I just returned from Sailing in Phang Nga Bay and during my journey encountered a Category 1 Tropical Cyclone.
Others have made the point that what you experienced was not a cyclone. You have focused on wind speed without consideration for whether the weather itself qualified as a cyclone. See
. That isn't to say the weather wasn't sporty. *grin*
For usual conditions meteorologists often use the Beaufort scale: Beaufort Wind Scale
. F8 is nothing to take lightly.
Sunsail staff initially claimed I merely encountered a squall
I would agree with them.
Winds picked up, and although we were on a close haul before and on a comfortable tack, by now the jib was flailing on both sides of the mast.
I suspect that a cold front passed you bringing a wind shift with the squall. In the stress of the moment the shift didn't register with you. The course change you ultimately made that stabilized the jib was the appropriate response to the wind shift.
Our previous charter with Sunsail was taking the same vessel from St. Vincent to Grenada, nearly 100 nm, where we encountered many squalls and enjoyed what Sunsail describes as “Level 3 sailing.” This storm was different.
Like many words, the word 'squall' applies to a range of conditions. The afternoon squalls common to tropical and sub-tropical areas do indeed "come on you fast and leave you fast" (Captain Ron). That doesn't mean something that lasts a bit longer isn't still a squall.
I ordered kids to put on lifejackets at this point and relied on my first mate to provide me assistance.
I decided the land the best option – the open sea could introduce other unknowns.
A very common reaction. Generally the best thing you can do in a real weather event is getting away from anything hard (land) that could put a hole in the boat. Trying to maneuver in close quarters (marinas, even mooring fields and anchorages) is difficult and stressing and often leads to injury to people and damage to boats. "When in doubt go out."
The entire vessel pitched to the port side at one point and was nearly turtled (at a 45 degree angle with the entire starboard side in the air), but I was able to create slack in the jib in time to prevent the jib and wind from conspiring against me, and turtling the boat.
Technically speaking that direction of rotation is roll, not pitch. I fully appreciate the adrenalin that must have been coursing through your veins. It is unlikely you reached 45 degrees in a catamaran without going over completely. Even 15 or 20 degrees feels like a LOT in those conditions.
By this time my wife and daughter were screaming and severely traumatized
This is a subject that has been discussed at great length here and elsewhere in the aftermath of great loss. Google for the loss of Rule 42 in the Bahamas. As near as can be reconstructed one if not two crew had overwhelming emotional reactions to sustained (days) severe weather that is speculated to have led to a demand to "get me off this boat - NOW!" When the person having a meltdown is a loved one it is difficult to explain that the best and safest course of action is to head out to sea.
It turns out that the jib, which should have been furled under these situations, probably saved us from losing total control of the boat.
Another normal and natural reaction to deteriorating weather is to take down the sails and motor. It makes you feel like you are doing something and gives some semblance of a feeling of control. In fact it is often easier to control the boat and motion is reduced by sailing. Often, not always. Many options are available: running, close reaching, heaving to, fore-reaching, and on catamarans "parking." In your case you were limited by your issues with the jib and main. I wasn't there and won't speculate. On a strange boat (lots of deliveries) I go over all the running rigging and recoil all the tails. Everything on the boat gets coiled the same way and I *NEVER* leave a tail uncoiled unless it is in my hand, regardless of what else is going on. Aside from the obvious benefits in reducing tangles and lines over the side, there is a calming effect for me and reassurance to the crew (if Dave is up there coiling the third reef line things can't be too bad *grin*).
I could not keep us on the proper tack to reach the beach and to guarantee the safety of the kids and the boat
The wind may have saved you some very unfortunate results. Again, read the posts on Rule 42.
Squalls are defined as short bursts of wind and rain, often followed by sunny skies and even rainbows. We could get more technical by comparing the wind we experienced to typical winds in the region to get to a more precise qualification of this storm as either a squall or something else. To debate this is of little consequence since we were able to safeguard both passengers and the vessel until Sunsail staff were able to arrive to render assistance. However, any eyewitness to this storm will confirm there were no clear skies, no rainbows, but consistent rain for most of the afternoon even after the storm had passed. And I doubt anyone would consider a 2 hour storm as a burst of “short duration.”
For starters, I certainly WOULD consider a 2 hour bit of weather of short duration. That Sunsail staff headed out to the boat to help is an indication that the weather event was not so bad as to preclude them coming to your aid.
What you describe as your earlier experience with squalls is consistent with tropical weather patterns. This event was likely a frontal passage that brought severe weather at the front and dragged rain behind it.
I congratulate you on being so open-minded as to share your story and risk criticism.
I do think you were quite fortunate. People get hurt or die when a series of things goes wrong - rarely because of only one failure. You lost control of the jib furler, the main hoist, tore the main, lost an engine, and had minimal use of the other engine. Events could have turned out much differently.
Best wishes to you.