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Helpful Tips for the Yachtsman

Apr 9, 2008
Every boat, obviously, has its limitations and ordinary judgment dictates that the one designed for lake and river use should not be expected to be suitable in all weather offshore. It is a fact that just what a boat will do is governed to a great extent by the skill of the man at the helm.

Rough weather is purely a relative term and what seems a terrible storm to the fair-weather man may be nothing more than a good breeze to the man who has known the sea in all its tantrums. When the going begins to get heavy, various types of boats will behave differently depending on their size and design, the way they are trimmed or loaded, and the nature of the sea.

Large shallow bodies of water, such as Lake Erie, kick up an uncomfortable sea in a hard blow, because the depth is not great enough to permit the waves to assume their natural form. The result is a short steep wind sea with breaking crests. Miles off shore in the open ocean with the same amount of wind, there might be a moderate sea running but the greater depth permits the waves to assume a smoother form, without broken crests.

Head Seas

Little difficulty will be experienced by the average well-designed cruiser when running with the seas head on. Some spray may be thrown or, if the sections are full forward, there may be a tendency to pound somewhat with the impact of the bow against the seas. However, she is likely to handle well enough while the seas are met head on or nearly so.

If the seas are steep-sided and the speed too great, it will be necessary to slow down. This will give the bow a chance to rise in meeting each sea instead of being driven deep into it. In the worst seas, it may help to run slightly off the course, taking the seas a few points off the bow. This will give the boat an easier motion. The more headway is reduced in meeting heavy seas the less will be the strain on the hull.

In The Trough

If the course to be made good is such that it will force the boat to run in the trough of a heavy sea with wind abeam and the seas striking the hull broadside on, it may be well to resort to what might be called a series of tacks, except that the wind is brought first broad on the bow, then broad on the quarter.

This results in a zig-zag course that makes good the desired objective, while the boat is in the trough only for brief intervals while turning. With the wind broad on the bow, the behavior should be satisfactory; on the quarter, the motion will be less comfortable but at least it will be better than running in the trough.

Study The Action Of The Waves

If it becomes necessary to pick a way through without local help, there are several suggestions which may help to make things more comfortable. Don't run directly in but wait outside the bar until you have a chance to watch the action of the waves as they pile up at the most critical spot in the channel, which will be the shallowest. Usually they will come along in groups of three, sometimes more, but always three at least.

The last sea will be bigger than the rest and by careful observation it can be picked out of the successive groups. When you are ready to enter, stand off until a big one has broken or spent its force on the bar and then run through behind it.

Ebb tide seems to build up a worse sea on the bars than the flood, probably due to the rush of water out against and under the incoming ground swell. If the sea looks too bad on the ebb, it may be better to keep off a few hours until the flood has had a chance to make.

Above all, experience will make all these conditions easier to pull through.
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