Halfway through our crossing to the west end of Catalina Island off the southern California coast, seas pushed up by Pacific zephyrs eventually turned our fast cruise to a slow, pounding slog. “This sucks,” I said over the wind noise. “We’re taking a different tack.”
Crew members thought I was returning to Long Beach Harbor. But instead I turned the 22-footer about 45 degrees to port and began quartering the seas.
I was able to pick up the speed, but more importantly the pounding abated. We now cruised more comfortably at a less-severe angle to the waves. Still, spray over the starboard bow drenched the decks and I had to pay close attention to the helm as we sliced diagonally over the capping rollers.
Eventually we reached the lee of the island. Once the seas settled, I tacked 45 degrees to starboard and firewalled the throttle, putting us on a course to our fishing spot on the front side of the west end.
While a straight line between two points is the shortest route, it’s not always the safest, most comfortable or even fastest in snotty seas. That’s when you might start tacking, like a sailboat. Let’s look at three situations where this helps.
1. Pounding Up-Sea
As described earlier, running at a right angle to steep, closely spaced seas ranks as a hate mission and slows your progress to a crawl. There’s also the distinct possibility of stuffing as the boat falls off the crest of a roller and into a hole at the base of the next nasty one.
In this situation, try steering off-sea in one direction for a few miles, and then tack the other way. Quartering the waves helps smooth the ride but also requires all of your piloting skills — including judicious application of throttle and attention at the wheel — to keep the boat on course and deal with the occasional cowabunga wave.
One downside to quartering up-sea is more wind spray than if you meet the waves head-on. That’s the price you pay for a smoother ride. With an enclosure, you stay dry.