Heavy Weather Sailing

Top 5 Rules for Heavy Weather Sailing in Santa Barbara

  • When in Doubt, Let it Out!
    • Heeling too much or slipping sideways in light air? Try letting the mainsheet and jib sheets out.
  • Use the Boom Vang
    • Too much heeling or weather helm? Flatten the sail (take the shape out of it) by hardening up the boom vang.
  • Reef Early
    • When should you reef? BEFORE it is too windy. Check the weather report before sailing. If it says 15-20 knots, throw in a reef at the dock before departing. It is much easier to shake out a reef than to put it on in 25 kots of wind and a 4 foot wind chop!
  • Heave To
    • Heaving to provides a chance to take a break and reassess your sailing situation. Eat lunch, take a nap (with someone on look out!), fixing rigging all while hove to.
  • Block the Wind
  • Pack extra marine batteries
  • Pack Safety Essentials
    • Packing things like an emergency survival kit, extra food and water and a bc level 1 first aid kit means you’ll be prepared to save yourself if you run into danger.

    Favorite Weather Resources

    • NOAA Weather Reports
      • Look at the East Santa Barbara Channel from Point Conception to Point Mugu including Santa Cruz Island. This report covers a very large area so conditions by Santa Cruz Island (such as “Windy Lane”) can be drastically different to conditions closer to shore.
    • Fagan’s Cruising Guide
      • A valuable resource for determining where to anchor while also providing in great detail the weather patterns, currents and more details of the Santa Barbara Channel. Fagan has many tips on crossing the channel and creating a comfortable stay at anchor.
    • US Coast Guard Coast Pilot
      • Region 7 is the California coast, including the Channel Islands.
    • Windy TV
      • A visually appealing way to look at the current wind conditions. Check it out on their app or website.
    • Sail Flow
      • App/Website that is very accurate for real time wind conditions. Access hundreds of weather stations nationwide with a subscription.
    • Marinetraffic.com
      • Utilize the AIS network by marinetraffic.com when sailing in reduced visibility such as fog or nighttime. It is especially useful when sailing out of the southern ports such as Port of Los Angeles where large ships are in great abundance. The software shows you a map of the area and ships that are registered and broadcasting an AIS signal. You can click on a specific ship and decide whether or not you are on a collision course.

    Common Local Weather Patterns

    • Prevailing Winds
      • On most days you can sail to the islands on a beam reach. The prevailing winds blow northwest down our coast and turn at Point Conception to continue following the coastline. Closer inshore in Santa Barbara, we experience west/southwest winds flowing down the channel between us and the Channel Islands.
    • Windy Lane
      • The last 6 miles as you near the Channel Islands is known as Windy Lane. The winds and seas are accelerated and heightened at this point due to the compression effect caused by the location of the islands along the coast.
      • Always reef before heading into Windy Lane!
    • Santa Ana Winds
      • We experience these winds year round but most often in autumn and winter. In these conditions, wind speeds can reach up to 50 knots or more!
      • TIP: When can you expect Santa Ana conditions? When the deck of the boat is dry overnight and there is no dew in the morning with clear skies and no haze. Winds normally pick up in the late afternoon and can blow all night.
    • South Easters
      • Expect south east winds when we have a tropical storm or hurricane off of Mexico or coming from the open ocean. These winds can be very strong and are usually accompanied by violent chop, wind waves and large south swells known as “sneaker sets”, which can cause the Santa Barbara Harbor entrance to fill will sand.
      • TIP: Avoid the backside of the islands in these conditions as they will be a lee shore. Consult Fagan’s Guide for anchoring advice.
    • Advection Fog
      • Fog in the channel is caused by a large, warm air mass passing over cool water. Expect more fog in the summer since the days are hotter. Fog can plague the coast for days and sometimes be 800 nautical miles wide.
      • TIP: Always use extra caution when sailing in fog- slow down, sound your horn and keep a sharp lookout. Radar and AIS are especially useful in these conditions.
      • Sailboat in fog: One prolonged blast followed by two short blasts
      • Powerboat in fog: One prolonged blast.
        • These sounds should be sounded at intervals of no more than 2 minutes. Please consult the USCG rules of the road book for the full list of sound signals in restricted visibility.

    Interested in advancing your sailing skills in heavy weather? Check out the ASA 106- Advanced Coastal Cruising.