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bkw 12-28-2007 07:28 PM

navigating a squall
can anyone gives tips on navigating a squall?
we have a bvi trip next month and i have never been in one so i would like to know what to expect.
thanks in advance

sailortjk1 12-28-2007 09:19 PM

Ok, I'll give it a try and tell you what I do.

Reef early, if necessary bring down all sail.
Again, reef early, don't wait until the squall is on top of you.
With proper monitoring of the weather radio and from your own weather observations, you should have adequete warning. They do come at you fast, but you should have enough warning to be properly prepaired.

Batten down all hatches, secure everything below and in the cockpit, anything that you don't need for handling of the boat gets stored and out of your way. Everything not necessary should be stowed.

If you decide to sail through it, I reef and than if you have propper searoom fall off to a reach or possibly a run. I don't try to beat through it unless absolutley necessary.

Try very hard not to get yourself into a lee shore condition, rather head for open water. My opinon is that sea room and deeper water is your friend in these situations.

I have no Idea about the Islands, but in my cruising grounds they usually move through very quickly. They can be rather violent, but usually blow through in a short time.

sailingdog 12-28-2007 10:09 PM

Just remember, squalls are relatively fast moving, short duration storms... and often, if you've got the searoom, heaving to or lying a hull might be good options for sitting them out.

TJK's suggestions are very good ones... and deeper water with lots of room to leeward is a good thing.

Be aware that the conditions during a really bad squall line can be truly ferocious. :)

btrayfors 12-28-2007 10:32 PM

Been sailin' the BVI since 1969. My own boat (11 years) and others, including many chartered boats.

Squalls in the BVI are typically very short-lived, as mentioned above. Not always, but usually.

They are easy to spot, moving in from the East and crossing to the West. You can guage their size (though not their ferocity, necessarily) by watching them.

You can often avoid them, by changing course.

If you're going to get hit, be prepared. Reef or reduce sail early. Easiest way on most boats is to simply drop the mainsail. Most boats will sail quite well with just a headsail, including to windward (close reach). All charter boats in the islands have roller-furling genoas. Easy to roll them in to any desired size.

Winds in squalls typically are 25-35 knots, but may be more occasionally. The seawater is warm, but you'll get a chill quickly as the rain falls and the wind blows.

If you're sailing the islands in winter time, beware of the Christmas winds which are VERY different from squalls. These are really fierce northers which can blow for a day or a week or more.

Be respectful and prepared, and don't worry about the squalls. They're relatively easy to weather.

Have fun,


SVAuspicious 12-29-2007 11:43 AM

Most of the charter boats in the BVI I have sailed don't provide much flexibility in your response. Mainsail reefs often aren't rigged. As Bill said, in that situation the best you can do is drop *and stow* the main. Tie it down, zip the sail bag, whatever. Even with the zipper type sail bag you would be well served to throw a couple of sail ties around the whole thing. Roll up some of the jib (at least to the first reef mark, perhaps the second).

Most charter trips have plenty of people. Make it someones job to walk the deck edge and check for lines over the side before starting the engine.

On my boat I triple reef the main, roll up the jib, and hoist the staysail. When a squall comes on me by surprise I do that anyway, I just get wet. <grin> I'm odd though, so YMMV.

SailSolomons 01-29-2008 07:03 PM

All good advice here about what to do when hit by a squall. Best advice is not to get in one. Evans Starzinger wrote an excellent article in Cruising World a few months back about squall avoidance in the Trade Wind belt. Essentially it is if you see a squall heading towards you, you should head towards the Equator. This is because squalls generally take a right hook and head North (in the northern hemisphere, opposite in the southern hemisphere)

nolatom 01-29-2008 08:29 PM

Reef early, get everyone into lifejackets, then head offshore on a reach, luffing as necessary.

Important point: know beforehand what compass direction takes you away from land, and stick with it as much as you can. Some squalls have rotating winds, and if you keep reaching with them, they'll carry you around in a circle. This is when to trust your compass, not your instincts, in order to have enough searoom to ride it out.

Most summer squalls have a mean front, but last no more than a couple of minutes (though it will seem longer) before dissipating.

6string 01-29-2008 10:43 PM

I'm curious why you would run or reach when the squall hits. I would think you would want to beat into it so as to get past the heavy stuff on the leading edge quickly. You also present less area to the wind that way. Less tipping force

I can not reef on my boat. It is a C Scow. It is 20', weights only 600 lbs and has a large main sail. I also sailed E scows for 10 years which are 28', 1000 Lbs and have main and jib, no reefing. I found that I was best off sailing into the squall line, pinching up if needed to minimize tipping force.



nolatom 01-30-2008 10:21 AM

If beating works best on your C-scow, then good. I find on lightweight sloops (like a Scot) you heel more, the shifts can be volatile and you could possibly get caught aback or quickly in irons if you were close-hauled before the shift

I prefer reaching (maybe close reaching) over beating or running in a squall (assuming I have a choice given the geography). It's easier to luff without losing steerageway, and easier to re-accelerate if you had to let the sails way out.
You can maneuver either up or down if you have to avoid someone/something, and in no-visibility conditions, navigation is easier if you're not tacking.

Running risks a jibe if there's an unexpected windshift, and you may be overpowered, bow digs in, you can't luff. Also, I agree that running could keep you in the squall longer.

But others' mileage may vary, obviously.

cjmcfall 01-30-2008 10:24 AM

A couple of other suggestions:

Depending on the severity of the storm and the room between me and other objects, I usually start the engine and leave it in neutral. This saves me time should something unforeseen happen, and eliminates the chance that Murphy and his law will come into play.

Besides all the good comments above, I would consider tethering to the jack lines too.

Don't kid your self, squalls can be down right scary!!! In one last summer we hit 8.8 knots with a bare pole.:(

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