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Heavy Weather

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Copy Write 10/27/2000 ©   Updated  2/13/2006

Parking   Keel   Knock Down   MOB   Sail Plan   Reefing  

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First option is "heaving to" I won't cover the mechanics of this as any good sailing book should cover how to set the rudder and sails. There is one issue to remember, I have yet to be able to "Heave To" the boat if the keel is raised or higher. The few times I have used this parking tactic has been full keel. Downside of "Heaving To" you need plenty of room and deep water. I highly recommend you practice this in different wind speeds in advance.

The option I use most frequently is "lying a-hull" (I think this is the correct term) Drop the jib and let the mainsail flog free to the lee side. I generally leave the tiller free. The boat will turn broad side to the wind and waves. In rough weather it can get a bit wild as the boat rocks. I don't recommend doing this for any length of time, as the flogging is hard on the mainsail. Once the jib is raised the boat will turn and run all by itself either beam reaching or dead run. The lower the keel the better, keel works just fine. It comes in handy if you need to go forward for any reason or to get something.

Of course anchoring is an option, I consider as a last resort. If you are out in a serious blow the last thing you want to do in my opinion is ride it out at anchor. Personally I would try to make the windward shore then anchor as close to the shore as possible or a protected cove. You may not be out of the wind but if you can get in close to the windward shore the waves won't beat you around.

Bare Poles; I have yet to use this in a storm situation. I have used bare poles as I was trolling a fishing line in mild winds. I was pleasantly surprised I could fetch a mark under bare poles. Downwind mark of course. The lower the keel the better it works. The trick of course is to keep as much of the stern in the wind as possible. The one time I did this was a broad reach with the rudder hard over to the windward side and tied off. As directions changes where needed I adjusted the rudder. In mild winds everything was in slow motion. Adjust the rudder a little at a time give it plenty of room to get the boat moving in the new direction then adjust again if needed.

The big issue of course is how long can you go bare poles down wind and not run out of seaway. You never want to get stuck in shallow water on a lee shore. To me bare poles would be an option if the downwind run would lead me to a place to duck and hide. A small cove or inlet or behind a peninsula.



According to the manufacturers specifications South Coast Seacraft 22' draw 10" keel up and 4' 10' with the keel all the way down, 5' draft is needed in other words 7'-8' of water depth just to sail. Other than the main channels water depth around Perdido Bay can get a bit thin. Dragging a deep keel around limits sea room considerably.

Personally I rarely drop the keel more than 25-30 cranks on the pendant winch, about 3/4 down when sailing other than down wind. I have never had a problem with boat stability or weather helm if the rudder is 100% down (that's another issue). I have sailed with just the mainsail and the keel 15 cranks down about 1/2. Wind speeds 10-15K and a bit gusty. Don't like to do that the boat is a bit tipsy and uses a lot of leeway. Usually this is done if I choose to sail in one of the many narrow bayous where the channel is limited. Running downwind is the one area where little or no keel depth can work for you. Depending upon wind and waves cranking the keel 1/4 to 1/2 down lessens drag and improves boat speed. Personally I find this is worth the trouble only if the winds are light to medium and the downwind run long. Invariably I will round up into the wind and forget to lower the keel back down. Things get a bit goofy until I remember to lower the keel. If the winds are high I prefer the stability of the keel 3/4 down especially in a following sea, where waves will push the stern around.

Motoring and keel depth: Flat water and no other boat traffic to contend with, keel is all the way up. As the waves build the boat ride is more comfortable with a lower keel. In moderate waves 1/2 down is comfortable anything else 3/4 down. I have never motored with the keel all the way down.

The ICW is a high traffic area at any time and powerboat wakes are always a pain. Some parts are narrow enough where you may not be able to cross the wakes at an angle. Generally I will motor 3/4 down regardless in this area simply for comfort and to keep the stern from pitching as much.


Knock Down

I'm pleased to say other than sailing sunfish I've only had one knock down situation. Many moons ago I had an 18' Welcraft Buccaneer when living in Sarasota Florida. Summer time in central west coast Florida the thunderstorm cells build all day and drift inland late in the afternoon. You can see them as they come and go, if lucky can sail a path to avoid. This particular day I had been flying over Sarasota Bay on a reefed main and jib.

The boat has a swing keel but no ballast; with a narrow beam are a blast to sail. To make a long story short I was rounding up into the wind to roller furl the jib due to the wind. To this day still don't understand what went wrong but before I knew what happened, over everything went and the masthead dug into mud in 6' of water with the boat hull stuck to windward. As usual I was solo and eventually got everything back like it was supposed to be, and the boat bailed enough to sail home (never had a motor for that boat).

Some time ago I contacted fellow South Coast Seacraft owners of the 22' models about knock down experiences. The scariest replies where from those asking me what a knock down was. Granted we all have to start learning somewhere. Of those who did know what I was asking and had an experience, most where due to too little keel depth and or too much sail flying for the wind conditions. Usually too much sail, most every one was flying the 130% Genoa. Those reports all had similar results and my personal experience along the same lines with "Don't Ask" doesn't lessen the need to sail smart but gives reassurance of the quality boat design.

Bottom line the boat will heel over to the point where the rudder looses control and the boat WILL round to wind and stall. What I don't know is if the rail is dragging at the time, from what I have heard from others yes. Personally every time I have ever had the boat heeled way over I never thought to jump to lee to see for myself, the cabin blocks the view. Just because the boat has a tendency to self-right doesn't mean it will always come back up. Get enough water in the boat and you are in trouble.

Other owners reporting this had their keels down all the way with one exception his was 1/2 (which caused the problem). My personal experiences the keel was 3/4 down. Sailing solo or with non-sailing friends (same as solo) I don't enjoy dragging the rail intentionally. You won't go any faster as the wind is dumping off the sails due to angle of the sails to the wind. My biggest fear of a real knock down is the keel. It could come crashing back into the keel trunk and do mortal damage. A keel lock down pin helps lessen this risk but then you must always have the keel in the down position.


Man Over Board

MOB plans are to me a big issue. Simply because I sail solo quite a bit and most often when I do have someone aboard they generally are non sailing friends (same as solo). If I go over is there anyone capable of getting me? I try to point out the location of the flares, extra life jackets, distress flag and engine kill switch. I try to review this every time even though they may have been aboard before.

If I go over solo I have no doubt the boat may sail off without me or due to windage drift faster than I could swim to it. Borrowing a trick from some stories I have read about solo or shorthanded circumnavigation I almost always trail a 30' poly line behind the boat. Poly floats and I am of the delusion I should be able to reach the line behind the boat and at least hang on. The line is attached to the starboard rear cleat.

Motoring is a different situation. The motor is on the port side, the motor pushing on that side will eventually push the boat in circles. I still need a way to get back on board and again I think the trailing line will help. If one of my crew goes over I should be able to sail circles or figure 8's around them until they can grab the line. This is my first line of defense.

From there the second line of defense is all theory depending upon wind and waves. "Heaving To" approaching on windward or lee side. Most of this is right out manuals and books. Other than retrieving wayward boat cushions under sail and anchored buoys used as sailing marks under sail. I don't have that much real experience. Jack Lines and Harnesses

At this time I haven't made an investment in either. Currently I am a protected bay and ICW sailor. More like a big lake than anything else, there are all kinds of curves in the land. I am of the delusion if things get too bad I can find a place to tuck into a protected cove and ride out the worst of a storm. Eventually I will be looking at some "outside" trips. Going "outside" means leaving the protection of the barrier islands and heading out into the open Gulf of Mexico. Things are different out there! My biggest concern is getting out, the weather turning and not being able to get back through the passes. Many of the passes are narrow in bad weather the waves really pile up. Before I do any real outside sailing there are some things I want available.


Sail Plan

Whenever possible I try to prejudge the wind speed much simpler to set a reef with a furled sail or in the calm of a protected slip or cove.

I prefer like most sailors to fly as much sail as the wind and waves will allow full main and 110 jib in winds up to about 18K depending upon gusts. If it is very gusty, the puffs rather abrupt and hard or the wind more than 18K, reducing sail is actually the faster way to sail. Points of sail have a big impact on what sails to use and how they are set.

Reaching: Either main alone reefed or full depending upon wind and waves or a reefed main and 110 jib. Jibs are powerful sails and if the winds are 18K or more, may over power the boat causing it to turn and run. Traveler generally centered sometimes 1' to wind.

Broad Reaching or Running: Technically I could sail with just a jib flying. Personally I don't like the way the boat sails reaching with just a jib. Most of the areas I sail eventually require a direction change and have found my personal preference is the main sail either reefed or full depending upon wind speeds and waves. Keep in mind I am referring to winds in excess of 18K or excessively gusty situations over 18K.

Traveler eased it down so it can act like a preventer. In big wind or gusts with reefed main and 110 jib wing-n-wing I found the boat wanted to round up to the jib side during the gusts 20K+ (wind singing in the rigging). I didn't want to break something or risk a broach that particular time, dropped the jib and sailed on reefed main. Even then with a following sea pushing the stern around, if I wasn't doing hull speed it wasn't far off.

One of the fastest sails the length of Big Lagoon I have ever done see March 2000 for the details. Close Hauled: In big wind this is still a learning curve for me mostly because I don't HAVE to beat to wind that often, rarely in big winds. March 2000 real nasty situation I used just a reefed main traveler centered. By now you may have guessed, that day made a big impression on me.

October 22, 2000. Wind was up there and singing in the rigging during many of the gusts. But, the chop in the bay was much less than last time. Also the wind instead of dead east was east to southeast (more S/E) overall a much better sail. This time I flew reefed main and 110 jib. The bow of the boat was not pushed around nearly as bad and did much better holding a heading. The traveler kept centered. I found during many of the gusts (higher ones) the jib would drive the boat real hard and we would freight train right on through the chop as long as I wouldn't let the boat heel over too much (see knockdown for explanation).

October 23 2000 compared to the above was a stroll in the park. Generally the wind was 10-15K and some of the puffs a bit of a problem but not bad. Chop in the bay nothing to worry with. I sailed long tacks into the wind and over the course of the sail home spent serious time playing with the traveler and sailing close-hauled. It seems the boat sails better and points higher with the traveler all the way to windward if the gusts will allow (full main and jib). Also it seems the main will keep drawing wind even after the jib stalls out. Needless to say this has my attention and I will need to spend time in the future playing with this to learn how things need to be adjusted for differing wind speeds.

December 26, 2000 Yes the day after Christmas and I was able to slip out for a bit. Cloudy sky no sun peeking through. Somewhere around 50 degrees and yes I found it cold. Winds NE / E maybe 10K probably around 8 or so. A few puffs up to maybe 15K gentle chop. Returning home from a broad reach it is time to play with this again. Heading back I am flying a full main and find the winds not strong enough to drive the boat well, after raising the jib much better. Working north west back up the bay I find in lighter airs the jib stalls out way before the main does causing problems keeping the boat moving. I don't want to bear off, as I will lose too much seaway on the west side of the bay.

Experimenting with the traveler 1' high and all the way up doesn't seem to change much. The jib lead is all the way back. During the higher puffs the boat actually settles down picks up speed and points just a bit higher. The jib still wants to stall before the main starts luffing.

Looking at things I ponder one of the many great mysteries of the universe: boat speed! More is better to a point!

Looking at the jib sheets I wonder if threading it through the inner and outer stay would help. Probably, but when I change from beating to reaching the jib will probably be wrong. I don't want to change the jib leads all the time too complicated. Once again my mind turns to a smaller jib like a non-lapping working jib. I can't help but wonder if I could trim it closer without back winding the main. I would probably end up installing sliding jib lead tracks on the cabin top. If lucky I could lead the sheet back to the cockpit winches.

Of course lowering the keel to full down should help but no can do due to water levels. Sea levels drop a good 2 feet during the winter (not sure why) add a low tide and even for me there are areas I need to stay away from with the keel 3/4 down. Sailing full down would limit me even more.

After reaching the north west end of Perdido Bay it is time for an easy beam reach across the north end back to the east side and home.

I hang out regularly in several boating "newsgroups" and upon my return post some questions concerning my experiences. Several replies later and I find some information I never thought of.

Using the jib pendant to raise the foot off the deck for visibility raises the angle of the jib sheet meaning the jib can't be flattened as much. Which is comparable to moving the jib lead forward for a fuller jib shape. Good for light air. After pondering this I realize this may be why "Don't Ask" sails better with the jib lead all the way back regardless of wind conditions.

My jib sheets are long enough to run back to the stern through a block and back to the winch. Next time out I will try running them all the way back then to the winch and see what happens.

I need to make a shorter jib pendant. I don't want the jib on the deck due to visibility concerns. But I should be able to lower it some.

January 5 2001 Spent some canvas time wind 10K - 15K S/W moderate chop. I purchased two blocks for the stern and made a 1' jib pendant. The jib sheets where run all the way stern then forward to the winch. With the traveler all the way up the boat points higher than before to a point then the jib stalls. After playing around I find the traveler sweet spot is 1' to 1'6" high. Any more than that and the jib slows the boat down. So for me this issue has been resolved.

March 14 2001 I had a one-week sailing trip planned for March 12-13 2001. Unfortunately the weather didn't cooperate. Basically I had a fine trip down to an island on the ICW with a delightful evening on the hook on 3/13/2001. Due to deteriating weather a fast trip home was needed. Crossing south Perdido Bay once again the wind was from the S/E and blowing hard, heavy chop. The boat was loaded to the max. I had enough of everything to last 4 days. On the bow pulpit 6 gallons of gas and six gallons of water. In the cabin near the keel trunk head an additional 6 gallons of water. The v-berth was stuffed with clothes and a bunch of other stuff.

Coming around Interrarity Point from the ICW there were no whitecaps on the water probably a 1'-2' chop really not too bad. Ahead of me was a 30' or so ketch with full sails and a comparable sloop rigged cat. The nice thing about boats ahead of you is the ability to see what the wind is doing.

Wind was a good 20K and gusty. For the most part the rigging didn't sing. There was one big difference this trip. If you have read my other musings on sailing in big wind you know I have been groaning about a smaller jib. Well This trip I had such a jib sort of.

I stumbled across an 18'-19' racing cat sailor with no current sailboat but an almost new racing jib. After reefing my main at our island raising this jib was an experience as it is zippered rather than hanked also it is stiff. The jib is a lapper just past the mast (on my boat) high aspect but fairly flat cut and defiantly not blown out like my original sails. The difference in the crossing was very noticeable. Pointed higher into the wind, sailed faster and the ride was much more stable than the same with my current jib. It took me fewer tacks to cross. Don't get me wrong; it was still a job slugging through, but parts of the ride where actually fun as the fetch shortened with a reduction in the chop. If the gusts didn't overpower, the boat would freight train right on through. The keel pendant had picked up a higher pitch humm than I have ever heard and even with a reefed main speed was the word. Overall a satisfying experience.

Instead of running the jib sheets all the way stern I used the existing jib track with the lead all the way forward. With the flat cut the jib seemed to set well. Needless to say I will be buying this jib.



Reefing the mainsail in big winds is always a pain much simpler to anticipate the situation and reef before the need arises. The boat sails at anchor big time and is bouncing around pretty good in the waves. The sailing is flogging all over the place and not being gentle about anything. The big danger is getting in a rush and doing something stupid. I often must tell myself to slow down and do this by the numbers. I have learned "always" keep the reefing ties close at hand so never have to hunt them down.

There are two ways to reef the main sail the easy way the hard way

First I will review the hard way. I used it for many years it works no special gear is needed The most difficult part of the reefing process is tying down the reefing clew. Usually the sail is flogging and once you grab it the boat wants to sail. Personally I tie a bowline and make a loop thru the clew then run the line through a block at the boom end, back through the clew and down to the cleat at the boom end. This way I can use mechanical purchase to ease the brute force needed to bring the sail in. Sometimes I have attached a block to the clew, this is much smoother to pull the sail down to the boom. Next is the hike forward to lower the sail. I try to release the downhaul first. Loosen the main halyard just a bit. Next a line is looped through the reefing tack and under the boom then cinched tight and tied off with a square knot. Tension the main halyard and the downhaul. Check the boom end to make sure it is right.

The easy way is called single line or jiffy reefing.

Jan 24 2001 I decided to install single line or jiffy reefing (not sure exactly what it's called). Any way I attached a block to the reefing clew and another to the boom end. Attaching a line to the boom end block ran the line up to the clew block back down to the boom block through the boom end block along the side of the boom to a jam cleat that was already installed at the forward end of the boom. The theory is you should be able to pull the reefing clew down to the boom from the mast. Then drop the main halyard enough to bring the reefing tack down. The big advantage is one trip forward and you don't have to mess with the part of the boom that goes boom on your head. The winds today about 10K and the system worked just fine. I can't wait for some big wind to see how things work.

June 9 2001 Just a quick follow up note. With the above reefing line I have found the reefing process needs to be: 1. Lower the main sail first and tie off the reefing tack. Raise the main and set the downhaul. 2.Pull in on the reefing line and set it. 3. Tie off the reefing points if you can. My boom had a jam cleat installed for the reefing line. The line can work loose, M-Word 2001 I will install a cleat to secure the line better. In big wind the system works just fine.

I usually stand on the keel trunk to tie the reefing points. There are four points and find only the last three need tying off. I am of the delusion the stress and strain is supposed to be carried by the tack and clew. The reefing points are just to get the loose sail out of the way. This process sometimes is difficult because the boom is flogging a bit and you don't want to get hit in the face. Also try to tie the sail off with all knots on the same side of the boom.

Once completed the most dangerous part of reefing in big wind is about to commence. With just the main sail flying reefed or not the boat will turn beam to the wind the sail flogging free straight back parallel with the spreaders and ride as steady as the waves will allow. Not "hove to" but similar results. In rough chop a real rocky ride on the fore deck. Once the jib is raised the boat will turn and run all by itself. Before that can happen the anchor must be pulled, this is always difficult because everything is moving and the wind working against you. Grab some rode and hold it tight against the bow pulpit. As the bow dips cinch up on the rode and as the bow rises the boat will pull forward on the scope. Eventually you have a vertical rode and if lucky the anchor breaks free soon. Once free the boat turns and is running with the wind or a loose broad reach.

This part is critical. The anchor must be stored neatly where you can get it in a hurry. If you need the anchor again you may need it in the worst way and don't need to spend time untangling the line, nor do you need it falling over in a pitching sea. Quickly as possible get back in the cockpit and gain control of the main sail and boat direction then the jib.



The information on this page is not intended as a "definitive" guide to sailing .
Rather it is a collection of things that work for me also ideas I have learned from other sources.
The information is specific to my 22' swing keel South Coast Seacraft Eclipse.
The sailing area is local bays and ICW
Use at your own risk
Any good sailing resource book should provide a comprehensive review of sailing theory.

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