Catamaran Sailing Techniques Part 6: Coping with heavy weather – with Nigel Irens

When discussing how to handle heavy weather in a catamaran we have to accept that there is no one solution that works for all catamarans as the strategy will be very different if sailing a standard, charter-type cat from sailing something more performance-orientated. A racing boat that also has access to high-quality weather forecasting data should be able to steer clear of potentially dangerous weather by outrunning it. Performance cruisers with fine bows should be able to surf downwind in all but the most extreme weather, often travelling safely at speeds of 20 knots or more for periods of, say, 10-15 seconds. But in the same conditions a stubbier, bluff-bowed charter catamaran would soon start feeling dangerous if the crew were pushing too hard under these conditions. Obviously reducing sail is the first response, but as mentioned earlier in this series, shortening a mainsail in downwind conditions is not really possible without turning head to wind, and if the wind and sea-state are rising then the moment to do that safely may already have passed. An experienced crew will have anticipated the rising wind and reefed the main a few hours back. Shortening sail forward of the mast is a piece of cake by comparison – especially if all it takes is to let the jib fly and roll up some of the area. Getting rid of an asymmetric might be challenging, but at least it won’t be dangerous. Being caught with too much sail up along with the knowledge that you’ve missed the chance to round up and reef is not very helpful. You’ve inadvertently got into this situation and you’ve obviously still got to think up some way to get out of it. Reefing the main Brute force might provide the get-out-of-jail-free solution for reefing a main downwind in worsening conditions. But this might not be possible as the sail will not drop when you release the halyard because it will be pressing hard against the standing rigging. The luff cars will also be under load from the side (which they are not really designed to be). The best way forward is to leave the mainsail halyard where it is and sheet the main in until it is no longer pressing against the rigging. Some vang load on the boom will be needed because simply easing the sheet will invite the sail to twist so that it is still hard against the rigging. The next move is to start loading both the luff and clew reef lines that are ready for hauling in the next reef. When they are bar-tight you can try easing a bit of halyard. If the sail moves that’s good news, but it will only fall a short way before the sail is once again draped over the standing rigging. It’s only by repeating this process as many times as necessary that the exposed mainsail should end up the size you want it to be. It may be hard work, but who cares if … Continue reading Catamaran Sailing Techniques Part 6: Coping with heavy weather – with Nigel Irens