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Old 21-08-2016, 07:32   #1
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Survived Lake Ontario Storm

I want to say thank you to all who contribute to these forums with their experiences in storms. It was your willingness to share your experiences that prepared me for the worst storm I have ever encountered in a small vessel. I had hoped never to be able to share what I did to survive. Since it happened I guess it is my turn. On 20 August 2016 we checked multiple weather services for marine forecasts both from Canada and the U.S. Thunderstorms were forecast for the morning of 21 August with the general weather looking quite pleasant 10-15 knots southerly through the afternoon and evening. The trip from Cobourg, Ontario to Point Breeze, New York should be a pleasant sail. At midlake the sky to the south began to blacken with extreme vertical development of clouds. As it seemed to be moving closer I lowered all sails and lashed them extra securely. I started the engine and put the iron wind in gear. I ordered everyone into life jackets and prepare for some discomfort. Making 4 knots with all hatches and port lights secured the temperature dropped and the wind began to build. Heading the boat into the wind and increasing the throttle the wind continued to build. Spray and rain were stinging my face and the waves built to the point of green water and spray were coming over the bow. All I could do was hold the boat into the wind and waves maintaining steerage and peeking at the waves. I had my son call out heading and speed to keep from pounding. The wind built to over 45 knots and was shrieking through the rigging. The boat rode well and the wind and waves were sufficient to halt almost all progress. 1.5 knots was the forward progress against the tempest. Knowing that this would pass was little comfort during the 15 minutes or so of the storm's full fury. As the wind abated I realized the worst was over and we would survive. The only remaining challenge was now quarter the waves off the bow to resume progress toward home. Lessons learned. When in doubt prepare for the worst. Forget destination or timelines and remain focused on the task at hand. For comfort remember if it comes on fast it will pass fast. Again thanks to all for sharing their experiences. It makes a difference.
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Old 21-08-2016, 07:45   #2
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Re: Survived Lake Ontario Storm

Glad to hear it worked out OK. I think I'm suffering through the same system that go you. We're up in the Thousand Islands. We dropped off friends and were going to leave the dock today, but we're staying put while this thing blows through.

The Great Lakes are treacherous in these kinds of conditions, with steep large seas that build incredibly fast. That's a small boat to be caught in such big blow. Congrats on doing it well .
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Old 21-08-2016, 08:08   #3
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Re: Survived Lake Ontario Storm

Thanks Mike. I had hoped never to be able to make that post. I would say stay put up there. They are calling for water spouts today and tomorrow along with more severe thunderstorms. I am just glad I can laugh about it now.
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Old 21-08-2016, 08:36   #4
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Re: Survived Lake Ontario Storm

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Originally Posted by 30yearslater View Post
I want to say thank you to all who contribute to these forums with their experiences in storms. It was your willingness to share your experiences that prepared me for the worst storm I have ever encountered in a small vessel. I had hoped never to be able to share what I did to survive. Since it happened I guess it is my turn. On 20 August 2016 we checked multiple weather services for marine forecasts both from Canada and the U.S. Thunderstorms were forecast for the morning of 21 August with the general weather looking quite pleasant 10-15 knots southerly through the afternoon and evening. The trip from Cobourg, Ontario to Point Breeze, New York should be a pleasant sail. At midlake the sky to the south began to blacken with extreme vertical development of clouds. As it seemed to be moving closer I lowered all sails and lashed them extra securely. I started the engine and put the iron wind in gear. I ordered everyone into life jackets and prepare for some discomfort. Making 4 knots with all hatches and port lights secured the temperature dropped and the wind began to build. Heading the boat into the wind and increasing the throttle the wind continued to build. Spray and rain were stinging my face and the waves built to the point of green water and spray were coming over the bow. All I could do was hold the boat into the wind and waves maintaining steerage and peeking at the waves. I had my son call out heading and speed to keep from pounding. The wind built to over 45 knots and was shrieking through the rigging. The boat rode well and the wind and waves were sufficient to halt almost all progress. 1.5 knots was the forward progress against the tempest. Knowing that this would pass was little comfort during the 15 minutes or so of the storm's full fury. As the wind abated I realized the worst was over and we would survive. The only remaining challenge was now quarter the waves off the bow to resume progress toward home. Lessons learned. When in doubt prepare for the worst. Forget destination or timelines and remain focused on the task at hand. For comfort remember if it comes on fast it will pass fast. Again thanks to all for sharing their experiences. It makes a difference.
===

Having weathered a number of severe squalls over the years, I would have done one thing differently. Rather than taking down all sails in advance I'd recommend leaving the mainsail up with a double or triple reef tied in. The reason is that it is not uncommon for the engine to become overwhelmed in those conditions and lose its ability to hold the bow into the wind. Also, if the engine fails you still have some control.
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Old 21-08-2016, 08:43   #5
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Re: Survived Lake Ontario Storm

I've never sailed the great lakes, but since you were in the middle and had lots of room, wouldn't you have been better running with it? Every knot of boat speed would reduce the apparent wind speed by the same amount. Assuming you're getting 6 or 7 knots, the wind would feel like 38 +/- knots, been more fun and less frightening. Of course if the storm was going to last a day or two that's a whole 'nother story. I defer to Mike's many years of great lakes sailing experience and I'm curious as to why you'd use the beating tactic over running, or heaving to.

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Old 21-08-2016, 08:49   #6
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Re: Survived Lake Ontario Storm

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Originally Posted by wayne.b View Post
===

Having weathered a number of severe squalls over the years, I would have done one thing differently. Rather than taking down all sails in advance I'd recommend leaving the mainsail up with a double or triple reef tied in. The reason is that it is not uncommon for the engine to become overwhelmed in those conditions and lose its ability to hold the bow into the wind. Also, if the engine fails you still have some control.
Good point Wayne. The engine stopping or having any problem was a huge concern I had. I wish I had deep reefs in my main. I was hoping to also get some critiques on my technique so thanks. I have a storm jib that I thought about hoisting but opted not and with the wind it could have made matters worse. We were rolled to about 30 degrees a few times under bare pole. I will be getting a sea anchor that I hope never to need but it would have been a real handy item to have. It may have at least been another option. Thoughts?
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Old 21-08-2016, 09:01   #7
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Re: Survived Lake Ontario Storm

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I've never sailed the great lakes, but since you were in the middle and had lots of room, wouldn't you have been better running with it? Every knot of boat speed would reduce the apparent wind speed by the same amount. Assuming you're getting 6 or 7 knots, the wind would feel like 38 +/- knots, been more fun and less frightening. Of course if the storm was going to last a day or two that's a whole 'nother story. I defer to Mike's many years of great lakes sailing experience and I'm curious as to why you'd use the beating tactic over running, or heaving to.

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Good question Goat. In the moment my concern was being pooped as the waves were breaking and had built to very steep in an incredibly short time. I opted to keep the pointy end into it as the Oday 27 yaws something awful in a following sea. That would have ended up with the beam to the waves very easily. As I responded to Wayne we were rolling 30 degrees with only 10 degrees off the wind under bare pole. Perhaps the storm jib and running would have offered a fun Nantucket Sleigh Ride. Thanks for you thoughts.
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Old 21-08-2016, 09:21   #8
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Survived Lake Ontario Storm

Glad you're ok. You probably would have rolled less with a bit of sail up.

It is quick work to put in a reefing tack and clew on your mainsail. If you don't have a local sailmaker you can send it off to be done or even do it yourself with slightly different construction than a pro would use.

Reefed down and without engine we worked out way to windward for 6 hours to gain sea room during a multi day full gale with winds that varied but were mostly in the 40-43 kt range. Our speed was about half of our hull speed and we were impressed with the progress the boat made as we progressed away from a lee shore before turning to broad reach/run and enjoy the ride . Sails are amazing things.


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Old 21-08-2016, 09:23   #9
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Re: Survived Lake Ontario Storm

Quote:
Originally Posted by goat View Post
I've never sailed the great lakes, but since you were in the middle and had lots of room, wouldn't you have been better running with it? Every knot of boat speed would reduce the apparent wind speed by the same amount. Assuming you're getting 6 or 7 knots, the wind would feel like 38 +/- knots, been more fun and less frightening. Of course if the storm was going to last a day or two that's a whole 'nother story. I defer to Mike's many years of great lakes sailing experience and I'm curious as to why you'd use the beating tactic over running, or heaving to.
Yes, sorry. I didn't actually offer any advice, just congrats on getting through in one piece. I view these squalls like docking; any one you walk away from without suffering serious damage is a success .

However... if I were to offer a suggestion, it would be to get off shore and then keep a whee bit of sail up so as to maintain steerage. The exact sail plan depends on your boat as to what is most effective. Nominally, deep-reefed main and jib is probably best, but each boat is different. On my old ketch it was "jib and jigger", no main. On my current boat I'd deep reef the main and use the staysail.

Heaving-to -- yes if the boat can do it. In the Great Lakes in these brief but nasty storms the waves are very steep and packed tight together. Few smaller light boats, and most fin keelers no matter the size, can maintain a hove-to position very well in these conditions. You just get smacked around too much. So if you can't heave-to I would try and run with it. But smaller boats can get overwhelmed with the following steep seas, and slide off to a broach position. In that case, taking an oblique angle into the waves is probably the safest, although very hard on crew and boat. Luckily these things usually pass quickly.
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Old 21-08-2016, 14:53   #10
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Re: Survived Lake Ontario Storm

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Originally Posted by 30yearslater View Post
Good point Wayne. The engine stopping or having any problem was a huge concern I had. I wish I had deep reefs in my main. I was hoping to also get some critiques on my technique so thanks. I have a storm jib that I thought about hoisting but opted not and with the wind it could have made matters worse. We were rolled to about 30 degrees a few times under bare pole. I will be getting a sea anchor that I hope never to need but it would have been a real handy item to have. It may have at least been another option. Thoughts?
===

Storm jibs and sea anchors are useful in long duration, offshore storm conditions. Most squalls however are over in less than an hour. Rather than a sea anchor you might consider something called a series drogue. As the name implies it is a series of small drogues (sea anchors) built into a long warp (line) which is trailed astern when running off before the wind, a strategy which requires a lot of sea room. The series drogue helps to minimize the build up of excessive speed which can lead to wild surfing into the back side of the wave in front of you. That's a dangerous condition which can lead to a major broach and/or pitch poling.
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Old 21-08-2016, 15:06   #11
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Re: Survived Lake Ontario Storm

I have a lot of experience on the Great Lakes. Those fronts are powerful, high winds for 20-40 minutes then better conditions. I would NEVER have any sail up. The first wind blast can come from any direction and can pin the boat down. This isn't a situation of building wind from a known direction. Your tactics were perfect.


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Old 21-08-2016, 21:26   #12
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Re: Survived Lake Ontario Storm

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I have a lot of experience on the Great Lakes. Those fronts are powerful, high winds for 20-40 minutes then better conditions. I would NEVER have any sail up. The first wind blast can come from any direction and can pin the boat down. This isn't a situation of building wind from a known direction. Your tactics were perfect.


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Out of curiosity how high of winds are you talking?


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Old 22-08-2016, 02:27   #13
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Re: Survived Lake Ontario Storm

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Out of curiosity how high of winds are you talking?


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I can answer this one. A great deal depends on the particular storm. Generally speaking they can range from 30 Knots up to 60. Some can go even higher but are very rare. In this instance the nearest shore based weather was reporting 39 knots. As Dangerfield offered the wind shifted from South to East in less than a minute as the downdraft hit. I attempt to be conservative when I say 45 knots was a probable wind speed. The plus is they do come fast and pass fast in the 15 to 30 minute range.
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Old 22-08-2016, 06:59   #14
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Re: Survived Lake Ontario Storm

I think the right choice is dependent on you, your boat and your location. The instinct seems to be to simply drop all sail. That works fine if you're offshore, away from stuff, and don't mind being a cork. Relying on the engine to manage steerage is fine ... until the engine conks out, or more likely gets overwhelmed by the forces. A sailboat's main engines are sails. Most sailboats are poor motorboats. After years of "drop the sails" tactic I now prefer to leave up some small amount of sail so as to maintain steerage and control.

Yes, these storm are very nasty, with quickly clocking winds. You have to maintain control, but you will not be "pinned down" by the wind unless you are in a very small/light boat, are severely over-canvassed or are unlucky enough to face a complete downdraft, which can happen, but is very rare.

I've sailed the Great Lakes for going on 15 years now, and the vast majority of those years was on Lake Superior (the north shore). I know the ferocity of the Lakes. But as long as your boat is solid and properly rigged, with sufficiently deep reefing that can be rigged quickly, I think the best option is to maintain some sail control.
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Old 22-08-2016, 07:49   #15
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Re: Survived Lake Ontario Storm

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I think the right choice is dependent on you, your boat and your location. The instinct seems to be to simply drop all sail. That works fine if you're offshore, away from stuff, and don't mind being a cork. Relying on the engine to manage steerage is fine ... until the engine conks out, or more likely gets overwhelmed by the forces. A sailboat's main engines are sails. Most sailboats are poor motorboats. After years of "drop the sails" tactic I now prefer to leave up some small amount of sail so as to maintain steerage and control.

Yes, these storm are very nasty, with quickly clocking winds. You have to maintain control, but you will not be "pinned down" by the wind unless you are in a very small/light boat, are severely over-canvassed or are unlucky enough to face a complete downdraft, which can happen, but is very rare.

I've sailed the Great Lakes for going on 15 years now, and the vast majority of those years was on Lake Superior (the north shore). I know the ferocity of the Lakes. But as long as your boat is solid and properly rigged, with sufficiently deep reefing that can be rigged quickly, I think the best option is to maintain some sail control.
===

Exactly right. Once you have been in a squall where your engine is overwhelmed, you will quickly see the benefit of having a small amount of sail up.
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