Sailing through the Williwaws

Ever heard of the Williwaws? Joshua Slocum, the first person to sail single handed around the world mentions them in his book when describing sailing through the Straits of Magellan at the South end of South America. This is the passage sailors take when travelling from east to west in order to avoid the longer journey around Cape Horn.

The problem with this route is that there are high hills either side of the channel and sudden strong winds blow up out of nowhere. These are known locally as the Williwaws.

We get almost this kind of wind where I sail on the south coat of England where there is a strait, or channel between the Isle of Wight and the mainland.

We were sailing there last summer. The wind was coming from the north so we had a nice 12 knot  breeze on the beam. Unfortunately every so often the direction of the wind suddenly changed westward by about 20 degrees with a sudden increase in strength, then in less than a minute, it suddenly went back again. We were sailing with the Steersman at the helm at the time, and experienced some extreme steering. As soon as the wind changed direction, the tiller was flung to one side of the boat as the Steersman attempted to follow the wind, then as the wind came back, the tiller was flung the other way to bring us back on to our original course. It was quite incredible how quickly it reacted. I don’t know of any other self steering system that would work as fast in that situation.