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Freedom isn't free
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Our little puddle at Smith Mountain Lake is well known for its "lack of wind" more than anything else.

I sail a C&C 32 and frankly it was designed for the heavier airs of the Great Lakes, so the light air around here can sometimes be quite frustrating (although the C&C will go in light air). Just the same I missed Saturday sailing (Halloween) and it was really nice 13-15 knots wind, and desperately wanted to get out on the water on 11/1. I typically catch the forecast last thing at night from the local station but when predicting my sailing windows, I usually use NOAA and their point forecast for Smith Mountain Lake. NOAA has a nice hour by hour precip, wind etc, and is typically quite good.

The local weatherman was pretty convinced that we'd go from rainy morning to beautiful sunshine and from nearly no wind to gusts over 50mph over a period of about 12 hours starting at 8am. NOAA showed hourly forecasts with winds starting at 5mph and drizzle, changing to 13mph getting sunny, with max gusts to 20mph, if the ladder forecast was accurate, it'd be a great sailing day.

I'm pretty big on knowing wind speeds by watching the water, but I also watch other boats, yeah bad habit if you are on open water, but for lake sailing it works. I usually combine that data to predict my trim but also to keep an eye out for puffs and such (mostly trim).

While I went out sailing was pretty nice, winds were probably 8-10 knots, sun was just coming out and temp rose to 65 degrees, nice T-shirt sailing for November (see attached).
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So I came down through the main confluence of the Lake and took a turn up towards Pelican point. This river feeder runs mostly east/west. I came around an "Christmas Tree island" as winds were southwest as it stood, and things started to get quite light (granted I was in the shadow of the island).

I saw what I thought was a fellow C&C owner a 29, in the distance. He always sails it quite well, and I enjoy keeping pace with him... As it turn out it wasn't, but I headed towards him anyway under that impression.
I was doing maybe 3 knots with full 155 and mainsail at the time.

In the distance I could see the little navy blue boat chugging along nice is slightly more wind than me, probably 10 knots of wind, heeled at maybe 15 degrees.

I looked down at a soda I was drinking and to port for probably 10-15 seconds, then back up the lake and I see his boat all the way over probably spilling water in cockpit, and he's turned DOWN in the wind (which is odd in itself), and has released his sails.. His genoa is flapping like a flag, and his mainsail is all the way eased against the spreaders, hes gone from a course due west and probably a close reach, to nearly north towards land, and on a broad reach. He's not having a problem (yet) but it doesn't look comfortable. I reach up and furl my headsail some... still only got about 8-10 knots of wind. I can see the puff coming at me now, and slight whitecaps following it.

I see him take another hard puff and this time he rounds up, and immediately back down again (the process was so wild I am not sure if he rounded up, and gybed, or just had lost control). Now I resolve to fire up the motor, and furl the headsail all the way... now I'm heeling at about 15 degrees, my genoa tail flapping and I can see his first puff is nearly on me... I get my headsail in JUST in time (a tiny flag of clew still sticking out)... and get hammered over to about 35 degrees. I drop the traveler and fire the engine up.

By the time I get in gear, throttle up, I'm well into his second puff, I'm hard still, but steering (love a deep rudder and fin keel). I resolve now to motor up to him and turn into the cove now behind the wind which has turned soundly to the West now. Clouds have come in... I'm dropping mainsail.

I get up there to see this:
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Picture shows I have a bit of heel going, but not crazy, but I'm spilling a lot of wind, and its basically a reach for me mainsail only... winds here are maybe 25 knots. I duck directly in that cove you see ahead, and douse main.

Now I am not telling this story to shame the skipper. Quite the contrary I am astonished JUST how fast we went from lovely sail to snotty on our little lake (without a thunderstorm). I won't pick the boat make and model out, intentionally, but will say its a 24-26 foot boat with probably a 9.9 outboard (plenty for the lake). Again I tell this story more to alert people that lake sailing has its "interesting sails" as well.

When I turned around to motor past the skipper, winds were coming up pretty good now. I yelled over if he was OK... I asked if I should reach out to Sea Tow (which does a great job on our lake). I draw probably 2 more feet than he does so pulling him off wasn't something I'd be able to do. He was more than just hard aground he was now stuck at 20 degrees plus with keel in mud, probably 2-3 feet of water. He commented that he wanted to wait until the winds died down (keep in mind forecast was for winds to build throughout the day, and sustain for another 24 hours). He was very matter of fact about it and very calm. Meanwhile I see there are 4 people aboard, and 2 have lifejackets on, and he and another were getting theirs on. I'm getting chilly now. I throw on the wheel pilot, and grab both my coat and my harness/inflatable vest.

I attempted to hail Sea tow (despite his saying he'd wait), but I have a rail mounted antenna and I know base for them is roughly 10 miles as the crow flies. I figured I'd do a basic notification of issue about it. No response (figured I'd regret not running that antenna aloft).

I was having issues with my mainsail flapping a bit as I haphazardly secured it, so I motored across the narrow channel to a clearer spot to broadcast with VHF if and also less wind (shadow) to secure sail.

I secured sail and motored quickly back to see how he was doing... took this quick picture as I came back around... and winds were up significantly...
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Doesn't look like much but I figure winds were well over 30 at this point. Those waves I know look tiny, but probably pushing 2-3 feet at times, but just choppy. That's important when you see this next picture...
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You'll note he's kicked up quite a mud storm (good not rocks)... boat has also bounced to leeward. Part of me wondered why he didn't raise a little sail and sit lowside to induce heel in an attempt to bounce off.

I made a few buzzes back and forth and he yelled over that he had called Sea Tow. I wasn't sure if he said called or was asking me to call, so I attempted to hail them again, this time more successfully. They were none to pleased with the report as apparently he was telling me he had CALLED not asking me to call (ie: hail). They had said that it may be 20 minutes before they arrive - at that point I resolved to stick around until they do.

Wasn't but a few moments later winds piped up yet again, this time over 40 (sorry no pictures), and bringing with it some real steep chop... Watched the boat bounce twice and then pop right off. He fired up his outboard, and rocketed off into the cove (assuming where he lives/berths).

Lots of things I can say about this trip. One is I'm glad I was expecting some kind of crazy winds. Another is, is it typical for forecasts locally to be so dramatically different? Do you favor the local forecasters over NOAA for something Like this? If I happened to get aground in the way this person did, I would hope to remain as calm, but I think I would have attempted to use heeling to get off. There was plenty of wind to take advantage of to coax a way out of it, hopefully without pounding that likely happened from the 1-3 foot waves. Wonder what others would think.

For myself... was there more I could do to assist? Was I a nuisance for hanging around until additional help arrived? I sail solo so my efficiency in helping I am sure would have been minimal even if I could have reached with a tow line, but I'm sure I'd have tried if he weren't more than 50feet from safe depth of water for me, I could barely get close enough to yell over.

If you were the skipper aground like that, what would be your post accident inspections of the boat... It was mud keep in mind. I know the obvious thing is to avoid it happening in the first place, and I try to be attentive, but given it went from 15 knots to 30 knots in probably under a minute, I can see how things degraded quite quickly. If you let you guard down it would be easy to do (I could see it happen to me during a run to the head).
 

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Farr 11.6 (Farr 38)
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This might sound like a total contradiction, but in those types of situations, there is no one right thing to do, and everything you did sounds about right. Those sudden changes in wind can happen anywhere and can happen without a lot of warning. I think that you experienced what NOAA referred to as a fast moving strong high pressure system. I heard that it was coming through late in the day down here, and I knew it was getting close when the leaden sky sudden went clear blue on the horizon to the West.

What was a little unusual was that this was a high pressure front. That is the opposite of the more common derecho, which is a strong low pressure front.

Jeff
 

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Discussion Starter #3
I was shocked of the differential in forecasts, NOAA is usually spot on. The local weather guy was spot on, but what he failed to mention is how drastically it would degrade. I figured going from 10 knots to 40 knots would be gradual, but it was quite instant.
 

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I don’t have them handy, but there are published standards for what various authorities forecast. For example, some of the models won’t include something unless the odds are calculated greater than 30%. That means we could be quite used to them being accurate, until they aren’t.
 

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Great story and pictures. I've been to Smith Mountain Lake, although I've never sailed there, I've sailed plenty of lakes and it's never dull. Lake winds are unpredictable and keep you on your toes.

With respect to weather forecasts, I have a premium subscription to PredictWind. It's nice because it gives you four forecasts so you get a sense of the uncertainty of any particular forecast.

But when a fast-moving front is on the way - that's hard to predict timing and weather conditions can change fast.
 

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I had a similar experience a couple years ago on Tampa Bay. Typical summer afternoon squall only on steroids and they type of radiation that created the Incredible Hulk. I saw the storm tracking East off Pinellas county as the usually do. It looked big so I checked the NOAA radar app to see if I should be concerned. Nope, it's moving due East and centered at least 10 miles North of me. Conditions were beautiful. A few minutes later I noticed the whitecaps building maybe a mile off and thought Sh*t! I gotta get the sails down. Moved quickly to the mast, released the halyards, went forward, dragged the jib down and tied it to the lifelines, by the time I got back to tame the main, the wind hit and everything was everywhere. As I'm tying down the main, I see the main halyard standing strait out to leeward, almost like a cartoon drawing. The Jib halyard was hopelessly tangled in the rigging. I fired up the engine and ran for home which was mostly downwind. It blew like that for the 45 minutes it took me to get through the channel and into the mangroves. The half mile channel transit was a tad sketchy with that wind square on the beam. Finally tied up, my buddy Mike comes over with a beer for me, he'd been quite a bit closer to home but wasn't spared the experience. He asked if I saw his text. Nope, I check my phone. It says "Phil, don't come in, it's blowing 50 mph across the channel!" Good times.
 

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Aloha 32 & Hunter 26.5
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I've seen it go from beautiful to 60+ knots with 180 degree wind shifts in white out conditions in less than 2 minutes. That happened to me just south of Palm Beach Inlet, in a boat that was still fairly new to me. It had a capsize screening formula result of 2.2, which is uncomfortably high for me, in the open ocean. I remember standing on the starboard rail as the port spreader hit the water & thinking to myself - 2.2 ....Here's where I find out if she comes back up or not. Fortunately, I had good crew that day.

Weather can change quickly. Even with multiple forecasts from trusted sources, you need to keep your eyes open.

NOAA would not be my favorite single source of information, if I had to have just once source. Around here, we say - if you listen to NOAA, you will probably not goaa. Their track record in my area is spotty at best.

Before heading to the boat, I check NOAA, Data Beacons, weather radar, Surfer reports, Windy, & the inlet web cam. When I get to the boat, I make my own assessment.
 

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Another vote for lake sailing not being boring :)

The lake I keep my beach cat on a ~ 30 mile lake. Lake Deschennes blows hard all autumn. There is a granite escarpment along the north shore that the winds bounce off so we get some big gusts and shifts. Several areas in the lake has enough current to create permanent standing waves. There is a significant rapids at the end of the lake too, one yacht clubs entrance is only a couple hundred meters from the brink of the rapids, sailboats do get washed down the rapids from time to time.

There isn't really a marine forecast in the area. For forecsting I use both windy.com and windfinder. There is usually some variation, windy's forecsts I find to be pretty good even on inland lakes. No forecast is going to warn us about a gust bouncing off a cliff, but the forecasts are pretty good. The other trick I use is one of the yacht clubs has web cams open to the public so I can look at current conditions before driving down.

This pic was during one those gusts, sky turned white with spray when the gust hit. I am 200 pounds on a good day and I am right out on the wire and my brother about the same size was hiked out and the hull still wanted to fly on a broad reach, almost a run. Good times.

Prindle1.png


Here is the entrance to one of the yacht clubs with the rapids.

lake deschennes.png
 

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The lake can also get Tornados on it too. Last summer a tornado took out much of a town, ripped across the lake and started leveling buildings on the other side of the lake 😮
 

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Seems from what I have read...sailing the great lakes can easily be a rough as the ocean... and have wrecked a lot of ships.
 

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Seems from what I have read...sailing the great lakes can easily be a rough as the ocean... and have wrecked a lot of ships.
What was in the weather forecast? It's just that the weather forecasts are so unreliable lately. They write one thing, in fact, it turns out quite another. And this discrepancy can really cause a tragedy.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
I think I stated... I had NOAA stating winds 13mph, and gusts to 21. Local forecaster was stating winds 20-25, gusts to 50. Local forecaster was pretty close... what he neglected to state is we'd go from one to the other in a matter of minutes, quite the crazy frontal passage.
 

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Three this summer times I showed up for a day sail to find wind in the 30s. I had looked at my phones weather app and said looks good, lets go check it out.

I had read at another source that NOAA gets updates from airplanes and when as many planes are flying precovid they know every micro eddy of winds and fronts in the sky but now they are missing a large pile of info they normally have to make more accurate forecasts. Maybe the NOAA centers have less staff as well.

One day I had multiple campsites on the lake and was going to bounce around the lake sailing to the different spots. On day two as we were prepping to push up the wind started picking up. I couldn't get the boat off the shore and it was getting bounced onto the rock on the shore as the winds picked up to 35+. I had to make a trucker hitch off a pile of rocks to pull the boat all the way out of the water to keep it from getting beat up.

Anyway, lake sailing can be 'fun'.
 

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Seems from what I have read...sailing the great lakes can easily be a rough as the ocean... and have wrecked a lot of ships.
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Lake Erie is where I learned to sail. Due to its shallow depth and long fetch, waves were steep and close together. I was young, invulnerable and adventurous in those days. I can’t prove this but the most chalenging, wet and cold sail I had was in the storm system that sank the Edmond Fitzgerald. Ontario is a more friendly lake. I never experienced the others but there is a special place in my heart for the freshwater Great Lakes.
 
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