Westsail Owners Alliance - Thread: "Heavy Weather Tactics On W32"
Westsail Westsail Owners Affiliation
 Important information about this site! 

Thread: "Heavy Weather Tactics On W32"

12,268 posts on 2,444 threads   •   From Mar 07, 2004 - Jan 08, 2012


Text Strings  

Full Phrase  


All Words  

Any Word  


Message Text

Text & Author  


Heavy Weather Tactics On W32

Dick and Libby Mills

My wife won't let me go to a boat show even if we are in the neighborhood; because I'm a sucker for sales pitches and might spend too much money. Never mind, I went to the SSCA gam in Melbourne in 2007 and bought a sea anchor parachute. This year, at the same gam I also bought a drouge.

Also on board Tarwathie are a storm jib and a storm trisail, neither of which I've ever had out of the bag.

So now I'm very long on equipment, but short on real life storm experience at sea. I've never done more than heave to for practice.

I was also humbled by a recent visit from Al Hatch, the previous owner of my W32 Tarwathie. He regaled my dinner guests with stories of sailing Tarwathie in 67 knot northeasterlies while in the Gulf Stream with those infamous square-front waves, and managing fine with storm sails and the monitor doing the steering.

So what do other W32 owners say? Storm tactics? Which equipment to leave behind?

Lee Perry

Dick and Libby,     Your question is a short one with a long answer. I have owned my W32 Patience for almost seventeen years with two trips out to the Hawaiian islands and up and down the pacific coast from the San Juans to Zihautanejo Mexico. Since an expert is only a drip under pressure, I don't claim to be one. Anyway to answer your question.    
I CARRY -storm staysail, trysail and series drogue. These three will handle most storm situations.

STORM TACTICS IN THIS ORDER- reduce sail, go to storm staysail and trysail, heave to, run downwind under storm staysail alone, run downwind towing series drogue with storm staysail. 
Notice I did not mention taking down all sail and lying ahull(drifting sideways). This sometimes works with a catamaran but not with a monohull particularly a westsail with her long full keel. If you want to roll your boat over this will do it. Keep her sailing at all times to maintain control. I do not like parachute sea anchors as the forces are too great to stop a 20000 lb boat in a storm. She will not lie head to seas no matter what the salesman says.
Rather than state at what wind force you should take each step I would say when you feel your anxiety climbing its time to make the next change. Fear is good it gets the adrenaline flowing so you can function.
Listen to Tarwathie, she will tell you what she wants and when.
Finally you will get lots of opinions on this subject and this is only mine. Form your own as you gain experience. Practice putting up your storm sails at the dock until you can do it with you eyes closed with one hand.
Storms are few and far between, Lee

Michael Dougan

Can't say it any better than Lee has.

Would add that you should check out our page under the Member's Websites for the real story of Satori in the Perfect Storm. I think we have a link to the CG video of Satori and you can see that she's heaved-to under storm staysail alone (not running downwind), with the main securely lashed, and the helm lashed to leeward (some people say, not all the way to leeward, so, you need to practice this in various wind conditions). She looks pretty comfortable to me, in a pretty big storm.

Also, if you haven't already read it, Heavy Weather Sailing should be required reading for any offshore sailor.

Bud Taplin

Here is that picture of Satori taken from a Coast Guard helicopter.


Frank and Melanie Scalfano


What kind of droque do you recommend, and how do you deploy it?


Ken and Debra Bridger

Note. When I bought Satori from Ray he told me that he dropped a small backpack on the side deck by the aft stay that had his camera, passport and cash just before he jumped into the water. When the boat was recovered it was still there and completely dry. He said he had some great pictures developed. Ken

Lee Perry

Frank & Mel,       I have a Jordan series drogue. You can find info on the internet. You can buy one , make one from a kit(sailrite) or make your own as I did. Mine has a 100 foot 3/4" 3 strand bridle and 200 foot cone line with 115 cone and a 15lb cannon ball anchor on the end.     To deploy it I feed the bridle through the stern hawse pipe and slip it over the stern sampson post. Next flake it all down so it is free to run. Then drop the cannon ball over and let it run out. MAKE SURE YOU ARE FREE AND CLEAR OF ALL LINES!!! It is designsd to slow the boat down to keep her from surfing down the face of the wave.
Please do not deploy anything off of the bow. This will cause the boat to move backwards through the water, First the tiller will break and then the rudder, possibly tearing it from the hull. Keep her moving forward through the water and under control.
We are talking storm conditions here not just a gale. Lee

Looks like I may have a dog in this hunt. I have no real storm at sea experience but I may get some. Just know what I've read, and that a lot depends on the boat.

Ray Leonard had Satori lie ahull as long as he could (his passengers insisted he take some action, hence the storms'l) in the Halloween storm of 1991/Perfect. She apparently did get knocked down but no damage. Some say lying ahull may be less likely to cause damage in a knockdown because the boat is already adjusted to and moving with the seas.

Lying ahull has been the classic storm management tactic since way back. Recently, following Fastnet '79, new philosophies have arisen, especially about the series drogue. But that is based almost exclusively on wave machine model studies. I have heard reports of utter failure of the series drogues, to the point of being removed from the gear on the boat. This is experimental gear as far as I am concerned, compared to historical survivals at sea. More on that . . ..

Lying ahull has been especially effective in Colin Archer double end aka Westsail designs, according to some authorities. "Singledhanded Sailing" by Richard Henderson. Henderson reports that numerous practitioners of hulling (lying ahull) are Marin-Marie with Winneibelle, John Gau with Atom, John Guzzwell with Trekka, Francis Chichester with the Gypsy Moths I-V, Chris Loehr, Alex Rose, Chay Blyth and Clare Francis. We should add Ray Leonard, too. :-).

Ray may not have won any ocean races or established circumnavigation records, but he built an envious record sailing Satori tens of thousands of miles, especially along the East coast from Nova Scotia to Venezuela and back, including the Antilles.

Jimmy Cornell, the great marine author, did a survey called "Ocean Cruising Survey", and wrote "Everyone of the skippers (common denominator ... experienced skippers... some over 50,000 sea miles). . . who had weathered extreme conditions by dropping all sail, lying ahull, battening down, and leaving the boat to look after itself, stressed the wisdom of such an action and found this tactic more satisfactory than trying to battle with the elements."

By the way Ray was a smart guy, President of a college and I believe earned a PhD in forestry.

As to the storms, it seems to me we have very limited data bases here. Fastnet 79 was the milestone of yachts in storms studies, but it was only one storm. I was able to watch rescues from Naval Helicopters on TV for two days. It looked like a giant, slow moving, low windspeed, tornado. It never dawned on me till recently, reading the Coles book again (one skipper said he could see the wind a few hundred yards away moving from stbd. to port, while the wind on the deck was from port), that that could have been exactly what it was. In my estimation, they don't get many tornadoes in Ireland. So, this was quite a new experience, if my theory is correct. Anyway, odd as it was, Fastnet was one storm.

We Westsailors seem to have a significant advantage in the storm data/management department in that we have detailed, documented information of Satori and her experience October 30 to about November 4, 1991. This was a three storm event. Yes, three, not two as commonly understood. At least if you believe National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

About October 30, the day Satori was evacuated, as I understand matters after quite a bit of research, and I stand to be corrected, there was a horrendous Noreaster fresh off the Canadian plains, only it was retrograde, that is, moving from East to West, opposite the typical storm of that genesis.

Second, Hurricane Grace was working her way North off the Eastern Seaboard. Sounds like the movie so far, right? Grace was essentially knocked out by the the Nor'Easter, but her energy and moisture were absorbed into that system, increasing the energy of that system. The Noreaster moved Southwards offshore.

Third, a second hurricane that was not named formed from the remnants of the Nor'easter, according to NOAA. It was something like the fifth unnamed hurricane of the century. Apparently, the in NOAA's view, the local populace was confused enough over the existing state of weather affairs that it did not wish to add more confusion to the situation. The unnamed hurricane was expected to pass harmlessly to sea, which it did. The marine interests new about it and avoided it. I suspect it was this unnamed hurricane that finally drove Satori to the beach.

The USCG videos and photos may not give accurate information about Satori's handling, as the voyage was declared untenable and essentially commandered by the Coast Guard by the time the helicopters arrived, I presume. So, Ray was running under their orders, even running the engine, when he would not have done so otherwise.

If one wishes to trail warps, a drogue is not the only way to do it, dragging tires, 2x4s, hawsers, anchors, all kinds of stuff has worked.

Ray did not get any of his story told in the first edition hardcover version of the book, "The Perfect Storm", nor in the movie that followed. He did get a footnote about page 207 in the second edition paperback of the book that told his story and the fact that he was right as evidenced by the survival of his boat. So, you have to go there to ge the straight skinny from Junger's mouth. Junger claimed Ray was not available for interview early on. That may be true as Ray and Satori headed straight for Florida after the storm.

Finally, I believe it was crewmember Karen Stimpson who made the mayday call from Satori. I have it from good authority that Karen Stimpson has purchased a sailboat. Guess what kind?
A Westail, of course.

Sub-finally, despite the rewritten facts of the movie, neither Satori, nor any Westsail, had anyting to do with the ditching of the helicopter or the demise of any rescue jumper. Satori's crew was safely evacuated to the Tamoroa and then to land by helicopter. During the debriefing ashore, another rescue unit was called out to rescue a Japanese sailor 200 miles offshore. A second helicopter rescue crew departed, leaving Satori's crew behind, and it was their helicopter that ditched. So, Tamoroa had to do tremendous double duty and again put to sea from a safe port for the rescue effort. Tamoroa has a strong following of admirers who are desparately trying to save her after she was taken out of commission. She was highly decorated in WWII-- the story I like is her intentional beaching at Iwo Jima to provide cover for the ammunition laden LST to get ammo ashore. It's real naval history and, for awhile, it looks like Satori will be remembered in the telling of the Tamoroa story, as well.

David Wiencke

Lying ahull and heaving-to will work up to the point when waves begin curling and beaking (so I've read), because of the risk of getting rolled. Lying ahull can be uncomfortable due to rocking and rolling. When heaving-to, sails steady the boat and reduce the rolling , but may require adjustment as conditions change.

As for handling extreme conditions in double-enders, also read Bernard Moitessier's account of sailing in the southern ocean in 'Cape Horn, the logical route', where he cuts the trailing warps (scary waves overtaking boat)after recalling that Vito Dumas (sailing in a copy of the Eric) actively sailed/steered in those conditions. Of course unlikely any of us will see those conditions, unless we go looking for it.

We got a freak, and unforecast 3' of snow in Minnesota (the great 'Halloween Blizzard'), same storm system involved in the perfect storm. My Cape Dory Typhoon got frozen in White Bear Lake in the cold snap after that storm.

Greetings Dick: Love reading your blog, especially through these winter months ahead.

I second the advice of raising those storm sails in milder conditions to work out how the sheets run etc., also practicing heaving-to, maybe with the storms'ls set, and even lying ahull, in gradually stronger conditions.

I wonder about how difficult it might be to actually deploy (and UNdeploy?)a drogue in extreme conditions. I can picture a potenial handfull on deck.


Lee Perry

More on this subject can be read on The Queens Birthday Storm where the W32 "Pilot" was rolled the couple rescued and the westsail scuttled.  Also this article on drag devices.  Leehttp://holoholo.org/caldwell/bj_96/oceannav.html

Ralph and Sandra Weiland

Thanks Lee. That was a really good read. Deserves several readings.

Terry Shoup

OK, I'll ask a stupid question: Where do I lead the sheets on a storm sail? I'm assuming that it isn't attached to the boom but is more or less free-footed, but I might be wrong on this. Any help will be greatly appreciated.

Lee Perry

Terry,        Good question. My trysail has a single sheet that goes through a turning block at the sampson post and to the cockpit winch. You can mount your block anywhere to get a fair lead. The single sheet works for me as it only needs to be slackened a little to give it shape on either tack. The main boom should at this point be down in the gallows and lashed.  The storm staysail also has a single sheet that goes to the jib winch on the mast. A snap shackle with pennant gets it up to the right height.  Experiment with yours until it works for you. The staysail and storm try should be at the same height. Then the running backs need to be rigged to support the mast.  You may never need to use them but knowing that you can is just good seamanship.  One other thing. The trysail is not just for storms. I use it to steady the boat when sailing downwind in a fresh breeze when the mainsail is too much. It is an easy sail to manage and no boom thrashing about.  Not trying to be a know it all on this It's just what works for me.  Lee

Frank and Melanie Scalfano


The article did not mention the "Pilot," unless I missed it. Is this boat the only W32 that has been lost at sea? Also, that article and others talk about "modern designs" and surfing, neither one of which I expect apply to the W32. One more question; in the linked article, using a sea anchor should result in a speed to leeward of around 1 knot. Is this sufficient to destroy the tiller and/or rudder? I do not have any experience in storm conditions, but I imagine being hit by following waves, which should be traveling faster than the boat if a drogue is being used, would be a greater strain on the rudder than moving backwards at 1 knot into the lee of the boat.


David Wiencke

Regarding the article on drag devices, keep in mind most of those boats were 'race' boats, ie; fin keels, spade rudders. They need to bo slowed down and require much more attention from their crew.

One of the reasons people choose our beamy, bluff-bowed, full keeled, double-enders, is because they can take care of themselves when a short-handed crew needs rest, Sartori's story being a perfect example. I wouldn't argue against having a drogue in your bag-of-tricks, I just suspect that it may not be needed.

One of the things I got out of Alard Coles' book is for short-handed crews in particular, to learn how get your boat to heave-to and lie-to comfortably so that you can rest. That way you're fresh, if a storm intensifies to the point where you have to actively steer the boat, ie; big waves are curling and breaking.

This is all worthy of forethought, but I remember reading something Eric Hiscock said, that he cruised for 30yrs before getting caught in a bad storm.

David Wiencke


I think that's loose the parachute, keep the drogue, and practice setting up the storm sails.

I should qualify my "expertise" as limited to a lifetime of coastal cruising (50+yrs), no ocean crossings yet, and never heaving-to or lying-to out of nessecity, but maybe to have peacefull lunch in rough weather. When short handed, I've found heaving-to helps make it easier to put in a reef, especially if I've waited too long, which is always.

I'm always amazed at how well the Westsail handles rough weather, I've never even felt close to the limit of what she'll take.

Norm Rhines

Some extra thoughts
within a wave (near surface)
the uplift; (as the wave is overtaking you) is a flow from the trough to the crest i.e. you have flow past the boat and rudder if you are going in the same direction as the wave.
the crest; this is the top 5% of the wave and is greatly effected by the wind and breaking; this is where the water speed and direction matches the wave speed +/- roughly so this is where a fin keel and even the w32 to some extent wants to turn fall off or change direction. To this end the drogue works well to keep the boat on course as the unit is spread out in waters of all speeds and allows the boat to only pull on those going slower than the boat so there is a very small load increases / .00001Knot increases until you pass the speed of all the drogues in the water (=heavy motoring). The Parachute has a fixed speed of motion because it is at one location in the water thus if you need to move with the wave a little faster the forces become very very big, or are not enough. (This is why it is critical to have the length of line to the chute = one wave length or = two wave lengths exactly)

That said the reason one tries not to go head into the waves was shown on the perfect storm. as you head up the wave the flow in the wave is from behind (less rudder control) then at the top, the bow sees much more flow from ahead, for 0.2 to 0.9 sec before the rudder. So if you are at, lets say 4 deg off near the top of the wave, by the time the rudder sees flow you will be 20+ deg off with momentum = not good.

The other item no one has noted; is the wind loads, at the crests of 20+ foot waves the wind is well, full + strength, but in the troughs it is much much less maybe 10%. so you will need to think about this (just think about a steadying sail at anchor) = I would not put sail up on the bow if I anchored off the bow and like wise no sail up aft if anchored from the stearn. same thought for heavy weather sails.

Bottom Line is, I am with Lee and David on this. Please note: My storm experance is up to 25 footers with 45 to 55 Kts of wind. (we were running 5.5 to 7kts with just the stay sail up) no drogue, heaving would not have been so great as the force on the sail changed by more than 20 fold from trough to crest of the waves (this is not the case in 5 to 8' waves where the wind is some what steady +/-). A drogue would have helped in our case, as we were starting to be pushed off at the crests (speed helped reduce this). I assume in 30'+ waves this becomes even more a problem. Heading into them would have resulted in, you not needing to endure reading my rantings here on the board as I would not be here most likely.

hope this give some insight to rough weather sailing from my point of view.

Tom Crank

"Is this boat the only W32 that has been lost at sea?"

Unfortunately no. I first fell in love with the W32 after seeing s/v Azure in Moorea. She was later lost with all hands enroute to California from Hawaii

Lee Perry

For those wanting to read about W32 "pilot" that was scuttled in the Queens Birthday Storm, the book to read is "Rescue in the Pacific" you can get it at amazon. Lee

Lee Perry

If you are not tired of me yet, lets take a look at the picture of Satori on the beach. We can learn a few things here. Her jibsail has been taken off, the staysail and staysail boom are lashed down to the deck, the storm staysail is rigged, the mainsail is well secured, the main boom is lashed in the gallows, both running backs are rigged, the main hatch is open, and the tiller is amidship.
The staysail sheeted on portside suggests she was at some point sailing or hove to on starboard tack. Was the tiller tied to leeward and just worked itself free or was it tied midship before leaving is unclear. What is clear is this boat was not just drifting through this storm but was sailing downwind under staysail taking the seas on her stern and moving with the storm not against it. She was rigged properly.
ok I will give it a rest. Lee

Ken and Debra Bridger

If I remember correctly, Ray told me he set Satori to track west. Hoping to beach on the southern half of New Jersey. That is where he searched after the storm. He was surprised she made it to the beach in Maryland. Guessing she sailed faster than he thought. Ken (formerly of Satroi #223)

Ralph and Sandra Weiland


No need to give this a rest. It's a fascinating, and very informative set of postings.


Frank and Melanie Scalfano

After I last posted to this thread, I found a description of what happened to the SV Pilot on the Latitude38.com site:"Pilot, a Maine-based Westsail 32 cutter, with a very experienced crew of two: After several knockdowns, the boat was rolled. Then, while running with quartering seas, a huge wave washed the mast away. The only boat without an EPIRB (or a life raft according to the rescuers), Pilot was miraculously spotted by an airplane looking for other boats. Although suffering from hypothermia, the crew battled the boat's inherent tendency to go beam to the breaking seas. Accepting a rescue offer from a ship, the skipper took a knife to the sink thru-hull, scuttling the vessel he'd lived on and cruised for six years. The two crew ultimately blamed exhaustion, brought on in a large part by what they felt was the Westsail's poorly-designed cockpit for having to give up."

  Forum Archive Home    Back to Previous Page   Show Posts w/ Images   Windbag Newsletter 
This site is provided as service to Westsail Owners by Jack Webb on Westsail 32, Hull #438, at http://HighSeasDrifter.net,
This site is provided as service to Westsail Owners by  Jack Webb (s/v Drifter, Westsail 32, Hull #438)