I have heard this question so many times! Especially from friends or people who have never put a foot on a boat.
But that is fine. I think I had the same thoughts and was keen to experience it. Many people have overcame it and why can't I?
According to Beaufort wind force scale I have felt what real gale was. There was also one moment when wind detector was showing 50 knots blowing on the mast but it felt only like 20 knots down behind the helm so I do not count it as a Storm because sea condition was pretty fine - 3 to 5 meter waves. Maybe higher. But that happend while crossing Atlantic ocean about 4 years ago so the waves which covered horizon where always called as mountains...
But I can assure you. That is NOT fun! You should avoid it in any way you can. And you must be prepared so that you would survive, everyone get back safe and the boat is not damaged.
And that "storm" was coming. We were planning to leave La Palma towards Gran Canaria but weather cast was showing that quick North West low preasure zone was coming with gusts around 45 knots.
So there was no go! Until it passes. Though after 32 hours it would get down to gentle breeze and we would need to motor. Atlantic swell (the same one that makes Canary Islands great location for surfers!) was coming from the same direction so waves should not be choppy and not breaking as those are the most dangerous (have a look at first video to see why). You are always more safe in open waters than near the shore!
The decision was to wait one extra day until that gale would pass the islands - we would go after it for a half way and then would finish with motor.
Leaving La Palma marina was easy. (Though it is not protected from a swell properly and it wasn't a pleasant stay there). Sometimes there still would be gusts upto 20 knots but mainly calm so, just incase, I hoisted mainsail with two reefs in just outside tha harbour. Wind directection was right on broad reach so rolled out genoa with two reefs as well and headed nearly into destination and well clear of incoming ferry.
But that was happening only three minutes and wind started to shift! One tack! Second tack! Sails are flapping. Heading straight into the ferry! Time to furl in genoa and start the engine as we were still covered by high mountains of La Palma.
It took sometime to motor to get out of that shadow and slowly it started to build up... Waves were already quite big and wind was increasing upto 20 knots. Time to stop the engine and hoist genoa again. But... with big wave incoming all at once it was blowing 26 knots and I didn't realise how I got at the mainsail sheet to release the wind out of it. Autopilot was steering very well while I was working with it with no thoughts of hoisting genoa. There is no balance when only one sail is out but I was waiting for wind to go down and steady up after we get out of the island shade.
10 minutes. 3-4 meter waves with occasionally 5 or bigger. Steady... - gust! 20 minutes. Steady... - gust! Nothing was changing and I got bored. Just turned the boat into the wind with engine started, took mainsail into third reef, got back into the course and rolled out third reef of genoa.
After that it felt like a safest place in the world! The boat was nearly handling itself under 22 knots with gusts upto 28. Moving at broad reach true wind should have been above 30 knots.
The situation was caught by camera but only when the situation got stable. If you can see the rod is out and we were fishing as well :) (Logbook says 2017/02/12) Enjoy!
By the way. After camera was switched off the wave got into the cockpit and I got wet down to my underwear... Maybe that will be filmed next time :)