Originally Posted by SailFastTri
Just to add to my prior post: the main point is that hubris is a dangerous attitude, when it comes to storms. Just because they're small in area or of short duration, doesn't mean they're not dangerous.
Sorry, but this is an error, which can lead to wrong decisions at sea. Hubris is hubris, but a correct understanding of what thunderstorms can and cannot do is simply good seamanship. Different things.
Because they are small in area and short in duration in fact does
mean that non-frontal t-storms are not dangerous. Unless you do something really stupid with your sails (or run into something or get struck by lightning). And you are more likely to do something stupid if you have erroneous ideas about the nature of these storms.
Allow me to explain why. It's been said before but apparently not everyone has gotten it yet. Air has mass of something like 800 times less than water
, which means it has that much less energy than water for a given speed. Moving at even 80 knots, air cannot hurt you
, by itself, and cannot destroy your boat.
People confuse the effect of a storm or a gale at sea -- a sustained, long-term event -- with the effect of a t-storm with the same wind speeds, and this is just a grave error. Even just 30 knots of wind blowing over several days and all the way across the North Atlantic can kill you -- because the seas pile up and can form into something which can roll you, dismast you, and possibly sink you. Something which you can't run off in because you would lose control sailing down the lee faces of the waves, causing a broach or a pitchpole, which is
A t-storm cannot produce this kind of sea state -- it takes days and hundreds of miles -- it takes a vast amount of energy such as what a real storm at sea has. Don't confuse these things. Even the Meltemi blowing sometimes for 5 or 6 hours all the way across the Aegean at as much as 50 knots, does not produce a dangerous sea state (thrilling sometimes, but not dangerous).
Without a dangerous sea state, the challenges of handling your boat are straightforward. Don't get knocked down, and for God's sake don't do an unintentional gybe. Don't get blown onto a lee shore. Don't run into anything in the near-0 visibility. Pray you don't get hit by lightning
. If you can avoid these things, then nothing can happen to you (and since you can't do anything about lightning
except pray, no need to worry about that, either).
The golden bullet in high winds is running off. There is no wind force on earth which cannot be handled by running off, at worst under bare poles. The reason why this is not a golden bullet for all situations at sea is because a real storm at sea produces more than just high winds -- it produces a sea state which makes it, at some point, impossible or too dangerous, to run off, which is why God invented drogues, heaving-to tactics, sea anchors, etc, none of which is relevant to the coastal sailor. In a t-storm there is nothing but a lee shore or an obstruction which can prevent you from solving the situation by running off. Even grossly overcanvassed -- say you have a jammed halyard
-- you will be ok if you just head off
It does not enhance your safety
to exaggerate the nature of these storms. On the contrary, it will lead to errors in judgement and perhaps, to panic. If you get caught in a non-frontal t-storm, then get sail down and head
off. That's all there is to it. The wind -- even 80 knots of it --cannot hurt you if you don't panic, and if you don't lose control over your sails. This is a fact, the knowledge of which is essential to decent seamanship in areas subject to this kind of t-storm.
The other mistake that this kind of misunderstanding of the nature of t-storms can lead to is complacency about real storms. "Oh, I've been in 50 knot
t-storms off the coast, so this 35 knot
gale at sea is not going to be a problem" -- wrong. A 35 knot gale blowing for a couple of days across a large expanse of open sea can create extremely dangerous conditions. Again -- sorry to sound like a broken record
-- it is a question of sea state.
The wind, by itself, can't hurt you (without a lot of help from you, at least, but you can be decapitated by an out-of-control boom in 20 knots almost as easily as in 50 knots, if you don't know how to ensure against an unintentional gybe).
Of course none of this means that anyone would intentionally go out into a thunderstorm*. The main dangers are lightning, and poor visibility. If you can't see anything there is a much greater risk of collisions and navigational errors. I carry a diving
mask in the cockpit
if there is a risk of t-storms, but you can't see anything in a good boomer even with that. Even radar
can be blinded. That's the real danger
, and yet another reason to be sure you have sea room if you think you might get caught in a t-storm.
* I have been in dozens of t-storms during my 15-odd years cruising SW Florida. I never went out into one intentionally, but likewise, in the knowledge that I could handle them, I did not stay home just because there was a risk.
however intentionally gone out into gales -- you can't sail in the English Channel
if you're not willing to sail in an ordinary gale, which is normal weather
here. Once a few years ago I really needed to get home from Bridport, in Lyme Bay, as the weather
was building up to a full storm (in Beaufort's sense) and threatening to make the entrance impassible for days. It was a strong gale from the SW and I needed to go East. It had been blowing for a couple of days and the sea was "high", as described by the Coast Guard. But I knew that although the waves were huge, the shape of them would be benign -- if I chose the right part of the tide cycle, with the tide running in the same direction as the storm, reducing the wavelength. So we left at the crack of dawn (for correct timing with the tide), surfed over the bar (terrifying), and had a tough beam reach around Portland
Bill. The waves towered above us, and we took masses of green water into the cockpit
, something amazing on a boat with a 16' beam and a high center cockpit
, at least it amazed me at the time. The average wind speed was near 50 knots.
Then at a safe distance off Portland
Bill, well out to sea out of sight of land, we turned downwind, and it was as if someone had pressed a mute button. Just a little scrap of yankee jib
was enough to keep us moving at 12 -13 knots, which meant the apparent wind dropped to below 40. We made coffee and put on Mahler and thoroughly enjoyed the passage
. We were clipped in of course (
), but it was totally stress-free, totally under control. I posted a video on here some years ago, I think. We were in Poole by lunch time -- with the boost from the tide, the average speed was something like 12 knots, including the slog through Lyme Bay.
Sorry for the long story; it was intended not just an answer to the question about intentionally going out into storms, but also an illustration of the amazing power of running off.