How to survive a storm on the high seas
Theory and practice

How to survive a storm on the high seas

An experienced traveler tells us how to prepare a yacht for a storm...
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David Lynn and Marcy Lynn live aboard the Nine of Cups, a Liberty 458 built in 1986. Their leisurely voyage around the world began in 2000, during which time the family has travelled over 70,000 nautical miles. In his column, David Lynn shares his experience of how to act when a storm hits a boat at sea.

Current forecasts are quite accurate, and it's unlikely that the weather will take you by surprise. But if you can't wait for a strong wind on shore, you can at least prepare for it. If you scroll through our ship's log, you can see that in 13 years of sailing we have survived five ten-point storms and maybe we have had twice as many eight-point or nine-point storms.

If we have time for preparation and maneuver space, our Nine of Cups will cope with the rage with dignity. We always start with the checklist. We learned about our first storm in a day or two. We've written a list of what we thought we should do. When the storm came, we reviewed it, made corrections, comments and remarks. Now the list is stored in the wheelhouse.

We make sure that everything you need is in place. Our checklist includes not only a list of what to do during a storm, but also notes about where things we rarely use are stored.

We also have to make sure that we have not forgotten the procedure. The first time we set the Storm Trisel to the right level and set the sails using trial and error. Even though we have sailed more than one, I don't count on my memory and always carry a detailed cheat sheet.

We also tried to make sets. For example, in the same bag with trisel, we store schools, hits and canifas blocks. So, at a crucial moment, we don't have to dig through the forepeaks looking for the same schott ends. What's more, the shkouts and the hits are attached to the sail in advance. The hits must be long enough to raise the sail to the optimum height, and have a fire at the end to attach to the reef hook on the boom.

Our checklist consists of five points.

Item one - sails and rigging. Our Nine of Cups is a motorboat, i.e. it is equipped with two front sails, so we start by replacing the usual jib with a stormy one. In fresh winds it is easier to remove the inner stack from the mast than a jib, especially if the crew is small. In addition, the Nine of Cups goes better in strong winds and is easier to handle with a stormy sail running on a jib rather than a jib track. Then we lower the mainsail and fasten it to the gyke. We've got a geek sector, so we lower the geek onto it and fix it. There's only one rail on our mast to lift the sail, so we have to remove the mainsail completely before we can install the trisel. Originally we thought about adding a second rail for the trisel, but then we realized that releasing the main one wasn't a big problem. When the trissel shkot is fixed, it goes up and levelled in the wind.

The second point is the deck. We check the safety lines and racks to which they are attached. We use improvised materials and/or synthetic grease to plug all deck openings like chain pipes, of course. Then we seal hatches and portholes, put plugs on fans. We duplicate the fixings for canisters, anchors and other equipment on deck. Enter the interior and carefully fix the ace motor. The ace itself is deflated and deliberately fixed on deck. Fold and remove the bimini and cockpit awning, their supports take on board. Remove all loose objects from the cockpit downwards. We're fixing the wind generator. We take out reserve ropes from the forepe and place them so that if necessary they are at hand. We close and fix the covers of the lockers and boxes, check the life raft and remember how to use it.

The third point is the preparation of the sub-deck facilities. It is clear that any object that can slip or fall should be removed or tied up. We check all drawers and cabinets. If the locker door opens abruptly, tins, bottles or pans can fly out like cannonballs and make trouble.

We need to make sure that all things are secured and, if necessary, wrapped in rags or towels. Secure all horizontal covers and hatches, such as refrigerator doors. Take notebooks, tablets, cameras, etc. into protective covers and hide them in a safe place. Fill the bunks and tighten the fixation nets.

We then check the location and operability of basic necessities: flashlights and batteries, spotlights, emergency stackings, flares, emergency beacons, bilge pumps (both manual and mechanical), tools, etc. We have a floating anchor, and of course we are preparing it too. If you have AIS or radar, be sure to turn on and check the equipment. For insurance purposes, we check the availability of all necessary equipment for trimming standing rigging in case of mast fall. We are preparing planks to seal broken portholes and broken hatches.

The fourth point is to check the engine. The need to start the engine during a storm may arise in emergency situations, such as to avoid a collision, so we must be 100% sure of it. We check the oil level, cooling, electrician, belts and spigots. Start the engine for about an hour to make sure the batteries are charged, but make sure there is enough fuel in the consumable tank.

The fifth item is personal safety. We take out and check the storm equipment, life jackets and «drop»them off. It is not superfluous to remember where the masks and tubes lie - sometimes it rains and splashes are so strong that it makes sense to use underwater equipment. Do not forget about the sea sickness - we stock up on medicines. Well, if it does not get seasick, you will surely want to eat, so on the stove with cardan suspension fasten a large saucepan with some kind of brew, which can be heated as needed.

But it is always easier to have a quick snack with high-calorie cereal bars and nuts, do not forget about them. We fill flasks and kettle with water, we fill the thermos with boiling water.

And when everything is ready, we carefully study all available weather forecasts and try to gain strength.

During the storm itself, our actions depend on the direction in which it moves. If there is a tailwind, we continue to sail, if necessary, taking the reefs on the storm stack until the pennant wind speed exceeds 40 knots. Trisel does not reef, so if it is too fast on one, we just lower it and keep going without sailing. If the wind gusts are still increasing, or if we are too fast, or if the waves begin to collapse, we throw out a floating anchor. In our case it consists of 180 small cones strung on a very long rope attached to the stern. We've worked out the issue of braking in a stormy sea in detail, and this design seems to us to be the most efficient. Another plus is that you can make it yourself. Well, the biggest drawback is the real risk of flooding the stern, so as soon as the floating anchor is down, we close the cockpit, go down and switch our attention to radar and AIS, not forgetting of course to look up sometimes for control.

If we go against the storm wind, we stop resisting as soon as it reaches 32-35 knots.

Trying to fight it further is a tough test for the ship and crew, which, moreover, is unlikely to succeed. Well, as soon as wind gusts reach 45-50 knots, we definitely lower the sails, drop the floating anchor and drift.

Of the five storms we've experienced at sea, only two have caused serious damage to the yacht. The three storms we were truly prepared for did not cause us any noticeable damage.

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