I have this friend. Many years ago we were cruising the North Atlantic in a new $100,000 boat borrowed from a manufacturer when the wind and seas kicked up and got hairy. We were running in a nasty, confused head sea and my buddy tried to hand over the controls to Boating's Senior Technical Editor Kevin Falvey, who happened to be along for the ride. Kevin begged off and suggested that we use my friend's experience as fodder for a column. I mentioned that we'd already published "How to Sink Your Boat," but Kevin persisted. For my friend it was baptism by fire or, more accurately, baptism by salt spray. But it was worth it. Here's what we learned.
Hang Loose. A rough head sea constantly changes. To navigate for the duration, you need strength and flexibility at the helm. This part is crucial: Keep one hand on the wheel and the other on the throttles to deal with ever-changing course and speed. Electronic controls and power steering help. In a small open boat, you'll likely take some spray in the face. Try to relax. Bend your knees. Don't tense up.
The Hull Truth. Good news! Your hull is designed for these conditions. Use it. While at the helm, visualize your hull at work. Its sharp stem eases in, the bow flare picks up buoyancy as the boat penetrates deeper, and the rest of the hull follows the bow through and over the waves. It may not feel like this is what's happening-after all, the boat is pitching up and down. But navigating into a head sea provides the greatest amount of directional stability because the bow provides the least resistance to the waves.
Slow as You Go. There are those who swear by the Full Speed Ahead at All Costs rule. This assumption is, in a word, insane. What follows may seem obvious to those with all their senses: Slow down. A slower speed of approach gives the bow time to rise after meeting the wave.