North Sails NEWS

September 6, 2016

HOW TO HANDLE A SQUALL

Anticipate The Worst To Be Prepared

A summer storm can hit with stunning suddenness, turning a languid late afternoon into a trial. While often short-lived, a squall’s sudden arrival requires a quick response.

Squall Preparation Tips

A little preparation goes a long way. Here are some things to do when you first realize a squall’s coming.

  • Don lifejackets and harnesses (if you don’t wear them habitually).
  • Have foul weather gear at hand.
  • Clear loose gear from the deck.
  • Close any open ports, prepare the hatch boards, and secure loose gear below.
  • Plot your position by every means available.
  • Determine where nearby hazards and safe water lie.
  • If time allows, head for port, but beware: The worst place to be when a squall hits is almost in, caught in a constrained space amidst a crowd of boats all dashing for home. Certainly the preferred place to be is secured in your berth or mooring. The next best place is in open water, away from other boats.
  • Prepare to shorten sail. One approach is to take a deep reef in the main at the first hint of strong wind, and then to roll the jib completely with the first gust. Make sure the jib reefing line is ready to go, with clean wraps on the furling drum.

When the squall hits, ideally you’ll already be dressed in full foul weather gear and harnessed to the boat, with the boat buttoned up. The boat will hopefully be under reduced sail, with plenty of sea room.

Two more squall tips:

  • Practice your squall drill in benign weather to see how quickly you can shorten sail.
  • Watch the weather and scan the horizon regularly, even on sultry summer days, so you won’t be caught off guard.

How to Handle a Broach

If you are caught with too much sail in a sudden squall, then the boat may broach (be laid over on its side by the wind) before you can shorten sail. It can take many eternal minutes to bring the boat back upright, and how you respond may affect your safety.

First, hold on, and take your time. Though there is much sound and fury, there is not as much danger as it might seem—as long as everyone stays aboard.

The greatest danger for the crew on deck is falling across dramatically heeling decks. For those below, the dangers are being thrown across the cabin and being pelted with unsecured equipment.

To reduce the heel, you will need to ease sheets. The jib sheet may be difficult to get to, as the winch may be awash to leeward. Likewise, the mainsheet will be heavily loaded and difficult to release. Even with the mainsheet eased the boat may not come back upright if the boom hits the water, preventing the sheet from running out. Easing the boom vang will help.

As the boat comes upright beware the flogging sheets, which can whip with remarkable force. Once you’ve shortened sail, survey the boat (on deck and below) for any gear that may have fallen or shaken loose.