sailboat healing over during storm at sea

Sailing a North Sea Storm

The North Sea is famous for its often heavy and extreme weather. Seen worldwide the North Sea has one of the highest storm averages and huge, aggressive waves can build up fast. And that’s what we got to experience firsthand.

Why did the storm catch us?

The original plan was to sail from the Netherlands to the Orkney Islands, Scotland. We were two people on board, my father and I. Before departure, we checked several weather models and forecasts, all of which stated pretty much the same weather events. Wind in the N-NW sector up to 6 bft, this meant we had to tack upwind, but nothing unmanageable.

Dealing with huge waves

So we set off all full of good hopes, which soon melted away when we left the sheltered inland waters of the Ijsselmeer and entered the North Sea. Soon we had recovered the mainsail and just half of the furling genoa was left set. A few miles offshore of Den Helder 4 – 6 meter waves awaited us and wind gusts up to 45 km, over 30 sustained. After evaluating the situation we decided to let go of our plan, bear away, and run downwind towards Ijmuiden. Some 30 nm south. While gibing along the Dutch coast several huge breaking waves hit Wolf on the side and managed to throw her around. Even though she hit a high heeling angle more than once, no wave could pose any serious risk.

6 hours later we could finally spot the harbour entrance and soon recovered what was left of the furling genoa. Only without any sail area up to stabilize the boat you notice the full and untamed power of the waves, Wolf just being a rubber duck in a whirlpool.


The North Sea is not a water to play with when the weather gets rough. The notorious North Sea waves can even harm danger to large cargo vessels, not to mention what they can do to a little 10 m sailboat. But on the other side, it is a valuable experience and you only gain trust in your boat and capabilities by throwing yourself in such situations. But it is important to always bear in mind, that something can go wrong and other people might risk their life to rescue you.

A picture says more than a thousand words, so you can watch the video of the storm below.

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