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Go Back   SailNet Community > General Interest > General Discussion (sailing related) > Sailing 3 miles off shore and Thunderstorm moves in from the east. What do you do?
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Thread: Sailing 3 miles off shore and Thunderstorm moves in from the east. What do you do? Reply to Thread
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Topic Review (Newest First)
06-19-2013 09:01 AM
kwaltersmi
Re: Sailing 3 miles off shore and Thunderstorm moves in from the east. What do you do

Lot of good advice in this thread. I think the best advice is to act early. Reduce sail, have safety gear ready (harness, tether, PFD, etc.), make sure the hatches/ports/washboards are secured, talk w/ the rest of the crew and herd, get the engine running or ready to run at a moment's notice.

We'll typically head offshore with the engine and a sliver of headsail to ride it out away from hazards and other boats. If the weather is predicted to stay gnarly for an extended period (several hours to a full day) we'll consider other plans.
06-19-2013 02:37 AM
PeterH61
Re: Sailing 3 miles off shore and Thunderstorm moves in from the east. What do you do

Consider buying a pilothouse sloop... works for me!
06-19-2013 01:31 AM
chef2sail
Re: Sailing 3 miles off shore and Thunderstorm moves in from the east. What do you do

I call the Coast Guard in a panic and the live to read about it on SN

Having been struck by lightning on a mooring, I realize there is no real way to prevent a strike.

The swirling winds and microbursts the only concern you can deal with.
I would say its best if possible to anchor and go below. If that's not possible others have stated viable options. I would put gloves on if you have a metal wheel. I pull down the sails , put the hatch boards in, and try and motor away from the lee shore, sometimes in circles if reduced visibility.
06-18-2013 08:42 PM
PalmettoSailor
Re: Sailing 3 miles off shore and Thunderstorm moves in from the east. What do you do

Quote:
Originally Posted by smurphny View Post
That's a good question and one that always enters my mind when holding onto a metallic wheel in the middle of a ts. I guess the answer is, at that point you just have to take the chance. There's really no other choice if you need to maintain control and in a direct hit it may not matter where you are. It's all up to Zeus at that point.
That's pretty much it here on the Chessy. If you were never on the water when thunderstorms were a real possibility, you'd never be on the water, so when you inevitably find yourself facing one, its "pay yer' money, and takes yer' chances.

Underway, I've pretty much done as others have advised, getting the sails down and not trying to run a narrow channel to "safety". Lighting is one of the few things that truly instills fear in me as a Chesapeake sailor. We don't have to worry about hitting reefs or rocks and we can duck gales in any of thousands of creeks and bays. Lighting is the one thing that we regularly face that could kill you, or worse, a crew member, but taking precautions and getting as much crew as possible below decks is about all you can do.

At anchor we'd probably let out some more scope if we could, but otherwise we'd form a plan for a quick exit, possibly leaving the anchor tied to a fender if required to escape someone dragging down on us. I've previously posted about my practice of writing down a panic azimuth a soon as I get anchored so I know a compass heading to steer initially if I have to bug out in a hurry in low vis. You may have to rely totally on the GPS in such conditions, but I usually shut down the helm GPS so it would be a few seconds before it provided anything. Having an initial compass heading gives you a safe heading while the GPS finds itself.
06-18-2013 07:01 PM
Frogwatch
Re: Sailing 3 miles off shore and Thunderstorm moves in from the east. What do you do

I've found most advice on this topic on the internet or in books to be worthless because it seems to be for squall lines and not the normal type of Fl t-storms that can range from nothing worth noting to vicious. On a normal day with a large amount of cumulous clouds, even seeing the classical thunderhead shape is difficult as they are imbedded in haze. Around the Fl peninsula, the T-storms in summer are s'posed top be produced by the seabreeze pushing in moist air that gets warmed and rises over land. This is supposed to pump the moist air upward pulling in even more air and pushes the storms inland. If this is true, then it is not a major issue for sailors as the storm will mostly be over land. Yet, the storms somehow do move over water.
Here in N. Fl, we do get an early summer seabreeze that produces storms about 10 miles inland but it dies by mid to late June allowing the storms to move outward over water for the rest of the summer. I have watched storms form over the land here and then move south over water. They often form a bit to the west and move to the east.
Of course, due to thunder, you know they are around but it is very hard to tell what direction they are moving which is what NOAA is good for.
Even if I cannot see them, I often feel that first blast of cool air meaning it is about to hit. Best have sails down by then.
The difficulty is knowing which direction the wind will be. It changes a lot and I interpret this as being due to the sort of microburst-like wind from such storms coming down and spreading out and I think this is what causes that initial burst of cool air.
Phenomena I have noticed is lightning, intense rain a slackening followed by more intense rain, a huge close cloud to cloud lightnin/thunder nearly simultaneously followed by less thunder then much less and then the rain seems to die quickly. It is almost like that last whallop of thunder stuns the rain. Average time does seem to b e about 45 minutes.
Waterspouts form from T-storms but rarely seem to be a danger to heavy boats but if I saw one, I would be certain to have sails and everything else secured (including the bimini). I never see them in the storm but on the periphery of them.
06-18-2013 06:30 PM
Barquito
Re: Sailing 3 miles off shore and Thunderstorm moves in from the east. What do you do

Regarding getting experience in thunderstorms: I don't have any. My plan is to try to avoid thunderstorms, BUT, sail enough that at some point I will run into a few.
06-18-2013 02:58 PM
Frogwatch
Re: Sailing 3 miles off shore and Thunderstorm moves in from the east. What do you do

If you have wheel steering, you will just have to chance it to keep her pointed into the wind but keep your feet together in case of a strike. Tiller steering, no problem. In a thunderstorm, I stay in the cockpit even at anchor as I want to be ready to respond.
It is the radical and unpredictable wind changes that are a problem for sailing in a T-storm. One second you are on a beam reach and next second you are aback. Just drop the sails.
Yes, in FL if you listen to NOAA, you will never go sailing so you gotta judge stuff. Normally, here it is 30-40% chance of T-storms in mid-summer and generally after about 2:00 pm.
Even with my tiny 6.5 hp Yanmar diesel on my 8000 lb 28' S2 I was able to keep the bow pointed into storms but I was never out in the worst. Because I hate such storms I changed to a 13 hp Yanmar and an oversized prop just for more thrust.
06-18-2013 02:51 PM
jameswilson29
Re: Sailing 3 miles off shore and Thunderstorm moves in from the east. What do you do

Quote:
Originally Posted by Advocate777 View Post
Scenario: you are heading north or south parallel to the coast on the east coast of the USA. Say, off S Florida.
You are still 3 hours between the nearest port like between Port Everglades and Miami/Government Cut. The day started out clear but now thunderstorms from the east are moving west. What do you do to keep your cow and boat safe? What is your 'step by step' procedure? You do not know what kinds of winds are in the storm or how long it will take to pass over you. You are in shallow coastal water, say 20-30 feet. You are not in the Gulf Stream, you are between the Stream and the Coast about 3-4 miles from shore. What is the correct procedure? Have any of you sailed through one of these Florida thunderstorms?
Rarely am I caught by surprise by the weather. Usually, I listen to the weather station channel regularly so I know what to expect. With the weather, I want to err on the side of caution. If I were caught unaware, I would take the following steps as soon as I saw the approaching thunderstorms:

1. Head boat into wind and drop main.
2. Douse jib and bungee to side of foredeck or stow belowdecks.
3. Turn on weather radio or VHF radio weather station for forecast or warning.
4. Put on foul weather gear.
5. Secure front hatch and move companionway boards to below ladder.
6. Start engine.
7. Confirm position and locate any nearby potential hazards.

Failure to douse sails timely is the reason some boats end up with shredded sails. Dropping them early is so much easier than too late, especially if you sail solo. Dousing sails while you are caught in a storm, pumped up with adrenalin, wet decks, no foul weather gear on, and the boat heeled over at extreme angles is a recipe for disaster. You can always raise sail, if desirable.

If I already know what the front will be bringing, I will skip ##1 and 2 above and sail ready for the front passage or squall line, so all I have to do is drop the sails, if necessary, like this:


or this:


My sail selection will be on the conservative side if I know what to expect. I have been caught in enough squall lines, frontal passages and thunderstorms to know I don't want to be unprepared.
06-18-2013 02:21 PM
zeehag
Re: Sailing 3 miles off shore and Thunderstorm moves in from the east. What do you do

just dump your main and sail under jib., no engine involved. just sail out of it. it wont take long. packs plenty of wind.
06-18-2013 02:14 PM
smurphny
Re: Sailing 3 miles off shore and Thunderstorm moves in from the east. What do you do

Quote:
Originally Posted by Advocate777 View Post
Thanks or all the gret input.

Last question: how am I supposed to control the boat if there is florida lightning and I need to get out of the cockpit? If not anchored how am I to motor into the wind or with the wind or motor just to stay in place if there is lightning hitting the water?
That's a good question and one that always enters my mind when holding onto a metallic wheel in the middle of a ts. I guess the answer is, at that point you just have to take the chance. There's really no other choice if you need to maintain control and in a direct hit it may not matter where you are. It's all up to Zeus at that point.
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