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Yes, it all depends on the severity of the squall. Usually, so called squall 20-30 kts I consider just another stronger wind. It requires some standard reefing and other preparations motioned early in this thread (one should make a list of it, great lectur). The stronger the squall the worst it is to deal with, some may reach hurricane force winds, but experienced sailors can manage it. Inexperience sailors should consider taking down there sails as soon as they feel strange, and start the engine, and do not try to be famous as squall fighter – almost always it will damage your equipment. At sea you will notice that something around yourself and your boat is changing/wrong (temp, wind, pressure, clouds, etc) and then just dropping down sails is the fastest way to react.
The most famous area for totally crazy squalls is in deed Great Lakes – often in excess of 40-50 knots winds, and this is really dangerous. I think squalls like that in BVI are not seen often, but you should not rule it out.
Anyway, if you just take all the info in this thread and put it together on the piece of paper you probably will have very nice Manual “How to in squalls”
Here is what happened to me:
While in Mac Race, we noticed huge vertically fast moving clouds (chimney type) about 30-40 miles aft stern. It was really beautiful seen! I never encounter one like this (monster) in such a sunny day. After few minutes of watching it, and some lecture about how the “white squall” forms, we went back to racing, and ….. trust me, we did not have time to crap our pants. When we looked back it was already blowing 80+ kts (CBS report) and our speed was over 20-25 kts. It lasted about 10 minutes, then dropped to 30-40 kts wind and after another 20 minutes was blowing only 20 kts. About 1-2 feet above the lake level was formed another layer of water. All within seconds and with full Main and #1 Genoa! We have seen boats around diving bow first, spinnakers flying ahead of the boats, flip over etc. We actually rescue crew of the racing cat which did “mushroom”. All went thru that squall and there were no fatalities, just lots of hardware damaged and one of a kind expierience.
The only way to survive it was to hold course as much downwind as possible and drop sails on the deck. Surprisingly I did not have difficulties with holding the course, accept, the force of the wind was really pushing me hard against the wheel, and this was real fight. Crew was unbelievably brave by taking down Genoa that weights about 350 pounds. It was very exhausting for them. After wind come down to 30kts we turn upwind and dropped Main (about 500 lbs) and went back to the boats behind us. Number of the racing boats where traveling at over 15 kts just on bare poles.
Here is what is important in stronger squalls.
1. They are predictable; the only guess is when they will blow with full force.
2. Observe the weather reports even if sunny day.
3. Sails down and engine slow forward on, are the best ways of waiting them to pass by.
4. Secure your crew (tethering) and mandatory lifejackets, close all hatches.
5. Make quick notes where you are and were you sailing to.
6. Always have your VHF on (many send warning of the approaching squall).
7. Make sure all loose objects are secured and remember about your kids and pets.
8. In unlikely case of boat turning over never let your boat go. Hold to it as long as the boat is surfaced – most likely it will right back.
9. Don’t panic it will last only short time, just make sure you are not sailing towards reefs or shore.
10. Fill free to add anything else that you think is important and let your crew to know all of this.
I hope this will help a bit.