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Old 06-06-2007, 07:52   #1
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From 5 to 70 knots in less than 60 seconds

As most of you know, things can change quickly on the water. In this post, I'll share one of those instances.

Last Saturday was not unlike a typical early June day here on Lake Champlain (120 miles-long on the border between Vermont, New York, and Quebec). I dropped my mooring in Shelburne Bay at about 3:30 pm for the routine sail north to Burlington Harbor. It was questionable as to whether I'd have enough wind to beat up the bay, but I was moving along well in the north breeze (5-7 knots). A thunderstorm advisory had been issued, as is also quite common here on summer afternoons. I could see the darkening skies well to the north and the threatening weather appeared as if it would reach landfall 5-10 miles beyond my destination.

I reached the head of the bay at about 4:30 and was nearly ready to switch to port tack for the final leg into Burlington. I was sailing singlehanded and even though conditions were quite benign, I had taken the routine precautiouns to prepare the boat for all possibilities.

Very quickly, the storm that had seemed like it would pass north of me took a sharp right turn. I had only seconds to react. With full 130 Genoa and main, I had way too much canvas for what was headed my way. In the brief period before it hit, I only had a chance to get the Genoa furled 3/4 of the way in. Within 60 seconds of the previous 5 knots of light air, I was reading 70 knots on the meter. I released the main and at that point could do little more than just hang on as Raven's spreader tips dipped to the water. We had gone from a sunny afternoon casual sail to near hurricane strength in less than a minute.

Fortunately, as it goes with the winds around this type of storm, it was short-lived. I was lucky in that I had less than a mile of sea room off Shelburne Point and the reef at Rock Dunder on my starboard side.

When I finally recovered to the point of being able to go to the foredeck and drop the main, I looked back and saw my Zodiac at the end of its 25-foot painter - upside down. With the 6hp, 85 lb four-stroke on the transom, the wind had lifted it like a kite and flipped it. My bicycle now lies in about 150 feet of water - part of a future archaeological story at the bottom of the lake.

The winds had fallen back to the mid-twenties and, with sails down and engine running, I was able to haul in the Zodiac and began the struggle to get her righted again. I nervously looked to see signs of the engine still hanging on - yes, it was still there.

Thank goodness for fresh water. Once I reached Burlington Harbor, It set about getting the water out of the outboard - pulling the plugs and pushing the liquid out the filled cylinders. Next, the fuel system. Next try to get her to fire. Two pulls and she was running. It took four oil changes to get all the water out of the crankcase, but she's back to her old reliable self.

In the end, I lost the bicycle, and found one broken plastic shackle holding the number two batten to the luff slider. It could have been much worse.

The next day, sans bicycle, I was walking to a bus stop in Burlington. Just before I arrived, I heard brakes squeal and the loud crash of cars colliding. Police cars, ambulances, and wreckers arrived in succession. Just as my commute the day before had taken an unexpected turn, someone else's day had turned out much more tragically. Life goes that way. It can all change in an instant.
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Old 06-06-2007, 11:03   #2
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Interesting story.

You were tied up to a mooring?
I assume it held?

How did the spreader get in the water?
Wind came from the side before the boat had a chance to swing into the
wind?

We have had similar encounters with thunderstorms while anchored in Florida, but don't think I have seen 70 knots..Wow.
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Old 06-06-2007, 11:06   #3
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There but for the the Grace of God Go I!

I understand about the summer thunder storms as we get a lot of very similar stuff here in Texas. Glad that you had the fore thought to recognise it coming and you made it home safe!

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Old 06-06-2007, 11:22   #4
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Probably the same storm system that blew through our area on Saturday evening. We're a little north and west of Raven on the St. Lawrence River. Not often we see horizontal rain and winds of at least 70 kts. Lori and the cat were hiding under the bed and I was standing on the porch watching the show! Then all of a sudden the winds stopped and reversed directions! *Yikes* We're gonna get a twister methinks! But it blew itself out in another couple of minutes. We took a tour around the neighborhood and there are about 25 old growth maples ripped up by the roots in a swath about 300 yards wide running to the river. I think they call these "MicroBursts".
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Old 06-06-2007, 11:23   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CSY Man
Interesting story.

You were tied up to a mooring?
I assume it held?
I was under sail, about 3 miles north of my mooring. I had just left the bay and headed out into the "broad lake" on starboard tack. When the winds first hit, I wasn't expecting it to build so quickly, or to reach 70 knots. While I was frantically trying to get some of the genny in, I thought maybe it would hit 35 or 40, but it just kept coming like a freight train.

Once the Zodia went over, it started to drag like a drogue, being pulled completely below the surface by the engine and the pull from the boat. That drag seriously prevented manueverabiltiy and the ability to round up. All I could do at that point was let the main out (it eventually was in the water) and hold on for the 15 minutes until the storm roared by. If it had kept up for much longer, I would have had to cut the Zodiac free with the hope to recover it later.

Once I got to Burlington Harbor, power had been knocked out to parts of the city and there were trees down everywhere, with the streets littered with limbs and debris. Just one of those freak things.
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Old 06-06-2007, 18:53   #6
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How long was the event. Sounds like a microburst. I am surprised that when you let go the sheets she still heeled that far.

Weather is weather and in the aviation world we try to give thunderstorms a wide berth. 5 miles on the upwind side and up to 20 on the downwind side.

We get lot's of convective weather here and I am always leery about the speed and direction of our thunderstorms. I'm a real weather chicken.
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Old 07-06-2007, 06:11   #7
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How long was the event. Sounds like a microburst. I am surprised that when you let go the sheets she still heeled that far.
The winds climbed to 70 very, very quickly. I agree, it seems to have been a microburst. The entire event lasted only about 15 minutes (from initial onset until winds had dropped back below 20). Once Raven was healed to the point of the clew of the main touching the water, the water prevented the main from luffing. She did climb back up after the initial knockdown, but with all that canvas on she couldn't get up far enough to allow her to luff, perhaps because the partially submerged Zodiac in tow limited her ability to round up, plus the fact that I tried to keep some wind in her sails because I was worried that they would quickly flog themselves to shreads. I knew that the event would be short-lived so the extreme heal was not particularly problematic and it allowed her to spill the wind off the full main effectively.

At no time during the event did Raven behave in a way that was worrisome. She is a boat that has always inspired confidence and she didn't let me down on Saturday.

The fault was mine in that I treated storm like so many others that track across during the summer months. Watching it pass across the water and make landfall well to the north, I chose to leave the sails up and continue on in the 5-7 knots of light breeze I'd been moving through. When it took the sudden turn, I was reminded very quickly of my smallness in the scheme of things.
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Old 07-06-2007, 06:16   #8
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Originally Posted by Ex-Calif
Weather is weather and in the aviation world we try to give thunderstorms a wide berth. 5 miles on the upwind side and up to 20 on the downwind side.
Not if you do route planning for a little regional Wisconsin airline I took when I bought our boat a couple years back. They had a 727 (or mabye 737?) they ran from Denver to Green Bay. After looking at all the storm cells on my Treo, and seeing all the thunderheads looming, our flight was cleared and they proceeded to fly directly through maybe half a dozen thunderheads as we made our way from Denver to Greenbay.

Luckily, I understand the basics about how those planes are engineered. They are usually quite structurally sound. Anyway, people on the plane were screaming, the flight attendant was going up to the ceiling before strapping in and yet others were crying. It was one heck of a roller coaster ride. My wife let out a few screams, but I convinced her the planes were engineered to take that kind of beating and that the ground was 10s of thousands of feet below, so the dips wouldn't hurt us.

So anway... back on topic: I'm glad to see you're ok, Raven. Any indication of the weather pattern for others to learn from? Squall lines? Nature of the sky? Any warning signs that let you know, "wow... this storm is going to be tough?"

It's funny how the weather can change in an instant and go right back.
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Old 07-06-2007, 06:55   #9
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So anway... back on topic: I'm glad to see you're ok, Raven. Any indication of the weather pattern for others to learn from? Squall lines? Nature of the sky? Any warning signs that let you know, "wow... this storm is going to be tough?"

It's funny how the weather can change in an instant and go right back.
Sean,

The humbling part was that there were no indications of what was coming. Usually you can see the approaching blackness and a squall line heading across the water. This time, nothing of the sort - just a sudden change in wind speed and not enough time to respond by reducing sail. I suppose I could have just chosen to motor the 4.5 miles from my mooring to Burlington Harbor given the forecast for thunderstorms, but I am loath to start the engine if I've got wind. Perhaps I'll have to get over that and err on the side of caution for future commutes.

Today is sunny and cool - with a 10 knot south wind. I'm just about to set off to work - taking a group of teenage moms out rowing in the pilot gigs. Saturday's event is now just another of the stories to share with the groups I share this waterway with . . .
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Old 07-06-2007, 13:31   #10
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Furture archaeological digs million of years from now, will determin that the lake bed must have once been dry land, as it was obviouse that people rode across it on Bikes ;-) :-)
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Old 07-06-2007, 14:29   #11
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Sean,

The humbling part was that there were no indications of what was coming. Usually you can see the approaching blackness and a squall line heading across the water. This time, nothing of the sort - just a sudden change in wind speed and not enough time to respond by reducing sail. I suppose I could have just chosen to motor the 4.5 miles from my mooring to Burlington Harbor given the forecast for thunderstorms, but I am loath to start the engine if I've got wind. Perhaps I'll have to get over that and err on the side of caution for future commutes.

Today is sunny and cool - with a 10 knot south wind. I'm just about to set off to work - taking a group of teenage moms out rowing in the pilot gigs. Saturday's event is now just another of the stories to share with the groups I share this waterway with . . .

Wow... that makes it even more interesting and an even better lesson. At times, things can just happen... so always be somewhat ready. Thanks for sharing this.
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Old 07-06-2007, 18:59   #12
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Kevin,

It's a great lake to be on. The weather seems to come out of nowhere as fronts come over the Adirondacks and dive down to the lake.

Before I lived in Maine, I kept my Ranger 33 on Lake Champlain and lived aboard during the summers in Otter Creek. I sold the Ranger and believe it is still on the lake (TANTRUM).

We experienced many storms and heavy winds, almost crashed into the rocks off North Hero when the old atomic 4 gave up just at the wrong time. Thankfully I remembered it was a sail boat and hoisted the jib to safety.

Thanks for sharing another Lake Champlain story.

HERON
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Old 07-06-2007, 19:40   #13
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Me Too:

I had a regualr Knock-Down last year in April:

Came back from the Bahamas in April on my CSY 33:
My crew was a merchant marine captain with quite a bit of sailing experience. (Mate on square riggers)

We had spent a week in the islands sailing, drinking and telling stories.

On the way back across the Gulf Stream and only a few miles from Fort Lauderdale we got close to dark sthunderstorms.
I took in both fore-sails and had a reef in the main.
Pretty conservative configuration and we had the motor running as well.

A rain shower hit us pretty good and I told my mate to go down below just to avoid getting wet. (We took turns )

In the middle of the rain, with visibility donw to a quarter of a mile we got a good gust from the side and my proud ship laid over so fast I was unable to anything except steer into in. In the meantime we went over about 70 to 80 degrees. The cockpit got hundres of gallons of water in it and the cushions started floating away in the ocaen. Being cheap I leaped for the cockpit cushions while I was rounding up into the breeze.
The ship came back up but headed in the wrong direction: Towards the super-tankers that were behind us a few minuttes ago.
My buddy the merchant marine officer got nervous because we did not have AIS and I agreed so we steered straight South, away from the shipping lanes and with the same cross wind, but with the main sheet released..

Yea, it was a micro-burst.
We see them things all the time in the flying business: They have caused quite a few accidents.
Boaters call them "white squalls"
There is a movie made with that name.

Conclusion:

Glad I hade new chain-plates and reefed sails.

Shortly thereafter I installed an AIS system based on my crew's recommedation.

Got more respect for CBs now.

I take all the sails DOWN these days...
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Old 07-06-2007, 23:37   #14
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Learning mode here. We have lot's of thunderstorms here. Almost a daily occurence. Other than reducing sail do the majority of you harness up and don PFDs at the first sign of an approaching thunderstorm?

It hasn't occured to me yet to do so. We are only sailing channel waters now but I guess that's no excuse not to be safe.

We have outrun a couple of thunderstorms already and have been in some pretty "fun" winds but nothing over 20-25 kts. No one here that I have spoken to has mentioned any knockdowns in local waters.
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Old 14-06-2007, 14:51   #15
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Indeed below a summer storm cloud you can get very violent and sudden winds. The good thing is you can see it comming and it doesn't last long.

Whenever I see one of those vertical breed clouds with that anvil shape, I know what's comming and i take down all sails. Very uncomfortable to hang from the windward rails with all your family.


You saw it comming anyway.. well done.

There's a phenomena here in the Med, which is called "gota fr&#237;a" (cold drop), and its a cold mass of air getting caught between warmer air masses and a warmer sea surface. You get those wind speeds building also in seconds, but they last hours.
Imagine the waves with a long fetch.

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