Really bad weather in tropical seas does not happen so often. Violent, dangerous and destructive storms, a rarity. However, those who are going to go out to sea and spend several years there should be prepared for the fact that sooner or later they will face them. As for our experience, for eighteen years of navigation, really strong storms into which we fell can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
In 1991, a hundred miles from Darwin, in northern Australia, a terrible storm with a wind of about fifty knots. There were no big waves, as we were between the islands, but it was the islands around that were dangerous.
In 1995, at Durban in South Africa, we were caught in an atmospheric disturbance that lasted a day and a half, with forty knot winds and six-meter-high waves. The danger was that the current from the north was superimposed on the waves coming from the south. Despite the height of the waves and their tendency to collapse, the crests covering us were only three or four.
While it was possible to avoid maneuvers, everything was fine, and when approaching the leeward coast, we were forced to remove the grotto, it tore up.
In 1997, near Sumatra, we were covered by an unexpectedly strong squall. It was night and we did not notice his approach. The wind instantly jumped from fifteen knots to forty-five and for one and a half hours lightning flashed continuously and the downpour went on like a wall. The waves were not big, maybe from the pressure of rain, maybe from the fact that they did not have time to rise, but the flashes of lightning were almost continuous and the roar was such that we could hardly hear each other.
- And it's all? - ask us every time after our stories.
- Everything. Isn't it enough?
There were other situations with strong winds and large waves, but nothing really dangerous or significant.
Tips that I want to give about how to behave in stormy weather, purely personal considerations that someone who already has experience will not say anything new, others may seem too trivial, but what to do, advise, it is always not an easy thing.
When the wind increases.
When the wind increases, the very first, obvious and simple rule, which, however, cannot be neglected, is to reduce the sail in time. Taking the reefs and changing the staysail, if done on time, a trifling matter, if done late, become difficult, tedious, and sometimes dangerous. However, the majority postpones it until the last moment. And this is a mistake that both beginners and veterans make.
They wait in the hope that the wind will weaken, or because they are bothered by seasickness, and it is easier to sit sadly in the cockpit than to jump on the deck while working with the sails. Sometimes they wait, because it's great to fly under sail: the boat runs, the nose jumps over the waves and it's a pity not to use this wind. But this is an erroneous impression; with too much sail, the boat does not go faster, it only lurches more and experiences large, unnecessary loads on rigging. Often, after taking the reefs, the speed remains about the same, but the boat goes better and is easier to control.
But how to decide when to reef?
There is an accounting system: an anemometer on the top of the mast and a table of wind strength recommended for each sail. It is enough to keep the anemometer under control and, accordingly, change or reef the sails. Naturally, the importance of the force of the imperial wind, that is, the wind that actually affects the sails and rigging.
If you wish, you can do without instruments and tables, evaluate the wind by itsaction on the boat and the sea. Just look at the water surface, the shape of the waves. After a little practice, you begin to determine the speed.
When white lambs begin to appear on the waves here and there, the wind has reached ten knots. And it's time to start taking reefs. When the waves grow up, the ridges collapse more often and begin to make noise, it means that it is somewhere around twenty knots. It's time to take the second row of reefs and put in a little heavy staysail for strong wind. When it starts to tear foam from the ridges and white foam tracks are pulled in the direction of the wind, these are about thirty knots and the right moment to zafit the grotto as far as possible and to put in a storm staysail.
On sharp courses or gulfwind the boat itself will tell you its excessive roll when the sail is great. At the fordwinde, she rolls a little and it is very easy to underestimate the wind. It remains to rely on the testimony of the anemometer, if you have one, or on your own feeling, if it is not. In case of doubt - reef!
Winds of gale force are not so frequent, but sooner or later you will have to deal with them. And here is the question not only in order to reduce the sail, you need to prepare the boat and crew to withstand the storm.
First of all, again reduce the sail. Reduce immediately and a lot to avoid uselessly large loads and too much roll. Taking two shelves of reefs on the grotto and replacing the staysail with a storm one, or reeling on a twist, you will see that the wind does not seem so strong to you.
Secondly, you need to prepare the boat. Control deck bypass, make sure everything is in order: the ropes are well wound, the tender and sailing bags are well fixed, there is nothing superfluous on the deck and in the cockpit. The free deck does not create much resistance to the waves and they can slide into the sea without causing harm, and there is no risk of breaking or losing something.
When checking inside, you need to make sure that all things are fixed and will not fly from one corner of the cabin to another at the first roll. Block the books in the lockers, remove the pots and pans from the stove, remove everything except the card used from the chart table. Make sure that the toilet and the sinks are closed, all hatches, portholes and other openings are closed, the door of the refrigerator is locked and that nothing can roll over in the refrigerator. Life jackets and safety harnesses should be kept close at hand, because when the boat starts to throw at huge waves, crouching, thrusting its head into the lockers, when the weakness and the first signs of sea-sickness may have risen, can become very tedious.
On this, all that could be done - done. It remains only to adjust the wind helmsman to the desired course and wait for what will happen. It is important that the boat is in perfect order, because it is the boat and not its crew that must withstand the battle with the storm. Hull, masts and sails take the blows of the sea and resist the fierce wind. And if the boat is in order, its hull and rig are designed for these conditions as well, for those who are on board, all that remains is to ensure that everything works as expected.
They say that the best storm is the one that you experience sitting at a cafe table, watching from afar a grand picture of a raging sea. But if you had to participate, nothing can be done. Usually a storm is reduced to a very big inconvenience, but, except for very rare cases, there is no real danger. Waves, even large and formidable, all the same consist of water, and water does not break the boat. Rocks, yes. These dangers await near the shore: shallow water, too small coves, with too narrowor difficult entrance. When looking for a place to hide, be very careful. If the bay that you notice is on the windward, it is worth a try. It will be difficult to approach it, because it will have to rise to the wind, but as it approaches the coast, the waves will decrease and become more comfortable. Before entering the bay, you will find yourself in the sea almost without waves, in ideal conditions.
If the shelter is under the wind, the opposite happens. It will be easy to approach, but near the shore, the waves, due to a decrease in depth, will become even higher and begin to collapse. The entrance to the bay or port will seem to you as tiny and sufficiently the slightest mistake in control or uncertainty for a catastrophe to occur. So be very careful. Estimate in great detail the characteristics of the place on the map and in case of doubt it is much better to stay on the high seas.
If the wind gets too strong to continue sailing, there are ways to drift. Great mariners such as Muatisie, Chichester and Slokam wrote hundreds of pages with stories and tips on how to drift to wait out the storm. And since we also write, we will express our opinion.
If you are in the open sea, strong wind and a big wave, you have two alternatives: to run from the storm with a fair wind or to drift with your nose against the wind.
If the wind blows in the direction you want, run with a fair wind more correctly and more convenient. The best course, full backstay with the most groomed grotto, securely blocked geek and storm, or the most twisted staysail. In extreme cases, the cave is removed completely. Going fast with a fair wind, the waves seem not so big, because the speed of the boat is subtracted from the speed of the waves. It is relatively comfortable and safe to go on such a course, sometimes even fascinating. Be careful, adapt the windage to the wind conditions: if a lot of canvas is closer to the stern, that is, the grotto is too large, the boat will tend to lean, and may even go to the broking, if the windage is small, the boat goes slowly and does not listen to the helm.
If the wind is even more intensified, it is theoretically possible to completely remove the sails and continue to go to backstay, but already under the bare spars. But this is a very rare case. For many years, such a wind, we met only a couple of times.
If it is impossible or unwilling to go in the direction of the wind, then all that remains is to lie down in a drift. The classic position, the staysail is brought to the wind, the grotto is partially neutral and the steering wheel is fixed to the position to the wind. Pay attention to the possible friction of the staysail against the guy or the inner arm. Several hours of friction of the sail on the metal and the staysail can be spoiled. You can close the guys with plastic tubes or wrap with a cloth, but this needs to be done in advance.
The alternative I prefer to lie in a drift with one grotto, removing the staysail completely. A deafened grotto is packed as tightly as possible and the steering wheel is fixed in its extreme position. In this position, the boat becomes in the position of complete winding and slowly moves drifting under the wind. The advantage of such a drift with a single grotto is that the staysail does not deteriorate and that it can be practiced on boating boats, on which raising a storm staysail is problematic.
In the drift, you can stay for hours or days. When everything is fixed, the deck is clean and everything is in order, the crew is left with nothing else but to wait for the wind to end. And I can guarantee you that sooner or later it will happen. You can lie down on cots, keeping only short watches. The boat drifts slowly, at a speed of one, maximum two knots. So for a dozen hours, which lasts the most brutal period of the storm, it will carry no more thanten miles The drift speed can be measured using GPS, but not lag, since its spinner is installed parallel to the axis of the boat and measures only the longitudinal speed. Knowing the speed you will always know how long you can stay in the drift, so as not to approach a dangerous distance to the shore.
With increasing wind power, it becomes increasingly difficult to maneuver. Turning the tack is difficult and through the fordevind can even be dangerous. Take a regiment of reefs with a wind of ten knots and an almost calm sea, a matter of two minutes. To take the third reefs with strong waves is a very difficult task. You should not risk falling overboard trying to hold the sail at all costs. If something should fall into the water, then it is better if it is a sail.
On high seas, some maneuvers are easier to carry out when the wind blows into the stern. We always do that. For example, if we go to full runneck and decide to take another reef regiment, lowering most of the grotto, set the helm at full back and perform the rest of the work with the wind in the stern. Everything is much easier, because the wind decreases, the sail rinses less and the boat pumps less. This is also more secure, because the waves do not roll over the deck. When the reef pendant is well stuffed, cite to a gulfwind, raise the grotto, and only at the very end cite to the drawthin. At the same time, some of the distance covered is lost, but what is the significance of one mile when going over a thousand miles?
The stronger the wind, the more dangerous maneuvers become, both for the boat and for the crew. It is very important to constantly control your position and the position of all other works on the deck. If there are only two of you, then after a while these precautions become almost automatic. If there are friends or guests aboard, be careful if they are not within the boom or shear area.
When turning in a gale the mast and rigging are subjected to heavy loads. The defrosted sails vibrate violently and transmit the vibration to the mast and guys. Therefore, try to do long tacks minimizing the number of turns. The most dangerous - turn through the winding, you can damage the sail, boom or someone's head. If the wind is really too strong, it is better not to do it at all. We resort to a not quite elegant way, lower the grotto, turn it and raise it again. Not elegant, but reliable.
Tack turning is less dangerous, but with too strong wind and a big wave it can happen that the boat refuses to do it. In this case, you need to have time and space left to accelerate again before shifting the steering wheel to the wind. If the turn still does not work, perhaps the reason is that the grotto is too crowded. Keep in mind that if it is impossible to do a tack, you can probably turn it through a fordewind, better without a grotto and with all the precautions described above, of course, if there is enough space for that.
Swimming in the tropics is not dangerous, we have said so far, but this is really only if you avoid the most severe weather phenomena occurring in the sea - cyclones.
Imagine a whirlwind with a diameter of one hundred miles, which slowly moves across the ocean and rotates around its axis like a mad spinning top, with winds reaching speeds of 150–175 knots. If you remember that the maximum score on the Beaufort scale, 12, corresponds to sixty-four nodes, you can imagine the unprecedented power of this natural phenomenon. The sea under this whirlwind is covered with irregular waves reaching heights of fifteen and twenty meters, which intersect, overlap each other, forming tall unstable pyramids and deep dips. The sea is very dangerous and unbearable for boatssuch as ours, but also very difficult even for large vessels.
The worst begins when the cyclone reaches the islands. Trees are left without branches, the roofs of houses explode, the wind blows down fences and huts and lifts everything that is not fixed into the air. And all these objects begin to fly at a terrible speed, turning into deadly projectiles, which in turn also destroy everything they meet in their path. Huge waves fall on the shore, the sea level rises a few meters and together with the pouring rain it floods the land. The waves roll over the dams and breakwaters, penetrate the harbor and raise ships, tearing off the mooring lines and carrying them into the sea, or throwing them on dry land, tens of meters from the water. Within a few hours while the hurricane passes, entire villages, islands and archipelagoes are compared with the earth. And when everything ends, the water goes away, the sun reappears and with complete indifference illuminates everything that was the day before, it was fun tropical turf.
The physical energy of this rotating mass of air is very high and is comparable with all the electrical energy produced in Italy during the year or with the energy of an atomic bomb of average power. But their geographical size, fortunately, is small. The cyclone's diameter rarely exceeds three hundred miles, and its truly destructive zone, with winds exceeding 50 knots, is limited to radii from twenty to fifty miles from the center. The small size and seasonality of cyclones as a phenomenon allow you to swim in the tropics without colliding with them.
Cyclone prone zones are located in belts with a rainy period: from May to October in the north and from November to April in the south.
The first advice to those who are going to swim in the tropics: it is better to completely avoid the hurricane season, and at the same time the unfavorable weather conditions and the heat of the summer period. From any point of view it is better to choose the opposite hemisphere and calmly swim under the sunny sky and with moderate, steady winter winds. The idea of not being in the wrong place at the wrong time is the most important thing when planning ocean transitions. That is why they cross the Atlantic in November to arrive on the Caribbean in December and have several months left until May, when the risk of cyclones will appear. For the same reason, transitions across the Pacific Ocean begin in March. Arrive in Polynesia in April and until October no problems. But the Pacific is huge and full of beautiful places and so after five months most of the yachts are still on the Cook Islands or Fiji. Here it is time to leave. To avoid danger, it is enough to go down south to New Zealand or go north to the islands of Salomon in the equatorial zone, it is very hot there, but cyclones do not reach there.
If for some reason you still could not get out of the danger zone, do not make a drama out of it. You just need to be more attentive. In the end, the inhabitants of tropical islands have always lived with these phenomena and developed their technique of protection against them. First of all, you cannot allow the arrival of the monster to take you to the sea, which is not difficult. With current forecasting methods, warnings come in many days. Cyclones are studied, monitored and monitored from satellites and airplanes of the meteorological service, all their movements are recorded, and advance and development forecasts are given with a large lead. In the event of an alarm, go as far as possible from the predicted path of the cyclone to the nearest ground. Arriving, you need to try to get the boat in the hurricane hole, one of the natural ports, which, based on the experience of entire generations, are recognized as the best refuges from hurricanes. Usually these are small natural bays, well closed from the sea and sheltered from the wind, either located around the mountains, or being surrounded by high mangroves that can soften the rage of the hurricane. Such places are not always indicated in the stations, but it is enough to ask the port office or the fishermen and you will alwaysand indicate where they are. It is even better to go there in advance in order to get an idea of this place, depths, possible obstacles, because if the moment comes, you will have to act quickly.
The most important thing is to anchor the boat as safely as possible. Two anchors from the bow and two from the stern, on the thickest and strongest chains, may be reinforced with an anchor from the dinghy and various scrap metal. If possible, stretch the ropes to the shore, securing them for trees or rocks. Then remove from the deck everything that can create resistance to the wind: ropes, sails, spinnaker boom, exterior halyards, lifebuoys. The deck should be clean and smooth.
After that, nothing can be done, in the sense that everything possible has already been done. You can close in a boat, or even better, go ashore and take refuge in a grotto or pit, located high enough, and wait. Often a cyclone passes somewhere a little there ... aside, or just do not pass, but it can also pass. But in the end, if you don’t take any risks ...
Earthquakes and Tsunami
The December 2004 tsunami caused death and destruction in most parts of the Indian Ocean, from Indonesia to Thailand, to Sri Lanka and the Maldives. After that, many called and wrote to us about their fears, such as:
“After what happened, we would never go to the Indian Ocean.”
- You say swimming is not dangerous! And if you get into one of these tsunamis?
Our friends in New Zealand wrote to us that they were going to interrupt their voyage around the world. They were going to stay there and swim for the next year only in the western Pacific Ocean. All this, so as not to pass the Torres Strait and not to go this terrible Indian Ocean.
Such an approach has no basis and is generated by the hysteria of the moment, is quite understandable but not motivated at all.
The 2004 tsunami was a terrible event. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed, settlements and cities were destroyed. The epicenter of the submarine earthquake was not far from Sumatra, but the waves generated by the movement of the seabed spread thousands of miles, most of the Indian Ocean. While the waves were walking on the sea, they did not bring any troubles, but when they reached land, they turned into indomitable monsters and this tragedy will remain before our eyes for a long and long time.
What can be done to avoid these terrible waves? Nothing, unfortunately! Earthquakes are unpredictable and sometimes the case makes a choice between life and death. One of our friends rested on Phuket and sailed into the sea when the wave came:
- I swam every morning. Usually sailed far beyond the bay, to a rocky cape. This morning I did not want to, and I was splashing not far from the beach. The first wave threw me on the beach and rolled on the sand like a sausage on the grill. I managed to climb and run up the hill before the arrival of the second wave. If I swam at the cape, I would have spread over the rocks.
Our other acquaintance was on his yacht in Hat Nai Khan Bay in the south of Phuket. We know this bay well and have also been there. There is a deep bottom, fifteen meters in the center, but then rises sharply and remains at the level of about two meters to the coast. Therefore, all the yachts standing there cast anchors at a depth of fifteen meters and away from the coast. Catamarans and motorboats are anchored off the coast.
When the third wave came, our friend saw his boat going up the water. The included echo sounder showed an increase in depth of seven meters. However, the wave did not collapse, the boat rose, twitched on the chains and sank again. Catamarans and motor yachts, standing for several tens of meters closesame to the shore, were broken into the trash, along with fishing huts, restaurants and everything else.
However, earthquakes, phenomena are not sea or even tropical. They can happen anywhere. To be afraid of them is quite natural, but to believe that the Indian Ocean is a dangerous place, just because the last strong earthquake occurred there is ridiculous.