Gale. The Rimini tragedy, in which four sailors lost their lives, Has to teach us something. Bad weather is always best avoided. But in long sailings, it can happen that you may have to deal with it. From weather analysis to boat and crew preparation, from storm sails to floating anchors, here’s what to do in 50 knots.
THE EXPERT’S ADVICE
Umberto Verna is one of the foremost experts on safety; his courses are taken by the most famous ocean sailors. Here are his “tips” on boat and crew to deal with a gale. “Important is the method. There are three areas to focus on: boat preparation, crew preparation and management, and navigation planning and management.
Let’s start with the first: it will be necessary to reinforce, even if only with gray tape, the closures of doors and drawers, stuff bottles with pieces of cardboard to prevent breakage and noise that can cover useful warnings of hull or equipment problems. Openings (hatches, valves, etc.) and the steering system are checked. Prevention equipment should be organized in advance: jack lines (mistakenly called life lines) should be attached to the bow and stern cleats, the safest and strongest points on a boat, by stretching the webbing inside the rigging. Regarding the crew, crucial is the briefing, that is, the analysis, not emphasis or trivialization, of risks. Only then are those norms of behavior, the who does what and when, born that will enable us to handle any situation without improvising.
A seat belt and dangle should be given to everyone, explaining its use. Beware of self-inflating life jackets with built-in belts; they are often just life jackets with an undersized metal ring and no continuous, sturdy shoulder straps. For those exiting the cockpit, an asymmetrical double dangle is essential: a maximum 2 m long cable to be kept attached to the jack line at all times and a maximum 1 m short cable to be attached to the maneuvering point (bow, mast, rudder, etc.). The crew must be fit so don’t forget to set up the galley, a bag hanging from the ladder with sandwiches or boiled potatoes, granola flakes, saltines or crackers. Drink water, alcohol excluded because it promotes seasickness and hypothermia.
Regarding navigation management, the choice of coasting or cutting, upwind or running away from the wind should be set with a nautical chart and the weather forecast. The most important parameter is the sea state, not the wind strength. The most difficult situations are precisely when a gale-force wind is falling, no longer gusting to 50 but “only” to 35 knots, the sea is still rising instead, and the wave is crossing because the wind is changing intensity and direction. In such cases you may be forced to hold more canvas to pass waves. Running out to sea is not always a safe choice; waves at the stern without adequate speed can make the boat unsteerable and trap it. Especially with heavy boats, a slow, wide upwind with seas at the jaw is best while waiting for the weather to improve. And, as a last resort, a dry cape with floating anchor spun at the bow“.
WEATHER – THE APPROACH TO LOW PRESSURE
Knowing where a low pressure is located and knowing the movement of winds within it are, meteorologically speaking, the two cornerstones for dealing with a gale on the high seas. In fact, a sailing tactic can be implemented that allows us to move away from the depression center where the winds are strongest instead of ending up in it, as well as to position ourselves relative to the center of the low pressure so as to take either headwinds or jaw winds, depending on our boat’s reactions. The law governing wind direction in anticyclones (high pressures) and cyclones (low pressures) is named after the Dutch meteorologist Buys Ballot and says that, relative to our hemisphere, in anticyclonic zones the wind blows from the center toward the periphery in a clockwise direction, while in cyclonic zones the wind blows from the periphery toward the center in a counterclockwise direction.
The wind direction offshore (below the coast it is influenced by the reliefs and generally by the orography of the land) is almost parallel to the isobars, with a slight deviation (10° to 20°) outward in high pressures and inward from the center in low pressures. So if we stand with our face to the actual wind, the center of high pressure will be on our left, while the center of low pressure will be on our right(see drawing 1). Now imagine sailing two boats approaching a low (see drawing 2), confirmed by falling barometric pressure, from different positions: one to the south of the depression center, the other to the north.
Aboard boat Y we will notice that the wind will rotate to the SSW and strengthen, we will therefore be forced into an increasingly narrow upwind gait with left tack. As we proceed on a W course, the wind still rotates in the bow and strengthens, and the sea consequently swells. We will have to decide to change course: turning S with starboard tack we will move away from the depression center, continuing with port tack we will enter more and more into the depression center by sailing upwind. Let us now move aboard vessel X. Proceeding to the W we will notice the establishment of a strong SE wind.
Sailing on the slack with left-handed tack we will proceed swiftly and with seas at the yard. As we continue on a W course, however, we will also approach the depression center, and thus, even with carrying winds, the going will become increasingly challenging. Jibing immediately with starboard tack as we move away from the center of depression, we will notice that the barometer will begin to rise, while the wind will turn to the NNE allowing us a relatively calmer slackening gait.
MAINSAIL – WHEN REEFING IS NOT ENOUGH
There are conditions in which even the full reefed mainsail cannot provide the balance needed to deal with gale-force seas, especially if we cannot lean because of a leeward shoreline. In those fortunately rare cases, the mainsail is needed in combination with the storm jib. Although the cost and footprint are very contained, very few cruise passengers actually have one on board. Let’s say right away that the big difference between a mainsail and the main, apart from size and cut, is in being untethered from the boom, which must be resting on the deck and well secured to it with a line.
The clew must consequently be high to “fly” above the boom. Like a genoa, it is provided with two sheets to be passed into the blocks of the halyard and from there sent back to the winches in the cockpit or to those of the halyards. Other features are the absence of board and battens and the heavy weight of the fabric, which is made of Dacron, generally orange in color to be clearly visible from a distance. ORC safety rules (mainsail is mandatory for 0-1-2 category regattas) limit its area to a value that is given by the formula PxEx0.175 but there is nothing to prevent it from being under this measurement. The tack must be above all the main mainsail garroons, and if the main mainsail has a rail and trolleys, it is essential to have a second piece of rail offset from the first. In a lattice luff mast, the mainsail can be mounted in the same channel instead.
ARM THE TORMENTIN
If with a partially furled genoa, obviously a few square meters of exposed canvas, one can sustain a load-bearing gait in 50 knots of wind, with the same reduced sail it is not conceivable to windward, albeit at wide angles. It is therefore necessary to arm a tormentor. And here arises the problem of where to infer it, since the forestay is already occupied by the furled genoa. Hauling the latter, that is, unwinding it and then slipping it underdeck, to hoist the storm jib on the same channel as the furler, in that wind is an ill-advised undertaking.
Therefore, there are two possible alternatives: to have a removable forestay on which to infer the new sail, or to use one of the special tormentors to be attached directly over the furled genoa. Let’s start with the first solution, which is the most proven and the one that provides better balance at the rudder due to the more backward position of the sail.
Here again, there are two alternatives: mount the removable forestay just below the forestay attachment on the mast (the distance should be no more than 60/70 cm) so as to avoid the use of flying shrouds; or a false forestay (also known as a forestay) to be headed at the height of the high spreader, bracing it compulsorily with flying shrouds.
In both cases, a textile (Spectra, Vectran or PBO) rather than steel cable is recommended, both for reasons of weight (the difference is 1:10) and handling, and not least to prevent the cable at rest along the shaft from damaging the anodization (or paint) of the profile.
Turreting is inferred on the forestay with special Velcro strings instead of metal garrocci. On deck you will obviously need a fixed point with double eyelets, ideally folding Wichard eyebolts, where you can attach both the removable forestay and the foresail tack.
This fixed point must be imperatively returned below deck to a structural bulkhead or, via a tie rod, on the starboard bow. A turnbuckle with a pelican carabiner is used to attach the forestay to the fixed point, but a textile hoist with appropriate gearing can also be used. Turning to the turment to be applied over the furled genoa, this is basically a square of dacron that folded in two around the forestay becomes a triangular sail. The most interesting model is the Storm Bag (www.deltavoiles.com), a bag from which the three corners of the sail come out: passed the bag around the furled genoa, sheets, tack and halyard are fastened, back to the cockpit, and the sail is ready to be opened.
FLOATING ANCHORS – TYPES COMPARED
When the streamlined, sail-dry hood and escape ahead of the wind are no longer effective, there is only one means that can make sailing manageable: a hydrodynamic drag generator, said in other words, a system for braking. Indistinctly called floating anchors, without differentiating them according to the type of mechanism used and its function, the types of products for stopping, slowing and restraining a hull in the open sea are actually two: the first, floating anchors or parachute anchors, is secured at the bow to keep the boat nearly stationary in the direction of the wind and waves; the second, spere anchors, is secured at the stern to slow and stabilize the moving boat.
The floating anchor models are all very similar, the more varied is the landscape of spere: ranging from the “do-it-yourself” tire to the more advanced products, distinguished into “simple soft” (Paratech and wind sleeve type models), “series soft” (Jordan Series) and “rigid” (Seabrake and Galerider). It may be that the anchor and the hope are the solution to the same problem. Let us take the case of entering port in a crosswind and give an example: “Valeria, on her boat, encounters 50 knots of wind on the bow only 10 miles from her goal. She attempts to windward but unable to proceed decides to reverse course and heads for a safe port downwind. As she crosses the harbor entrance she is surprised by a breaker wave bar. The boat capsizes.”
What could he do? Very. Spinning the stern hope and making navigation and entry safer and easier. Or drop the floating bow anchor to stop the boat and wait for the weather to improve. Difficult to define dichotomously when to use hope or parachute anchor. It depends on the type of boat, the preparation and physical condition of the crew, as well as the weather situation. It is certainly imperative for everyone to use a floating anchor with a broken down boat rapidly drifting toward the leeward coast (if one has not boarded it one can only hope that the coast guard arrives before the rocks) while it is questionable when to decide to use the hope on a boat that begins to accelerate on the wave.
A 60′ VOR with Cayard at the helm glides at 40 knots safely even in breaking waves. A 32-footer with a family crew, on the other hand, needs to start “braking” long, long before it risks capsizing and/or capsizing. The hope and floating anchor should both be part of every boat’s equipment since they meet different uses and needs. In the facts, specialty stores record almost zero sales. If it may be an incentive to purchase, remember that the hope can also be used to lessen the roll at anchor in the roadstead: in addition to saving your life, it will not allow you to spill your glass of prosecco on the table.
These and many other useful tips, you can find in Sailing’s special issue devoted to Practice and DIY: a volume, this special one, designed to keep on hand at all times, at home and on the boat, to take away doubts or brush up on your knowledge at any time. YOU CAN PURCHASE IT HERE