Liberty and heavy weather offshore.

Next in the series of small boats and ocean sailing.

Lets get this one out of the way right at the start ……… am i concerned about running into heavy weather and hard conditions during my planned ocean voyage ?

My answer is both yes and no.  So,  yes in that i am going to meet conditions that i would regard as ‘heavy’ for the boat and i’m not going to be able to drive the Liberty like an old war-horse of a maxi boat in a hard blow.     However, secondly, no in that i am less likely to meet sustained heavy weather on the planned route (south of Biscay) and  where it’s unsafe for me to either run slowly away from it or heave-to and let it pass overhead. The second ‘no’ is that i know how i manage myself in heavy weather and while i expect to be miserable and uncomfortable at times i don’t see it as a big deal.  The problem i see in this is things like rig security and more about being knocked around inside the boat and not being able to do basic things.     There are additionally many things that need attending to such as the hatches, washboards, rudder, bilge pump etc etc.

Shelter from the storm in L Aber-Wrach


The Liberty has 2 great advantages here , first that with that aft rig she will heave-to with a scrap of mizzen up and the main boom tied down, secondly that with the boards up and the washboards in she is basically a small lifeboat that will ‘cork’ over a big sea. With everything down she will always turn downwind and drift rather than laying beam-on.   If you have read my recent  post where i was talking about the planned continuation of my UK voyage east you might now be saying ‘hang on’ and didn’t i wuss-out of that trip because of a predicted gale in Lyme bay ?……and yes i did.     Although i could have hove-to just as i did on the first day of the actual voyage i couldn’t have done so for 10 hours with no sea room to leeward.      Just to remind you that i had 40 knots + predicted from the south which would have made all of Lyme bay a lee shore and hove-to i would have been making a slow stern-board…..essentially that the boat would have been slowly sailing backwards onto a lee shore.

Part of my ocean set-up should be either a deep reef in the mizzen or a mizzen riding sail and at most extreme maybe a sea-anchor with my long warp.   So as a conscientious sailor i should also set-up the boat, whichever boat,  and practice for heavy weather although in reality i am less likely to meet it after passing Biscay.  I can do most of the passages up to that point on a 3 day weather window and after that point i am more likely to have sea room and more likely to be in lighter variable winds.   On a planned passage such as this one  i’m not under any pressure to ‘have’ to be somewhere unlike a delivery trip or ocean race.     A major part of the fun of this project will be exploring the rivers and creeks of the other countries on this voyage,  and hanging around in a safe anchorage for an extra day or 2 is hardly a problem.  The final advantage that all Liberty owners will know well is that we can run right up into shallow rivers and creeks and in many places get away from exposed anchorages just by doing that.

A better question then is ‘what am i concerned about’ ? in relation to this boat and this concept : well, ultimate stability and recovery from a knockdown is one but is of less immediate concern than the security of the rig and secondly the rudder.  We know that early Liberty masts weren’t strong enough and were sleeved in response.  To me that isn’t a good enough long term solution especially with freestanding alloy tube.  I think that over a lot of time and many load cycles the rigs will be subject to metal fatigue and will fail.  That’s why a big part of my planning with this boat involves thinking about the rig and with that the ease of handling it from the cockpit rather than having to work forward.  Below i have begun to set out some of the problems i see so far.

Pont Aven.  South Brittanny.



Don’t think i am discounting getting my arse kicked occasionally on passage ! and a small boat can be an uncomfortable place even in ‘brisk’ conditions….as was our return channel crossing in a mere force 5 but with an extremely large spring tide under us (wind against tide).    What i can guarantee offshore is getting knocked around a bit and that does have implications for working and stowing any boat so in this post what i am mainly going to focus on is the small-detail set-up that makes the boat safer and more comfortable in lively conditions.

My recent trips aboard WABI”’  have been valuable experience with the boat as i have tried to do everything during those passages that i would do during an offshore or ocean voyage.    Later in this series i intend to post about the problems of doing basic everyday stuff when everything is being a bit lively.   I am also keeping in mind that the Liberty isn’t the most ideal small boat and there are certainly better choices.  Even today i was thinking that something i avoided with the Liberty such as a long upwind beat is something i was confident to tackle in the long keeled classic Deben 4 tonner that i briefly owned.   Maybe a long keeled boat would be a good solution to my overall boat  requirements.

Deben 4 tonner, recently back on the market but possibly a total project.


Looking at this from a different angle then lets say that i have enough experience to be wary of heavy weather and will prepare accordingly but it’s not the thing that concerns me the most.  What i will do in a future post in this series is to set out the potential and actual problems as i see them and the concerns that i do have and talk about dealing with them.  Today i will focus on the everyday problems of staying in the boat , keeping the water out, not having everything flying around inside the boat and moving around the boat more securely than at present.

This is getting difficult to move around on.


So : lets start to detail some of the basic problems of heavy weather but excepting the rig issue which is getting a lot more of my thinking already.

  1. Working the boat and moving around on it.   The problem that i have been dealing with recently is that of working at the mast to reef or un-reef the mainsail which is all the way forward in the Liberty and where there is only a narrow side deck and a useless low ‘guardrail’ to trip over.  The boat does have however a good working cockpit except for the mizzen boom which is nearly always in the way of working or of getting to the companionway.  My current (March) project is to re-organise the deck gear and running rigging so that i can reef from the cockpit and not to have to go forward at all except to stow the sail completely.    As of writing this post, although untested i am most of the way with that project.   If i had to drop the mains’l completely then i would do exactly as i do now to reef and that is heave-to on the mizzen while i work.   What i do see the boat as needing is greater security around the main hatch and a chest height line to grab along the centreline of the boat….and i am working on both of those.
  2. Watch shelter.  Much of the voyage after Biscay should be in light winds and warmer weather although the channel crossing and Brittanny/Biscay elements will probably be windy and wet at times.  Being able to keep watch from shelter will make it more likely that i do keep a proper look-out.  The best positions will be either standing or sitting in the companionway or to windward in the cockpit but in the shelter of a sprayhood.  A hatch cover/sprayhood then i regard as an essential piece of kit for this boat rather than a luxury and i can see a way of combining fixed grabrails and a hood in one construction.
  3. Keeping the water out……keeping the water where it should be is a big deal, and that means keeping as much water as possible out of the boat.  The vulnerable parts are the large cockpit, the cabin hatches and the cockpit locker.   The main hatch is old and not particularly strong so that’s on the refit list : change its runners, beef it up.  I might replace the forward hatch as it can be a bit leaky.  The washboards i have already divided into 2, they are plenty strong but i need to add washboard tie-downs like the IOR offshore requirement and might add a wiley port in the upper one.  A sprayhood once again will help to keep rain and spray out of the hatch.  I would seriously consider reducing the cockpit flooding volume by stowing something bulky there (maybe a dinghy) and might even cut out more area at the aft cockpit drain so it will dump water more quickly.   Adding a bilge pump totally inside the boat seems like a good idea.
  4. The cockpit is i feel too large for the size of boat….too much potential volume005
  5. Keeping everything in place.  For those that remember it the 1979 Fastnet race did show up a whole load of deficiences in the set-up of many of the race boats.  Boats that experienced knockdown’s often had heavy equipment, from batteries through ovens and loose gear, flying about the cabin.   While now basic practice to tie the batteries down and secure the cooker not every boat, including mine, has washboards that can be secured in place and bunk lockers that can be secured shut.  I know of quite a bit of detail even now that needs doing for example the large cockpit locker hatch which has a loose hinge-pin.
  6. Rig security.  I will just mention right at the end that it is vital to keep the rigs in the boat and that i am less than confident about the Liberty’s rig.   In other posts i am discussing rig options so i won’t go into that here except to briefly mention one thing and that is the aft rig.   Currently the mizzen is mounted against the side of the asymmetric cabin just in the companionway access….and it’s a complete pain in the butt there.  It restricts the cabin access doesn’t work particularly well as a grab-post either.  One possible solution is to move the mounting onto the cockpit face of the cabin with the heel down near where the bowl-compass is now.  Now that would mean the rig coming a few inches off the centreline but i’m not too worried about that.  It would interfere with the work i have just done but cleats and jammers are all easy to move.  What it would allow for with the existing rig is to go with my plan for a sprit stick instead of a mizzen boom and that would logically be on the right (stbd) side of the mizzen.   That would equally work with the junk option where the whole rig bundle would be that side but can sit on lifts above the cabin.   That whole concept would clear the companionway and allow me to build a better hatch with an aft extension to help keep rain out of the boat.
  7. I will deal with in a separate post and that is making the interior more of an offshore set-up to make cooking and sleeping more secure.001


  1. You have pretty much covered the things I could see, Just add a pin to hold the plate down so if you get knocked down it does not self stow so to speak.
    One thing we have trouble with is that its not easy to use a stove at sea in Little Boat one reason is that its all set up for use at anchor ! but even so its not easy when bouncing around.


    1. Cooking and resting inside the boat on a passage are a problem on the Liberty…..similar set up except that i often make a brew when i am sailing. Have hove-to while i make a brew and had a pee couple of times. Liberty cockpit is far too big for an ocean going boat and wastes a lot of potential boat space. Very good family dayboat but much less good for long distance. Deben cockpit isn’t self draining but is much smaller…..slightly awkward for my long legs. Doing a first post about the Debs next up.


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