Join Date: Jun 2010
Location: Miami, Florida
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Interesting story. I had a similar experience, but on purpose. I wanted to know how seaworthy my Havsfidra (20' long-keeled) boat was before sailing around Scandinavia, so on a day in which I expected a thunderstorm in the Baltic Sea I readied the life raft, got me and my deck hand in survival suits, and we sailed out to wait. And wait. And wait. There was no wind, we actually anchored outside a beach and swam ashore to buy ice cream. Around 4 PM a breeze came, we sailed a bit with full main and genoa (the hard-wind one), thinking there would be no storm that day. We were on an open wind. And then, from behind, like being hit by an express train, hurricane force winds came and hit the mast to the water. There were no waves, the wind blew the water surface to a mix so we couldn't see where the atmosphere ended and the sea started. The roar was so loud we had to scream from the top of our lungs to communicate even though we were next to each other. We had not closed the companionway, but although the lee side of the boat was in the water (she was broaching with about 80 degree heel), no water entered the cabin. Good to know. The deck hand climbed to the forestay, literally hanging in the starboard lifeline as he moved. He undid the fall to the genoa but then had to pull it down against the wind. Once it was down the boat raised up a bit, I could steer again, so I let go of the mainsheet and steered to lee. The main was twisted over 90 degrees. The bottom third took the wind in backwards, the top third was twisted so it did not pull, but the middle third pulled, and boy did it pull. The log's scale ends at 10 knots, but the boat was going above 10 knots. On a long-keeled boat with about 18' waterline! The main did not get destroyed since it was sown in overly thick canvas and had full length battens (I had it made for extreme sailing).
However, the APPROPRIATE thing to do in a boat such as the Catalina 22 (or my present boat, an Ensenada 20) with much less stability, and much less strong rig, is to take in one or two reefs in the main when the Cumulonimbus appeared. Thunderstorm clouds are DANGEROUS. There are freak winds with hurricane force in front of them (downdrafts). Those can bring down jumbo-jets, you know. The genoa is rather quick to get down, but it is harder to reef the main once the storm gust has arrived. And you do need something to sail with, unless you have open sea in your lee.
Another thing, an anchor is a symbol of hope for a good reason. If you have land in your lee, and can't sail, you can only hope that your anchor can hold you from a stranding. An outboard engine is useless in waves. You need an anchor as an "emergency brake".
I think you learned the right lessons. Don't play with thunderstorm clouds. Practice reefing in good weather until you can do it WITH ONE HAND. In a storm you need the other to hold on for dear life with. If you can't do it with one hand, change reefing system (I changed from rolling to binding, the simpler the better).
I also put a reef in my genoa, and rigged the sheet so that I could just undo a "smuggler's knot" to reef. Much quicker than to change sail, and when you are alone, who is going to steer while you are on the foredeck?
Finally, remember that it is much more important to stay onboard than to float. A harness is better than a life jacket while you are sailing. But use it!
Last edited by ulferlingsson; 06-13-2010 at 12:23 PM.