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Stress Test

A strong South East wind was predicted to be blowing on Saturday, so we decided to take this opportunity to go out and test the boat in rough weather.  We had a few things on our check-list:

  1. How does the boat feel like when pounding into the waves.

  2. How well would the boat sail when reefed.

  3. How quickly would the main drop in high wind in case of emergency.

  4. How well would the boat sail with a deeply reefed jib.

  5. How well would the two Yanmar engines motor into the wind.

  6. How difficult would be to tack the boat in strong wind.

Around 2 pm, as predicted, we started seeing constant 30 knots of wind from the south east.  So we asked Port Control permission to leave the harbor and once out, not surprisingly, we noticed that we were the only sail boat. No one else was there, and it was a weekend.  This tells you something.

Here in Table Bay, there is an area called the South East Corner.  The South East Corner is to Cape Town’s sailors what the “The Slot” is to the San Franciscan’s.  With the difference that The South East Corner is The Slot on steroids.  The South East wind here funnels between the Table Mountain and the gap to the north, accelerating brutally because of the Venturi effect.  When getting out of the Cape Town harbor, if you turn south there can be little to no wind, whereas if you turn north towards the South East Corner, you can easily have 30+ knots.  These picture shows where it is, with our tracks for the day:

Cape Town South East Corner

We started with one reef in the main and one in the jib.  Wind around 20/25 knots.  The boat felt very safe, and we were doing around 9 knots at 60/70 degrees angle into the wind.  We marked the reef 1 line and the halyard, so that next time that we’ll need to reef it’s going to be simpler.

Then the wind increased to a steady 30/35, gusting 38.  According to the Beaufort scale, this is a Force 8, gale force wind!  We put another reef in the the main and the jib. We were just flying:

The boat was still handling very well, pounding into the waves.  Waves were not big, but at very short intervals, like in the med.  So it was perfect test ground.

It was intense, but we never felt unsafe.  As a matter of fact, if we went down in the saloon and closed the cockpit door, it was very quite and comfortable:

A little accident happened when we tried to tack, with the jib sheets getting caught in the cleats at the mast.  Lots of noise from the jib flapping around and the jib sheets flying like crazy.  We managed to furl the jib and stabilize it, but then we had to clean the mess, with the jib sheets all tangled with other ropes at the mast.  That was intense!  I will need to find a system to cover those cleats to avoid this kind of accidents happening in the future.  But for the time being, we decided that moving forward when we’ll have to tack under such a strong wind, we’ll just furl in the jib first, then tack.  Better be safe than sorry.  At sea, there are a lot of things that can quickly go wrong, so we need to be able to manage that risk.

The next item on the list was checking how the boat would sail with just the jib into strong winds and waves.  So we dropped the main completely, and we sailed just with a little handkerchief of jib.  We did about 5 knots of speed in 30/35 knots of wind at 60/70 degrees.

Then we tested the engines.  We dropped all sails, and we started motoring straight into the wind.  It wasn’t pleasant.  At 2,500 RPM we were doing roughly 3 knots.  When people say “if there is too much wind, just motor into it”, don’t believe them.  Sailing is much easier and nicer.  So we put up a little handkerchief of jib again, and sailed back to the harbor.  Stress test completed.

When checking the Instruments log, we saw that the Maximum True Wind Speed was 38 knots, and our Max Speed was 11.4 knots.

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That was quite an intense afternoon!  We are very happy with how the boat performs in gale force winds.  We are not planning to ever sail in this conditions, but if we have to, at least we know we can.  Back to the docs, the boat was still in the same shape as before we left, no leaking hatches, no object falling off the shelves, no doors not closing.  As nothing had every happened.  Once rinsed, Oroboro shined again in the sun.

We took the rest of the afternoon off to relax and decompress, and went to visit the National Gallery.  No howling wind there. Just the sound of African’s art.  Dinner at Cape Grace marina and in bed by 9 pm.  Exhausted but happy.  Pretty monastic life.

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