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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Aug 2017

    Default Trip Debrief: What Went Right, Wrong, And What We Should Have Done Differently

    I always like learning from the experiences of others so I don't have to make all possible mistakes myself.

    So we recently took our first overnight trip (21 hours, 120 miles). As this was a first for us and the forecast called for deteriorating conditions we engaged the services of a sailing school instructor to go with us as an instructor captain.

    Forecast: At the time and place of departure called for conditions to be in the mid force 3 range, with some slight weakening late in the day and strengthing to force 4 about 3 hours before sunrise. Winds were forecast to be from the SSE with a swing to the SSW later in the forecast period. This change of direction never materialized, forecast wind strengths decreased as forecast and then increased to force 5 by the time of our arrival with the occasional higher gusts, though this happened late enough in the trip that the seas did not really have much time to build past about 5 feet.

    We had the autopilot on and steering for the entire trip. Initially, we began the trip with full main and no headsail on a 310 course, and the main on a preventer secured to the starboard side of the boat. We were doing around 5-6 knots on a boat with a hull speed of 7.5 knots. As evening approached, we reached a waypoint that required a 25 degree turn to starboard, so we undid the preventer and gybed and now ran on a starboard tack on a very deep broad reach.

    Mistake #1: Not re-rigging the preventer after our turn.

    We did not accidentally gybe, but i ended up sheeting the mainsail in tight to reduce boom travel if we had. Still the initial part of the overnight sail was reasonably comfortable. Winds had decreased enough that we motorsailed for about 6 hours.

    Mistake #2: Letting the sun set with a full main hoisted and a deteriorating forecast.

    Around 2am the winds started to build significantly and 3am we began to see boat speeds approaching hull speed on main only. We woke up our pro to get some additional advice. He recommended we turn into the wind and attempt to reef the mainsail - particularly given the starboard turn at the next waypoint that would bring us onto a beam reach.

    So we turned into the wind, now pounding into roughly five foot seas. He abandoned the idea to raise a reefed main and recommended we continue on our roller furling Genoa only as we could reduce that sail easily when sailing downwind and we would not run the risk of an accidental gybe on an unprevented main.

    So we dropped the main and unrolled the genoa and continued on our way. The ride seemed to deteriorate dramatically with this strategy with port and starboard yawing +/- 20 degrees bringing the apparent wind from our stern to almost a beam reach at times. A few hours before morning, we noticed the boat wallowing in the troughs with a decrease in boat speed to the mid 4.5 knot range, with accelerations to the 9-12 knot range surfing down waves.

    Fortunately as the wind and seas were all from the same direction we had no significant breaking waves to contend with.

    We reduced our genoa, reached our next waypoint and turned to starboard, now running on a beam reach to destination. This reduced our yaw, but increased roll as we took the larger seas on the beam. After entering the bay we turned into the wind, doused the sails, and motored to destination.

    I had been up 24 hours straight not wanting to leave my wife on watch alone and so asked pro to take us into the channel. He promptly not only ignored the channel markers, but also the bread crumbs on the chartplotter display (which I specifically told him about and asked him to follow) indicating our previous successful exit from the channel and tracked the charted channel inbound. Touched bottom, did not ground hard. Frankly, this sort of rookie mistake - which even I know not to do - surprised me from someone who had the stated experience he had.

    So. What should we have done differently? Set the third reef in the main and continue on main and headsail at sunset so we could easily reduce sail area by furling the headsail on the roller as we proceeded downwind? Should we have set a preventer for the starboard tack we were on given the forecast wind shift that never materialized? If the wind had shifted and we had a preventer set we would have had to undo it as a further turn to starboard would have turned us into the shoreline. Advice to reduce yawing which seems to be not only a particularly uncomfortable motion but somewhat risky given the large shifts in apparent wind and risk of accidental gybes? The autopilot has a track hold and a wind hold mode. The former lets it track the magenta line, and that is the mode we operated it throughout. Would it have been a wiser plan to run it in wind hold mode making it work (I'm assuming) like a wind vane? Or given the degree to which the sea state was changing the apparent wind would that have made things worse?

    I'm a commercial pilot, and the boat's motion downwind under headsail alone seemed very much like a dutch roll ( which in an aircraft of course is something to be avoided at all costs lest you enter a realm of negative stability and suffer an upset. Aircraft actually have redundant computerized yaw dampers to prevent this. I would like to think that this concept of negative stability is less relevant in a keelboat, but the existence of a capsize screening formula makes me wonder.

    This seems to be the catch 22 of sailing that no amount of fair weather practice can prepare you for: You don't know what to do when conditions deteriorate until you are out in said conditions without knowing what to do in them.

    An early 90s design, 12'8" at the beam, carries more of that aft than the extreme IOR boats but not as much as a modern design. Here she is by the numbers:

    38', 32' LWL
    S.A./Disp.: 16.46
    Bal./Disp.: 34.35
    Disp./Len.: 193.09
    Comfort Ratio: 21.90
    Capsize Screening Formula: 2.11

    I think she's a good, solid boat I'm just not sure of the best way to keep her in the envelope so that she - and we - are equally happy.
    Last edited by Loopy; 24-04-19 at 10:48.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Aug 2004
    Home East Lancashire boat Spain

    Default Re: Trip Debrief: What Went Right, Wrong, And What We Should Have Done Differently

    I will be interested to read what some of our 'proper sailors' think.
    It would be useful to know more about your yacht and the sail controls...………….Oh have you just added that info?
    I would have set off with main and genoa deployed. If reducing the main is difficult with your set up I would have reduced the main in daylight.
    You should always try to get your head down when you can, could you not kip when the expert was on watch, tiredness leads to bad decisions!

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Aug 2017

    Default Re: Trip Debrief: What Went Right, Wrong, And What We Should Have Done Differently

    Single line reefing, all halyards and lines led aft. Big genoa on a roller furler, main on a track in a stack pack. She does have a detachable inner forestay for a hanked on storm sail. I've used 15 knot peak gusts as sort of a yardstick to set reef 1 in the main, and used less than 2 foot seas with 15-17 peak gusts and a 2:1 period to wave height ratio as conditions that I was willing to be out in at our experience level. Which has worked reasonably well and kept us out of trouble.

    The boat is far more capable than I am, her prior owners crossed the atlantic on the downwind passage from Europe to the Caribbean.
    Last edited by Loopy; 24-04-19 at 11:04.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Apr 2005
    Milton Keynes, Bucks, UK

    Default Re: Trip Debrief: What Went Right, Wrong, And What We Should Have Done Differently

    My only comment would be that when sailing with the wave direction in largish waves, especially at an angle it's probably better to hand steer and not use the autopilot. You can anticipate the waves as they come and keep on a much straighter course than any autopilots I know (you steer to counteract the yaw just as it starts). I get a lot of yaw with my autopilot and it can get overwhelmed by a largish following sea.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Oct 2002

    Default Re: Trip Debrief: What Went Right, Wrong, And What We Should Have Done Differently

    Thanks for the post, and detail, I enjoyed the question.

    Perhaps you put too much faith in the helper, as he turned out to be a duffer and only made things worse. Putting a reef in at force 5 should be made easy, if you doubt your present arrangements you can probably easily sort it.
    In truth it was an unpleasant rather than a dangerous sail, it happens even when you expect an easy time.
    Your confidence in the boat will no doubt grow and you will smile at your present doubts

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jun 2007
    Home: North West, Boat: The Clyde

    Default Re: Trip Debrief: What Went Right, Wrong, And What We Should Have Done Differently

    An interesting post I guess the acid test of a successful trip is if your wife plans to sail with you again?

    Im intrigued about the grounding. Why did the instructor / pro ignore the channel markers? Did he/she claim to have local knowledge?

    My boat is current generation with a fat backside. She has very swept-back spreaders so I risk sail chafe with wind much abaft the beam. She is reasonably well balanced with two sails, reefed as needed. Shes happy to broad(ish) reach and gybe rather than run. A preventer is a good idea, depending upon how deep you sail.

    In open seas. I set my autopilot to follow magnetic, having made allowance for tide. I rarely follow a route as its too prescriptive.

    I strongly agree that getting rest on a rota passage is very important.

    Whats next?

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Aug 2011
    On the Celtic Fringe

    Default Re: Trip Debrief: What Went Right, Wrong, And What We Should Have Done Differently

    I always reef before it gets dark, perhaps two given the forecast in this case.

    Get as much sleep as you can, snoozing is recommended if you can't get your head down.

    Lots of tea/coffee/soup
    Cynical Scottish almost retired engineer.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Mar 2004

    Default Re: Trip Debrief: What Went Right, Wrong, And What We Should Have Done Differently

    First of all, congratulations on a trip completed with no real issues. Don't underestimate the achievement that completing your first overnight sail is.

    Your mistake 1 I agree with, when on passage I would rig a preventer as a matter of course. It's well worth thinking about your setup and tweaking it to allow this to be done easily. On my dad's old boat we had it set up so that you did not have to leave the cockpit to release the old preventer, gybe and pull on the new preventer. That was the gold standard of preventer that I highly recommend. Your mistake 2, I wouldn't class as a mistake. It might be my racing background but I wouldn't worry about exceeding hull speed.

    Tough to say what I would have done differently without being there, but my initial thoughts are that I would have had both sails set at the start of the trip. Hopefully this would have reduced the need to motor sail. If I then decided that I needed to reduce sail I would have dropped the main if on a downwind course. I understand why this is sometimes uncomfortable when you have to turn round to reef and pound into the waves. (btw... I am suspecting that you are understating the wind, as I wouldn't expect to have 5 foot seas until the very top of a 4, more like a 5) Though with the expected turn to a reach I'd have given thought to reefing the main. Would depend on the crew experience and how easy it is to reef the boat.

    Autopilot wise, I'd have done exactly what you did. Set to waypoint mode. The conditions you are describing aren't dangerous enough to worry about needing to hold a specific wind angle - especially once just on the genoa. So assuming that following the line exactly is the best course for the trip (i.e not a cross tide with an expected change of tide before you arrive at the waypoint) then why not make things easy for yourself?

    I have no idea what a capsize screening forumla is... Anecdotally I have known a number of commercial pilots come at sailing with the same sort of highly methodical and detailed approach they take to their day job, and whilst in many respects it is to be commended, be careful of over thinking things and being too much "by the numbers". The conditions you describe are an exceedingly long way from being a risk to a well found 38 foot cruising boat. Capsizing a 38 foot boat is simply not going to happen until much, much further up the wind scale. The rule of thumb is that you need a breaking wave on the beam that is as tall as the boat is wide. So that's a breaking 12 foot wave. Put simply, just forget about the capsize risk, it's not real for the type of sailing you are describing.

    The yawing you are experiencing under headsail is pretty normal, especially if your autopilot is from the same era as the boat. Worth seeing if it has a reaction rate that can be altered, turning that up can help the autopilot, but unless it's a fairly modern one with gyro compass then it will not be as good as a decent helmsperson in those conditions.

    Entering the channel. Can only attribute that to someone who trusts the plotter a bit too much....
    You never know, I might be right!

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Dec 2014
    N of Ardnamurchan, winter Loch Melfort

    Default Re: Trip Debrief: What Went Right, Wrong, And What We Should Have Done Differently

    "Getting rest is very important".

    When passage making I start watches as soon as we leave port and the boat and navigation have settled down. Day watches are easier than night watches, and also allow the crew to get to know the boat. With a well equipped boat it is quite possible to sail with only one person on watch (and another on call), so even with only 3 on-board (my usual passage crewing) all can get good rest. I usually arrange watches so that I take the midnight to 0200 (or 0300) as I reckon this is probably the low point for crew.

    My own boat is long keel/heavy displacement so probably has different handling characteristics to yours; but I like a balanced sail plan and it would be very unusual for me to sail under main only. I think having some jib up and reefing the main earlier may have helped.

    It is easy enough to rig a preventer and I usually do when the wind is aft of the beam and there can be a bit of a sea. to prevent an accidental gybe Having a well reefed main may have helped with the rolling when you were only using the genoa.

    As for the navigation - even with a 'professional' crew on-board, it is your vessel and you are the Captain. If you see something going wrong then it is your responsibility to take charge. This is often mentioned in MAIB reports when a commercial pilot has taken an action that the captain thought was inadvisable.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Sep 2001
    Me - Zumerzet Boat - Wareham

    Default Re: Trip Debrief: What Went Right, Wrong, And What We Should Have Done Differently

    I'm surprised that you had so much yaw running downwind on genoa alone. The force is pulling the boat along by the nose, so it should stay in a straight line. Maybe there was too much genoa out, did you have it out on a pole, if not, did it collapse at all?
    My preferred rig for downwind is twin polled out headsails, I don't yaw, and that's with bilge keels!
    Facilitated by AWESEM WP Agency

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