Hand steering through a gale


This image from my December calendar page tells the story.

Dec 17

One of the most amazing days sailing ever! The gale force winds of the last few hours have blown new life into those big Southern Ocean swells I’ve been experiencing for the last week. 

Their beautiful, slow but determined energy that pushes them over the horizon was re-awakened by the force of a westerly gale.

It was like a call to war and they dutifully obeyed, turning their gentle rolling into full-on rogues with streaming white head gear that streaked the surface and filled the air with spray.  Their 8+ metre faces became so steep they toppled and crested like surf on the beach. Tripping over each other as they doubled and tripled up. The valleys became deep and the crests closer together. West Wind, with only a triple reefed main, struggled to stay on course working the Fleming self steering to the point of failure. 

I hand steered for three hours guiding her down the face of these rogues trying to keep a straight course and stop her from rounding up. The battalions of waves sweeping either side, at one point carried WW II on their backs at an astounding speed of 14.5 knots!!!!  The bow wave parted some ten, twelve feet either side as all of her 22,000 lbs. tore forward down the face and lifted as it hit the bottom of the valley below. “Fourteen point five knots!”. I should think you might have heard me screaming it out loud at home!

There are moments you will remember forever. That will be one of them. The sun was bright and the scene from the tops of the waves… incredible. The noise was deafening. The sea scape was a seething, living breathing confusion of waves and spray. Many different colours from deep indigo to glacier green of the foam tops.

Their was no escape. I was in it for the long haul. Waves crested alongside and spilled into the cockpit. Others broke in full crests right over the boat. Many times I ducked quickly as the roar came up from behind and broke over me, I shook myself off like a dog on a beach still fighting the tiller to keep her stern presented squarely to the rogues that pushed up from behind. Time flew by. I got cold as the water inevitably found its way to my skin. 

I re-fashioned the steering leads from the Fleming self-steering so it could be re-attached. This took many tries but I knew it had to work and I needed a break. Fleming agreed to take over and now that the wind was easing, it would not be so critical to dodge the rogues.

The wind has droped to 25 knots, and later this afternoon it will drop to 15 – 20 and back down to a souwester from a westerly. Although it is blowing hard, our speed has dropped to 4-5 knots so I can keep some control on the helm. This sea will not go down too fast and the wind is due to be back at gale force tomorrow night as I approach the entrance to Bass Strait. I definitely have my work cut out for me over the next few days. I’m glad the stew is ready to heat up tonight. The motion on board has been very conducive to lying down and reading a good book. Bill Bryson is keeping me laughing.  

All is well and West Wind is taking good care of me. Love, Glenn.  

P.S. I have my safety harness on as I go out the hatch …just to let you know. (Editor’s note: He promised.)

Position:  38.35.00 S, 139.10.070 E

Dec 17


  1. G’day Cobber. Loved your description of the exhilaration of hurtling down wind in a Southern Ocean blow! Nothing like it in the world!! Crazy what the bow wave and spray do when you push an old timer like West Wind II to double her designed hull speed. Nothing you can do but try to hold her on course and scream like a kid on a roller coaster! Thinking of you lots as you appoach Bass Strait. Warm wishes. Pete

  2. Jean and Mike Layland says

    Wow, Glenn We’ll bet West Wind II is glad she has you at the helm!
    Jean and Mike

  3. Karl Hennig says

    Wow Glenn. That’s scarey stuff. I’m glad you made it through. Hope you don’t get anymore days like that. I’m enjoying your book (I’m a slow reader and have to look up all the places mentioned on Google Earth) I was planning to return the book personally when I finish it but it could take a while.
    Take care. God Bless,
    Karl and Margaret

  4. Hi Glenn. As you know your cousin and her better half are complete landlubbers, however your vivid descriptions of your journey are a fascination to us. Mike reads them aloud to me over breakfast and our thoughts are with you as you travel along. Boy was yesterday scary! and we are sitting comfortably on the sofa! Love, best wishes and Good luck to you, especially for the challenging next few days. Last but not least, we will all be raising a glass to you, Marylou, Claire and Nicola at Christmas. Stay well and safe. Lots of love from Lynn, Mike, Laura and David. xxxx

  5. Archie Campbell says

    Hi Glenn,

    14.5 knots well done guy! Sounds like WWll likes to surf.

    Keep it up and keep that ‘bow down’.

    All the best,Glenn,


  6. What an amazing journey, Glenn! Once again, we are thrilled to be joining you for the ride – and yes, with your descriptive writing style, it really does feel like we are on that ride! Last night we watched Knowledge Network in awe while Neil Oliver crawled through an ancient hand-dug mine in Wales, and we crawled right along with him – claustrophobia and all! Really don’t know how you adventurers summon up the courage to do the things you do, but truly appreciate you sharing your experiences! Hoping that you will enjoy calmer seas and fair sailing through Bass Strait!

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