Running off

When there's too much wind for heaving-to or lying a-hull, the next step is to run off. It's no mystery when this is necessary. By now the sea has become lively and you hear big waves crashing and breaking in the distance. Heavy water has begun to thump on board and the situation is scary. The world around the boat has increased in violence and you need to do something.

The only good thing about this alarming scenario, at least in my experience, is that storms violent enough to make you run off are usually fast moving and spin away in a day or two. Then it's back to normal sailing.

In large, chaotic seas, sailors usually decide to turn tail and flee before the tempest simply because it's the easiest thing to do. You don't need any special equipment or techniques; just steer downwind and keep the stern dead before the overtaking waves. Or maybe a little to one side or the other—whatever works and keeps heavy water from thudding on deck. The advantage of running downwind is that you point a narrow and less vulnerable part of the boat toward the storm, and you're going away from the waves.

Often when you run off, the wind may be blowing toward your target, perhaps hundreds of miles ahead, and the storm may boost you on your way, which of course is

Running hard to the east in the Gulf of Alaska, August 1968. The mainsail is down and the boat is going along with a small cotton storm jib. We're in the trough of a wave just after the crest has passed.

good for your progress and self-esteem. Conversely, if you are running off and traveling away from your destination, you will want to sail as slowly as possible.

It's imperative to have plenty of sea room when you're running off. If there are rocks or an island ahead, you may be able to fudge your downwind course a little to miss the problem. The last thing you want is to run into something.

Running off in a sailing vessel is certainly nothing new. The Bible tells us (Acts 27) that when St. Paul and other early Christians were arrested in Jerusalem in A.D. 58, they were eventually put on a grain ship from Egypt that was headed for Rome. The big ship—with 276 people on board—sailed late in the season from the south coast of what is now Turkey.

Because of poor weather the captain tried to winter on the south coast of the island of Crete, but the port he selected was unsatisfactory. The captain then attempted to move his ship to a more suitable harbor farther west along the south coast. Once he got underway, however, the wind changed and his only option was to keep going and try for Rome. The grain ship headed west and ran off before fresh east-northeast winds. Two thousand years ago, position-keeping was primitive, and after sailing 500 miles the ship on which St. Paul was a passenger piled up on the east coast of Malta on an inky black night. The year was A.D. 60.25

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