Regarding the Mac Storm. Well I must say, it was probably the scariest sailing experience that I have had. And, it wasn't just one thing. Big winds? That happens often on lake Michigan. You get used to it. The other 2 big ones I have experienced was cruising, and I got the sails down in plenty of time. Then you just ride it out and be sure not to hit anything. These types of storms are not uncommon on Lake Michigan, but this was a pretty severe one. It seems as all hell is breaking loose, but you just ride it out. No problem.
It was probably the lightning that made it so scary. It was not my watch, but I was summoned on deck. I ran up in my bare feet without even realizing it. 5 hours later after standing on the teak grate behind the helm, I noticed that my feet hurt like crazy.
We just thought it was going to rain. We really had no idea that this kind of weather was approaching. We started to see a bunch of lightning, and the wind picked up to 28 knots or so. That is kind of pushing it with the spinnaker we were flying. After a bit of that, we dropped the chute and unrolled the genoa. We were moving along pretty good.
There were two mistakes we made which were just bad seamanship. First, when we left the dock, the roller furler would not roll all the way up, but rather had a little corner out. We didn't think much of it, and left it. A crew member had rerun the genoa sheets and didn't have enough roller furling line on the drum. The second was that we took our fortress anchor off of the bow roller and put it down below. It was “accessible” but not really.
We were sailing along pretty good with the genoa and main down wind. The lighting was everywhere. There were times when it seemed like there was more lightning than not. Every once in a while it would hit pretty close to us, and that got kind of disconcerting after awhile. The flashing was like some kind of torture continually ruining your night vision. And you never knew when another strike was just going to crash right next to us, or hit us for that matter. This went on for hours, and it was hard to be on top of your game for so long.
When the wind hit us hard, there was zero visibility and it was difficult to talk to the person next to you. My whole mission was basically to keep the boat on the proper heading so that we didn't run up on an island or the coast of Michigan. It was very difficult to keep the boat pointed at a certain heading as all I could see was white, so there was no horizon. I just had the compass with little else as a reference, and we were hauling pretty good. There were times in the worst of it that the headstay started oscillating violently. That little corner of genoa still out wasn't helping things. I didn't do anything about it because we were just trying to “hold on.” I should have tightened up a jib sheet to stop the oscillating, but I didn't think of it, and it would be almost impossible to communicate with the crew. Or I could have tightened the backstay. I had one crew next to me telling me the desired heading, and we had to really shout just to communicate. The wind was blowing lots of rain horizontally. I saw consistent winds in the high 40 knots. When the worst of it was blowing, it was all I could do to keep her on track, so looking at the wind speed did not occur to me. Nor did it occur to me to check the graphs of the wind speeds later that would be on the Nexus instruments. I was more thinking that I didn't want to be there. I mean, I am not afraid of much as it relates to sailing, storms and weather, but the lack of visibility combined with the lightning and just trying not to hit anything wore on me, I must admit. We were just going so fast almost blindfolded.
It also occurred to me that the anchor was not on the bow roller. Dragging it up from where we had it did not seem very convenient, and I will not be doing that again.
We came pretty close to some other boats which is pretty scary because you only see them at the last minute. I heard there were several collisions and some boats ran up on the beach. Some dismastings, and I remember Painkiller's blown main.
I remember seeing 12.6 on the speedo. We were going down wind, but not dead down wind with the main pretty much all the way out spilling lots of wind. I thought about dropping the main, but with the ruckus going the way it was, I really didn't want to be sending the crew anywhere. Sure, we can drop it from the cockpit, but then what? Even though we have a dutchman, it would be a cluster. If I had the anchor available, I could have dropped the main, and then just dropped the anchor and waited it out.
This went on for 5 or so hours to the best of my recollection. I noticed that my feet were killing me and I saw that I had on no shoes and was standing on the teak grate. There were 2 or 3 blasts of extreme wind. I was 100% wet. I couldn't have my foul weather cap on because I couldn't see. I just cupped over where I was looking with my hand. The GPS chart at the helm required seriously leaning down and looking closely that if I did that I lost track of keeping the boat on the right heading. An excellent crew member just kept next to me relaying the heading from the guys down below so I could dispense with dealing with that, but the desire to know “where I am” is overwhelming.
I remember one of the lightning strikes where one crew member just grabbed onto my brother in a bear hug.
I recall the constant radio transmissions about wingnuts with the entire crew in the water and 2 missing. That was over and over and over again and made the situation the real deal. This was serious.
I kept on task, kept calm, but had this serious feeling deep down that I wished I was anywhere but there. That has not happened all that often. Usually I am looking for the next monster wave to surf down having the time of my life no matter the weather.
At the end of the day, no damage and everything was fine. Even when things were settled down, we kept hearing the transmissions. “2 missing.”
Thanks for the write-up jz. That sounds pretty sobering. Glad you guys came out okay.