To Cover or Not To Cover Your Sails

When you anchor for a storm, you might be focused on such things as bottom conditions and the amount of scope to let out. While anchoring techniques are very important for safely riding out a storm, another part of storm preparedness is how you ready the rest of your yacht.

The anchor will be forced to hold your yacht against the water pressure from waves and tides, as well as the wind pressure from the air on your yacht.

Bulky items on deck, as well as dodgers and rigging will all add wind resistance to the equation and put more strain on the anchor as it struggles to hold you to the bottom. Reducing the strain on the anchor is wise, as it gives all your gear an easier time during the blow. Roller furling headsails are bulky and offer a great deal of windage, especially up high! Hank on headsails offer the distinct advantage that when the sail is lowered to the deck, the stay is bare and offers minimal resistance to the wind. But what about the sail that is now on the deck?

Should you bag your sails or simply lash them to the deck before a storm approaches?

Bagged sails offer the advantage that they are inside a smooth covering. This will reduce turbulence as the air passes over the sail and will in turn create less drag. If the sail is simply lashed to the deck, the luff of the sail will be flacked at the stay and will offer a lot of resistance to the wind.

Looking at the situation from this standpoint only, it would make sense that bagging the sails would be ideal before a storm, as it would make everything on your yacht more streamline and thus less drag.

The problem with bagging your sails is that if you begin to drag anchor and need to sail away to safety, your sails are all bagged up! You now need to take additional time to uncover the sails and get everything setup so that you can sail away to safety! In moments where you are dragging anchor onto a lee shore, every second counts and having the sails bagged up might result in you being careened on the lee shore!

If you simply lashed your sails down, all you would need to do in this scenario would be to untie the and begin working your way to safety!

Based on these assumptions, and the fact that we don't have a diesel motor to power us to safety, we choose to lash the sails down to the deck when anchoring for a storm. The sails are kept with halyards and sheets attached, but lashed to the toenail with sail ties. Should we need to start sailing for any reason, all we need to do is untie the sails and raise them up to begin clawing our way off the lee shore.

Storms are never comfortable events to endure, but careful preparation can make your memories of the storms much less eventful.