Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Thoughts on hurricane Gale, heavy weather sailling, storm sailing, the big tale

Videos to remind me of
Hurricane Gale

I have been looking around the net to see what I can find that approximates the storm I got my tail into a few years ago.  Not much that compares with it. 

It is hard to say which video is representative because there is nothing like the perspective you get from the deck of a sale boat about the brutal strength mother nature has over us.  I have never seen a film that really conveys it, rather, it is something you have to live.  Likewise, it is hard to tell from these You Tube videos how bad it really was for these sailors.  I can tell you, for some, it was pretty bad.

Our waves were higher in all cases than the ones portrayed in these photos; the white caps were much more prevalant, every wave was capped.  Iin some of the videos you can see the runners, and that is kinda of what we had. Our runners were bigger.  It was odd, as if we were sitting on a beach watching breakers roll in, you could see the runners lining up 100 yards off of the boat and then run across the sea; I don't see much of that in these photos.

What I am describing is what happened during the day. None of these shots approximates what we saw the night the gale hit us. It was pure horizontal rain, the sea was snow white with foam as we peered through the night with our search light.  We were exceeding the supposed possible boat speed of 7.5 knots at our 14.5 knots on our tiny storm jib alone!  For a Tayana 37, that is a lot of speed.

Check out the videos just for the fun of it and I will tell you about my conclusions at the end.  

The following are some great shots, though.

Our wave rollers looked similar to the rollers in the following video, except from our advantage, they seemed to be a lot longer.

Some people thought I was exagerating the wave heights when I finally got back to shore. Just for the fun of it a friend showed me how to check the recorded wave heights from off-shore Coast Guard boueys. The highest we found, much to his surprise, was 28 feet, which is about to my radar dome on my mast, just as I said it was. My 30 foot estimate was not far off.

I came to some conclusions on my voyage 200 miles into the Gulf of Mexico and back. These conclusions will reflect my future sailing plans without a doubt.

1. It was very clear to me there was a fair chance we were never going home as days of heavy weather followed by the gale kicked our ass. I made a pact with myself. If God wanted me, I was ready to go. If I lived through the adventure, I would never put myself in that position again.  Sure, anyone can catch bad weather on a passage.  However, we could have avoided most of the weather by waiting. 

For those who do not believe in God, you can get a feeling of realizing not much was within our control by substituing destiny for God.  If the right circumstances passed, we would live.  If they didn't the boat was going to come apart and we were almost certainly to perish.  More than sailing as wisely as two souls scared out of our wits can do, the rest of it was out of our hands.  I couldn't prevent the massive breakers that attacked our beam during the gale, for example, with waves coming at us from four directions. 

Any one of three waves of memory could have ended our travels in the Tayana. If we had been able to make it to life raft, we would have been tossed like rag dolls over the wave tops, body smashing body.

Two of the monster waves hit the port side. The one we took on the port quarter-beam felt like it was tearing the dog house away. The second port side hit was more broad side and leaned us way over. I was concerned about coming back up, as we lay for an eternity on our side.

The killer wave hit us broadside starboard, so hard the fiberglass creaked. My experience with fiberglass is it does not cream much before it fails. That, wave, too, left us heeled over for a long time.

2. We broke the boat. The rudder repair alone cost almost $2,000.00. I lost the oars to the Dingy, ripped the binnacle on the stove out of the wall when I fell, lost other equipment, tattered the stitching from my band new sails, and did a world of damage. It didn't cost my ship mate anything, it wasn't his boat.  He wanted and adventure and he was happy to have me pay for it.

Better planning could have prevented it all.

The guys who come in bragging about how they rode out the storm could just as easily be bragging about how using common sense prevented the damage. The difference is, the guys who ride out the storm need to brag, and the guys who ride out the storm value their wallets more than they do the tales.  I am not in a position to fix boats so I can tell big tales.

3. My crewmate did not bring his foul weather gear. Even though he owned his own sailboat I don't think he had any. That required me to lend him mine when we traded shifts. When we were on deck together I tried to be valiant and use a cheap plastic rain suit, as I held my side with the broken rib.

In the future, I will forget valor. My ship mate was asked to bring foul weather gear and he didn't. Meanwhile, we both risked hypothermia because neither of us were then adequately clothed. While it is my obligation to protect my crew and attend to their comfort, someone has to be in charge of the boat. That won't happen with two people hypothermic and drifting into space instead of one.

Certainly, I would not put a crew member at risk of death for my own comfort. But I likewise won't allow us both to lose orientation and place both our lives at risk out of valor, or ego.

Fine, I finally found something that makes our adventure pale in comparason. This definitely did not happer to us!

Heavy weather sailing is a blast. What I didn't know about it is how much a toll the cold takes on you. To be chilled for a day or two is dangerous and exhausting. We were out for seven days, all of which were cold, wet and with a wind chill that bit to the bone. It was a marathon neither of us were prepared for, physically, with equipment and with proper attitudes.

As I say, I won't make the same mistake again!

No comments: