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Our Big Adventure

I was helming a 30 1967 Erickson 30 as we sailed back to Michigan after a cross Lake Michigan race and I saw a beautiful rain squall headed for us. It was overcast with six foot waves as opposed to the four predicted and winds at five knots. We were within sight of three sail and one large power boat. Our skipper Kurt was below nursing a case of sea sickness.

I was on deck with a first time sailor. We experienced a short lull then a gentle momentary rain. Lin Pardee had written about this being a precursor to a viscous squall and I asked our newbie to get Kurt up quick. Pardee proved to be right and with the white cotton front racing towards us it was pick our heading and hope that we would not take the wind too much on the beam or on the bow and go into irons. It struck and I went swinging on my tether to smash into cabin. The air filled with water whipped off the surface and I couldnít breath or speak facing forward. The wind in the rigging shrieked with a top and bottom harmonic the latter heard in the hull. Within ten minutes the waves were by triangulation at twenty feet which was how far Kurt rose and fell as he gathered in our hanked on genoa. NOAA told us afterwards these were winds in excess of 100 mph. Sailing is inherently dangerous and I always said to myself that it wouldn't be so bad to die doing something I loved. Thinking of this, I decided maybe not this time.

We had a respite of fifteen foot pyramidal seas until as the ceiling increased we saw the darkest cloud Iíve ever seen. The wind went to 46 knots and with nothing but wave against which to push the surface of the water was completely smooth. From the crests we saw train after train of rollers on 2 minute centers. Size, we could say only "bigger", but guess twenty-five perhaps more. These wave characteristics is not characteristic of the Great Lakes where steep, short period waves and tumultuous shifting winds are more or less the norm when things get frisky. The GPS recorded our highest speed falling off the wave backs as 19 knots which considering that our boat hull speed max was 6 was pretty fast. Other than the tension of making sure that we didn't pitchpole dropping off the crests, it was eerily beautiful.

Of the other boats two boats reported taking blue water over their bows. We got none. We had heard a Mayday during the first blow and figgured it had to be the cat which had passed us earlier. Cats don't fare well on the Great Lakes in our short steep waves. Instead, it was a Bentenau 42, rudder hanging by the gudgeon, deck nearly flush with the water as it cleared the Muskegon channel mouth. Good old boat that Erikson. I wish we would have had a Go Pro, but really we were too busy to think of it anyway.

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