Members' Online Book: Heavy Weather Tactics, Chapter 1 of 16

Introduction—You Need A System

Many of us (I have been guilty of this myself) buy storm survival gear, throw it in a corner of the lazarette, and head off to sea congratulating ourselves on our foresight and seamanship. But when we do that, we have not really prepared for a storm at sea. Let’s look at why I say that.

The Reality of a Storm at Sea

It’s blowing like blazes and getting worse. You are seasick, exhausted, and your boat has just experienced a partial knockdown, scaring the living daylights out of you. You need that drogue deployed and you need it now, before the next big wave makes that partial knockdown look like a gentle pat on the back. Oh yes, it is black dark too. (Why is it that scary stuff always happens in the dark?)

The drogue is in a corner of the lazarette under all the junk that you threw on top of it in the rush to get to sea. To get it out and get the warp to set it on, you are going to have to move all this stuff in the dark. Worse still, the hatch will be open to the sea while you do it—seriously dangerous in this kind of weather.

With superhuman fear-driven strength, you get the drogue out, together with several hundred feet of heavy line, and slam the hatch shut with only a few hundred gallons of water getting into the boat. Not enough to sink you, you hope.

Now, assuming the wind or a wave don’t tear the whole works out of your hands and wash it away, you just have to figure out on which side of that vital and oh so fragile self-steering gear to rig the bridle legs and what to cleat them to. Oh yes, that several hundred feet of line is now a hopeless tangle. What about chafe? Oh no, the chafe gear is in the lazarette. By now it’s even darker and, if you’re anything like me, you have to take a break to puke.

Not the Time to Be Figuring Stuff Out

Why is it all so hard? Simply because you have never done any of this before. In fact, if you are like most people, you have not even read the instructions that came with the drag device—yes, I have been guilty of this too.

The point of all this is that when you buy storm survival gear and lug it to the boat, you are about one third of the way to a storm survival system.

The second third is putting together and trying out a deployment system that is set up and ready to go before you even leave the wharf.

And then, don’t forget, you have to have a way to get the damned thing back aboard after the storm—the last third.

In this book we will help you get truly ready for storms at sea. But notice I said “help”.  Being really ready is mostly up to you, we can only point the way.

One other note. Throughout the book I will write about how we do it on our boat, rather than tell you exactly what you should do, or discuss a lot of other options. That is no accident. We are only willing to write about gear and systems that we are willing to trust our own lives to.

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Meet the Author


John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

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