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Heavy Weather Sailing Tips

15th October 2018
Heavy weather sailing is safe and easy when you set your sails correctly for the conditions and the ability of your crew says Barry Hayes of UK Sailmakers Ireland Heavy weather sailing is safe and easy when you set your sails correctly for the conditions and the ability of your crew says Barry Hayes of UK Sailmakers Ireland

With the DBSC Turkey Shoot Series starting soon on Dublin Bay and Autumn Leagues in full swing in Crosshaven, Howth, Kilrush and elsewhere, Barry Hayes from UK Sailmakers Ireland gives some tips on how to effectively handle your boat in heavy airs. Having done many big offshore races including the Round Ireland, Fastnet, Newport to Bermuda, and China Sea he passes on his top tips for sailing in heavy weather.

Heavy weather sailing is safe and easy when you set your sails correctly for the conditions and the ability of your crew. Always have a “Safety First” sticker on the main hatch sliding door - it should get everyone in the right mindset before heading on deck.

 B TripleLindyWaveBashingMidSea2017Heavy weather beating

Sailing upwind is the hardest of all points of sailing in heavy weather. In anything over 30–knots, it is really fetching to weather with a J4 and one or two reefs in the main. I always go with less mainsail area and more Jib area as you get much more control over the boat. I hang onto the J4 until both reefs in the mainsail. There is no point pinching as you need speed to get through the waves.

"There is no point pinching as you need speed to get through the waves"

Sit your crew well aft and move anything you can to the aft section of the boat to keep the bow out of the waves and the rudder as deep as possible. Tape all the bowlines on your jib sheets before heading out, so they don’t shake free in the tacks.

 C 2011FallSeriesNo4aPower reaching
When you’re reaching an outboard sheet is essential so you can ease the boom out without washing out the mainsail. Again; try and run with more headsail area than mainsail area. It will be easier to control the boat and sail in a straight line. Having a storm Jib set as a staysail inside your J4 can help push the bow away and make the boat easier to sail on a reach. The goal is to reduce weather helm, eliminate broaching, and maximise straight line sailing.

 D TripleLIndyBowIntoWaveHeavy downwind sailing
An A5 or a Code zero are excellent tools for going downwind in massive airs. Personally, I prefer the code zero as you furl it if you have a wipeout and leave it up until you are recovered and settled.
An A5 is always a letterbox drop. Rig a spare rope which goes from the windward side, between the mainsail and the boom, and onto the loaded spinnaker sheet with a large bowline. Pull this line to get the kite tight onto the mainsail so you can take the sail down safely.

Instead of trying to soak low in heavy airs it nearly always pays to sail a slightly higher course than the low rhumb line. Drop the spinnaker, and gybe - sailing a short distance on a two-sail reach under control to the mark. Trying to gybe in 30+ kts is asking for something to go wrong. The possibility of broaching on this slightly higher course is considerably less.

Safety lines(Above and below) Safety line positions

 F Stern Line

Crew Safety

I always like to run a second safety jackline on the cabin too. This jackstay goes from the clutches around the fount of the mast and back to the other side. This is excellent if you’re going forward to clear a line or clip a halyard away. It's also great for crew crossing the cabin top in the tack. If the boat broaches you are as close to the centre line as possible. I also add another lanyard to the stern. If someone does go overboard it's quick and easy to clip them to the boat for a fast recovery.

 G TripleLindyFinishing2017MidSeaRaceCrp

What sails to set and when






20 kts

J 3

Full Main

A 4 or S4


25 kts

J 3

One Reef

A 4 or S4


30 kts

J 4

1 or 2 Reefs

A5 or Code zero

no one in front of the shrouds

35 kts

J 4

2 Reefs

Code zero

no one in front of the shrouds

40 kts

Storm Jib

2 Reefs

Anchor Drogue

Cockpit only

 F StormSailsWave2Storm Sails

Storm Sails

In this photo above, you can see a really effective storm sail setup. The crew of the trysail is strapped to the boom. With a safety strap around it. The boom is set to leeward. You should only fetch with your storm sails - never try and beat to weather. I always go out and test my storm sails in heavy weather to know how to set them. It is also a really good time to learn how to steer with them. It is very different to sailing with normal sails as is a lot less power to steer with.

If you need any other tips or advice please feel free to contact me at the details below.

Stay safe and enjoy your sailing.

uksails topper

About the Loft

UK Sailmakers Ireland brings modern professional sailmaking to Irish Sailing.​ Formerly known as McWilliam Sailmakers; the company was started 47 years ago to bring the latest technology to Irish sailors - we continue this mission today.

Under new leadership in 2018; our loft is dedicated to fulfilling the needs of all Irish sailors. ​As sailmakers, we do not just design sails for boats. We design and build sails for your boat. Our extensive and versatile product line allows us to produce sails to suit your requirements and expectations.   

​As a core loft within the UK Sailmakers Group, we are uniquely placed to draw from a worldwide pool of knowledge and experience - these ties have been recently strengthened with the return of Barry Hayes and Claire Morgan from Hong Kong. ​Barry held a key role in our primary production facility on Hong Kong Island for the past fifteen years. With their return comes a renewed focus on technology R&D on Irish waters.  

​With a wide variety of sailing conditions and an impressive pool of talent, the Irish cruiser racing fleet is the ideal testbed for new technologies.​ 

​As with all things in sailing; the secrets will be closely guarded - but for the first time in decades Irish sailors will be at the forefront of sail technology development.​

Although much has changed; some constants remain. The same great sail and customer service we have provided in the past will continue, as does our commitment and passion for growing the sport of sailing all over the country. 

Barry Hayes [email protected]

Contact Information:

UK Sailmakers Ireland

Hoddersfield Mill


County Cork

P43 EY26

Republic of Ireland

Tel: +353 21 4831505

Fax: +353 21 4831700

Email: [email protected]

Barry Hayes

About The Author

Barry Hayes

Email The Author

Barry Hayes, Director of UK Sails Ireland, managed the main UK Production facility for UK Sails in Hong Kong until last October and has been a sail designer with UK sails for over 15 years.

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