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Saturday, April 9, 2016

Sailing into Danger

It was a sunny afternoon and I was happy thinking about sailing today! I could see myself attaching the main sail to the halyard and pulling it to the top of the mast and then setting out over the blue water.
All went like I had imagined it - at first. My suspicion that something was not right happened when I got out to the main harbor. 
The wind was pretty strong and it took some of my advanced sailing skills to keep the boat in the right direction. It wasn't till I was about to head out past the lighthouse into the open ocean when I noticed it. A massive fog bank rolling in with the rushing wind.
 I could see the fog moving past like ghostly fingers. Wow! I exclaimed. It was truly amazing! It was huge like a mountain and dense too. Looking out, I could only see maybe a mile to where the first green buoy was, marking the shipping lane. And it could get worse. I have sailed in fog before and honestly I don't like it. You lose all sense of direction. Immediately I went and got my compass and jotted down my heading in the log. If ever you get lost you can take the reciprocal compass route back. 
When I got out to the open ocean, it wasn't the fog only that I had to be concerned about. It was the wind. It was blowing really strong and whitecaps were forming on the wave tops.
I then got my life jacket on and went out on the bow to get a better look. When I got settled out there and had a tethered myself to the boat, I could see it was actually worse than I thought.
Spindrift was occurring and you could see where the white water was forming streaks over the waves. As for the waves themselves, they were not big yet. Maybe four feet high sometimes.
Being out on the bow is one of my favorite places to be. You can see every facet of the wind on the waves and at the same time get a really good look at the horizon. In this case I could only see the massive fog bank.
Usually I just relax and breath in the freedom being out there. Today though, I could feel the urgency and the danger. I had too much sail up and I knew it."

If I pulled the sails in tight the boat would heel too hard and I would put way too much pressure on the shrouds. Right now I had the sails so that some of the excess wind was lost but not loose enough for them to crack and shake. Eventually if you leave the sails too loose they will rip. For a little while I sat at the bow watching how the boat and the sails were reacting to the heavy wind and the ever increasing waves. 

It was just a matter of time before the waves would get bigger. I carefully made my way back to the cockpit holding on to the shrouds as I crossed the deck. Looking in the pilot book to give me some info about how strong the wind was, I saw that spindrift accompanied a gale. I knew it was not a gale yet but it was not looking good. I determined to only go a mile and then turn around. Eventually that time came. The green shipping lane buoy was now to my left on the port side. 

I then turned the boat into the wind and let go the jib line and waited for the main sail to switch sides. But it didn't happen. "Rats!" I yelled. I was afraid of this. The wind was too strong and was not allowing the sails to pass through the eye of the wind. The boat now turned right back to the same course as before. 

I tried again. This time I helped the boat gather a little more speed before I turned the tiller. But the wind pulled us right back. I sat there a little stumped at first. "Ok" I thought. Don't panic. Yes, I still have a few more tricks I can try." And I did. If one couldn't tack into the wind, one could always jibe away from the wind. True, I would lose some of my way, but I couldn't help it. So turning the tiller I turned the boat the other way - but this time there was no response. There was simply too much sail up to be able to jibe. The power in the sails wouldn't allow the boat to turn. "Great!" I said. "Now what?" Yes one more idea came to mind before I would simply have to take the sails down and use the engine to turn around. This time I pulled in the sails a little tighter (something I hadn't wanted to do) and this is turn brought the boat closer upwind. Now I was closer to the eye of the wind and if I could just keep the boat speed up I might be able to do it. 

After seeing the wake of white water passing the side of the boat (which meant I had speed) I turned the tiller again. As soon as the boat rounded into the wind I held on to the port jib line so the jib would get back winded if the boat passed the eye. It did and we turned! "Hurray!" I yelled and sprung to life pulling in the starboard jib line like a snake that was trying to get away. Letting out on the main sheet I then headed back to the San Pedro light house. I could still see it in the fog. "Whew!" I said relieved. The worst was over now.

After passing the lighthouse, I turned on the engine and motor sailed on a close reach against the wind. Soon I was sailing into my marina and had the sails down. It had not been the calm and relaxing sail I had imagined. More of an adventure really! 

Thanks for your comments! 



  1. Amazing the boat and the sails were reacting to the heavy wind and the ever increasing waves. thanks for important shearing by post.sailing cruises in san blas islands

    1. Yes, if the wind gets going, it can overpower the sails. When the wind overpowers the sails it makes it hard to turn. In this case you have to lower sail. Hope that helps! :-) ~Albie


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