Figure 10 illustrates the technique of steering while sailing in large waves upwind. The discussion below discusses this technique, but it also applies to downwind courses. The key is to sail the back of waves at the correct angle to avoid excess speed and yet to ensure that the boat can’t fall off the wave onto its beam.
Fore-reaching (driving the waves to windward)
Figure 10: Forereaching
Courtesy of Further Offshore ©
Forereaching is my preferred heavy weather tactic in severe situations This active guidance of the vessel upwind allows the boat to face the elements as it was designed to. Sailboats are constructed to head forward through the water, so coping with excess wind and waves from the bow is ideal in heavy weather conditions. Forereaching keeps the bow facing the elements, and is easier on the steering mechanism than scudding downwind.
The technique, as seen in Figure 10, is to head the bow up, or higher into the wind, as the boat ascends to a wave crest, and then to bear off and control the descent down the back of the wave. The sails are feathered into the wind as the boat nears a wave crest, where wind velocities are highest. Speed must be controlled as the boat traverses the back side of the wave into the trough, where we risk plowing the bow into the next wave. Care must also be taken not to bear off too much however, because the boat can fall off onto her beam. This up and down steering may sound complicated, but it’s a matter of getting a feel for the helm and the boat. After a short while, most helmspersons feel very comfortable. It’s wise to gain such confidence, because driving at night depends more on feel than it does on sight.
It is very important to understand that the technique for steering in Figure 10 applies either upwind or downwind. Feathering the to windward when approaching a wave crest is unnecessary when sailing downwind, since the wind is from behind the boat. The important point is to sail the proper angle down the wave crest.
Forereaching can be done with sails or the engine. If the engine is used, keep at least a deeply-reefed main or trysail up to lend lateral stability and motion control. In most boats I’ve sailed, it’s possible to balance the sail plan (discussed in the Sail Trim Clinic) so that the boat actually steers itself on a close reach, which this is. Another advantage of this technique is that the storm conditions pass sooner than when running along with the storm, thus decreasing exposure of the boat and crew.
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