My first BFS.
I've been crewing on a Cal 33-2 this summer. Just local beer can races for the spring and summer series. I've sailed maybe a dozen times with this boat and crew. (I've been crewing on another boat for three years.)
Saturday (Aug 3rd) the owner chose to participate in the Admiral's Cup near the mouth of the York River in VA. The wind at the start was around 10 kts. We had the #1 genoa up. For this race I worked the pit - main sheet, traveler, outhaul, vang, etc.; usually I grind the jib sheets, but today the owner put me in the pit.
The start was a bit disorganized. We're used to tightly run races with horns being sounded when they should and people lining up for competitive starts. For this start, the horns were not at the right times and only one other boat hit the line at the start. We started at the committee boat end and asked if it was really our start as we went by.
The race course was a triangle with each leg being about 2 miles. Full race was two laps around. As we were sailing due east on a reach toward the first mark, I noticed the sky turning deep purple behind us off to the west.
We rounded the first mark and started beating toward the second, southernmost mark. The purple got closer. We rounded the second mark and headed north back to the start mark on port tack. The purple got closer and the rain started spitting. I began to hear low rumbling distant thunder. The RC called that the course was shortened to one lap.
Not far into this third leg, the squall line hit. It went from a normal breeze, to a smattering of rain, to pouring with 20+ knot winds in a couple minutes. We heeled over pretty far and started riding it out. On went the rain gear.
The wind continued to build, the rain got heavier, and lightning started striking all around. My head was down dumping the traveler and then pulling it back up in response to the gusts and orders from the skipper - I wasn't paying attention to what was going on outside my bubble.
Finally the skipper decided to reef the main - we still had the #1 up. The rain, wind, and thunder were now to the point where we had to yell at the person next to us to be heard. We got the reef in safely. We were still way overpowered (IMHO). The deck stayed heeled over very steeply - I stood on the side of the companionway entrance.
Fortunately, the water was relatively calm. The storm came in from the west and there was no room for the seas to build. So we weren't tossed about on deck.
The skipper finally ordered to drop the genoa. We pointed up a bit and the genoa started flogging like crazy. I popped the halyard and yelled to the foredeck to pull down the sail. "What!?" The foredeck guy didn't quite understand what he was expected to do. The genoa continued to flap itself to pieces. The skipper went flying past me up to the foredeck to pull down the genny.
Somewhere in here we missed the finish line. I think the line was close to perpendicular to the wind and as we approached on a reach we were pushed down too far to make it inside the mark. I'm told we were within a boat-length or two of hitting the mark when the skipper gave up. (I had my head down managing the traveler & mainsheet and trying to stay on the boat.)
Then it was time to drop the main - in pouring down rain, lightning and still very heavy wind. That didn't go too badly. No chance of flaking it properly, we were just happy to get it down and sail ties put on.
Once all the sails were down, we all sat in the cockpit watching the lightning and getting rained on. I finally noticed the steep, short waves the storm had kicked up. Like a boat wake, but stretched out into the distance.
It was certainly not an off-shore, monster wave BFS. But the squall was extremely intense. The skipper said he saw 40 kts. on the wind meter. The front blew past and things calmed down behind it. I suspect we were in survival mode for no more than half an hour. But with the boat being constantly knocked down, lightning flashing and crashing all around, and the torrential rain, it was plenty enough for me.
No one went overboard, and the only damage I know of was the reinforcement on the clew of the genoa came delaminated - the sail did not tear. We should have put life vests on. We went from "this is kinda tough" to "OMG! Don't let me die!" very quickly.
Since nothing bad happened, it was a fun intense bit of sailing. It could have easily gone the other way.