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  #1  
Old 07-10-2011
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Tools for when it goes from 5 to 45 knots in ten minutes

Last week we moved BR from the yard in RI to Cape Cod. Friday morning found us motoring in light fog up Vineyard Sound, through Woods Hole and into Buzzards Bay headed for the CC Canal. The wind was light and variable so I decided to skip the main sail until the situation changed -- and change it did.

About 5 miles north of Woods Hole we heard a rumble of thunder. A glance toward the western horizon indicated something was brewing. I took a quick look at the NWS radar available from Sirius Marine Wx and saw a wall of red pixels immediately to our west and moving our way fast. Five minutes later we were hit with gusts in excess of 45 knots and for the next 15 minutes or so it blew steady 35-45.

Had the sails been up or or had we been navigating the very narrow channel through Woods Hole when the squall hit, we would have had a real situation on our hands. As it was, we couldn't keep the boat into the wind even at full power and could only make a 1-2 knots with the wind 30-40 deg apparent. Visibility was less than hundred yards in blinding rain.

A couple minutes after we were hit, I put out a "Securite" call for boats to my east in Nantucket Sound to get ready for 45 knots. Twenty minutes later, after it all passed, the Coast Guard / NWS did the same. There were a number of responses to the CG call that I won't repeat here.

Lessons learned:

1. Dark skys to the west in summer are not something to ponder too long -- if there's sail up, get it reefed or down quickly.
2. The Sirius Marine Weather near realtime re-broadcast of the NWS doppler radar is a valuable tool. It gives you warning of what's coming (if you bother to look at it in time). In addition to telling you what's coming, it tells you when the worst has past, which is good for the skipper's blood pressure and the crew's morale.
3. Having a chart plotter visible from the helm is really helpful in keeping your wits about you in conditions like this. With near zero visibility and dramatically reduced control of the vessel, it is very easy to become disoriented. At one point I found myself 100 degrees or so off my intended course and headed toward the beach, which was only a mile or so to leeward. The chart plotter helped us get back on course and to quickly determine the optimal course for tracking away from the beach. With only a compass, GPS and paper chart it would have been a much more difficult process.

And finally, a note for the allocation of your limited boat budget: Electronic "toys" can become survival "tools" very quickly.

Fair winds!
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Old 07-10-2011
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We had a similar situation the week before last on a charter in St. Vincent. We were heading to the Tobago Cays from Mustique, going around the lee of Canouan. After clearing Canouan, we saw a nasty looking squall coming. We just barely had time to drop sails before hitting winds in the upper 30s and blinding rain.

The helm chartplotter was, well, instrumental in helping us tuck in behind Mayreau in zero visibility. Continuing on to the Tobago Cays would have put us in a target rich environment for reef groundings. At times it rained so hard I could not see the chartplotter due to rain in my eyes, until a crew member valiantly stood upwind from me to give me some shielding.

The charter boat actually had radar, but I didn't try to use it since I don't have experience with radar. I figured it would just be a distraction under the circumstances. Can anyone recommend a site for learning to interpret small-boat radar?
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Old 07-10-2011
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Unfortunately, radar doesn't do us much good in a heavy rain as much of the radiated energy is reflected back by the rain near the boat. Radar is helpful in spotting squalls at a distance for the same reason. A squall with rain in it will produce a fuzzy return -- think cotton balls. A boat will (may) produce a sharper return looking like a short " _ " on the screen. A shore line will be a mix between sharp and fuzzy returns in a line similar to the outline of the coast. In intrepreting coast line returns it's useful to remember that radar reflects better (producing brighter returns) off hard surfaces (rocks) than soft ones (vegetation) and off surfaces that are perpendicular to the RF beam (cliffs) vs those that it strikes at a more oblique angle (beaches). You also need to keep in mind that objects create "shadows" just as a light beam will cast a shadow behind the object it hits. A radar shadow will show up on the CRT as a dark area -- just as if there was nothing there. (I know, CRT dates me, doesn't it ) Thus, the area behind a hill will appear dark on the screen as if there's nothing there.

Sorry, but I can't help with recommending a book -- l learned all I ever wanted to know and more about radar in the US Navy 40 years ago much of which has been (sadly) forgotten. You might try google-ing the topic and see what pops up.

Last edited by billyruffn; 07-10-2011 at 05:30 PM.
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Old 07-11-2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by billyruffn View Post
...A couple minutes after we were hit, I put out a "Securite" call for boats to my east in Nantucket Sound to get ready for 45 knots. Twenty minutes later, after it all passed, the Coast Guard / NWS did the same. There were a number of responses to the CG call that I won't repeat here....
I assume that people were pretty ticked off that USCG and NWS missed the call until it was too late. Right?
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Old 07-11-2011
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BR

It seems that if you heard thunder, had time to check Sirius and still had 5 minutes before the wind hit....you have all the tools needed. You need to act, at the first clap of thunder or sight of lightning.

These "storms" are every day happenings on Chesapeake Bay, and here is what we do.

As we sail, we scan the whole circle of influence our boat has, we are seldom surprised to see a cell or wall of dark clouds. When we do see it, we generally go to storm mode..stow and secure everything. By then we have assessed our position and have part B of the plan ready...start the engine, strike and secure the mainsail (if need be) and then the jib sheet rolled in. As we almost always wear a PFD, that is done. The wife again checks the security of things above and below and closes the companionway completely. Stands by safely in the cockpit.

By now rain and wind are happening and we either head in to the wind or the waves, which ever is most comfortable and safe. IF we thought it was a minor cell, and we still have the jib out, we run with the wind, as long as the waves are not breaking or following too close.

We NEVER take what the USCG or NWS say about weather as gospel, as NEITHER are on the boat with us, moreover they are seldom, if ever accurate. Why is it their deal to make your decisions.

One more thing, screw the electronic toys...your survival depends on what you DO or don't do...the ipad or plotter doesn't float and if you take a lightning hit, you better know how to navigate your area, or heave to, or make minimal headway in to the cell...

Sorry to be so blunt, but you put way too much faith in your tools, toys, and Sirius. Thunder or lightning should cause an immediate reaction...and I don't mean to look at the Sirius. As they say in flying ..aviate, navigate and communicate...in sailing it might be sail the boat, sail the boat and use your situational awareness to sail the boat. Anything else will take away from that goal.
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Old 07-11-2011
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One tool is "Weather Sense" along with Practiced skills of reefing sails in jig time. The latter is learned by reefing at sunset, training sessions of new crew and so forth. Even dividing your crew and have one team compete against the other in assorted drills of sail handling and seamanship.
But one thing is; Keep your eyes on the horizon for not just other vessels but also for changes in weather. Watch your barometer and note wind shifts.
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Old 07-11-2011
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@kd3pc

I don't think any of us meant to say we depend on the gadgets. But avoiding dependence does not mean the same as not using the tools at hand. In our example, if we had not had the chartplotter at the helm, we would have taken action to stop headway, and ride the storm out. But since we had it, we had the _option_ of making for the lee of a nearby island. If it had given out mid way, then we would have had to make new choices.

In the OP's example, having Sirius weather let him get a better judgement on how bad the storm really was than he could have gotten with his eyeballs. Without the tool, he would have simply had to assume the worst. OTOH, if this had been a much lighter cell, the tool would have given him knowledge that his eyeballs might not have, and thus other options. (A barometer is just as much a tool as Sirius Weather. It may be more reliable, but it is still a tool.)

Gadgets certainly can't replace good sense, but I think that not using the tools at hand because you don't want to be dependent on them makes no more sense than being dependent on them in the first place.
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Old 07-11-2011
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Guys,

I love gadgets too, and I am not discounting their usefulness, just that they are a tool...and in the XM/Sirius...the reports and such are at LEAST 5 minutes delayed if not more towards 15 minutes...and they are a birds eye view of the weather you may or may not be in.

Again in the Chesapeake, many of our squalls don't even appear on XM, as the intensity and duration allows them to fit between "sweeps"...of what is actually re-broadcast later

My suggestion is that the original poster...should not have been surprised at the first clap of thunder, and should not delay, to check XM, needed action that he can SEE with his own two eyes and hear with his Ears..regardless of what XM was telling him, good or bad, light or severe.

The OP is the one in the cockpit, and to ignore situational awareness, tools or not, is to ignore Mother Nature and a swift bitch she can be, whether your tool is prepared or not. Let alone to have the tool disagree with her.

I wasn't there either, but learned long ago to trust in what I can see, hear and feel as goes the sailboat; instruments/tools/toys can be, and are often wrong/late/misread/rebooting...and you don't need additional loading at these critical times.

Enjoy!
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Old 07-11-2011
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sail up or down?

Quote:
Originally Posted by kd3pc View Post
When we do see it, we generally go to storm mode..stow and secure everything. By then we have assessed our position and have part B of the plan ready...start the engine, strike and secure the mainsail (if need be) and then the jib sheet rolled in. As we almost always wear a PFD, that is done. The wife again checks the security of things above and below and closes the companionway completely. Stands by safely in the cockpit.
Hi,

Just a question / nit pick. Wouldn't you want at least some of the main sail up (maybe with a reef or two)? What if the wind / waves / bouncing / etc cause the engine to suck up some dirt and stall?

I've only been hit by sudden storms twice and both times I left my main up and engine on and kept the boat feathered into the wind.

Barry
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Old 07-11-2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BarryL View Post
Hi,

Just a question / nit pick. Wouldn't you want at least some of the main sail up (maybe with a reef or two)? What if the wind / waves / bouncing / etc cause the engine to suck up some dirt and stall?

Barry
For my current boat, center cockpit and dutchman system, everything (including reefing) in the cockpit, I am very comfortable knowing my boat. I keep the Jib out to keep the nose going where I want it to, and my CC presents enough "sail" in most cases. I do keep the engine running, and trust it to do what I want, when I want. (except when reverse is neutral, grin! like last fall docking). So, no, I don't use the main in squalls or quick passing storms..she just handles better without it..

Good thoughts though,
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