That wasn’t the case though, because the ridge was quickly being dragged east and out to sea by upper level winds of 70-plus knots. By Saturday afternoon cirrus clouds had veiled the upper sky and by evening low-level clouds were moving in to obscure anything above them. The surface winds had also shifted from the north and began strengthening out of the south.
By Saturday night rain began to fall as a gale-force system moved over the east coast replacing the ridge that was by then far out into the Atlantic. At this point I began to realize that my desired ideal conditions for viewing the start of the VOR were not going to materialize. It wasn’t just the rain; this low-pressure system had timed its arrival over the Chesapeake Bay in such a way that it meant the possibility of extreme weather.
Several key ingredients set up the extreme weather the spectators and the VOR crews experienced the following day. First, this low moved over the Chesapeake Bay during the afternoon, the hottest time of day, when convective (upward) motion in the lower levels of the atmosphere are the strongest. Next, this low was being supported by a very vigorous upper level flow, rapidly exhausting rising air within the low, thus allowing surface air to quickly flow inward at the surface. And finally, cold, dry air flowing down the eastern side of the Appalachian Mountains was displacing the warm surface air over the Bay.
Even though I would not have predicted how extreme the weather became, in retrospect it doesn’t seem surprising. That Sunday afternoon, severe tornadoes formed over the land between the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay—tornadoes so severe that subsequent damage indicated winds had exceeded 200 mph! Though the Chesapeake Bay and the Volvo fleet and its numerous spectator craft were not directly affected, it sure made me value being on land and not on the water in a little runabout. From the safety of home, my mind conjured visions of Dorothy and Toto in the Wizard of Oz flying through the air, except that it was my family and me floating through the air in a Boston Whaler.
So we did not get out to witness the re-start of the VOR. Instead I made sure the boat plug was out of the Whaler as it sat on its trailer so it would not fill with the buckets of rain that continued to fall the entire afternoon.
If you find yourself in such a region and have access to the Internet, it is well worth viewing Doppler radar images. These can be accessed real time via the regional National Weather Service Internet website. Obviously when you’re underway aboard your boat, this option isn’t so feasible, but there are many times when you might find yourself moored at a marina or within cell phone coverage and can take advantage of this information.
I’m sure that after the start of that leg, the Volvo racers were pleased to get free of the confining Chesapeake Bay and charge across the Atlantic. Thinking about this leg of the Volvo brings back memories from four years ago when I was a member of the crew on a Whitbread 60 being delivered to the UK for the start of last race. We crossed the Atlantic in 13 days, averaging 18 to 20 knots over more than 3,000 miles, and on our best day’s run we covered over 350 miles. It was a wild, wet ride!
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