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The other day a friend and I were playing our Sailor’s Game and I was asked the following question:

What is the safest point of sail in a Gale?

As it turns out, what I feel is the correct answer to that question is not what the game’s designers feel is correct. But, I think they’re wrong. I even created a poll on our Facebook Page to ask what others think. For those experienced sailors who haven’t responded on Facebook, I’m curious, what do you feel is the correct answer?

  • Close Hauled
  • Close Reach
  • Beam Reach
  • Broad Reach
  • Run

Please respond by commenting on this post.

We have been in a gale, although we wouldn’t have gone sailing
had we thought that it was going to be anywhere near that rough.

Speaking of Facebook, it seems that it is now as popular as boat cards for helping cruisers to stay in contact with one another. In addition to our Zero To Cruising Page, there is also a Grenada Cruisers Facebook Group that many of us frequent (search for “Grenada Cruisers” in groups to find it).

By the way, if you’re on Facebook and you don’t yet Like us, please do. We update that page even more than we do this blog, with lots of extra goodies. 🙂


  1. As usual, it’s never so clear-cut and simple.

    What’s best for a Sparkman & Stephens sloop with a lead keel might well be terrible for a PDQ catamaran.

    A comfortable position to wait out a force 8 might be untenable in a force 10.

    Some cat sailors swear by parachute sea anchors. Others swear AT said parachutes, and deploy a series drogue instead. Still others will trail an old tire on a one-inch rope.

    Agreement will never be reached, because each boat and each storm are different. IMHO, the only logical option is to study many different techniques, test them on your own boat in moderate conditions, then pick the one that seems most appropriate for a particular nasty storm when the need arises.

    • True enough, but let’s eliminate heaving to and lying to a para anchor as options and limit ourselves to actually still moving.

      • I have to go along with Matt in that I think there is no standard answer. Type of boat, direction of current vs the wind direction, distance between waves and size of waves. Point of sail could also change for reasons of safety depending upon how long the gale has been blowing.

        I know that was a total cop out, and I have never sailed in a gale, but I have studied the thinking of some real salts.

        I say it depends…….

      • OK then. A cat like yours should be relatively hard to broach, but could be capsized by a breaking wave on the beam. Given enough sea room, my first choice would be to run downwind under minimal sail or bare poles, possibly towing a drogue.

        Some monos would be prone to broaching if they start to surf down the waves, but are able to quickly pop back up if knocked down by a breaker. In such a boat, I might be more comfortable heading upwind under storm jib and trysail, rather than risk an uncontrolled surf and broach.

        I’ll then qualify those remarks by pointing out that the boats I spend my time on are mostly much smaller and much faster than yours. My “safest point of sail” is 3/4 throttle and a beeline for the nearest harbour at 20 to 30 knots at the first sign of inclement weather. I’ll further qualify my comments by pointing out that my big-boat sailing time to date is rather limited, so take this with a sufficiently large spoonful of salt.

      • In that case running with a Jordan Series Drogue. this will give you the ability to adjust the drogue to the current conditions.

  2. Having never been in a cat offshore I can’t be sure how to answer that, but I’ll stick my neck out for a full keel mono-hull and say the safest, but absolutley the most uncomfortable for the crew is close hauled.

  3. Personally I would sail a broad reach, just off a run (my favourite point of sailing anyway…as its fast as you can go). I wouldn’t fancy going dead down wind….you never know when you might end up sailing by the lee and do an involuntary gybe. You can always tack about (instead of gybing) to avoid damage. I know cats aren’t the best for tacking though.

    If you are doing night sailing, fully reef down to slow the boat right down as well… don’t want to be ploughing into a lost container or other hard object in the pitch black of night at full speed! Quickest way to Davy Jones locker.

    On a cat you need to avoid digging the bows in. Pitch poling is not nice. On a big cat I would be wanting a lot of buoyancy in the top of the mast to bring you back if you are going out in these kind of conditions. When I say going out its not always what you intend to do, but obviously you can get caught out in unpredicted conditions….especially if its a long haul stretch.

    Another very good tip. NEVER NEVER enter an unknown harbour at night in bad seas. If you have to stay out all night until daylight so be it. Better safe than sorry. You don’t know what rocks are about round the harbour….or what kind of surge the harbour has.

    Happy to discuss/compare notes.

  4. I’m not falling for it. I’ve sailed 5 different cats in gale conditiones, and the right answer is a different for each time.

    Head to wind. Under power of course. Even with enough engine, generally bad. Air gets under the boat (dangerous on performance designs like the Stiletto), slamming is terrible, and you can’t maintain enough speed to have steerage.

    Close hauled. Probably never. No cat can really hold a close hauled course in those conditions. However, if you are willing to run the engines to supliment, this can be very good, certainly better than head to wind or close reaching. Run just a little main, no jib (because when you point up you don’t want to risk backing the jib). Keep just above idle, and then blast the trottle and point very high if you see a breaking wave coming.

    Close reach. Can be very safe, if there is a lee shore to stay away from. Traveler way down and run just a little bit of jib. Probably requires active steering, if some of the waves aproach capsize dimension. You really won’t have enough way to blast through big breaking waves.

    Beam reach. Not in a cat.

    Broad reach. Fast, if sailable. However, this can pose high threat of pitchpole if wild enough. As you know, a big wave comes behind, the boat rounds up, one rudder comes out, the appartent wind increases and ….

    Run. Yup, best bet if you’re headed that way. Drag something if you need to.

    I really don’t care what the game says, unless I start sailing monohulls, but I think it’s too late for me.

  5. My inclination is very heavily reefed fine reach.

  6. We have to remember we are looking for the game’s answer. Not what would be best for Mike or ourselves. As wrong as the game is probably.

  7. seems to me that if you’re CLOSE HAULED – you would have more control of the boat… Reaching or Running and you’ve got major rolling issues, and much more work to do in order to control the sails…

  8. Mike –

    Totally unrelated but I’ve lost your email address and I need to talk to you about the Alfa. Can you please email me at d_akey att sbcglobal dott net?

    S/V Kintala

  9. Whatever the game says, it was designed for and by those who sail monomarans. Personally, I’d run WAY before the gale got to me! Not always possible, of course. In a mono, I’d opt for broad reach, so long as it takes me out to sea and not into the dangerous sector of the storm. My personal preference and history is to avoid storms. Especially on Lake Erie, which is notorious for its square waves. Storms come up fast and nasty here.

  10. The game’s answer was close hauled.

    My answer was (deep) broad reach, trailing warps or a drogue if necessary to reduce speed, assuming we had the required sea room to do so.

    Caveat emptor. 🙂

  11. I was away working all summer and just trying to catch up on the posts.
    Some very interesting opinions here. I would just like to remind everyone that not always are the seas coming from the same direction as the wind. Those big rollers, the size of a house, may be comming from the Caribbean while I am encountering them crossing the Gulf of Maine as was the case in May when the wind started blasting from the NE. Yes, very confused seas. Someone above mentioned currents. I have encountered 4M seas (very steep and close) off Yarmouth, NS as the Bay of Fundy ebbs. not fun!!

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