As a sailor, there's nothing more unsettling than feeling a storm coming on and even the most experienced seafarer should be well prepared for when the sky darkens and the winds pick up.
We're not necessarily talking about freak acts of nature; strong winds and rough seas can also cause damage to your favourite cruiser and put you in danger.
So if you're caught up in some heavy weather offshore, Mylor Chandlery have put together our top 5 tactics for preparing your boat when navigating around hazardous conditions and getting you home safely.
Your storm preparation should really begin when you first purchase your new boat; understanding and getting to know your vessel early on will help when it comes to pushing it to the absolute limit.
You also want to consider whether your boat is indeed fit for use in storms and if you're going to have a hard or an easy time when the weather gets tough. Below deck, your boat should be stocked up with life jackets, food and water, emergency flares, seasickness tablets, first aid kits and lifelines to look after everyone on board.
Finally, it's important to remember that a storm can strike at any time and you're never not at risk from it happening - so always prepare for bad weather, whether you have checked the forecast or not!
Reefing The Sail
Reefing is a tactic that can be used during storms when you roll or fold the sail canvas back onto itself to reduce the surface area. This improves sailing performance when the winds are high by stabilising the vessel itself and preventing the sail from getting damaged.
Sailors need to have a sixth sense when it comes to storms and reefing should be done the moment you can feel the weather changing so you're not out wrestling with your sail as the conditions start to get worse.
Avoid Shallow Water
One of the most tempting things to do when stormy weather hits is to head straight for dry land, but this can actually be more dangerous.
If you're within safe distance of the harbour then it's common sense to make your way back towards it, but if you're far out to sea and the waves are getting higher and higher, finding a passage to shore can create perilous shallow areas that make it more difficult to marshal your boat and make it more likely that you end up crashing into rocks and other obstructive items in the water.
Consider your options and weigh up whether it's safer to stay in open water until the storm dies down or quickly and safely make it back to shore.
Heaving to is a method of preparing your boat to operate in a fixed position so you don't have to steer it at the helm, enabling you to attend to other matters on your boat or take shelter below deck.
Sail close to the wind with the jib furled against the backwind and the helm in a locked position - this puts the boat in a position in the water that helps to prevent it from being broken by strong waves.