Broaching in Big Waves


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

Or see this one: “Ever had your life or your boat turned upside down?”