Great Lakes Sailor
Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: Saginaw, MI
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Great Lakes Racing
Can't comment much directly on the video, because the still pictures to not tell a cohesive story, but I can comment on the storms that come up like this in the Great Lakes, after racing in many of these storms and multiple Mac Races...
The storms in July are typical squalls, except that they can appear out of nowhere, very suddenly, and with great ferocity. Unlike the open ocean, where you may be able to see these storms coming for many miles and can often determine whether these are isolated squalls, line squalls, or an entire frontal system (and react very differently to each), these squalls seem to appear within minutes sometimes, since we are often racing along shore or near land. I have seen the wind go from 5 knts to 40 knts to 5 knts all within 10 minutes, and without prior warning. I'm sure the weatherheads would talk about the warm land, cold water and shifting wind patterns and such, but regardless, they can be difficult to predict.
In addition, the wind in these small cells can shift back and forth over 180 deg or more in that same 10 minutes, since there are typically no prevailing winds (such at the Trade Winds) on the Great Lakes. So in a matter of minutes, you can go from 5 knts off the quarter, to 40 knts on the nose, to 40 knts on the opposite beam, and back to 5 knts off the quarter again. During the day, this is bad enough, and we can prepare, reduce sail, and set up for a variety of tack/gybe situations.
At night, it can be simply a matter of hanging on for dear life and trying not to let the sails flog to pieces. It is often impossible or difficult to see them coming, and there is no way to predict the wind shifts without seeing what direction the cell is moving. Add to that the likelihood of mainland or an island now suddenly being a lee shore, and the confusion of the dark with confused seas (because of no consistent wave patterns in the Lakes), and we are often just glad to keep everything floating and safe.
I agree, that seeing those sails flogging in the video is unattractive at best, it can take a few minutes to get a bowman up to take down the headsail, or even to reef the main with the squall comes at you out of the dark when you have been sailing in light but consistent winds. It can help to have something like XM weather to see squall lines or fronts, but sometimes these are isolated squall cells that do not show up on the weather images.
So bottom line, I can feel for those guys in the video, and unfortunately have been there before. That is where experience, thoughtful and safe reaction, and preparation come in that can't be taught in a class.
Saginaw Bay, Michigan
"The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails." - William Arthur Ward