to have prepared a sleeper, attached to one of the bow bollards, with the free line in your cockpit. When you are leaning against the boat next to you, put into neutral, grab the top of the sleeper you have in the cockpit and jump aboard the boat you are leaning against. Cock it and fix it on a neighbor’s bollard. At this point, the boat is stuck, it can no longer move forward, we can take a moment’s rest before going after the dead body.

Screenshot 2014-12-19 at 12:16:25 p.m.Setting sail in a headwind (Figure 3) Imagine that you are always alone on board: it is windy (fifteen knots is enough to make maneuvering into port difficult) and you cannot let go of the dead body first, because the boat would very quickly keel over. Another strategy is needed at this point. So, at the beginning of the maneuver the boat is held at three points: two mooring lines at the stern and the dead body at the bow. Drop the two stern lines a bit, so as to move the boat away from the dock and at the same time lessen the tension on the dead body. Then, remove the less taut stern top. At this point, the boat is restrained in only two places. Slowly let go of the remaining mooring line, then remove it. Go to the bow at this point and let go of the dead body (it would be wise to have previously checked the knot by which it is attached to the boat, to be sure you can quickly release it). Return to the aft flight, give gas, and go! If the wind is too strong, but you have to set sail, the only way to do things yourself is to carry a doublet line from the bow to the dock in front or to a boat moored ahead. By cocking it you get out of the berth thus keeping your bow to the wind. Before letting go of the line used, wait for your boat, which always sways a bit, to glimpse the right side. This is the time to give a good acceleration.

Screenshot 2014-12-19 at 12:16:48 p.m.Setting sail in a garden wind (Figure 4) If the wind is very strong (say around 25 knots), even this maneuver is certainly not easy. The critical moment will prove to be when, upon leaving the berth, you have to switch from forward to reverse gear: it is that short time between the moment when the boat stops to the moment when it starts again (about 5 seconds). Should any problem occur in those few seconds, you may find yourself stuck in the dead body of some boat. Therefore, in strong winds, it is convenient to maneuver differently. Move the boat forward to rotate it so that it is heading into the wind, and then start directly forward gear (a maneuver possible, of course, when you have the space to make the rotation). But how is it possible to achieve this rotation of almost 180°? It is arm and muscle work. Double-tie a sleeper from your bow to that of your upwind neighbor, release the dead body and, at a later time, the stern lines. At this point it is the wind that turns your stern. You stay on the bow, cocking the sleeper a bit as the boat makes its rotation. Once this is finished, bringing the boat in the direction you want it to go, retrieve the crossbeam and return to the helm; give the throttle and thus exit in forward gear.



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