Great sail, great gale, a little carnage and lessons learned
So, after checking four different weather sites for the forecast, one of my Son's and I, set off for a brisk sail. We get out about noon in 10-12 knots and are making 6.5 knots under Genoa and main at about 45* from apparent. We stay on a single tack for three hours until we come to the San Juan channel. All of the forecasts had called for the wind to clock around from the SSE to the West and increase to 15-20 knots as the cold front came through. After discussing whether to continue on to Friday Harbor or head back to Skyline, we decided that since we only had two hours of light and it looked like rain on the horizon, we'd head home.
The wind had dropped off a bit and was clocking around so we figured we'd fly the chute for a bit. I was forward and had finished rigging it up and was ready to launch it when the wind picked up to about 12-15, so it felt. We had put the wind at about 150* and I started to deploy when a big puff hit. Instantly the chute started to open fast and yank on the scoop line hard! I let it go as it was gonna yank me off the boat and the chute popped open. Instantly we were knocked flat with the boom and spreader in the drink as she leapt forward under the pressure. I stepped from the deck to the staysail boom and glanced back to see Jay, looking like the black guy in the old Charley Chaplin movies, still on the low side trying to steer. I was amazed that even though we were over flat, no water was coming into the cockpit or the companionway. The boat stood back up as she rounded up and kinda stalled to windward. She started falling back off so I blew the spin halyard to keep us from getting knocked down again and told Jay to keep us pinned to windward.
I went forward and unhooked the downhaul while Jay grabbed the head of the chute and then we blew the sheet so we could fish it out. In the meantime, the wind was now up to 30+ and the waves where building while it was pouring rain. After about 10 minutes, we got the chute aboard and chunked it down below to sort out later. We were still pinned about 50* off the wind and couldn't come up so I let out about 8' of the furler line figuring to get a bit of headsail up so we could drop the main. Well, that didn't work as advertised and the Genny just started flogging itself to pieces instead of catching wind so we could come up. We refurled it, started the motor and turned up to drop the main.
Once the main was down, I had Jay take the helm and turn us downwind while I got the Staysail up. After it was up and drawing hard, we shut the engine off and blasted along on a Broad Reach at 7.5 knots with only the little 150 sq ft. Staysail up. I took the helm as Jay turned on the lights and settled in for the ride back. After a bit the wind was up to what felt and sounded like 40 with gust to 50+ and the seas built to 6-8 or so as we ran away from the Eastern entrance to the San Juan de Fuca towards Fidalgo. I showed Jay how to steer on a run in quartering and following seas and let him at it. What a sight to see another of my boys at the helm in heavy weather having a blast! You couldn't peel the grin off his face. So after covering the 15 miles in 2.5 hours, we came to more sheltered waters before the marina and switched again. I put us in the Lee of an island while Jay doused and tied off the Staysail. After hunting around a bit, we made the entrance, motored nicely to the slip and made a perfect landing.
Sunday, I went out to survey the carnage. The chute was fine and we hoisted, dried, untangled and rescooped it. The Genoa had parts of the sunbrella come loose and shred but no damage to the sail so it off to the loft for that one. The Portside king post stanchion came out of the deck as we docked and on inspection, it appears that the screws pulled out. I'll be through bolting all of them now. Lessons learned? Don't believe the weather guys. I checked NOAA after I got home and found Gale Warnings posted along with wind readings of 43 gusting to 53, right where we were sailing. Lesson two, get a wind speed indicator, even a handheld one because ya damned sure don't wanna launch a kite in that again. Lesson three, don't be such a hardcore sailor that ya don't use a perfectly good engine to head into the wind to either reef or douse the main. A lesson used from the last time? Changing headsails in a blow is much easier and safer downwind. Last but not least, don't fear the knockdown, at least not on this boat. That doesn't mean ya go looking for it but have faith in the design of the boat, it works.
Jay's impression of the day? He couldn't think of anywhere else or anything he'd rather be doing than sailing in those conditions. I've gotta agree.