Heavy Weather Sailing

As a future owner of a Romilly I would like learn something about Romilly’s behaviour in heavier weather. Although I’ve read, that with a tucked in reef she “stands up well to a stiff breeze” and may be sailed “pleasantly in winds of 30 knots” I still have the impression, that she is more a kind of a nice-weather-boat. After all, she is an open open and has no self bailing cockpit! Therefore: What are your first hand experiences with your Romilly in stronger winds, in bigger waves? How does she behave in gusts? Does she feel controllable and safe? Does she sail dry? When do you tuck in a reef, and when do you decide to stay in the harbour?

Thomas Huber

    1. Nigel Irens says:

      Thomas – Well, you’re right to point out straight away that ROMILLY is an open-bilged boat. We did a swamping test, as required, (on a winter’s day in Dartmouth), and what happens is that the boat sinks by the stern until the transom is awash. At that point the waterline is still below the sill of the companion way, although normally at sea in breezy conditions at least the bottom sliders would be in place.

      She can then be emptied with a bucket (6 minutes until water at sole level), but doing that at sea would be a very different matter and it would be reckless to sail offshore in anything like heavy weather.

      That said, ROMILLY was designed with the sort of gusty conditions found around estuaries and along coasts. By that I mean that she has a high ballast ratio and narrow waterline, so her stability curve is quite progressive (a wider boat with less ballast has the opposite characteristic in that initial stability is high, but diminishes with increasing angle of heel).

      To answer the other questions you raise:

      Bigger, longer waves are no problem provided they are not breaking !

      ROMILLY carries plenty of canvas for light airs, and the rule in a rising wind is to reef early. She seems to sail faster and more reassuringly after taking a reef.

      Finding the right fore-and-aft trim is important to find the right balance between the dryness of the ride and sailing efficiency upwind. Moving crew-weight aft is the instinctive reaction as the bow rides higher and lifts more easily to a sea, keeping the crew dryer. The downside is that the fore-body can start to slam in certain sea conditions, and I suspect the boat is a little slower (any observations on that?). We ended up (by trial and error) with about 80 kgs of lead ballast, secured under the bunk forward.

      Off the wind there are no particular problems, but again the rule is to shorten sail early. Reducing sail area on a lug or gaff rigged boat also lowers the centre of gravity of the rig – which, again, makes the boat feel more under control.

      I have always been attracted to boats with narrow waterlines and plenty of overhang (flair) in the topsides. That always makes for a drier boat in a seaway.

      One word of warning: I was once in a ROMILLY that was knocked down by a heavy and unexpected gust to the point where green water was down-flooding over the leeward coaming. Since then I have always turned the leeward main sheet round the leeward winch and brought it to the weather winch, from which it can be trimmed by the crew (who are to windward).

      Another solution is simply to leave only a couple of turns on the leeward winch and take the tail to windward; we put an extra cleat on the bench so it can be cleated there if required (it’s best placed under the coaming so you don’t sit down hard on it by mistake!).

      Many boats have been fitted with self-tailing winches, which was the case on the boat on which I was sailing during the above incident. If you do have these winches fitted I strongly suggest you don’t use the self-tailing facility in heavy conditions. When the boat is taking water over the gunwale you do not want to take your own weight down there. It takes too long and also makes the boat heal more in the process.

    1. Thomas Huber says:

      Thank you very much Nigel, that was the kind of information I was looking for.
      As my Romilly will have a boom and therefore no winches, your word of warning regarding the self-tailing winches translates for me into the dinghy rule “never belay the main sheet”, except maybe in very stable, light wind conditions.

    1. Phil Holden says:

      Ed Burnett, in the ROMILLY Strip Plank Version – DESIGN NOTES puts the boat into EU RCD: Design category D (inshore).

      ‘D’ SHELTERED WATERS: Designed for voyages on sheltered coastal waters, small bays, small lakes, rivers and canals when conditions up to, and including, wind force 4 and significant wave heights up to, and including, 0.3 m may be experienced, with occasional waves of 0.5 m maximum height, for example from passing vessels.

      Given that a Drascombe Lugger is in category ‘C’ putting Romilly in ‘D’ seems incredibly cautious to me.

      I’d be very interested what other owners think.


      For the sake of completeness here’s the cat C definition.
      ‘C’ INSHORE: Designed for voyages in coastal waters, large bays, estuaries, lakes and rivers where conditions up to, and including, wind force 6 and significant wave heights up to, and including, 2 m may be experienced.

    1. David R Collin says:

      My Romilly has been used in the relatively exposed waters of the North Irish Sea for ten years, and copes well with the fairly rough weather that is frequently experienced here, caused by wind over tide situations, and the prevailing southerly winds having a very long fetch.

      I endorse everything that Nigel says about Romilly, and think that his comments about reefing in good time are particularly relevant. I have never taken any water aboard, and have often been amazed that the decks have remained dry, even after going through the wash of a sea-cat ferry. I would certainly recommend one reef at above force four, and two at above force five, but as I always sail single-handed, I am perhaps a little bit cautious.

      Nigel’s point about moveable ballast interests me greatly. I have always sailed with all three lead blocks of ballast under the forepeak berth, but I have sometimes wondered if they are there to counter the weight of a full crew in the cockpit. I have sometimes been tempted to take them out, on the theory that as I am always single handed, I may be carrying needless weight, and affecting the fore and aft trim adversely. Would removing them or reducing them be sensible, and could that reduce weather helm?

    1. Thomas Huber says:

      Phil, regarding your C/D discussion: Ed Burnett mentions in water craft 21 that the only reason, why Romilly SPV missed the C category was because she lacks stiffness under full main sail. She passed all other criteria clearly for a C. But as Ed didn’t want to sacrifice Romilly’s sail area, she is a D now. Tucking in a reef makes her a C.

      I suppose this is also true for the production Romilly?

    1. Cees Verhoef says:

      Would the same logic apply tot the Roxane? I noticed that reefing on choppy water is quite a challenge esp. with the sail up and lowered to the desired reefing point.
      Lowering the sail completely makes it better handling. In general (races and in rising winds) you would like to reef as quickly and reliably as possible. Any suggestions / experience with the “best” method?

      Cees, Mischief, Holland

    1. Phil Holden says:

      Thomas, Could you possibly send me a copy of that article from Water Craft 21.

      I think that Ed is of the opinion that the wooden boats are likely to be more stable than glass fibre versions.

      I suspect that Romilly is in every regard except the STIX number a cat C boat. The overall stability figure keeps the class borderline D.



    1. Nigel Irens says:

      In reply to Cees Verhoef (post No. 6)

      I’m sure you’re right, Cees, in that the more the mainsail is lowered the easier it is to take the reef in. In the sort of breeze that calls for a reef the mizzen should be able to hold the boat at an angle of some 30 degrees to the wind – provided the main is well feathered all the way up its leach.

      If the sail is not lowered enough there’s nasty moment when you’re trying to reeve the sheet into the ‘new’ clew and the main starts to draw and she tries to get away from you…. Before you know it you’re having to let go of that clew as she begins to make way. If the sail is lowered enough the leach is truly feathered and the lower part of the sail is safely lying horizontal on the deck. We often use a spare sheet for the new reef and left the ‘old’ sheet made off on the sail and cleated to windward so the bunt doesn’t get blown over the leeward side. There’s nothing worse than trying to reeve a sheet into a sail that’s pulling harder and harder .

      All the above works best if the helm is lashed to leeward; that should at least help bring the boat reasonably close to the wind if she is tending to head off as a result of an insufficiently lowered mainsail.

      There are no hard and fast rules about any of the ideas proffered by me – or anyone else who sails these boats. There is a ‘trial and error’ learning curve to ascend, though and sharing experiences should help cut some of the more arduous corners !

    1. Cees Verhoef says:

      Hi all, We just returned from our 3 week holiday with Mischief (Rx9). We sail the Dutch estuaries and IJsselmeer, all known for their short chop generally < 1.5 metres. Also in this time of year there is always chance on showers and shunderstorms wher the gusts can be up to double the average windspeed
      We experienced some winds 24-26 knots with gusts up to 34 knots with all reefs in. I have a couple of observations I’d like to put to you all:

      1. Under sail at 6 Bf. and gusts over 7 Bf. the boat still feels very reliable. However I needed to really tension the halyard and reefline very, very hard to keep the sail in shape. Sailing close hauled we got good headway (better then on the engine) but if I look at the sail, I believe this is as much as it can take. What do you do when the gusts get over 35 knots?

      2. At another time (similar winds 6+ bf) we had a running course. I did not have the third reef in yet, so we just ran on the mizzen did over 6 knots ;-). It seemed to work but again the sailcloth seems to be at the end of its range. (I have no reefing points in the mizzen). Is it an option for a next set of sails to order heavier cloth? Or would in your opinions we be better advised rather us to stay in port over 6 Bf.

    1. Pieter van Kuppenveld says:

      Hi Cees (post nr 9),

      Although I’m also Dutch, this site is English so I will use English. I’m not a Romilly or Roxane-owner (I would like to be one) but I’m interested in these ships. I think I can give some information to your sails. I don’t know how old the sails are, but if they are very used, it can be difficult to get them ‘in good shape’ and you will first see it in strong(er) winds. If so, it becomes time to think about new sails. You can choose heavier cloth, but then you have to be aware that it could be difficult in very light airs to get them in good shape. The weight of the sails is than to heavy for the wind. A good sailmaker can advise you on that subject. Idealy one should have two sets: one from light material for very light airs (0 – 3 or 4 Bft) with just one reef and a set from heavier material for stronger winds with up to three reefs. (no, I’m not financially interested by selling sails)
      I don’t think it right to use the rule: ‘over 6 Bft you should stay in harbor’. A good ship (and Romilly and Roxane are) shouldn’t have problems with 6 or even 7 Bft (or even 8 Bft). The state of the sea may cause problems but not the wind. So if you are comfortable with these conditions there is no reason to stay in harbor (check your insurance)

    1. Pieter van Kuppenveld says:

      To EU RCD (post nr 3):

      1) These rules are made for makers (industie) to make sure that they have the same MINIMUM rules to conquer with in the whole EU and not different rules in every country. So they made some rough descriptions about sailing waters and categories to design and build a boat. The rules were NOT ment for marketing-use.
      But clever(?) marketeers succeeded in us believing that category A is better than category B (or C, or D). They are only different. And yes, the strength of the used materials is for category A greater than for category D. This because the impact of a wave from 8 meters is much heavier than of a wave of 0,5 m.
      A ship is as seaworthy as the designer and builder have made it and that is the total of form, seakindness, sailability, and much more. And these are criteria you can not catch in a simply ‘description’, also most of us know what is meant (I suppose Nigel will probably agree). To my opinion Romilly is perfect suited to sail coastal waters in most ‘yachtsmen conditions’ (and will not lead to a disaster when conditions are rougher) and that doesn’t depend on category C or D.

      2) Marketeers/commercial builders try to get the highest RCD-rate for there product. And that can lead to ridiculus forms. Eg. it is difficult for a 10m yacht to match the stability-rules for class A. So they put a heavy fixed keel up to 2 m depth under the yacht. But for the most (for instance Dutch) sailors on IJsselmeer and other estuaries this draught is unusable.

    1. Dermot Cox says:

      1. Have recently experienced sailing my Romilly in winds over F5 for the first time – and she was great. With both reefs in she was controllable and felt combatable up wind in 20+ knots. Also experienced reaching and down wind work in 25-30knots again two reefs. Worth noting that brailing the mizzen made helming much more relaxed down wind. She stayed remarkably dry shipping very little water. I don’t have a boom but am very tempted to fit one simply to overcome difficulties of reefing / shaking out when under way. Does anyone have experience of reefing with both systems to compare the difference?

    1. Kit Routledge says:

      My wife and I enjoyed sailing our Romilly (Anna) so much that after selling her we bought Roxane, Nigel Irens’ own original strip plank prototype. I keep her on the Suffolk coast where her shallow draft is ideal.

      For a while we sailed her in the French Mediterranean before bringing her home via the Canal du Midi and Biscay. She was equally at home on the open sea and on the inland waterways. Now we have both passed our 70th birthdays and from time to time look at yachts that should be more suited to our creaking joints. But Roxane is so beguiling and sails so well and so far nothing else has attracted us.

      Reefing, and lowering the main in a seaway have always been the difficulties. I have contemplated leading the lines aft to the cockpit. It is certainly a good idea to lower the reef points properly on to the deck before attempting to move the mainsheets because she will take off very quickly if the main fills and this can be dangerous.

      De-powering the mizzen helps a lot when close hauled in gusts of F6+ but so far I have not had to reef it and I find the brailing lines too fiddly.

      When it is necessary to lower sail and make ready for harbour at sea, especially in choppy conditions, the scything yardarm can be an embarrassment. She will however lie at about 20 degrees to the wind with the mizzen hard sheeted. It is easy to lose the rig overboard and difficult and dangerous to recover it full of water. I walk the mainsheet aft to act as a sort of lazyjack on the windward side while my wife, standing in the companion way, keeps a hold on the leech. As the sail comes down it is increasingly difficult to reach it from the cockpit. Also about three quarters of the way down the yard is inclined to seesaw aft towards the stern and it is as well to step to one side to avoid a sudden bang on the head. I have tried to point out it is a lightweight spar and so unlikely to do lasting damage! We have experimented with a line from the top of the yard that the crew could catch to control it but it was not a success. Over the years we have got much better at this procedure than we were but I would be very interested to hear other thoughts.

      We aim to tuck a reef in the main at the upper end of F4. It is a much easier procedure than in F5 and above and she usually sails faster anyway.

      Incidentally, barbour hauling the main with the windward sheet considerably improves her windward ability.

      Finally, I changed the 10mm Braidline main halyard this year for 8mm Dynema rope and the reduced friction on the pulleys has made raising the sail much easier

    1. Pieter van Kuppenveld says:

      Dear Kit, thanks for your experiences. Now being 70 myself I’m glad to see/read it is still possible to own and sail a Roxanne on this age!