Heading Offshore!

Comfort, even in heavy weather!

For the first time skipper looking at an ocean passage, are you ready? But we’re not just looking at the novice here, the experienced offshore sailor still needs to ensure the boat and crew are ready for the task ahead. There’s an old saying, Familiarity Breeds Contempt and if we’re honest we’ve all let things slip from time to time!

Heading offshore for most skippers means spending a lot of time, money and effort getting ready, particularly if you are making your first offshore passage. Even with modern weather routing there is still a chance that you’ll run into rough weather. One of the questions that needs to be answered honestly and carefully is how well you, the boat and your crew are prepared to face winds over 30 knots and the associated seaway? 

There are many things you can do to ensure you’re able to handle the rough stuff. 

If you have a slab-reefing mainsail, how deeply can it be reefed? Experienced offshore sailors and most sailmakers will recommend adding a deep third reef so it effectively becomes a storm main. 

How will you control the boom in seriously rough seas? Preventers are essential that can be easily rigged and controlled from the cockpit. A boom brake is also a good boom-control solution. After all, the boom is the most dangerous piece of equipment on the boat. 

Some favour the use of a Tri-sail, an excellent substitute if the main is blown out or the boom is out of commission for any of a number of reasons. Make sure you can hoist this easily, a separate track and a sheeting angle to suit the hoist are essential. 

How will you reef down the headsail? Most of us have roller furling genoas or jibs, so logic says to roll it up until about a third is still flying. To do this you’ll need to move the sheet cars forward, which should be readily done from the cockpit, so the top of the jib doesn’t twist off and flog itself to death. Another must, the sail needs a luff pad so it will roll up evenly. On most production sloops, staysails are a thing of the past, yet being able to fly a storm staysail, that is braced with running backstays, is an excellent option and should be considered for long-haul passage making. 

If your travelling out of season or in the higher latitudes a drogue and or a sea anchor are a must. If you’re sailing a cat both of these should be standard equipment for any passage.

Prepare a Ships Manual. Put as much information down on paper so crew know what the various procedures are and where to find everything aboard, life jackets, safety gear, EPIRB, fire extinguishers etc and what all the procedures are for their use.

Now for the crew! Experience is everything, for new crew take them out for a day sail. There are many reasons for this; education, run them through all the tasks , from reefing to COB (crew over board) drills. You’ll quickly tell if the crew will be a good fit aboard. If you can arrange a less than pleasant day you’ll also find out if they’re subject to sea sickness!

Have a crew signup sheet that includes any medication. Make sure anyone prone to seasickness is on their meds, well rested and feed everyone a good warm meal before the high wind hits. On deck, lash everything down and furl cockpit canvass such as a Bimini and insert. Below decks, secure all lockers, doors and drawers with positive dead-bolt latches if possible. Duct tape works, too. You don’t want the galley knife drawer ejecting its contents in a knockdown. If you reef early, get control of the boom, batten down the boat and choose an optimal course, storm conditions are manageable and will soon pass. In the southern hemisphere the fastest way out of a low pressure system is to put the wind over your left shoulder and beam reach out of the system.