We've been in 3 squalls in the last month (one 4 days ago in the last third of a passage
from NC to Annapolis) with winds in excess of 50 kts, and a couple in that strength in years past. Here's what we've figured out (but still happy to take other advice):
When you see it coming, don't delay shortening sail (we delayed once - just once - and I never, ever want to have all sail up in 50 kts). We either leave up a reefed mizzen or double reefed main (although the main is in the loft now because of flogging damage to a slide attachment point in the recent squall), or at a minimum a hankie of our furling jib
, or sometimes the reefed mizzen and a hankie of furled jib
. We believe sailboats sail better than they motor
, and if the motor conks out(which generally happens only when needed most) you can still control the boat some.
Don't worry about lightning, can't control it. Its damn scary, but we've sailed thru squalls with lightning cracking down extremely close but never been hit (thank God). We have a wooden wheel
, however, and we definitely don't grab any metal.
Crank up the engine
, and start praying. When the wind
hits, I like to motorsail on slow RPMs about 45 to 55 degrees off the wind
, slackening and tightening the sheets
as necessary to strike a balance between aggressively heeling the boat (we're a Morgan
416 with a shoal draft keel
, plus a family
of four's stuff on board, and I just hate heeling) and flogging the sails
to death. In bad squalls we send the kids
below, because the cockpit
gets crowded with more than the wife and I.
Then we hold on, and wait for it to blow through. That's what squalls do. Sometimes we use radar
to find a "hole" or break at the edge and kind of aim for that, but that's sometimes not worked well and its hard to do. Short ones blow through in 15 or 20 minutes, medium ones in a half hour or so, and the one we rode
out in the Chesapeake at the mouth of the Potomac
last Saturday late afternoon lasted about an hour. Its no fun, but it passes. While its blowing, keep hard things in sight. In our last squall, we got hit by the wind very close to a red marker buoy, and it was blowing us down on the buoy. Eventually we had to tack to avoid hitting it. We have also had to communicate with ships that were bearing down on us, to let them know our CPAs were close (under a mile) and we effectively had limited steerage if we were to maintain our lay on the wind (45 to 55 degrees).
We've never hove to for a squall. I'm not sure I'd want do that, if only because (i) squalls pass and (ii) when they hit you don't know how much wind is in them. I've been prepared for squalls that, when they hit, had 2 kts of wind and lightning striking every few seconds, and squalls with not much lightning, none close, but over 50 (and even once over 60) knot
winds. When it tops 60, its damn scary to have any sail up at all, but we still do.
Finally, maintain searoom. The more the better. Its the hard parts
around the edges that sink the boat, not deep water. I try to stay in deeper water rather than shallower, and definitely avoid areas where the seabed rises up. I'm not sure if wave action is worse in those areas, but I think it may be.
Did I mention pray? I do that a lot. Not sure the wife does, but I do. It also works in the engine
room when the diesel
takes an unexpected break.
Good luck, and try not to worry about the squalls.