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General Tips for Boathandling in waves

Lately, It has been pretty windy here in LA where I sail. Windy as in the wind is in the sustained 30 Kn range. I have been having trouble making the boat accelerate in those wind conditions with the swell (which is at 4-5 ft in height). Any tips to go upwind in that condition?
 

Cactus Cowboy

Well-Known Member
There's a reason why they call it "beating to windward"---or "slogging to windward"---particularly if there's heavy surface chop atop the groundswell. I'll tell you what I learned in decades of sailing under similar conditions off San Diego. The larger the swell, the deeper the troughs between roller crests: atop each crest, the skipper (and rig) feel the full force of the wind, down in the troughs, not quite as much. So you want to be on your game as a skipper and maximize each window of opportunity, getting the most out of your rig & boat when you have wind, and simply riding out whatever slight lulls might come your way in the troughs. It's cyclical, this trough-and-crest business, so start thinking that way as a skipper... :rolleyes:

Avoid pinching when beating to windward... a lot of skippers think they can shorten the beat by sailing as close to the wind as possible, but that's not necessarily the case. Try falling off a degree or two to keep your sail fully powered and drawing well, that'll keep you moving faster over the long haul, especially if there's heavy surface chop. You'll want to avoid the worst of the chop by "threading the needle"---or choosing the path of least resistance while keeping tiller & rudder movements to an absolute minimum. Ballast trim is critical too, not only in hiking but in fore-and-aft boat trim. Keep the boat flat if conditions permit, otherwise heel a few degrees to leeward to avoid weather rail digs and the worst of the spray... :eek:

Sometimes I would get into a rhythm while sailing in such conditions, leaning or hiking when necessary, bringing my weight back toward the centerline as the cyclical motion of each roller occurred. You might try this, as it may maximize boat speed over the long haul. How you direct your boat to lessen the ill effects of surface chop, well, that's something you'll pick up in time... know that every time your hull slams into chop, you lose boat speed. So minimize the slamming, lol, and that'll improve overall performance. Ideally, you and your boat slip or slide over each crest and down into each trough, avoiding the worst chop and making use of the wind when & where it is strongest, aye? Think of this sort of hard slog or beat as cyclical... ;)

Now, if safety is a factor when there's a strong swell running and conditions also get rough, you'll want to time any tacks you make... if the wind is howling, you might be safer tacking in the trough, just to take the edge off the wind. Otherwise, avoid maneuvering or making unnecessary tiller & rudder movements, particularly as the boat hits bottom and climbs up out of each trough. I've been out many times while a strong swell was running, and if the wind starts to howl and the surface chop gets rough, well, all of those factors can test you as a skipper... know that a good vest-style PFD can keep you warm, and a wetsuit is ideal for really rough conditions, so ya don't chill down too much as you pull the hard slog or beat, and you can focus upon sail & ballast trim. :D

Another tip for sailing in coastal waters off California: watch for seaweed, as a stringer of kelp wrapped around daggerboard or rudder can drastically kill boat speed. Usually, you can dodge the weed by keeping a sharp eye out and steering (slightly) to avoid it. However, there are times when a skipper is distracted by other things, and a piece of weed can glom onto your boat like a friggin' hitchhiker... if your boat is sluggish and you can't figure out why, momentarily raise your daggerboard enough to free the weed, and check your rudder as well. If necessary, you can shift position, lean aft and manually clear the rudder pronto. When the Cup races were held off San Diego, seaweed was a factor or hazard for skippers to consider... the kelp beds off Point Loma being the main source of the pesky weed. :confused:

Other than that, I'd just say get out there and rack up more experience. Remember the whole cyclical or oscillating scene as you ride up and over rollers and descend into troughs. A little adjustment in how you approach each roller and trough can add up to improved performance & boat speed over the long haul. Same goes for sailing off the wind as well, though the "oscillation" may not be quite as pronounced, lol. Once you find your rhythm, you'll also find that your boat is sailing more smoothly, there are less speed-killing hull slams in chop, the rig is drawing more smoothly and more consistently, etc., etc. That's the key right there to improving overall performance & boat speed during a beat, making the most of what you can and lessening the negative factors as much as possible. :)

HOPE THAT HELPS YA... AND GOOD LUCK! ONCE YOU'RE COMFORTABLE IN SUCH CONDITIONS, YOU CAN TACKLE ANYTHING! WELL, MAYBE NOT A CATEGORY 5 HURRICANE, LOL, BUT YOU CATCH MY DRIFT... CHEERS!!! :cool:
 
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Cactus Cowboy

Well-Known Member
Almost forgot my favorite expression... "thrashing to windward!" :eek:

That's the one I use in my stories of island voyages, lol... ;)

And it IS thrashing, particularly in a loaded Laser... :rolleyes:
 

Cactus Cowboy

Well-Known Member
Started reflecting more upon this topic today, and I'll add this: when done right, with the skipper compensating not only for groundswell but also for surface chop, a boat can literally swoop from crest to crest, the same way certain birds fly in a swooping manner. The trick is to keep your live ballast rolling in sync with the ocean itself. I'm not talking about constantly shifting position on deck, I'm talking about more subtle methods of leaning inboard or out as necessary, and keeping that mainsail filled so the boat remains powered. Factor in gusty winds and this becomes more complicated, but ideally you are smoothly sailing up and over each crest, swooping or "surfing" down into the next trough and striving to keep momentum going to repeat the cycle. :rolleyes:

Sure, you may have to slide aft a bit to lighten the bow when you unavoidably hit a patch of wicked chop, but be sure to slide forward again to keep your boat on an even keel, despite the swooping motion of the boat over the rollers. Did I mention that you might get wet---friggin' soaked---while thrashing to windward? In the past, I'd often patrol the beach in my home town of Coronado, repeatedly cruising the length of the beach (and sometimes the length of the Silver Strand) before standing offshore for several miles to get a good angle on the channel & harbor entrance, same way a racer would sail for the layline to assure himself of eventually rounding the weather mark. Made things easier in the long run, but it was generally a hard intermediate slog, even with the boat unloaded. :confused:

However, it was very good sail training for island voyages, where longer slogs could test one's endurance. Now, I don't know exactly where in L.A. you are sailing, but you might pick up valuable experience by sailing right outside the impact zone, getting a feel for sailing up and over waves as they roll toward the beach. Just be careful, and keep a weather eye out so ya don't get trapped inside by some monster set, lol. In this manner of cruising just outside the impact zone, you might familiarize yourself more quickly with the kind of motion or live ballast shifting required to navigate in such conditions. And focus upon what works best for you, in terms of movement and keeping the sail filled. Just a suggestion, mind you, and keep marine safety your topmost priority. ;)

Less damage to the boat that way, and less damage to yourself, lol. Going back to sailing offshore, bear in mind that conditions can be quite different on different days. Some days, heavy chop isn't a factor, and you're just gliding up and over each roller as you meet it. Other days, howling winds & heavy surface chop can make navigation more tricky, and you will be put to the test. What I've learned wasn't learned overnight, I can tell ya that much, lol... but the sooner you get in sync with the ocean and its rollers, the better off you'll be, and the faster you will travel over the long haul. That to me is the secret of beating to windward at sea, getting a good grasp of the factors involved and using them to your advantage, or lessening the negative effects, lol. :D

At least you won't be dealing with the sort of wicked chop that forms when wind and tide are in opposition, and howling gusts are thrown in for good measure. There are areas of North San Diego Bay where strong (spring) ebb tides meet gusts howling off the Point, the gusts sometimes channeled like downdrafts in those canyons, and the heller chop is scary, lol. Parts of South Bay get the same way, due more to shallow depths than strong opposition of wind and tide. The coastal current (separate factor) off California travels southward at half a knot or so, but it doesn't produce the same severe effects as wind and tide in opposition within the narrow confines of a harbor channel, or over broad areas of relatively shallow water. :eek:

I'm not a terribly religious man, but I recall passages from the Bible about hapless fishermen caught in storms on shallow bodies of water in desert pans... same way the Salton Sea produces some wicked chop, due to its shallow nature. These factors won't affect you offshore, but the chop can still get wicked... how you handle it aboard small craft is all-important. Chop can slow you down something fierce if you let it, and finding the right "angle of attack" is critical if you wanna keep up boat speed. Sometimes you have no choice but to slog it out, but usually you can find SOME way of compensating for it... and that slight edge might mean all the difference in maintaining boat speed. I say this as someone who has thrashed to windward countless times, and for long stretches... :(

Meh, I've beaten this dead horse long enough... and THAT is exactly how one feels after a hard slog, lol. I'm not the kinda guy who sails for a few hours and then calls it a day: when I sail, I sail ALL damned day, often "working the tides" to cover as much ground as possible. Gotta love "working the tides"---good enough for ancient mariners (and the Royal Navy), good enough for me, lol. That's something else you wanna focus upon in coastal inlets and harbors, as it makes a HUGE difference in distances covered in voyages. Hey, you use each and every factor you possibly can to up your game, and besides, you'll learn more about our planet that way, lol. Okay, I think I've earned a little refreshment, I'm off to the fridge to quench my thirst. Remember, get in sync with the ocean! Lol... :cool:
 
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Cactus Cowboy

Well-Known Member
Maybe he capsized & drowned... as for the Euro trash in that video, those aren't waves, try sailing when there's a 15' groundswell running, lol. :rolleyes:
 
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