James Stevens answers your questions of seamanship. This month, what would you do in a Force 7 with no sail, no engine, no anchor and no radio and a looming lee shore?
Luke is skipper of Windfall, a 32ft fin keel Westerly Fulmar. He is out for a weekend cruise from his home port of Lymington with the intention of going to Poole.
Luke has been sailing most of his life and although he has not taken any courses he’s experienced and practical. His three crew are keen but almost novices.
The forecast on Saturday when they set off is WSW Force 5-6, occasionally gusting Force 7.
It’s marginal for Poole but as they set off with the tide, the wind is no more than 20 knots.
Luke reckons with three reefs in the main and a storm jib it should be okay, especially as they will gradually sail into the lee across Poole Bay.
It all goes fine until about two thirds of the way across it starts getting really windy with gusts of 35 knots.
At that moment the forestay parts. The jib is now holding up the mast.
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Luke instantly releases the main halyard and turns downwind. He switches the engine on for more control, gives one of his crew the helm and races forward to secure the spinnaker halyard forward and drop the jib.
While he’s doing this the boat sails over Christchurch Ledge where the wind against tide kicks up a nasty sea.
The boat broaches right over, the crew cling on, the mast stays up but the anchor well hatch cover opens and the anchor warp streams out.
The engine stops as the warp wraps around the prop.
Luke has some steerage under bare poles and can just point towards Hurst Castle and the relative safety of the Solent, but the warp streaming astern is making progress difficult.
Christchurch Bay looks menacing with breakers on the shingle beach. Luke sends a distress message but there’s no reply, and there are no other boats out there.
What should he do?
If this sounds unlikely, it is based on a real incident
It’s a bit of an understatement that Luke’s having a bad day: no sail, no engine, no anchor and no radio.
He is in grave and imminent danger so should send flares up and activate the EPIRB if he has one, but he needs to make plans for what he’s going to do before help arrives.
The anchor warp will greatly increase Windfall’s leeway so attempting to get to windward of Hurst and back into the Solent isn’t really an option.
He is going to end up on the beach either on board the yacht or in the liferaft.
The liferaft will probably stay afloat longer and be carried more by the tide but my choice is the yacht as it’s probably safer.
With luck he might get rescued before he gets to the shore.
He has enough steerage to choose a part of the beach which is reasonably flat and hope for the best.
If he’s really skilful he can turn beam-on to the sea in the breakers so the yacht gets washed up the beach on a wave.
In the real incident this scenario is based on, the crew clambered ashore. No one was hurt and the helicopter turned up soon afterwards. The yacht was recommissioned.
It always pays to keep making decisions and take positive action and don’t abandon unless you really have to.