Day Sailing Strategy for Regions with Frequent Storms
I live in Tampa, and this will be my first summer sailing here. My strategy in dealing with storms has always been to just avoid them. If the forecast called for lightening, I would just stay in and go sailing another day. The problem here is that from from June through Sept/Oct the weather forecast calls for scattered thunderstorms every day. They tend to be in the afternoon, but any decent wind is usually in the afternoon as well. They usually are brief, and the winds aren't that strong, but there is lightening. Even if I stay in close, it still takes between 30-60 minutes before I can get back to my mooring, tie up and get to shore. These storms come up fast, and in that time could definitely be on top of me. Any tips on a strategy that can get me out on the boat, but still keep me safe.
An iphone (as well as other cell phones) can give you animated weather radar when you are in cell coverage areas. It is quite accurate and fairly amazing. All for the fairly inexpensive monthly charge of a cell phone plan. That coupled with forecasts and a watchful eye makes the decision tree must easier.
A good anchor and rode gives you the option of riding the storm out by anchoring in sheltered waters for the duration of the storm. Most summer thunderstorms aren't very long, and anchoring and riding them out allows you to stay inside the boat, where you'll be more protected from the lightning.
I'm surprised that no one has mentioned decent downhaul and reefing gear. I haven't been in Florida in the summer, but there's plenty of heavy weather in the late afternoons in July and August on Lake Ontario due to heating over land. They are called "pop-up" thunderstorms and they sound similar to the "2 o'clock specials" I hear about in Florida. Ours contain squall lines with 30 to 50 and even 60 knot winds, but they can fizzle out very quickly. The point is that you can't usually get in before they are on top of you, so you might as well ride them out and keep sailing in the cooler and generally steady air behind them.
Now, I understand if we are talking westerlies and Tampa that Florida's one big lee shore (if a generally squishy one), but if possible I would always choose with a known transitory (half-hour or less) weather event simply "riding it out" under reduced sail, and secondly anchoring if the area allows it and if you have no close quarters if you unexpectedly break out.
But one thing I strongly discourage, because I've had to do it a few times, is to try to "beat the storm" to the dock. In situations where the wind can go from gerbil farts to gale in 30 seconds, the last place you want to be is five boat lengths from your slip, particularly if all your sails are not yet properly stowed.
Attempting to dock or being partway through a docking when a squall hits is to be avoided, because you can very quickly end up with reduced or no control, with damage to dock, your boats, or other boats, or injuries from crushing limbs, missing your suddenly broadened jump or falling in the water or being thrown onto a winch.
I have found that many sailors have trouble with the counter-intuitive suggestion that you are safest the farthest from land in most heavy weather, and that the most fraught part of the voyage is departure and arrival.
I have lived in the Tampa Bay Area for 34 years.
A long time ago I used to ride a motorcycle and for sport in the summer I rode East until I started to get wet. Then the sport was to turn and try to stay dry. Lots of fun.
Generally in the summer one can watch the storms build in the East and traverse westward. Some days they travel faster than others, but not that much. This is in the "normal" pattern days. We have not had them yet this year, by the way. And in the past 5-10 years the "normal" is not as regular nor as consistent. To this I attribute humans and concrete. :p
If you don't want to just practice then the i-phone idea or a laptop with a wireless card could keep you with up to date (15 min.) radar.
NWS radar image loop of Composite Reflectivity from Tampa Bay Area, FL
This way you can be sure of bearing and speed at all times.
There is, of course, the chance of a small one "popping up", but if you keep alert you can see this happening.
I used to sail an 18' Westerly Nimrod (trailer sailer) in the upper bay, Ft. Desoto or Tarpon Springs area. Day sails would be going out earlier and as the storms were observed the afternoons would be spent closer to the ramp. On overnights we either got hit or did not. :eek:
We did sail less in the summer though because of the heat and lack of wind in the day and the storms in the afternoon.
I don't know where your mooring is. This has a lot to do with it as within the bay area itself there are differences in the patterns. (patterns within patterns??)
You might figure some of them out by just sitting on the boat in the mooring and watching a few "normal" afternoons to see what it looks like.
A long ramble, sorry.
There's also a similar thread in the Learning to Sail forum you may want to check.
Much good advice above. Staying away from land is probably preferable to trying to beat the storm in, and get caught too near a bunch of things you don't want to hit, but then can't avoid.
Watch, and trust, your compass. Wind direction can change greatly in a squall, while you're in blind-our rain and can't tell its happening. Your compass, not the wind angle, will keep you heading away from that lee shore.
Also trust your GPS. It will tell you if your making progress away from the lee shore, or being set towards it, or holding a steady distance off. Crucial to know this in poor visibility or good.
Your anchor is your hole card. If you can't avoid getting set towards shore, let it go early, and if it doesn't hold right away, it will at least slow you and keep your bow into the wind, and then will dig in as the ground below you gets shallower.. By this time the average squall should have subsided anyway.
We are in St. Pete FL, and yes, it is now hurricane season. Best to check weather reports, and check them frequently. If you decide to go out anyway (because who wants to stay on land for six months straight?), it's best to have a plan on where you can dock along your route in case an unexpected storm comes upon you.. well, unexpectedly.
I keep the weather alert setting on my handheld in the cockpit with me so I won't miss it.
I listen to the weather before I leave port to begin with.
I'm normally off the water before 5pm when the storms typically show up.
The anchor tackle and rode are inspected and neatly stored.
My motor is maintained and reasonably reliable.
All good advice!!!
We use a lightening detector (don't have the make & model at hand) and it seems to work much (NOT ALL) of the time.
Many years ago, we simply relied on a cheap AM radio and just listened for the static. With the lightening detector, it usually gives us more advanced warning and also a feel for how the T-storm is moving at us. Sometimes, by monitoring the distances from the strikes to us, we can tell the storm is moving parallel to our course, not right at us.
We are day sailers on a lake but can still get far enough from our marina that trying to get back in is not the smartest choice (the attached picture is us moving away from our marina as it was directly in the path of the storm).
Anyone else have experience with these detectors?
You could get a Verizon card for the laptop and get real time doppler radar updates!!
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