Storm preparation – keep it simple

On a small boat in really heavy weather the only thing most of us want to do is lie in our bunk wishing it would all go away. If you’re seasick it must be ten times worse.

Going on deck to take action to secure the survival of the boat is a frightening proposition. It’s easy at this point to convince yourself that you should wait until it’s a bit calmer before putting in that reef, or hoisting the storm jib, or securing the dinghy which is beginning to come loose in its chocks. Of course you can’t succumb to that inner voice; you have to put on the harness and lifejacket, get yourself out into the maelstrom and get the job done.

If you’ve never been there you can’t imagine just how hard it is to operate under the conditions you’re likely to find on deck: The banshee wail in the rigging, the constant deluge of spray and solid water, the violent motion threatening to hurl you overboard. Even the strongest crew can become exhausted in a frighteningly short time.

One hand for the boat and one for yourself is the rule, although for much of the time it’s two hands for you and that leaves none for the boat which is why it’s so terribly hard to perform tasks that seemed so simple when it was calm.

This is why my mantra is simplicity in all things. That huge sea anchor with a complex bridle of rope and chain which you bought for just this occasion is going to defeat your attempts to deploy it, unless you have a large, strong and un-seasick crew. Even putting in the third or fourth reef with your single line reefing system with miles and miles of line is going to be a challenge if you’ve left it a bit late.

In my experience, if conditions are such that you can successfully deploy drogues, sea anchors and the like you probably don’t need them. By the time conditions are bad enough that you might benefit from such devices you’ll probably be unable to deploy them successfully without the possibility of damage to the boat or the crew. Heaving-to or running off will be your best tactics.

So, analyse your systems again and ask yourself how easy it’s going to be to get the boat snugged down and safe when the going gets tough. Can you get the sail plan sorted quickly and efficiently? Can you heave-to? Can you secure the helm? Is there any chance of items lashed on deck coming loose?

If you plan ahead and prepare the boat for bad weather before it arrives you probably can lay snuggly, and smugly, in your bunk until the storm passes. Assuming your lee cloths are properly designed and tested, of course, and your lockers have good catches and the floorboards are screwed down. And, vitally, you’ve given yourself enough sea room.