Join Date: Jan 2008
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Yes, we had a pretty rough go of it yesterday.
Here is the story...........
And its a long one....................
When I left work on Friday, the last weather forecast I had was for the Lake to be nasty on Saturday and that it was to calm down Saturday Evening and be calm on Sunday. Saturday was calling for 5 - 7 foot waves and 1 - 3 foot waves for Sunday.
So, we got to the boat on Friday night. Saturday we woke and it was blowing like crazy in the marina and you could tell that the lake would be very rough. We stayed in the marina and did boat work all day. I took care of a couple of projects while Julie organized. We went to the Farmers market, Breakfast, shopping, etc.... In the late afternoon around 4:00 it started to calm down. We had unexpected visitors come by and spend about an hour with us, and than after they had left, I decided we should go out.
We left the harbor and had a beautiful late evening sail. Lake was flat winds were nice.
It was a great time to be out.
Before we had left the docks, we had decided to stay overnight on anchor and not return until sometime on Sunday. (Remember, the forecast for Sunday was for calm seas. I did not think that staying overnight at anchor was in anyway going to be placing us in jeopardy.)
While under sail we discussed where to anchor. I always like the little sail of about ten miles to the North to a small lake called Pigeon Lake. I made the decision to go to Pigeon Lake. Julie wanted to go back to Lake Macatawa and head to the anchorage at Pine Creek.
So I sailed to Pigeon Lake.
Now, the entrance to Pigeon Lake is very narrow, can be very shallow, and is known to shoal in spots with sand from the river. In fact if you read the charts, there is a warning to mariners to use caution when entering the channel.
Well the lake was flat calm at this point when I proceeded to enter the channel. As I was entering I was constantly monitoring the depth. Just past the pier heads and before it gets real narrow, I was reading a depth of 6-1/2 to 7 feet. Not a lot of room for error, as we draw 5 feet.
We had no problems entering and found a nice little place to anchor.
As we were setting the hook, we could see a group on shore enjoying a nice bonfire.
Other than that, we had the place to ourselves.
Spent the night there doing our usual routine; watching movies.
No problems except for a couple of showers and gusty winds during the night.
In the morning, I could tell that the winds were gusty.
I could not see the lake though because we were around the corner from the channel entrance. I turned on the weather radio and heard that a small craft warning was posted for Sunday until Sunday evening. No big deal, we sail in small craft warnings all the time.
Pulled the anchor and started towards the lake.
As soon as I made the turn and could see down the channel, I knew it was going to be trouble.
White caps of what appeared to be about six feet were rolling into the shallow, narrow channel. My first reaction was to turn around, reset the anchor and wait it out. Than the stupid we can do anything side of me said, everybody has to be at work on Monday. If we sit it out who knows when we will get out of here. So, I went for it.
The most dangerous part of the day was not destroying our sail. It was the motor out of Pigeon Lake. Remember, I read 6-1/2 to 7 feet going in. With rollers in the channel the bottom of the trough would be less.
We motored into the quagmire of nasty seas. The boat rose over the top of a big breaker, slammed down on the backside of the wave, and than lurched on the bottom. She skipped right off and the diesel engine kept her creeping along. We repeated the same scenario a second time but thank God the boat kept moving forward. If she had stuck on the bottom in those conditions....... well we would have been in very grave danger. Rolling breaking seas and a narrow shallow channel are not the place you want to be. We never should have tried to leave, but once the decision was made, we had to go for it. Once in the channel, there was no way in heck I was going to be able to turn around.
After we cleared the pier heads I was very relieved. Although now we were in open water in big seas I felt better about the situation. We put up a bit of mainsail and steered a course towards home. By a bit, I mean we had about half the main out and never touched the Genny. With a heavily reefed main only, the boat speed was about 6.5knots.
Seas were about 5-7 foot with set of about 10 feet every so often. The waves were constantly breaking or white capping. Foam was all around us.
Winds were from the North West at a steady 25 knots and very gusty to over 30 knots.
Our course was pretty much straight South which meant we were sailing a broad reach. The Wind and the waves were coming over our right shoulder. We were taking the seas on the Starboard quarter. With the waves on the quarter we were experiencing quite a bit of corkscrewing.
During the time when I was raising the sails, we took a wave in the cockpit. I was soaking wet with the 40 degree temperature lake water. I had on my foulie jacket but not my pants and I was now in jeans that were soaking wet. Julie was soaking wet as well. After we got everything under control, I gave the wheel to Julie and went below to change.
I changed and handed up Julie her life jacket. Yes, I finally decided after all of this that it was time to put on life jackets.
Julie actually was enjoying her turn at the helm. Once she got used to it, she liked it. 6.5 knots boat speed, heavy seas, and she was having a good time. The corkscrewing continued, which was the most difficult part of being at the helm.
I changed into dry clothes and got on my full foulies suit and sea boots.
Julie went down below to change.
At this point we are having a good time. The boat is under control. We are sailing at 6.5 knots. Big waves all around, but we are handling everything just fine and the boat is doing well.
I took my place at the helm and than asked that my PFD be sent up. Why I did not put it on when I was below, I will never know. I was more concerned about relieving Julie at the helm than I was about my safety. Although she was enjoying it, it was clear that Julie had her hands full at the helm.
It was while I was steering the boat and trying to put on my life jacket at the same time, that we had our mishap.
At the helm you had to be constantly on your toes turning the wheel and paying attention. The helm could not be left unattended for a second and the strain was too much to be using the auto pilot. Well, I was trying to put on my PFD and the boat turned too far to the left which caused the boat to jibe accidentally. It was not my intent to jibe the boat. I knew that a jibe in these conditions would be dangerous.
Well the boat jibed and the boom swung over to the other side and the sail just exploded from the force of the wind transferring from one side to the other. I mean it was shredded and tattered.
I said some very loud curse words and cursed myself for letting it happen.
Julie was down below and had no idea what was going on. She could tell from my reaction that some thing bad had just happened.
She came on board as I put the boat in gear and we began to now motor in the nasty following seas. The boat became even more unstable with the tattered sail up.
I rolled the shreds into the mast as we limped home.
The corkscrewing got worse. Julie got seasick. She spent the last hour with a bucket in her hands.
A small piece of the sail leach still waved above us as a reminder of how dangerous the lake can be, and we were not home yet.
The entrance to Holland was another cauldron of seas. Large waves of ten or more feet were hitting the piers and bouncing back into each other creating a stirring mix of confusion. It was not pretty.
Got through that ok and now headed towards the dock in gusty crosswind conditions. Thank God the position of our slip was blowing us onto rather than away from the slip.
I told Julie just before entering; Just do it like we always do.
In the channel between A dock and Z dock, making our final approach I had the boat in neutral and we were going 5 knots from the wind. I would usually be doing about 3 knots.
Made the turn into the slip and hit reverse HARD. She stopped on a dime as Julie first slipped on the spring line followed by the bow line. Like I told her, she did every thing just like we always do.
Safely tied to the slip we could now relax, regroup, and start to heal from all our wounds.
The small section of leach still clinging on was cut off.
More work lies ahead in trying to get the jammed up shreds out of the mast and remove the remains of the sail. We will try and accomplish that next weekend.
We got nothing but time now until a new sail can be made.
Should be out for about a month or so as we regroup.
Thank God nobody got hurt.
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