Author Topic: Heavy/Severe Weather & Small Boats  (Read 2067 times)

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Offline Travelnik

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Heavy/Severe Weather & Small Boats
« on: May 02, 2013, 07:30:37 PM »
One of the mantras of the big boat crowd is that a big boat is safer and more comfortable in heavy weather.

I have never been in a severe or survival storm, but to me, it seems like a well-built small boat would stand up better to the forces imposed in a storm. Just because they have a less cavernous interior would seem to make them a better contender to survive something major.
Not to mention that if you were thrown around, rolled or pitch-poled in a big boat, it would increase the likelihood of a severe injury.

Wouldn't the open spaces of a big boat be areas that could cause the boat to break open if they were hit with a monster wave, or some freak thing like that?

As far as comfort goes, is anyone, no matter the boat size, going to be comfortable tossed around by huge waves anyway?

Am I missing something?

If the big-boaters are right, why are they always worried about safety equipment, life rafts, EPIRB, VHF, SSB, Ham and all the other must haves that they are always preaching about?

Or is it all more hype to justify spending more on a big "safe" boat?

 8)
I'm Dean, and my boat is a 1969 Westerly Nomad. We're in East Texas (Tyler) for now.

Offline Captain Smollett

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Re: Heavy/Severe Weather & Small Boats
« Reply #1 on: May 02, 2013, 08:33:02 PM »
I think the problem is how the boat is designed/built.  

A big boat CAN be comfortable and safe.   A small boat can be, too.

The 'bigger boats are better' meme seems to arise from the design compromises that have been rendered "normal" in the last 40 or so years.  Interior volume, weatherly and fast in "flat water" conditions and a host of other trade-offs have taken over precedence from seaworthiness AT SEA as the foremost factor.

That is the problem.  With these design compromises, it DOES take a bigger boat to be safer and more comfortable.  Folks that have begun sailing in the last 40 years or so that have not really, really looked into this carefully, have largely come away thinking LOA or displacement is the 'only metric.'

I have been in "debate" (to put it nicely) about the seaworthiness of my Alberg 30 vs some other, larger, boats.  The debate always comes back to "but boat x is faster."  Even that is not necessarily true in all conditions.

But, so what if it is?  What I am saying is that I favor shorter LOA with better ride and am willing to accept slower (per LOA).  What I hear back, a lot of times, is that my favored trade-off is somehow not valid ... 'speed' and 'interior volume' are deemed the ONLY things on which a boat SHOULD be measured.

So, with the market convinced long waterlines and big beams are not only normal but desirable, AND it takes LOA of 40-45 ft at least to become "seaworthy" and "comfortable at sea" with those particular design criteria, they, the market, cannot fathom why anyone would sacrifice LWL and Beam...especially when a lot of such folks don't seem to realize that "seaworthy" and "comfortable at sea" are not keyed solely to LOA and beam....they don't realize there can be something in the "pro" column for the sacrifice of LWL (hull speed) and beam.

I'm wording this clumsily...sorry.

Factor in also that a lot of folks want bigger boats not because they are safer but because they want a floating HOUSE (we have had a lot of discussions on this topic...a boat is not a house)...room to hold everything they'd have at home (and then some), and well, the 'bigger is better' mantra gets reinforced from several angles.

At least three Alberg 30's have made solo circumnavigations if which I am aware.   Yet I stood on the dock one day had had a "seasoned sailor" caution me not to dare try to cross the Atlantic on one,  It's just too small.

Dogma.  Nothing more.

People repeat all kinds of stuff, and I have found that more often than not, they don't even know WHY they think what they are saying is true.
« Last Edit: May 02, 2013, 08:35:15 PM by Captain Smollett »
S/V Gaelic Sea
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North Carolina

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.  -Mark Twain

Offline CharlieJ

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Re: Heavy/Severe Weather & Small Boats
« Reply #2 on: May 02, 2013, 08:41:52 PM »
Tied to a dock once in Florida and heard some dock walkers comment on Tehani

"What a pretty little day sailer"

and from below, I responded

"Yep- day sailed all the way from Texas, including across the gulf"

Then there was silence

 ;D
Charlie J
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On Matagorda Bay
On the Redneck Riviera

Offline CharlieJ

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Re: Heavy/Severe Weather & Small Boats
« Reply #3 on: May 02, 2013, 09:16:44 PM »
One thing I've not seen mentioned about large boats, with small ( and often older) crew is the limit of ability to handle the forces involved, when the "all electric" stuff takes a dump.

Lyn and Larry Pardey did a report on the Cabo San Lucas storm in , I believe, 1988, where over 20 cruising boats were dumped onto the beach in breaking seas, including Montesierre ( on Joshua) They found that the bigger boats, with smaller crews, were the predominate ones on the beach- They simply did not have the physical strength to handle the forces involved in "chips are down, storm " situations.

Large boats with large crews did far better and small boats did also, even with crews of one or single hand.. They could deal with it.

I used to crew on a 50 foot (on deck ) schooner, and believe me THAT boat taught me to ALWAYS have a turn on a cleat when working a line. No way a single person can stop a line on a large sail, without it- and trying it will get you BIG blisters. We once came in too hot to a dock (down current, but not by choice) and pulled a piling out of the bottom. 60,000 pounds of boat will do things like that.

I'll stay under 30 feet or so, thanks
Charlie J
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Offline Mario G

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Re: Heavy/Severe Weather & Small Boats
« Reply #4 on: May 03, 2013, 07:52:02 AM »
I can only go on personal experience when it comes to severe weather. While very new to sailing the Chrysler 22 I knew at some point I would get caught in bad weather so I went storm chasing. Belews lake was small so I figured in a small storm everything would be fine when the wind and rains came. leaving the docks I heard theres going to be a storm at least 3 times and felt odd explaining that alittle bad weather was what I was looking for so I set out. Well I had no VHF but on the lake there would be no one to call being I was the only one dumb enough to go sailing with a storm coming in. I didn't think it would be a good idea for the 1st mate to come so she stayed at home and we stayed in touch via cell phones. ( I'm not totally dumb). When the storm kicked up I didn't automatically head for cover, a small cove on the only island, I sailed till it got almost to dark to see. I wanted to feel how the boat would handle in rougher water. I didn't mind getting bounced around , I could still handle the boat and head it in the direction I wanted. Drop ed the anchor in the cove and watched to make sure I didn't drag. Even dozed off until the 1st mate called to tell me that the news was saying that this was the worst storm the area had seen since the last hurricane and that houses were being torn apart not far from the lake. I explained that staying put was my only option and I would be back around noon. It was a long night little sleep but i was more excited about how everything went.
 When we got caught up in the gale storm on the 26 there was no place to duck in  the much larger body of water so I sat in the cockpit lashed to the hard dodger to ride out the storm trying to keep the waves from broad siding us because we had been knock down while I tried holding a coarse to a marina.
I  rode it out for 4 hours soaked thru and very cold but didn't want to abandon ship when the Coast Guard came but was informed it would be a $25k fine if I didn't. I thought I was watching a dream float away as we left the 26 adrift. In the night we heard a report of a sailboat sinking. The storm lasted well into the morning ,it was after noon  before I got word that the 26 was aground 60+ yards off shore but looked fine other then the tattered head sail that came apart while I was tyring to control the boat.  further examination of the boat and there was nothing to say that I couldn't have just climbed down in the cabin and rode out the storm and would have been perfectly fine. I would never believe the 1st mate would have step foot aboard again but after she saw how well the boat held up... well you know how that has worked out.
 The boat that sank was in the 40' range and capsized, don't think anyone was hurt.(got to like life rafts)
I have also dealt with a larger boat that had buckled in seas of the same size and would not think about risking getting caught out in a storm with it, and would have cut it up if it was mine.
From personal experience I have seen more often where smaller boats have fared better in severe weather over the larger boats and the cost to replace a sail and upper and back stay on a 40' boat I worked on due to heavy weather was more then what I had in both the Chrysler 22&26.

Offline northoceanbeach

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Re: Heavy/Severe Weather & Small Boats
« Reply #5 on: May 07, 2013, 12:45:02 AM »
The coast guard can make you abandon your boat?

Offline rorik

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« Last Edit: May 07, 2013, 02:19:49 AM by rorik »
Alice has escaped....... on the Bandersnatch....... with.. the Vorpal sword....

Offline Kettlewell

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Re: Heavy/Severe Weather & Small Boats
« Reply #7 on: May 19, 2013, 10:42:55 AM »
There is something to the fact that the larger the vessel, the more seaworthy it will be, all things being equal. That last phrase is key, because they never are equal. But, imagine whatever boat you have but enlarged to twice its length, which makes it probably close to twice its weight too. That twice longer vessel will be less likely to be pitchpoled or rolled over in enormous seas--it is simple physics. That boat will have an easier motion in very rough seas, because it takes more energy to get something heavy moving.

A more important question is what is seaworthy enough for your purposes. Most of us try to avoid being out there in a severe or survival storm, and chances are most of us will never encounter one. I have talked to numerous circumnavigators and they almost all say that they never encountered anything worse weather-wise than they had seen in their home waters before they left. Many of them say it was a lot easier than sailing at home because they traveled in the best seasons, with the prevailing winds, and never had to push on to meet a schedule.

My feeling, based on the boats I have owned is that a well-found and seaworthy boat of almost any size can cross oceans and go almost anywhere in safety, because chances are slim you will ever see anything worse than a gale at sea, which is bad enough, but most small boats are perfectly capable of handling that. I have cruised pretty extensively, including offshore runs, in boats from 29 feet to 38 feet, and in general the longer boat gets there a bit quicker, the motion is a bit better, and you can handle more wind with less stress. I think there is a sweet spot around 30-32 feet where boat length gets to be long enough to not have a bad motion in the 90% of time you are sailing in good weather, even offshore. Shorter than that, offshore, a boat's motion gets significantly worse due to the almost constant presence of at least 2 to 3-foot seas offshore, and often 4 or 6 feet. The shorter boat just has to go up and over all of these, leading to a lot of pitching and bouncing, while the heavier and longer boat cuts through the wave tops somewhat, smoothing out the ride. In my experience pitching is the worst motion offshore, more so than rolling.
« Last Edit: May 19, 2013, 10:46:24 AM by Kettlewell »

Offline David_Old_Jersey

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Re: Heavy/Severe Weather & Small Boats
« Reply #8 on: May 19, 2013, 03:31:19 PM »
That chimes with my experiance - smaller can often be better, but on some things physics and reality does come into the equation. and Heavy weather (or simply prolonged cr#ppy weather) is one of them.

Not to say that smaller boats cannot sail far  ;D safely - but gonna have to be a better boat (and Skipper) on average than for same trip / same conditions with a larger vessel, albeit much of the difference is related to comfort.....which does eventually translate into a "safety" issue.

The thing I really like about folks with smaller (and older!) boats is that they (we!) ain't wedded to a brochure that says their $250k (plus!) of shiney new boat is 100% "safe" (from own ignorance) and is excellent at everything, everywhere and all the time - physics and reality be damned! A willingness to acknowledge limits (even shortcomings!) of boat and self is a fundamental part of good seamanship, otherwise yer can only learn via the school of hard knocks - and that don't always go well  :P. Of course probably helps that we haven't spent the GDP of Botswana on the boat  ;D, and have to justify that to self..................

Offline Kettlewell

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Re: Heavy/Severe Weather & Small Boats
« Reply #9 on: May 19, 2013, 04:04:33 PM »
Quote
The thing I really like about folks with smaller (and older!) boats is that they (we!) ain't wedded to a brochure that says their $250k (plus!) of shiney new boat is 100% "safe" (from own ignorance) and is excellent at everything, everywhere and all the time - physics and reality be damned! A willingness to acknowledge limits (even shortcomings!) of boat and self is a fundamental part of good seamanship, otherwise yer can only learn via the school of hard knocks - and that don't always go well  .

I have met and talked to a lot of the Botswana-economy boat folks, and there is another issue they have today--the belief that you can make any problem go away given enough money. So, instead of reading the pilot charts and going during the correct season via the accepted route they hire a weather router and purchase satellite gear so they can download GRIB files all day. They have all sorts of sophisticated weather plotting programs on their computers. You end up with fiascos like the Caribbean 1500 fleet sailing out with a hurricane coming, thinking their expert weather routers will take them around it and then be able to take advantage of strong favorable winds--disaster ensues. Meanwhile, the person on the small, inexpensive boat who can't afford to join the rally just goes when the going is good, and probably has a better trip, arrives safe and sound, and maybe a few weeks later, but doesn't spend the rest of the winter repairing broken expensive gear.

I once arrived in St. Thomas after a tough trip where we had various broken gear, but our boat was simple (32 feet) and we were able to repair stuff ourselves. A boat came in fresh from the USA and anchored near us. They had just come out of one of the top ($$expensive) boatyards in Florida and almost every piece of expensive gear onboard was wrecked. To keep everything going they needed to run the engine a lot every day in order to charge up. The heavy duty alternator created a lot of load, and the bracket broke and the alternator took out the refrigeration compressor too. So pretty soon they were without power: no fridge, no electronics, no running lights, no way to start the engine. They ended up tack, tack, tacking for day after day, and finally pulled in to St. Thomas exhausted and discouraged. We went away cruising for two months, came back, and they hadn't moved one inch--instead they had a long tale of woe about how difficult it was to get all this stuff fixed right in St. Thomas. Eventually, we sailed off back north to Bermuda and they were still there fixing poop.

Keep it small, simple, and sturdy.

Offline Captain Smollett

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Re: Heavy/Severe Weather & Small Boats
« Reply #10 on: May 20, 2013, 08:10:00 AM »
Just to throw this out there as food for thought...


"Simple Physics" is not simple in this case.  It is very complicated dynamics.

Designers have for centuries in general and at least two decades with the aid of computers, tried to distill boat design down to one or a handful of parameters that capture the 'essence' of a design.

It cannot be done.

The great Olin Stephens wrote about this - a boat hull is an integrated whole and the ENTIRE shape is important.  There is simply no way to use one or two direct or derived quantities to describe a boat's motion in a seaway.

No...not LOA, not LWL and not displacement.  Sorry guys...it ain't that simple.

I can think of at least one 50 footer (ULD race boat..,.a "sled") that I would MUCH LESS rather be aboard than an Ariel (as an example of a mid-20's footer).  If I thought about it, I could probably think of several others.

The concept of motion comfort in a seaway stems largely from "jerk," which is derivatives of position higher than acceleration.  That is, how rapidly does the ACCELERATION change as the boat responds (here's the dynamics coming in) to a changing (more dynamics) buoyancy profile.

Jerk is so important in "perceived motion" that roller coaster designers use it explicitly to 'enhance' the feel of the ride.  Roller coasters moving less than 25 mph give incredible thrills because of the ways the designers build in (sometimes subtle) changes in accelerations along all six degrees of freedom.

So, we might like to say "bigger boats are going to be more comfortable," but that is not ALWAYS true, no matter how you define 'bigger.'  I'd rather be on my 18 ft, 1350 lb little boat than a 50 ft 10,000 lb straight cylinder in ANY kind of seaway.

Shape of the hull matters.  All boats (of all sizes) are not created equally.
« Last Edit: May 20, 2013, 08:14:26 AM by Captain Smollett »
S/V Gaelic Sea
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North Carolina

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.  -Mark Twain

Offline w00dy

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Re: Heavy/Severe Weather & Small Boats
« Reply #11 on: May 20, 2013, 09:30:08 AM »
Does anyone else here now want to see what it would be like floating around in a 50 ft cylinder?  :D

Offline CharlieJ

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Re: Heavy/Severe Weather & Small Boats
« Reply #12 on: May 20, 2013, 11:08:32 AM »
 ;D ;D

Not me. But I have seen what a destroyer looks like in heavy weather.
Stitching waves- over one, under one. :o :o

 Watching from the deck of  the USS Saratoga, fortunately.


We stuffed the bow on that!!! And that bow is 90 feet up in flat water
Charlie J
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Offline Auspicious

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Re: Heavy/Severe Weather & Small Boats
« Reply #13 on: May 20, 2013, 11:55:04 AM »
Two thoughts on this subject:

1. Generally speaking going forward on a small boat in heavy seas is more exciting than on a larger boat. I have all lines except sheets, car adjusters, and running backs at the mast. If I was on a 27' boat I'd be much more open to lines in the cockpit. Boat motion makes a difference.

2. There is an engineering process called Failure Modes and Critical Effects Analysis (FEMCA). You don't have to run numbers to think things through. Consider what the single points of failure may be and what won't be available to you.

For example, some SailFar folks will consider my diesel generator to be unnecessary complexity. On my boat (no solar or wind and very expensive to add), the generator provides backup power generation for battery charging in addition to the two alternators on my main engine. Two separate refrigeration compartments and systems (and I hope an additional Engel freezer for Christmas) provide redundancy for long forays away from groceries.

The point is not how much stuff you have, but what happens when stuff breaks? Can you continue until you are in a place where repairs are economic?
S/V Auspicious
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Beware cut and paste sailors.

Offline Captain Smollett

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Re: Heavy/Severe Weather & Small Boats
« Reply #14 on: May 20, 2013, 12:42:46 PM »

2. There is an engineering process called Failure Modes and Critical Effects Analysis (FEMCA). You don't have to run numbers to think things through. Consider what the single points of failure may be and what won't be available to you.


A very excellent point.

This story illustrates this in spades.

Part of the process is being brutally honest about what you can (truly) do without...what truly constitutes a "critical effect" vs "yep, feels good to have that."
S/V Gaelic Sea
Alberg 30
North Carolina

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.  -Mark Twain

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Re: Heavy/Severe Weather & Small Boats
« Reply #15 on: May 20, 2013, 01:35:33 PM »
Let us not forget VE (value engineering)... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Value_engineering
This thread has been an enjoyable and thoughtful read ! cheers!

Offline David_Old_Jersey

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Re: Heavy/Severe Weather & Small Boats
« Reply #16 on: May 20, 2013, 02:54:46 PM »
Just to throw this out there as food for thought...

"Simple Physics" is not simple in this case.  It is very complicated dynamics.


There is always someone throwing science into the mix  ::)  Me was using the layman's definition of physics ;D, what goes up must come down, something to do with an Apple, numbers and stuff  ???  :P :o :D ;D

But I accept your point that bigger alone is no guarantee of "better", but on mainstream yachts of all sizes (leaving aside the extremes of designs / those for a specific purpose) then bigger is, on average, better......that don't mean bigger is ideal (or even pleasant!), but it would be a rare sailor who caught in a hooley would wish to be on a smaller vessel - unless what he was on was a POS.

Offline Captain Smollett

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Re: Heavy/Severe Weather & Small Boats
« Reply #17 on: May 20, 2013, 03:13:54 PM »

 but on mainstream yachts of all sizes  then bigger is, on average, better......

...

unless what he was on was a POS.



Hmmm.  Maybe you are looking at different 'mainstream yachts' than I have been. but your final bit there summarized what *I* think of many 'mainstream' boats, even some big ones.

Isn't this, to a degree, the entire premise that led CapnK to start sailfar.net?  The MYTH (as I contend it is) exists that "bigger = better."

My point is ... IT DEPENDS.

There are good big boats, and there are good small boats.

There are LOTS of good small boats that are FAR FAR better (in a seaworthy sense) than big not-so-good boats.

Therein lies the problem, though.  "Bigger = better" is a meme that exists without complete "analysis" (for lack of a better word), and it is just accepted as dogma.  There are cases, with modern boats, where it is false on its face.  Period.  None of us here (I think) would argue the point.

So...sailfar in part exists to "fight" the meme, or at least to provide a 'community' for those that recognize the dogma for what it is.  I don't mean "fight" in the sense of 'change their mind," so much as to provide something akin to a counterargument.

Part of the problem with "bigger is better" is philosophical...underlying that statement is an implicit assumption that most (if not all) of us here are "settling" for something of lesser quality, lesser capability.  This, I believe, is false.  I don't think most sailfarers are "settling," so much as having made a distinct and intentional, deliberate decision to "go small."

The bottom line is that there are a LOT of reasons to "go small" when choosing a boat.  Once you have decided to "go small," there may be fewer "seaworthy" choices from which to choose, but the point I want to hammer home (repeatedly, until Kurt kicks me out   :P  ) is the following:

There are small boats that are BETTER than some (many?) BIG boats on the market.

As to the being at sea and choosing bigger....I ask again...cylinder vs 18 ft daysailor/weekender?  Which would you prefer?  Flat barge 50 ft long, 50,000 pounds or 20 ft Flicka?  I'd give other more specific boat model examples, but I don't want to sound like I am running down specific models...that's a decision each must make for themselves.

So yes, given a choice between a CERTAIN 25 footers and CERTAIN 50 footers, I would MUCH MUCH rather take the 25.  That's the important part to completely debunk the notion that "bigger = better."

The "truth" is far, far more complicated than that.  To name-drop Olin Stevens again...there is no single design metric that summarizes seaworthiness or comfort in a seaway.  Not LOA, not displacement, none.
« Last Edit: May 20, 2013, 03:24:11 PM by Captain Smollett »
S/V Gaelic Sea
Alberg 30
North Carolina

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.  -Mark Twain

Offline Travelnik

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Re: Heavy/Severe Weather & Small Boats
« Reply #18 on: May 20, 2013, 04:09:23 PM »
Does that mean that a "bigger" Catalina 27, or Hunter 28 isn't going to be more seaworthy than my Westerly? LOL   ;D

In a survival storm with freak 50-60 foot breaking waves, I would rather be able to brace myself in my Nomad than to depend om some big, wide decked flexi-boat. Wedging myself in my boat in a roll-over would be much easier than in a 50 footer with a 14 foot beam!

Yeah, I know that they don't happen often, that's why they're freaks, but I'm comforted by the knowledge that my boat is very sturdy.

People have also told me that my boat is too slow for passage making, but if I wanted to go fast I'd take a jet!
The Pardey's took Seraffyn around the world. I don't see why I couldn't do the same if I chose to.

We're only limited by our own beliefs, and our own imaginations!

I'm Dean, and my boat is a 1969 Westerly Nomad. We're in East Texas (Tyler) for now.

Online Frank

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Re: Heavy/Severe Weather & Small Boats
« Reply #19 on: May 20, 2013, 04:52:15 PM »
2 boats I have sailed offshore come to mind ....A Flicka and an Ariel. As Capt S states...the small boat design is important...and these 2 are a couple of the best. Flicka's have crossed the Pacific so many times it isn't noteworthy anymore. I got "caught" on a passage to the Abacos and remember a big catamaran  having more troubles than the lil 20ft Flicka did. In my travels on her there were 3 different times when she took care of me in far bigger than typical seas. Never a worry. As good as the lil Flicka is....the Ariel was a better sailor and truly seemed in her element when the wind built up and waves got bigger.
 Most of us aren't going to "go around" and are satisfied knowing the boat we sail is comfortable and capable offshore. Point being.....the Flicka is 20ft and the Ariel is 25ft 6in!!!
Neither are big boats, both are great designs that will get ya there. I'm sure your Westerly would as well  ;D
 Now...about that Hunter?  :o
     
 
« Last Edit: May 20, 2013, 05:20:51 PM by Frank »
Frank Ontario Canada