Seven Heavy Weather Sailing Tips You Need to Know!

"Maybe we should have taken down the spinnaker earlier...
.. .
Did you know there are five secret signs you can use to tell you when it's time to reef?

Do you know the one vital step you should take before tacking in high winds to prevent costly damage to your furling Genoa?

Here Captain John Jamieson shows you seven ways you can make coastal or offshore cruising more comfortable in heavy sailing weather.


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1. Reef from the Upwind Side:
Make reefing easier when you keep the sailing crew on the high side at the mast for mainsail reefing and foredeck for changing out headsails. For mainsail reefing it's safer if you sail onto the tack that matches the side where your main halyard winch has been mounted.

For example, for a main halyard winch mounted on the starboard side of the mast, sail onto starboard tack before you send the crew forward. This makes lowering, hoisting and grinding easier with the mainsail out of the way.

Remind your crew to always clip on their safety tethers to the jackline on the high (windward) side of the boat. If they slip, the tether will take a strain and keep them aboard.


2. Fall Off the Wind to Furl a Genoa:
Use the mainsail to block the wind when you need to furl the Genoa. This relieves strain from the furling line to make it easier to roll the Genoa to the desired size. Fall off the wind, create a wind shadow, furl the Genoa, and then return to your original course. It takes just seconds and you will save your sailing crew effort and strain.


3. Use a Pendant on Headsails:
Have your sailmaker make up an 18 inches long wire-rope pendant that will raise the tack of your heavy weather sail above the deck. This helps prevent waves that break over the bow from straining sail fabric and thread. And, it provides sailing crew with better visibility beneath the foot of the sail.

Make up an eye in each end of the pendant with a stainless thimble inserted to protect the wire-rope from chafe. Shackle one end to a hole in the stem-head fitting or to a strong through-bolted eye strap if you use an inner forestay. Attach the other end to the tack of your staysail or storm sail. Hoist the sail and tension the luff.

Use the halyard to maintain good luff tension for maximum power to punch through a chop and speed on reaching points of sail.


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4. Watch for These Five Reefing Signals:
Follow these five golden rules so that you know when to reef. Be the first one out there to take action. Tucking in a reef while heeled over with spray flying in your face can be tough on even the saltiest of sailing dogs.

Can you answer 'Yes!' to one or more of the questions below? If so, then it's time to tuck in a reef or two or three.

* Whitecaps to Windward?

Constant whitecaps tell you that a strong breeze has filled in and will continue for some time. Reef to add power to your boat sails and punch through those waves like a hot knife through butter.

* Gusts More Frequent?

How often do those gusts strike the sails and cause the boat to heel? An occasional gust might not be of much concern. But lots of gusts every minute mean you need to reduce sail to keep the boat on her feet.

* Helm Hard to Hold?

A balanced helm means being able to steer without strain with one hand. Lots of weather helm and 'white-knuckles' on the wheel or tiller indicates a boat out of harmony with wind and sea. Reef sails to the point that your boat can almost steer herself!

* Rail Digging In?

Each time your small cruising or racing sailboat digs the leeward rail into the water, you lose valuable speed. Extra friction and drag make you slow down. Keep the lee rail clear of the water for faster cruising passages.

* Crew Fatigued and Sick?

All evolutions take longer to complete in tough weather. A tired, sick crew can become an injured, battered crew. One crew member unable to stand watch increases the work load on all hands. Tuck in a reef and you will be rewarded with a boat that sails flatter, pounds and pitches less, and creates less fatigue on your sailing crew.

5. Furl All the Way Before Coming About:
On cutter-rigged cruising sailboats, furl the Genoa before you come about to prevent the Genoa from hanging up (getting snagged) on the inner forestay. Use this same strategy on sloops in higher sailing winds.

Furl the Genoa all the way, tack the boat, and then unfurl the Genoa once steadied up on the new tack. The wind will help unfurl the Genoa, the sail will flog less, and sail handling will be easier for short-handed crews.

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6. Install Reef Points in a Headsail:
Save big money when you have your sailmaker install a single row of reef points in your hank-on staysail. This past fall, I helped deliver an Outbound 44 from Newport, Rhode Island to the Caribbean. The sailing skipper had installed a single row of reef points in the staysail. In extreme weather, we could reef the staysail instead of having to hank on a different sail. Use headsail reef points to gain the same advantage as two separate sails--at a fraction of the cost!

7. Rig Dual Preventers for Sailing Safety:
Multi-time circumnavigator Hal Roth was a firm proponent of dual preventers. This allowed him to sail onto broad reaches or run before the wind on either tack without the bother of re-rigging a single preventer after he changed tacks.

Set up a preventer to port and starboard the next time you go coastal or offshore sailing. You will save time and effort, plus boost your sailing safety with this simple technique.

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Follow these seven sailing tips to increase your sailing safety when you encounter heavy weather sailing. Keep your boat balanced and powerful, and your sailing crew more comfortable--wherever in the world you choose to cruise!

Captain John teaches sailing skippers the skills they need for safer sailing anywhere in the world. As a SkipperTips member, you will receive fresh articles, videos, and newsletters in your inbox every week, along with access to live discussion forums and one-on-one coaching. Visit his website at www.skippertips.com.