Great story and very timely. I was out on my boat an Ericson 29 this past Sunday and had a similar situation. Since then I have been endlessly going over what I did and should have done and have learned a lot from the experience. Scary experience but very valuable.
Two friends and I went out on a day forecast to be rainy with a Small Craft Advisory. We decided to head out the channel to see what conditions were really like and decide based on that. Got out the channel and conditions were fine, rain but mild winds so we decided to go sailing. For about an hour or 2 we tacked around never going too far out. We started to hear some thunder in the distance so decided to make our way back in. With the rain and clouds could not really see any different weather coming as visibility was poor. As we are headed back in with full sail we get slammed with a squall coming from the opposite direction of where the winds were coming from! Within moments we changed from running under light winds to strong winds and very heavy rain on our nose. Sails were flapping like crazy and boat layed right down on her port side. Fired up the diesel and struggled to get the jib rolled up which took great effort. Wrestled the main down which greatly reduced the heeling and got the jib rolled up. Once the sails were down things got much better and of course the storm passed. Now we just had to figure out where we were and make our way back in.
Lessons learned were listen to weather radio, this may have given us some warning of this strong system coming through. When I hear thunder in the distance but can't see well I will reduce sail. I am kicking myself for thinking about rolling up the jib because it wasn't doing much anyway and didn't for some reason. If I even think about reducing sail in the future I will.
I also have to just know what the correct heading is to head back up the channel. The system had cleared enough that we could see so thought we knew where we were and where to head but misread the channel and bumped bottom a little. The GPS was on the whole time but I found a small screen with water drops all over it can be hard to read. Figured out where we were and got back in safely. If I had known the correct heading once I reached the outer channel marker we would have been fine.
Tough learning the lessons during the exam but I will NOT forget.
You will regret the things you did not do, more than the things you did.
Get out there!
Saco Bay, Maine
1971 Ericson 29