Not sure of this is big enough but...
We were in port at Pentwater, MI, returning from Mackinac Island and the North Channel. It was Saturday morning. We had to get back to Chicago as most on board had to be at work on Monday. One couple lived in Milwaukee, the rest of us in Chicago.
The harbor there is very sheltered. Reports we were getting said 4-6 foot seas out of the north with winds steady at 15-20 knots. I was still kind of a newbie then, with less than 1,000 miles under my belt and mostly self-taught. The weather didn't seem all that bad.
Two of us walked out to the beach. The wind was blowing hard. I grabbed a handful of sand and, to see how hard it was blowing, I threw it up in the air. The sand quickly vanished, straight south. I pondered the effectiveness of the test.
At that point on Lake Michigan, you probably have a couple hundred miles of open water to the north. Anyone who knows weather on the Great Lakes knows with the short swells and steep waves, the Great Lakes can become some of the most dangerous waters on earth in heavy weather. 10,000+ boats on the bottom will attest to that. I hadn't yet grasped that fact.
We were sailing a Columbia 45, more of a motorsailer than true sailboat. With its 45' mast, that may have turned out to be a good thing that day.
The "sand-in-the-air" test was to decide if we should reef the sails and if so how much? As I said, I was kind of a newbie. With its short mast, the main had only one reef point. We only had one foresail, our genoa.
The Columbia 45 was stoutly built, like a tank, and, with its 5' freeboard, we never buried the rails. I had become overly confident in the boat.
I made the decision not to reef.
We hanked on the genny and then motored out of the channel. Once out, we hoisted the sails and headed west for Milwaukee. As we got into deeper water and away from shore, the seas started building from 4' to 6' to 8' and up. And the wind speed increased.
I saw the rail bury for the first time.
We were about 5-10 miles out when I began to worry. No one else on board had any sailing experience and all relied upon me to make the right decisions. The wind speed varied between 20-30 knots. I walked to the mast, holding on tightly. I looked up and imagined the mast snapping. Once there, I eyed the bend from the base of the mast, then checked the tension on the stays. I was losing my confidence in the boat.
When I got back to the cockpit, I told the crew we weren't making the trip across the lake to Milwaukee today, a distance of about 80 miles. The pale-faced, white-knuckled crew didn't argue.
We turned south and headed for Muskegon. We sailed wing and wing trying all the while to keep the genoa from collapsing. We had no whisker pole.
Our speedo dial topped out at 12, far higher than the boat was capable of hitting under sail. As I stood at the wheel I saw the needle bury as a wave picked us up and pushed us forward. Then it dropped back to 6 knots as we fell off the back. We did that over and over.
I handed the wheel to a crew member and walked to the stern. I'm 5'7". As I stood there, looking at the waves that were racing to meet us, I had to look up to see the top of the wave. I couldn't see over them. Adding the 5' freeboard, I estimated them to be at least 12'.
Once we reached Muskegon, we dropped the genny but the wind was blowing so hard we couldn't get the main down. Our path had led us to less than a mile offshore. We were beginning to see whitecaps breaking dangerously. Turning into the wind again and exposing our beam to the now breaking waves seemed too risky. Finally I decided to sail her into the channel under main.
As we approached the breakwater, with our main eased fully, and still feeling the the winds from the north, I was shocked to see a number of small boats, probably fishermen, at the mouth of the channel, just idling there, looking out at the open water. That they were considering even going out told me they had no idea what was out there. Or maybe they were just crazy.
Once I committed to entering the channel, there was no going back. Shallow water was now to the north and south of us. But I knew the little boats would give me clearance. It appeared I was wrong.
One boat idled at the the mouth, disappearing beneath the waves and reappearing again at its peak. I put the engine in reverse to slow our speed. With main alone we were going 5 knots, with the engine in reverse. The powerboat, about 16', didn't move. I waved for him to move and sounded our horn. It had no effect. He just kept bobbing up and down in the swells as if we weren't there, disappearing and reappearing in the swells.
The guy at the helm just kept looking out to sea, as if trying to believe there was some hope he'd be able to fish that day, or maybe he just looking for an adrenaline rush. I kept getting closer. I couldn't stop and he wouldn't get out of the way. I thought a collision was inevitable.
I braced myself for impact when, less than a boat length away, he hit the throttle, spun around and raced back down the channel. I was both relieved and furious at the same time.
Once inside the channel, the wind died enough to lower the main. We docked there and stayed overnight. Everyone had to call their boss and say they wouldn't be back to work until Tuesday. We talked about that trip for years.