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  #1  
Old 12-29-2013
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Question What would you do? Caught off guard by storm on the Chesapeake

Seeking wisdom from Old Salts. What follows is a scenario that could easily happen. I start the story and you finish it.

I'm returning from an enjoyable night onboard my mid-70's 21 foot trailer sailer. Sailing back to the boat ramp eight miles away. Yesterday's forecast called for great weather: light clouds, 5-10kt. winds, high of 80. (We'll say it's early September on the Chesapeake, warm water)

I'm enjoying single-handing the boat, heading North on a reach at 5 knots. I was too distracted avoiding crab pots to notice the sky darken to the West, but now I see some weather is coming my way. I chastise myself for being so careless as to not check the radar on my smart phone, never mind actually looking at the sky now and then. I won't do that again!

But now what? The smartphone radar indicates a strong, fast-moving line of storms - a thin band of orange and yellow on the radar. Followed by an hour of rain. After that - more sunny skies. Looks to be here in 10 or 15 minutes.

I'm in 20 feet of water and as far as I know the entire Chesapeake is thick black mud which is great for anchoring overnight in a cove. I'm now a mile north of the Thomas Point light, 200 yards off the western edge of the shipping channel that runs up the middle of the bay. Other than a tug with a small crane barge that just passed me, the channel is empty. The tide is running 1kt with 2-3' choppy waves. With the swing keel down and plenty of sail up the waves are well within my comfort level. Occasionally one will hit at an off angle and send some splash onto the deck.

Do I anchor? Do I motor? I have two Danforth anchors, both a little larger than suggested for a boat of this size. Both have about 8' of chain and another 50' of rode. (One cheap polypropylene, the other an old Dacron halyard. I have 3 more 50-60' lines below deck. I think if I head toward shore I can be in 8 feet of water and drop anchor just before the squall line hits. But the sails are still up! I can start the motor, set the tiller lock to take me dead upwind (toward shore/shallow water) and I can drop sail while I motor. I can bring the genoa in completely, and I have enough bungees to lash the main to the boom pretty tightly - I think. I've never been in my boat for a storm. Will my two anchors hold well enough I can ride it out down below? Do I need two anchors? Can I keep enough of a lookout through the two small side windows to see if I'm holding or if other boats are drifting toward me?

Or should I drop sail and motor? The outboard is small, but on a calm day I can do hull speed (6kt) at a little over half throttle. It's very reliable and has enough gas in the built-in tank to do full throttle for a couple of hours, and I have another gallon gas can to refill it. I have a good raincoat and a change of clothes in the cabin. Do I ride it out at the tiller? Head right into the wind? Do I want to be in the deeper channel? Or the shallow part with all the crab traps? What if a crab buoy line gets wrapped around the prop?

Shoot- what if there is lightning? What do I do then? I don't see any on the horizon but the trees on the shore block some of my view. These storms almost always have some lightning...


I go below for a moment to lock the foredeck hatch, grab a lifevest and I make sure my waterproof handheld VHF and whistle are in the cockpit with me. I put the companionway cover in place and slide the hatch closed. One final check of the smartphone radar - yup. I got about ten minutes. I put on the lifevest and...

your thoughts are welcome here. The story above is my equipment, boat, and thought process. I really haven't been in this scenario (yet) and I really don't know what I'd do.
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  #2  
Old 12-29-2013
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Re: What would you do? Caught off guard by storm on the Chesapeake

I used to have a Venture 2-22. For a fast-moving Chesapeake storm, I'd close all hatches, put on my lifejacket, lower the sails, get everything off the deck that could blow away/fall overboard, keep the boat turned into the wind and wait it out away from the shoreline.

I'd also use one of your spare lines to secure myself to the boat.

You might want to consider replacing the poly line on your one anchor. I wouldn't even consider that as a second anchor with that type of line attached. As far as I'm concerned, you only have one anchor.

Nothing you can do about lightning but hope that it isn't your time to get hit.
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Old 12-29-2013
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Re: What would you do? Caught off guard by storm on the Chesapeake

Drop the sails and motor till it passes. That was my procedure through T-storms on the Chesapeake. If the rain was too heavy to see, I would drop anchor as well. Other than lightning, the worst part of the bay storms is the sudden strong wind gusts- hence, the sail drop. With luck, you may already be in port when the storm hits instead of a mile north of the Thomas Point light. My procedure will work for most of the bay.
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Old 12-29-2013
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Re: What would you do? Caught off guard by storm on the Chesapeake

I'd say that your scenario isn't that hypothetical, it's an inevitability in the mid-Atlantic. I can say from experience that most of not all of us have been it this situation. For my part, I've been there many times on a Catalina 22, 27, 30, Sabre 28, and now our 38. At no time have I anchored to ride it out.

You have the right mindset and are headed along a good decision path. What I'd do in your situation:

1. You can't outrun the storm from where you are so don't even try, you'll waste valuable time. So you'll have to ride it out in open water, away from crab pots.
2. Don't anchor. The water is too deep and you'll drag. Boats invariably ride better when moving. So you have to decide to sail or motor.
3. Batten the hatches, get PFD on, check gas can, check flares are below but within reach, check that the anchor and rode are ready to deploy without kinks and snags. Get non-essential personnel below.
4. Unplug your permanent VHF from power and antenna in case of lightening strike. Make sure that handheld VHF is charged. Plug in to charge if needed.
5. You don't mention that you have furling or reef points so I'll assume that you don't. So sailing is probably out. Don't even think about running off with full sail … the wind will be too strong for your rig.
5a. Have the sails furled, but ready to deploy if necessary. Make sure that all lines are fair and not tangled. If the motor dies, sails are your best friend.
6. Get the motor going and head toward port. Your boat will hobby horse so the engine will have a tendency to lift out of the water in a seaway. It will sound nasty but persevere. The good news is that these blows on the Bay are short-lived and while you'll get some chop it won't have much of a chance to build, so you'll be ok. Just hang in there. You'll be plenty uncomfortable, but as long as the motor is running, you'll be ok. If the motor dies, go to Step 7 fast (i.e., less than a minute).
7. You may try to run with a jib only. But I wouldn't want to do it with anything greater than 100% in the wind that's coming. I would not try to go to windward. 90 - 120 degrees AWD is your best bet. I would not try to sail in restricted maneuverability situations (i.e., into your dock, in a tight channel, etc).


You'll get wet, but you'll be ok. Don't worry about lightning…you can't do anything about it so worry about safe vessel operation instead.

I'll stress that this is a highly variable situation and that circumstances can change in a minute. The key is to keep your options open. Anchoring restricts them, and can actually place you in danger depending on circumstances. Get rid of anything other than nylon for your anchor lines…they're worthless. You anchor rode is as important as your PFD.

A final thought. Once you develop a plan and have considered the pros and cons, stick with it unless there is a compelling reason to deviate (also holds true for many other life situations). Being scared or wet doesn't count as compelling. Something significant has to change to make you change your plan. Otherwise, you're floundering and that can be really bad.
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Last edited by Sabreman; 12-29-2013 at 03:52 PM.
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  #5  
Old 12-29-2013
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Re: What would you do? Caught off guard by storm on the Chesapeake

All good advice. You need at least 100 feet of good anchor line. 3 strand is cheap and easy to splice.
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Old 12-29-2013
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Re: What would you do? Caught off guard by storm on the Chesapeake

What would "The Stig" do?
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Old 12-29-2013
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Re: What would you do? Caught off guard by storm on the Chesapeake

I'm with Sabre. Good advice. Also not a hypothetical situation. If you sail on the Chesapeake, you'll eventually get to enjoy a line squall.

They come up fast, but end fast.

BTW - during baseball season, a home game for the Orioles is a good thing to listen to. About 30 mins after they roll out the tarps the storm will hit.
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Old 12-29-2013
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Re: What would you do? Caught off guard by storm on the Chesapeake

That can be every weekend here on Lake Champlain. My preference is to send everyone below, seal up the cabin, take down the canvas, and just motor into it until it passes. I've sometimes left up a piece of head sail and ride it out that way but it's easier with the motor.
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Old 12-29-2013
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Re: What would you do? Caught off guard by storm on the Chesapeake

Assuming you're where I think you are, are you close enough to the Fishing Creek haven n.w. of Thomas Pt. in order to duck in there? There do seem to be a few sailboats at various private docks and lots of other boats.
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Old 12-29-2013
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Re: What would you do? Caught off guard by storm on the Chesapeake

I assume your trailer sailer is very shallow draft, and it looks like you're near a shallow bay. I guess I'd tuck in best I could, clean up the deck (everything that can catch the wind including the sails), and put down my anchor, go below, and make a cup of tea. No need to stay in the 20 ft channel with that boat.

Yea, if off shore in a Valiant I'd be ready to run off, deploy the series drogue, etc, but I'm in a light trailer sailor that can wedge up into a mucky bay with good holding, and I like my tea and don't like to get wet.
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