Storm Tactics Handbook, 3rd Edition
Lin & Larry Pardey

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            Unlike my brother Tom, the founder of this website, in over 50 years of cruising I have never made what I would consider an offshore passage. However, I have often dreamt of doing so and I have read everything I could get my hands on, on the subject. Like most of us I am particularly fascinated, perhaps morbidly so, by accounts of offshore storms and the disasters that sometimes accompany them.

            For much of nautical history, the conventional wisdom for storm tactics has been that when the weather deteriorates to the point of discomfort one heaves-to, essentially stopping the boat through adjustment of the sails and helm so she faces the oncoming seas on one forward quarter and makes little or no headway but a certain amount of leeway. This book confirms that wisdom.

            However, for several decades the conventional wisdom has been that if the conditions deteriorate beyond a certain point, heaving-to no longer works well, so the best thing to do is to turn and run before the gale, sometimes towing warps or a drogue to slow the boat down as necessary. This has always been a “hard chance” for several reasons. For one thing, it could rapidly use up whatever you have for searoom to leeward. For another, because no autopilot or windvane steerer can respond with the accuracy and anticipation of a human helmsman, and vigorous steering is required at all times, this method can exhaust a small crew or a singlehander long before the storm is past. Also, as this book points out, there are many reports of vessels, which have been progressing satisfactorily in this manner, being suddenly overwhelmed by a “rogue” wave and rolled 360 degrees or pitchpoled, often resulting in severe damage to the yacht, injury to the crew, and even loss of life. In recent years science and an accumulation of individual accounts has revealed that while these waves may in a sense be “rogues,” they can be relied upon to occur occasionally in most wave patterns large and small, and of course the larger the pattern the larger the rogue. So they are not rogues in the sense that they are extremely unlikely to occur. They are certain to occur, and they are among the reasons why running off is not the best idea for the worst conditions. Another point which fairly jumped off the page when I read it, is that storms usually pass by a given location in a relatively short period of time, often about 24 hours. Therefore, for the yacht which heaves-to and is therefore nearly stationary, the storm will be over in the least possible period of time. Running off with the wind can, depending on the circumstances, cause the vessel to remain in the storm for significantly, sometimes days, longer than a yacht which has hove-to.

            In this book the Pardeys have used their own experiences in a number of heavy gales, as well as the experiences of many other voyagers, to rather completely discredit the “running off” option as the ultimate storm tactic.  In its place they explain very thoroughly how to extend the heaving-to option such that it will serve better than any other, in the worst conditions.

            The Pardeys explain how heaving-to works partly by creating a “slick” of roiled water extending far to windward of the vessel, caused by her slow sideways drift to leeward, and serving to disperse the energy of the oncoming seas before they reach the vessel. They show in great detail how to make pretty much any sailboat heave-to, including those with abbreviated underbodies, which conventional wisdom has frequently said could not do it.

            They point out that the primary reason heaving-to has not appeared to work at times is that most boats have a tendency to fore-reach out of the slick that was protecting them, after conditions deteriorate beyond a certain point. To prevent this and to hold leeward drift to a minimum, they show how to use a sea-anchor not to hold the boat straight head-to-wind (which has been tried with minimal success on countless occasions), but, through the use of a second line led aft, to hold her in the hove-to position, taking the seas on a forward quarter. Many accounts of instances in which this tactic has been employed seem to confirm absolutely its great effectiveness in a wide range of yacht types.

            The book is full of details about how to employ this method, thorough coverage of the experiences of many yachts in severe gales, and other extremely sensible and well-founded advice on preparing for, and dealing with, storms at sea.

            I found the book to be absolutely fascinating—one of the best technical reads I’ve ever encountered. I also came to feel that the usefulness of the information contained in the book is not confined to the offshore sailor. Sudden gales happen close to shore, too, and the information in this book will dramatically improve anyone’s preparedness for the worst conditions, when they occur. While the book is naturally focused on preventing damage to vessels which have some business being offshore, it could also help to save vessels which do not, but nonetheless find themselves in survival situations.

            I am not exaggerating in any way when I say this book should certainly be one of the cornerstones of every mariner’s library, and the information in it is now, in my opinion, part of the very foundation of good seamanship. I am confident that anyone who reads it will be safer at sea, and that over the years many lives will be preserved as a result.

            My brother (the offshore sailor in the family) indicates that the information this book contains fundamentally changed his mind about ultimate storm tactics, and he wishes he had had the benefit of its contents before some of his own storm experiences.

            I found the book to be very reassuring, because the storm tactics described seem to be reliably effective not just in averting disaster, but in preserving crew comfort and morale, themselves critical elements of safety at sea. After reading it I felt far more confident in my ability to bring a yacht and crew through the worst weather, and this causes me to suggest the book for all those who are apprehensive about living aboard and voyaging for that reason.

            I noted in particular the account of one sailor who said that while contending with his ultimate storm was no picnic by any means, he was a bit sorry when it was over, because the storm was one of the most beautiful things he had ever seen. That’s how I want to feel at a time like that!

            One thing is for sure. If one ever needs and employs these tactics in a storm at sea, the knowledge in this book will be worth a thousand times its price.

 (251pp,  many B & W photos and illustrations)  $22.95

Dan MacNaughton