Sailing in big waves

I‘ve got an appartment on the beach and the bay is wide open, so it’s like open sea. I’ve sailed a couple times so far with low wind, 8 knots or so. It looks like higher winds will be a bit challenging, not quite sure if i will be on the trapeze anymore. Anyone has some experience with big waves? Any tips (get a different boat?)
We are in 4 foot swells often. Expect to go slow and get bounced around.

What are you sailing?


Marstrom Tornado
Nacra 5.0
Hobie Getaway
Lake Lefroy Mini 5.6

ctcatamanWe are in 4 foot swells often. Expect to go slow and get bounced around.

What are you sailing?

In Chile, in a small beach called Los Molles. South wind is the norm and the beach faces south, so the waves are big right away (4 to 6 ft seems to be typical). Except from the western end of the beach which is protected, the surf is better suited for surfing than for landing a cat.. plus there are more rocks than sand in general, that's why I set up an anchor.

It's just a bit south of here:

Pichidangui bay is sweet, protected from the waves, but about 15 km away, I prefer to sail at walking distance from home. I used to sail here and here, without the waves and with more wind typically, but moved my center of operation.

Edited by Andinista on Jan 13, 2020 - 09:35 AM.
You asked what and I read where, sorry...

Nacra 5.5
I know people who solo 5.5s off the beach, so the boat is fully capable (as are most).

To me, the key is speed, as usual.
It can be difficult to get going again when beating. Remember, Foot off and power it up, then point.

Downwind can be tricky, you need boat speed. Keep water flowing over the boards and rudders.
You'll also need to watch for the swell to surf you right into the back of the next wave.

Practice in heavier and heavier air and have contingencies in place if things don't go as you planned.


Texas Gulf Coast
'82 Prindle 16 (Badfish)
'02 Hobie Wave (Unnamed Project)
‘87 Hobie 18 (Sold)
‘89 Hobie 17 (ill-advised project boat, Sold)
Sail fast, it's when you sail slow that mistakes happen, speed is your friend.
A tighter leech (usually means a tighter mainsheet) will keep the bows from burying downwind and keep your boat more in control upwind, once it gets loose you start reaching even though you're not trying to.
Upwind and downwind, steer around the biggest part of the wave and maintain your power, but don't oversteer, should be small adjustments.
Lay flat on the trapeze, it's when you sit up that your butt hits.
Short steep chop and rollers are quite different. As well as what type of boat you're sailing.
Get an adjustable trapeze or one with a dogbone where you can hook into a higher ring when you want to.
In St. Barth Catacup we regularly sail in 8-12' and sometimes bigger waves. They are generally rollers with chop in between, that's a lot easier to sail than steep 3-4' chop. You can watch some videos from that event or youtube for some more hints.
Just like sailing in them, launching in them is similar, wait for the smaller waves, keep your power up, lot more tips for surf launching out there if that's what you're looking for.

Edited by nacrasailing on Jan 13, 2020 - 12:14 PM.
QuoteIn St. Barth Catacup we regularly sail in 8-12' and sometimes bigger waves.

Yes, these waves look similar...
And the video confirms my fear..
I was counting on speed for better control, hope it works with a good margin of safety. Boat need some repairs now so in a few weeks.
Thanks for the input

Edited by Andinista on Jan 13, 2020 - 12:57 PM.
Haha Yes! That's Mike Easton who is multiple USF18 North American Champion and second at last year's Worlds on the helm and Matt Whitehead crewing who was third at least year's worlds and a big resume besides that. I sailed with Matt last year... he's an amazing sailor but we are both slightly clumsy... a few things went wrong in this video. Matt doesn't love adjustable trapeze but it may have got the better of him here plus they didn't keep their power through the wave.
Todd, why did the C2 turtle?
MN3Todd, why did the C2 turtle?

Hopefully not the waves...
Looks like the problem wasn't lack of adjustable trap.... more like dyneema was 0.5mm too small
Now that I think about it, the dyneema on his trap line did break... the early C2s had some pretty interested Chineema trap lines that weren't very good in the UV and would just snap, they are much better now.

All beachcat masts can come unsealed from time to time, I've seen it more than others on the C2 with a few very good sailors getting stuck with the boat turtle for more than an hour and needing a third person to help get it up. That, combined with the way they capsized, Mike sitting on the hull, the boat going ass in / nose up, and the waves pushing it down are all easy reasons it could have turtled.

The waves never look that big in the video, but my guess is they are 8-12', the troughs are huge there.

Edited by nacrasailing on Jan 13, 2020 - 07:05 PM.
Quotehat, combined with the way they capsized, Mike sitting on the hull, the boat going ass in / nose up, and the waves pushing it down are all easy reasons it could have turtled.

all makes sense
I was hoping it wasn't due to the mast breaking of coming off the mast ball (or pin in C2's case if i recall the set up correctly)

and yes you can clearly see the blue trap line (not the adjuster line) snap at 36 - 37 seconds just as he gets hit with the wave

Edited by MN3 on Jan 13, 2020 - 10:47 PM.
I noticed that the mainsheet is cleated, if not perhaps the capsize could have been avoided. I dont give the mainsheet to my crew so i don’t have the need to cleat it for that, but watching the video I suppose that the timing could have been a bit different if prioritizing safety. So maybe the experience and background of the sailors played against them in this situation? Or maybe it doesn’t matter, the crew ended up pulling the mainsheet from the water and when he let it go it’s uncertain whether it would end up cleated or not.

Edit: he adjusted the mainsheet just before the incindent so forget what I said..

Edited by Andinista on Jan 14, 2020 - 07:00 AM.
looks like if he had dropped the line it would have possible to recover and not capsizes (if the mainsheet payed out) .. but it's natural instinct (for me at least) to hold on with a kung-fu grip
Sailing in big waves definitely requires a lot more steering input than in flat water. Usually when going upwind, you have to ease the boat into the wind a little as you reach the top of the wave (swell) so the boat doesn’t pop out of the water. Then bear off as you accelerate down the wave and the apparent wind shifts forward. I’m talking about larger ocean rollers in this case. For pointier, stacked up waves like bay chop, generally your best bet is to take a step back on the boat, bear off a little, and just power through the best that you can. Waves like that are generally smaller than ocean waves, but can pack enough punch to nearly stop your boat in its tracks.

Downwind sailing in waves, regardless of size, is generally a matter of keeping speed up and doing your best to steer to avoid sticking the bows into the back of waves. Its unavoidable to some degree, but the more you minimize planting the bow, the more comfortable you’ll be.

Launching and landing seems like your biggest issue. Does the beach have a gradual take off, or do large waves break right on the beach (shore break)? If large waves are right on the beach, combined with onshore wind and rocks, that sounds like an invitation for disaster. Might be better off finding a more suitable launch area. And I’m not sure how the anchoring setup you mentioned is laid out, but again, that seems pretty sketchy if there are waves breaking at your anchorage.

There's a protected launching point where the fishermen and touristic boats operate, it's quite narrow. Beyond that area the waves break bigger and bigger, and there's also bathers that you don't want to hit.. So basically there's one spot. Beyond the beach, bigger waves breaking mostly on rocks. The anchor is the last safety measure, hope I never use it, can't be sure that it will work. I checked the depth around the area and it seems to give some decent margin for anchoring, if the source of info was accurate enough.. Cell phone with case and the right numbers to call is on my pfd for now, VHF is on my mind too. My boat has a bow foil, in the middle I attached a ring, the anchor rope is attached at the center of the beam and goes through that ring, so that the boat is kept facing the wind. Tested it once and I thing it should work. It didn't hit the bottom though.. Another practice needed closer to the shore.. But that's my first measure, I don't saile too close to the surf.
Thanks for the tips :)

Here is the place, the beach faces south, the landing spot is at the western end…2!3d-32.239444!4d-71.515

The other beach, cotinuing South East after the rocks, is not suitable. Waves are too big and there are scattered rocks on the sand

Edited by Andinista on Jan 14, 2020 - 05:52 PM.