Experience just kinda sneaks up on you
Last Sunday I took my nephew (my usual first mate) and his new girlfriend out in my 1978 Newport 28 for an afternoon sail. It was her first time on a sailboat, ever, and he really wanted to show her a fun afternoon (read nice, peaceful sail).
We headed out of White Rocks Marina in Baltimore, MD into the Patapsco River, and as we were motoring out of the creek I noticed clouds building over Baltimore. As we sailed around a bit, I kept checking the weather radar on my cell phone, and finally decided we'd head back in to see where the weather went.
Back at the dock we had a bite to eat, and watched the storm pass well to the north of us. So we headed back out, and as we're motoring out again I look to the southwest of us and see yet another big dark cloud building. So I checked the weather radar again, and could see that this one would pass to the south, so we figured we'd stay out this time. (Cue "Jaws" theme music.)
As we're sailing around I'm keeping an eye on the weather, and though it was passing to the south of us it seemed to be growing in size -- and sure enough, we started getting some rain drift off it as it went by. No big deal though, it slacked off after about ten minutes and the sun started coming back out. That's when the fun started.
We were on a beam reach in SW winds at about 10kts, when suddenly we got slammed by a burst from the NW. I mean, this came with no warning at all -- I figure it must have been some following wind from the storm that just went by, a tail-end microburst or something. When I checked the weather buoy right by the Key Bridge (about two miles from where we were), it recorded winds up to 34 kts.
But the interesting thing was the behavior of my boat. She took the wind right on the port bow, shuddered for a second, then came up into the wind to a close reach and took off like a bat out of hell, sails a-flappin'. My nephew and I trimmed in just a bit to get them under control, but let some spill out to keep her as level as possible, in consideration of our newbie passenger. Then we just rode that rocket for about ten minutes until it all passed.
We had plenty of sea room, being headed approximately for the center of the Key Bridge two miles away, and when it died back to down to about 15 kts or so we tacked around and headed back to the White Rocks. Our passenger said it was a lot of fun!
Afterwards, when I had time to think about it, I realized how far I'd come in the past five years of sailing larger (20+ feet) boats, after growing up with sailing dingys and such. When I first started taking my ASA and USSA certifications I'd have been changing my drawers afterwards if I'd been caught in winds like that. Now it was just a situation to adapt to as quickly as possible, and we turned it into an exhilarating ride. (Just to point out how strong that wind was when it hit, I saw another sailboat larger than mine heel over until I swear I saw her keel come out of the water -- she must have been close to being on her beam ends.)
But what really impressed me was the behavior of my boat, the way she took the hit, then leaned into it and ran like a thoroughbred. I'll have a lot more confidence in her after that performance, no doubt.
Just thought you all would like to hear the story. Take care, everybody!