Yachting maneuvers: Navigating a swell
January 16th, 2008 | By: admin | | 3 Comments
The whole ethos of yachting under sail is the thrill of pitting your skill against the forces of nature. Little is more exhilarating for the sailor than successfully riding out a storm at sea in a yacht. Even so, the skipper of a yacht full of passengers who are not experienced sea goers has to be aware that non-sailors are more likely to be nervous than exhilarated by rough seas.
Before leaving harbor, passengers should always be instructed in basic safety precautions. Weather conditions can change unpredictably and everybody on board a yacht should be made aware of emergency measures to be taken if necessary. Locations and proper use of life jackets, lifelines, and inflatable’s must be gone over with the passengers before leaving the harbor.
As a skipper you should always take measures to avoid unduly alarming your passengers, but in the unlikely event of a real emergency, passengers must have a clear understanding of what to do and how to behave.
Avoid rough weather conditions if at all possible, but in the event of having to face a swell, the experienced sailor must know how to proceed. He must first instill confidence in his passengers by reassuring them that he is in full control of the situation. All passengers must put on life jackets as a precaution.
The most dangerous position for the yacht is beam on to the swells, as there is the possibility of the boat being swamped by breaking waves. The boat will also roll more which will frighten passengers with little sea experience.
There are two main methods of alleviating the situation.
First, reef the sails. In other words, reduce the sail area to the minimum amount necessary to keep the boat moving. Then, try to maintain a course of between 30 and 60 degrees off the wind so that the yacht is approaching the oncoming swells at a slight angle. Note your position in relation to any hazards in the area; and with this in mind choose whether to sail on port or starboard tacks.
The second method of coping with a swell is to use a drogue, or sea anchor. This may be a purpose-made piece of equipment or you can improvise, using a large bucket, or something else that will offer sufficient drag when pulled through the water. It should be paid out from the bow on the longest rope available, its function being to hold the bow of the yacht toward the wind, to head into the swells. When the sea anchor is in place, lower the sails as quickly as possible.
These methods should prevent the yacht from going beam on to the swell, a situation that must be avoided at all costs.
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