Big waves can carry enormous force and can spin or overturn even a large sailboat in seconds.
This video shows how huge the waves can be and how easy it would be for a wave to broach your sailboat.
I left Marina Del Rey with strong winds coming out of the west. It didn’t take too long to get out to sea where 6-10 foot waves were waiting for me.
It looked like a mess out there. I had the little jib up and it sailed well over the big ten footers. Out at sea, the waves came upon you like monsters wanting to gulp you up. I had tethered myself to the lifeline and the hatches were closed. These size of waves really challenge you to be alert and careful and to make wise decisions – or else!
True enough, I’ve been in worse. Waves that were breaking more often and that were higher and more steep. But still, these kept me on my toes! I was even able to video a little footage of the time out there. Its interesting how on video, its very hard to show how big the waves are. I believe this is because of the wave length. On video you can’t see the distance between waves and thus the waves just appear to blend into the sea. Only the waves atop the bigger waves show up and these don’t look too big, as you can see from this picture:
This actual picture was taken atop a ten foot wave in actuality.
While I was out there with my phone camera, I suddenly got nailed by a big breaking wave and the spray flew all over me. I quickly ducked and saved my phone. The wetness hit me in the back instead, drenching through my first layer of clothing. I remember in times past being much more intimidated by these waves and returning to the harbor after fifteen minutes or so. But I’ve been learning more how to deal with these waves and my fear level has decreased.
So today I stayed out an hour in the craziness. It was rather fun. I did not have a lot of stress as the small jib was just the right size for the gusting wind and the boat was holding her own real well. Its when the wind starts increasing and putting too much pressure on the sails that I begin to get nervous.
You can see on one of my adventures, that my sails got all ripped up by the ferocious winds.
I did though, have a little trouble on the way back as the boat kept wanting to head up into the strong gusting wind. The waves were now coming from behind and the wind was crossing over my beam. I realized I had not let the main sail out enough.
I mean, the boat was on a beam reach already, but still the boat had almost swerved broadsides into the big waves twice.
Thankfully I had been saved by the simple turn of the tiller. But if the wind comes on strong enough, the tiller is helpless to overpower the sails. That’s why so much care needs to be taken to make sure the you are sailing the boat BY the sails. I’ve had my tiller break against a heavy wind when my sails were set wrong. So I had to let the main sheet and boom out even more (almost to a run!) so the boat wouldn’t broach.One big lesson in sailing in big seas and heavy winds is to make sure the sails are helping your tiller out!
A wave hitting you broadsides, if its big enough can flip your sailboat over. True it has to be very big and almost cresting – which is rare unless you’re caught in a storm at sea.
While writing this, I wanted to see what the full definition of ‘broaching’ was, so I looked it up. This was very interesting to me and they put it in words that are very clear and easy to understand. I really felt like I was battling all these same symptoms out at sea that they are talking about:
“A sailboat broaches when its heading suddenly changes towards the wind due to wind/sail interactions for which the rudder cannot compensate. This causes the boat to roll dangerously and if not controlled may lead to a capsize….”
“Also when sailing on a dead downwind run an inexperienced or inattentive sailor can easily misjudge the real strength of the wind since the boat speed subtracts directly from the true wind speed and this makes the apparent wind less. In addition the sea conditions also falsely seem milder on this point of sail as developing white caps are shielded from view by the back of the waves and are less apparent. When changing course in a brisk wind from a run to a reach or a beat, a sailboat that seemed under control can instantly become over-canvassed and in danger of a sudden broach.”
~Broach (sailing) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
True enough, sailing downwind or close to it on a broad reach, is exhilarating and very different than sailing into the ‘teeth’ of the wind. The wind is coming mostly from behind and you often end up ‘surfing’ through the waves on a fast track that appears much easier than beating into the crashing waves. But its dangers are perhaps even more real than on the other tack.
So all this to say, that life can sometimes hit you real hard. And sometimes it just builds really slow so that you don’t realize that your getting more and more behind. But you have to wake up and fight back. One moment, or day at a time. And if you don’t, then life will defeat you one little struggle at a time. Each moment you decide to let balance in your life slip and take the easy route. So don’t let it. And don’t let your dreams get taken either! People literally live on hope, so keep yours alive.
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Taken from my article “To Broach Your Boat in the Waves or Not To – This IS the Question!” in http://sailingwithalbie.blogspot.com/2012/03/broaching-your-boat-what-to-watch-out.html
Or see this one: “Ever had your life or your boat turned upside down?” https://sailingwithalbie.blogspot.com/2021/02/hi-albie-here.html
Welcome to Sailing With Albie!
I love sailing, hiking, personal motivation, business and sharing what I love with others! Feel free to check out all my exciting adventures at my websites below!
So, I’ve lost my mast three times now unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how much value you place on learning from your mistakes! LOL). This is the story of my second de masting in a small storm out of Marina Del Rey, CA:
It was 2012, I’m guessing in March when I left the marina with strong winds coming out of the west. It didn’t take too long to get out to sea where 6-10 foot waves were waiting for me. It looked like a mess out there – but I’ve been in much worse. I had the little jib up and it sailed well over the big ten footers. I had a little trouble on the way back as the boat kept wanting to head up into the strong gusting winds and I realized I had not let the mainsail out enough (I had it out on a broad reach but even that was not enough to keep the boat from wanting to head up!) After an hour of sailing out there in dangerous waves that crashed over the bow and white water that threatened to broach the boat, I came back into the breakwater and realized I had only sailed two hours! It had been a dozen heavy weather lessons all packed into a short time span.
I need four hours to qualify for a “full day at sea” (for my captains license), so I sailed to the other end of the marina and back and STILL had an hour left. The sun had set when I got back at the entrance to the sea and I decided to head out into the waves at night for half an hour more. I wasn’t really afraid as I have been out in similar weather at night many times. The sea had calmed a bit by now and had lost the big white caps from earlier. The wind had also had calmed – perhaps from twenty knots gusts to ten – and was right on the edge but not bad enough to warrant a sail change.
I had raised the Genoa again – just 20 mins earlier and was confident my shrouds were strong (as I check them often) and that the big jib could handle the load. However, because I had been out an hour in the waves, I should have paid some attention to the spreaders. In hindsight, I later had a suspicion that the
port spreader cross tree was slipping a little with all the tossing about that day. For no sooner had I got an eighth of a mile out and suddenly with a gunshot like crack, the mast was suddenly swept away right off the deck!
One moment the mast was on and the next it was gone. One of my worst nightmares – being caught in big seas and losing my mast – had come true. Thankfully the seas weren’t twenty feet and breaking! Anyway, now the mast lay on the water with all sails. The motion of the boat slowed down instantly and now I was just floating around without any ability to steer the boat. By slowing down almost to a standstill, this made the boat ride the waves almost like you can imagine a rubber ducky would. But in losirng speed, the rudder would not work. I knew I needed to get a sea anchor going so I could keep the boat heading up into the waves. So I opened the hatch to go check what I could do. I was half terrified of even opening my cabin to look, as opening the hatches made me vulnerable to taking on water if a big wave hit me broadsides. But I had to try! So after stepping into the cabin and looking around, I couldn’t see anything that would work and realized I was just going to have to live with the craziness.
So giving up on that idea, I decided to do the next most important thing which was to call in an S.O.S to the Harbor Patrol. While waiting for them to come, I then pulled on the rigging – trying to pull the mast out of the water. However, pulling on the shrouds was making my hands blead, so I decided to try and pull on the softer rope halyards instead. That seemed to work and I soon had the top of the mast out of the water and winched in to the cleat. But it was SO heavy! I could barely do that. At that point, I remember seeing the Harbor Patrol boat coming out of the breakwater. Suddenly in the dark, I saw a big ten foot wave coming. The boat began to ride up its big front and as it came to the top, the wave jolted the boat – hitting it and pushing it forward with all of its might. A surge of fear welled up inside of me. I didn’t like the boat so out of control. Nevertheless, this must have happened three times before the Harbor Patrol arrived. Thankfully this was the worst of it.
When the patrol came – you can imagine how happy I was! Soon the rescue men had heaved over the waves a line. Catching it for dear life, I then attached it to the bow and we were off – dragging the twenty five foot mast behind me with the sails still in the water. As I was towed along, I was able to get the other half of the broken mast out of the ocean and attach it to the side of the bow. But getting the whole mast up and onto the deck was more than I could do or figure out at that time.
It was at this time that it suddenly dawned on me that I could have attached my 100 foot rope to my big bucket and that this would have made a sufficient sea anchor! And afterwards (while going to sleep that night in the safety of my slip), it also dawned on me that if I had attached a strong rope to where the spreaders connect to the mast, I may have been able to pull the broken mast up and over the stern rail. Oh well. Something learned for another time! But more importantly, I hope I will have learned enough to keep me out of this kind of trouble – ever again! But knowing me, only time will tell.”
And just to fill you in…it wasn’t! I had another incident in 2019 around the same time of year and lost my mast again. More about that another time! Here are some pics of the make shift mast and sails I made as I experimented with sailing a boat without the usual advantages of the proper size mast and sails in the proper place:
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Welcome to Sailing With Albie!
This is what I wrote then:
“The waves behind the boat first lifted the stern and then begin lifting the keel.
When the waves moved under the bow, the whole boat began to rock and slide down through the waves!
It was so fun and exhilarating.”
Wow! That’s exactly how I felt last night out at sea.
Here’s more of the story:
“Being on the water suddenly brings a peace over my mind.
There’s something about it! The beauty of the wind on the water and the ripples over its face, perform an amazing miracle in your heart and take you away from the day to day stress that builds up.
Suddenly all that matters now is solving little problems like where you will turn the boat next!
I turned and tacked to the left (port side) and the sails luffed as it lost wind. As the boat changed direction, the wind caught the sails in the ‘wrong direction’ and they back-winded. The wind, being in the sails the wrong way, put pressure on the sails and the boat completed the turn. Simultaneously, when the pressure reached its highest point in the sails, I let go of the ropes that held the sail and pulled the opposite ones in. Now with the sails pulled in on the right direction the boat took off. The timing of all this is was a graceful thing to watch and participate in.
Tacking out of the first inlet, I came to the larger body of water – the main channel. Here the sun was just over the horizon but it was still strong and bright at least half an hour before sunset. I put my sunglasses on as the rays of the sun were often in my face as I came up into the wind and tacked again.
By sunset I had made it to the last stretch of the harbor and a sweet double masted boat with a gaff rig sail (like a boat from the early 1900’s) greeted me.
I took three pictures of it as it passed by in the orange afterglow.
I was getting thirsty so I remembered my Dr Pepper and thought how nice that would go with my chicken sandwich. But when I got the Dr Pepper out, it was warm, so I put it in the cockpit for the wind to chill it.
The wind was starting to chill me too so I put on my windbreaker, but later went for my scarf and gloves also. Even though October in Southern California is still warm, you wouldn’t know it being out on the water!
The afterglow faded with amazing deep reds and maroons, so that the sky was almost crimson.
Out at sea, the sky was so clear and clean, you can see the lights on the mountains some twenty to thirty miles away!
The wind was blowing from the south east that evening. It made sailing easier as I didn’t have to tack much and could just head right out to sea.
After a time of cutting through the swells and enjoying the motion of being lifted by the waves, I turned back towards home.
So I put on my life jacket and maneuvered on hands and knees over the moving cabin top to the bow rail and sat down.
I held on tight to the grip rope. The waves behind the boat first lift the stern and then begin lifting the keel.
Suddenly I then noticed that the deck was flooded with bright white moonlight!
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…and how NOT to lose your mast twice… like I did.
Welcome to Sailing With Albie!
Today I want to share with you the first thing you need to know before going out on the water:
Four things to do before you buy your boat:
Now I want to start by letting you know that I’m not an expert in buying boats.
However, I’ve been sailing for twenty years and been in a mixture of 35 small craft advisories and gales and crazy things that the sea has put my way. So my advice is follows:
Have someone who knows what they’re doing check these four things:
- 1) the condition of the rigging.
- 2) Check the Keel bolts.
- 3 check your through hull fittings.
- 4) check the boat engine.
Lets examine Number One. The rigging.
Is it old and are there sharp broken strands? Is it looking rusted? Is the rigging too tight, just right or loose? These are things you’re going to need to know! I’ll give you an example why.
You see, if the rigging is too lose, it makes the mast weak and if you get sailing on choppy water, it makes the mast swing about too much and puts more wear on the rigging than it should. In worst case senerio you could lose the mast.
I also had my rigging literally snap on me because it was too tight. Its almost impossible to break the rigging with your bare hands so you know some incredible force must be on it to snap through all those metal strands!
I’ve also lost my mast because of old rigging that had broken strands. One year, my rigging broke near the top of the mast because of the strain of heavy gusts of winds that suddenly came up one evening. The rigging snapped like a gunshot and the mast fell in the water before I could even blink. That was a difficult time I can tell you! lol!
looking back, I could see where the strands were weak and old. I should have been paying more attention – but I simply didn’t know and learned the hard way.
I’ve also lost my mast to the cross trees being at the wrong angle. This was the worst and hardest lesson I learned as I lost the mast out in a gale at sea and had to be rescued!
Now you can get a pretty good idea if the cross trees are right. Its pretty common sense really. You can also tell if they look secure.
My cross trees came lose at sea and they slipped down at a bad angle. I had seen that happen before and that was really my warning signal. It was a bad idea to be out in bad weather like that with cross trees that could possibly slip.
Basically the strain of the mast at sea in big waves, put way to much pressure on the cross trees and the mast blew out again – like a gunshot! It shook me to the core!
I was out at sea that time and lost use of my sails. My outboard engine had been carried away recently by a large sea in a previous storm. So now I had no way of getting back. The funny thing is that I had thought my engine had been chained securely! Lol! It would have been a good idea to not just suppose that the chain running around it was holding it properly – but that I was sure!
But now I’m getting off the topic. Haha! This really is a different story!
Number Two is to check the Keel Bolts.
If you know what you’re doing, you can take a hammer and hit the bolts and can hear if they sound solid. If there is a different “hollow” sound then, its possible that this particular bolt has rusted through down below and is not holding the keel properly!
Number Three is to check the Through Hull Fittings.
This is where the toilet hose runs through and out the boat and where a hose runs water from the engine to outside the boat for cooling. I don’t know a lot about this. However, these hoses can be turned on or off with a valve. It is possible to have the valves open when they should be closed and vice versus. Also the valves can get sealed by old age and refuse to budge. So check this too.
Number Four is to check the reliability of the engine.
I’m not a mechanic and don’t have a lot of expertise in this area. But if the engine can run for half an hour without getting hot than that’s a good sign. Also for outboard engines, you should notice that a healthy stream of water is “peeing” out the back into the ocean. Having someone check the oil, the spark plugs, carburetor and putting new gasoline in the engine is a good idea. Of course many inboard engines run on diesel so ask an authority about this.
Hope this helps you find a good reliable boat!
PS: There are some other things I look for too, if your looking to go out further to sea.
Boats that are ‘Blue Water” rated are more safe in storms and in the open ocean. I’m not an expert here but things I look for are cockpits with lazarette’s that cannot leak water through to the cabin would be a good sign. Fast emptying cockpit drain holes would be another. And my final test would be how the boat performs in small craft advisory weather and storms. Of course this should be accompanied with experienced sailor/s, great care and proper security measures (Unlike some of my own crazy ventures). If you like this article. please subscribe to hear more hair raising stories!
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“Turning on the cabin lights added a warm glow inside. I needed to look at the map and get my bearings on the distance my boat was from shipping lanes. After checking it all out, I then turned out the light and went back outside to the cockpit.
Here I could see the stars truly gleaming. I put a blanket around me to keep off the chill and settled down near the tiller and made sure the boat was truly on course.
This was a typical night sailing out over the ocean near Point Vicente CA. During the summer months, the wind will keep blowing till eleven o’clock at night and then fizzle out leaving a calm over the sea. I was at the mercy of the wind as I had lost my engine in a storm. My boat rocked over the gentle waves without any headway. I scanned the horizon for ships but all was quite. I sat in the cockpit looking out at the water, the starry sky and the dark cliffs of San Vicente a mile away. I was mesmerized by its serenity. One of the reasons why I love sailing!”
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