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Old 07-20-2011
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"Is everybody on the boat?"

Smackdaddy recently posted this video in the Mackinac race thread:


I didn't want to detract from the original thread, so I thought I'd ask my questions here. (I've only daysailed on lakes in Kansas, and have never been caught in conditions like these, which leads me to my questions)

Keep in mind that those look like horrendous conditions, and I'm not criticizing the sailors on that boat. But I like to look at particular examples and use them as learning tools. So I'm curious about (beyond the obvious inclement weather) what lead to the situation they were in, and which steps to take to best handle the situation.

First, it looks to me like the sails (particularly the jib) are flogging to the point that they'd be useless for power or control, and likely would be damaged. When the conditions are this bad, is there any advantage to having the jib up, but seemingly not cleated? Or is it likely that they would have taken the jib down but they got caught before they got the chance, so they just uncleated the jibsheets?

Second, it looks like the jibsheets are pretty badly tangled around each other. Is that typical in this sort of situation? How do you recover from it? It seems they'd be whipping around pretty badly to get that tangled - do you eventually just need to take the jib down, sort out the lines, and then raise it when conditions are better?

Third, it doesn't look like the main is reefed, probably because this is a raceboat, and the main may not have reef points. With that being the case, once conditions are this bad (and your sails are flogging this badly) would they have been better off sailing under bare poles, rather than heeling so severely, and possibly being knocked down? Can you "sail" under bare poles in these conditions, without turning on the engine? (I assume turning on the engine forfeits you from the race, although in these conditions, that would seem an acceptable outcome for me, if I'm worried about everyone still being on the boat.)

Last, what might you guys have done in conditions like these?

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~Dean
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Old 07-20-2011
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I am looking for some replies myself from some experience people. I have been in crap conditions before but I was flying. I know what it is like to be too busy to be scared, you get scared later.

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Old 07-20-2011
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Good grief!

I am more limited in experience, having about 2000 miles but only being out in a full gale once that included 30 knot wind and 15 foot seas, but the boat in this video appear to be completely out of control. Initially it looked like they had too much sail up for the conditions and were heeling to the point of the boom going into the water and causing the main to luff. Looks like the jib isn't trimmed or even tied off, and it is just flapping.

They appear to be in a bit over their heads, but I'll await more experienced sailors and learn with the rest of you.
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Old 07-20-2011
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I couldn't really make out much from the video. It seemed to me to be a number of stills with audio. (or else my computer didn't play it correctly).
For all I could tell, the photos might have been taken during a short period of crazy activity. They might have gotten everything under control shortly thereafter for all I know.
There's just not enough information available to say much about their situation.
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Old 07-20-2011
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No offense, but 30kts and 15' seas isn't a gale if you're on the ocean. The video shows survival conditions in a severe Lake Michigan squall/storm. Generally, you drive the boat off the wind, but if you read accounts of this storm, there are micro bursts driving straight down, and gusts shifting from different directions with little warning. I'm sure the guys in the vid would have loved to have had their sails down, and yes, they risked absolutely having them destroyed, but better a sail than trying to send someone up on the foredeck or to the mast trying to get the jib on deck/main down. I'm sure they underestimated the duration of the squall and they wouldn't have been alone after reading different accounts. Boat control? Barely, but enough. It looks like they managed to keep the boom out of the water which is a good thing. Yes, I'm sure they had house keeping to do as they got back on their feet. If you've raced, cleaning up messes is just part of the show. Undoubtably, the decades of experience that are on most boats in an event like this kept the damage and loss of life much lower than if it had been 300+ casual cruisers out. Very scary stuff for sure. Glad I wasn't there. There are some excellent books that will answer your questions as well, Adlard Cole's Heavy Weather Sailing being one of the best.
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Old 07-20-2011
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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.
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Old 07-20-2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by puddinlegs View Post
No offense, but 30kts and 15' seas isn't a gale if you're on the ocean. The video shows survival conditions in a severe Lake Michigan squall/storm. Generally, you drive the boat off the wind, but if you read accounts of this storm, there are micro bursts driving straight down, and gusts shifting from different directions with little warning. I'm sure the guys in the vid would have loved to have had their sails down, and yes, they risked absolutely having them destroyed, but better a sail than trying to send someone up on the foredeck or to the mast trying to get the jib on deck/main down. I'm sure they underestimated the duration of the squall and they wouldn't have been alone after reading different accounts. Boat control? Barely, but enough. It looks like they managed to keep the boom out of the water which is a good thing. Yes, I'm sure they had house keeping to do as they got back on their feet. If you've raced, cleaning up messes is just part of the show. Undoubtably, the decades of experience that are on most boats in an event like this kept the damage and loss of life much lower than if it had been 300+ casual cruisers out. Very scary stuff for sure. Glad I wasn't there. There are some excellent books that will answer your questions as well, Adlard Cole's Heavy Weather Sailing being one of the best.
Again, I wasn't criticizing the sailors in the video - I was just asking if there was anything else that could have been done in such an extreme situation. As I said, I'm just wanting to use it as a learning experience.

You seem to be of the opinion that the squall came on quickly enough (and severely enough) that they did all they could to survive the situation they found themselves in?

But there seem to conflicting reports about this storm. I've read in the Mackinac thread that people were tracking the storm from Wisconsin. Others are saying it was so sudden and severe, it caught everyone by surprise. It sounds like while the storm itself was being tracked, this microburst was unpredictable. But if they knew a storm (if not a microburst) was coming, was there something they have done to be better prepared?

I know (most of us) weren't there, and with the benefit of not being overwhelmed in the situation, it's easy to armchair sail. But armchair sailing can be a good learning tool, which is what I'm looking for. If you were caught unawares by a microburst, what would you do? Loose the jibsheets? Hold on for dear life? Try to wait until you eventually get a enough of a break to bring down one (or both?) of the sails?
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Old 07-20-2011
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It looks simply from an observation that it may have been more prudent to leave the sails up and flogging than to risk the crew to try and get them down. They may have run the risk too long (they were in a race and sound judgement does not always happen when racing) and got caught with the sails up, and than tried to ride it out with out risking injury to anybody. Let the thing shred to pieces if need be. It's a sail, not a life.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by padean View Post
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...

...

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.
The untrimmed sails may be unattractive, but they really drive home how terrible the winds must have been. Again, I'm not tearing them down for what they did, or for not having nicely trimmed sails. I'm just curious about the situation, and whether anything could have been done differently. Several of the posts here indicate that (a) there's not enough info to tell exactly what they (eventually) did, and (b) there's probably not much more they could have done anyway.

It sounds like the microburst is the real culprit, and when it's made worse by being at night, just holding on may be about all you can do, at least in the short-term.

That said, were you in that situation, it sounds like you would have hung on until you saw an opportunity, and then struck the jib, and/or reefed the main. I guess that's your only option, really - it just seems precarious at best trying to do that in those conditions. Having never been there, I find the video amazing - I wish there was more of it, so I could get a better feel for it.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sailortjk1 View Post
It looks simply from an observation that it may have been more prudent to leave the sails up and flogging than to risk the crew to try and get them down. They may have run the risk too long (they were in a race and sound judgement does not always happen when racing) and got caught with the sails up, and than tried to ride it out with out risking injury to anybody. Let the thing shred to pieces if need be. It's a sail, not a life.
I guess this is where the experience (both sailing, and with local weather) comes in - when I first saw the video, I was under the impression that the squall was one big storm that effected the whole area, and that would presumably last in those same conditions for quite a while. They probably were aware that this was a quick burst that couldn't last too long, at which point just holding on and waiting it out makes a lot more sense than risking someone's life to adjust the sails.
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