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June 2008

Special considerations for passage making during Reinforced Tradewinds

We had a letter from a group of cruisers who were in Puerto Vallarte, getting ready to set off across an ocean. They expressed concern because forecasters were telling them the tradewinds would be reinforced by the weather patterns associated with a La Nina weather pattern and asked if we had any suggestions to allay their concerns. Below is the letter we sent in reply.

Thank you for your kind comments. As we were out sailing this weekend on our little racing yacht Thelma, we began discussing your letter. Seems there are some things we would consider before going on a passage such as this. In fact we had a long enough list to consider writing an article on the subject. For those going on beyond Australia, these conditions will definitely be met in the Indian ocean between Cocos Keeling and Madagascar. We had an amazing run across that patch of water with winds rarely below 28, never above 35 and averaged 168 miles a day for 2900 miles - best days run, 192, best week, 175. But it definitely was wet on deck and keeping from getting the interior wet from our dripping foulies took some doing.

If we were delivering a boat like the ones you are describing, a 40 to 45 foot fin and skeg  sloop or cutter with roller furling headsails and a foil over the headstay,  we would consider the following:

1.  Since the headstay will be flopping around because there is less pressure on it while running,  the wire, right where it enters the swages, can suffer from metal fatigue (work hardening) and can break, if the wire and its fittings are less than five year old, inspect them extra carefully. If they are five to seven years old, consider replacing them. If they are seven to ten years old replace them before setting sail.  Remember, if the headstay work hardens and fails, the whole furler system comes down with it. 

To reduce this tendency, add extra tension to the roller furler halyard for these fresh wind running conditions.

To stop the leeward shrouds from moving  around a lot and work hardening,  lash 1/8”diameter nylon line around the shrouds and tension it.

2. Be sure there are ways to shorten your sails without heading into the wind, especially your mainsail. Make sure you have the reefing pennants rove for all of the reefs, i.e. you can easily and quickly put in one, two or three reefs as required.  In these conditions you will need the mainsail up, but reefed. Reason, to steady out the boat and give a more comfortable ride. It pays to over-sheet the mainsail, i.e. pull in the sail 15-20 degrees more than you normally would when you are running downwind. We put the jib on a pole, then put one or two reefs in the mainsail and sheet the mainsail as for a beam reach to cut down rolling. Feels real good. 

3. If you can't reef your mainsail downwind. I.e. if you have full length battons Consider using your storm trysail in winds above, consider using your storm trysail in fresh winds. It is less difficult to get it down if squalls overtake you, saves wear and tear on the mainsail too.

4. Be sure your rudder has proper rudder stops. Rudder failure is not uncommon in these conditions. There is a chapter on this in the Third revised and expanded edition of Storm Tactics handbook.

5. Check out your steering gear - the chain, the turning blocks etc. If the system uses cables, take some silk-like fabric and run it all along the length of the cable, especially where the cables run through any turning blocks. If the fabric gets snagged at all, i.e. if it encounters what we call jaggers, it is time to replace the cable. Remember, all of this gear will work harder than normal in these reinforced tradewind  conditions.

6. Have a few, extra easy to prepare meals lined up. You'll find that after a few days, you will get used to the motion and  will be more interested in being in the

7.Once we set sail, we stop  trying to get comprehensive weather reports  and just check in every day to WWV on 15000 shortwave (the time tick station) at 10 minutes after the hour to be sure there are no storms approaching our area. We then spend the the time we save by being away from radios checking the rig for chafe, getting lots or rest, reading some good books.

8. Buy a cheap but very lightweight set of foul weather gear - normal gear is too hot in the tropics and takes too long to dry off. This way you will be more willing to go out on deck and right to the forestay once on each watch to check for chafe, and potential gear problems.

9. Look forward to fast passages that could be the highlight of your sailing time.


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