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Re: Sailing 3 miles off shore and Thunderstorm moves in from the east. What do you do
Normally, the storms build over land and then move over the water in FL although in Clearwater I have seen it do the opposite.
I simply take down all sail and turn on the engine. Check to see what direction storm is moving. Do you have time to get "inside" before it hits? If so, consider carefully probable wind direction. Consult your compass frequently. Once you are lined up in channel and committed, keep track of your heading and consider your leeway.
If you do not have time to get inside, simply run away from it to get sea room and wait it out.
If you get into water shallow enough to anchor say 20' or less, simply anchor and wait it out.
I do not recc'd sailing into these storms to get experience as you might get far more than you want. Most such storms are short lived and almost predictable but every now and then one gets truly nasty. However, with sea room and tied down sails and a running motor, you are in good shape. With only a tiny scrap of jib tied securely so it cannot unroll further, you will have good steerage way downwind if necessary.
I try to point into the wind with the engine and maintain just enough forward speed to control my heading.
Before the storm hits, get a good position and then note the compass course toward any danger lines.
Very often at sea, you can avoid such storms provided you can tell what direction they are moving. Near shore, NOAA weather has a good warning on the appropriate VHF channel to warn you of the position and movement of such storms. This is very good info to have.
My attitude toward sailing in T-storms is that this is 2013 and we have engines and motors, far more reliable than sailing in such with far more control. In a T-storm, your sails are a backup option not your primary propulsion. Just like you should not sail under drawbridges, you should try not to sail in a T-storm. Use your motor.