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Old 08-07-2016, 15:48   #1
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How to deal with T storms on the Chesapeake

I'm new to the E Coast as well as the Chesapeake. Seams like there is an incredible number of Thunderstorms around. I'm wondering how to deal with them, from determining when to stay ashore, to avoiding them on the bay, to tactics when you can't escape. I do have radar but not sure what a thunderstorm will look like on the scope. I understand you need to get the sails down, and avoid the shore...any other advice? Thanks!
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Old 08-07-2016, 16:15   #2
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Re: How to deal with T storms on the Chesapeake

What a squall looks like on radar depends on how you set the gain - do it right, and you see the rain area. Getting sails down has everything to do with squall winds - microcells within thunderstorms can top 90 MPH -they used to slam airliners down before the FAA banned landing in a thunderstorm. It has no effect on lightning. Lightning has been extensively discussed in recent threads, which you might search. The central point is that your mast is the tallest sharpest item around, and as such builds up static charges. Once it becomes the object of a discharge, a massive current needs to find ground, and you'd best supply it a convenient route to the water that does not include you (you're a saline solution and quite conductive) and hopefully not too much of your electronics/electrical system. Ground your mast very well, don't hold conductive items like the helm, and hope that it finds a different route. If hit, you are likely to lose your entire electronic system and maybe your electrics, as well, so some advise starting the engine before the squall arrives. Note that lightning hits have been recorded ten miles in front of the rain, which is when the flash and the boom are separated by 50 seconds. As for staying away from shore, I can't think of any logical basis for that. maybe someone else can.
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Old 08-07-2016, 16:42   #3
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Re: How to deal with T storms on the Chesapeake

My perspective is that sail boats handle better with appropriate sail up. Also keeps the option of sailing out of it if needed open.

My prefered tactic is to heave to an let squalls roll on over me (provided enough sea room). Squalls are usually moving pretty fast relative to a sail boat so they pass over quick. Running with it may actually prolong your time in high winds, though I sometimes do that too depending on circumstances.

Also good to read up on the life cycle of a squall (thunderstorm). One handy tid bit is that the strongest winds tend to come before the rain. Once you are in the rain phase/area of a squall then it probably won't get any worse (not always, but typically). So, its always a relief to me when it starts to rain.
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Old 08-07-2016, 16:45   #4
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Re: How to deal with T storms on the Chesapeake

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... As for staying away from shore, I can't think of any logical basis for that. maybe someone else can.
If a lee shore, certainly worth avoiding.

Got caught on a rocky lee shore in a small power boat once...predictably the engine failed...anchor saved our butts.
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Old 08-07-2016, 17:32   #5
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Re: How to deal with T storms on the Chesapeake

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If a lee shore, certainly worth avoiding.

Got caught on a rocky lee shore in a small power boat once...predictably the engine failed...anchor saved our butts.
It's the Chesapeake.

He doesn't have to worry so much about a rocky shore as much as very shallow water here and there as well as unlit buoys and channel markers quite a ways out in the bay.
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Old 08-07-2016, 19:35   #6
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Re: How to deal with T storms on the Chesapeake

If you have a smart phone and can look at the local weather radar you can time the front / cells... to within a few minutes.

The average t-storm on the Chesapeake is about 30 min to an hour.

Pull the sails down and turn the motor on and relax. Don't shred the sails for a few minutes of so called adventure .... It is over in a short while.
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Old 09-07-2016, 09:28   #7
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Re: How to deal with T storms on the Chesapeake

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If you have a smart phone and can look at the local weather radar you can time the front / cells... to within a few minutes.

The average t-storm on the Chesapeake is about 30 min to an hour.

Pull the sails down and turn the motor on and relax. Don't shred the sails for a few minutes of so called adventure .... It is over in a short while.
The only real threat are downdrafts, micro bursts that can reach hurricane winds quickly. Hopefully you batten down and can go below to rest.
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Old 09-07-2016, 09:38   #8
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Re: How to deal with T storms on the Chesapeake

Thunder storms show up well on radar. Not sure you can always see them coming when not in the open ocean though. If already on the water I don't know what you can do other than stay away from the rigging and mast. Put electronics in the oven if there's time and let the AP steer! Reduce sail significantly.
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Old 09-07-2016, 09:45   #9
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Re: How to deal with T storms on the Chesapeake

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Thunder storms show up well on radar. Not sure you can always see them coming when not in the open ocean though. If already on the water I don't know what you can do other than stay away from the rigging and mast. Put electronics in the oven if there's time and let the AP steer! Reduce sail significantly.
In theory you have a "cone of protection" from the rigging. But lightening does not understand that many times and will jut plow right through the boat. So make sure your life insurance is paid up and enjoy it the best you can. BTW: lightening can even plow through a car's front window. So there is no 100% protection unless you are in a well meshed faraday cage.
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Old 09-07-2016, 10:34   #10
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Re: How to deal with T storms on the Chesapeake

After sailing on the Chesapeake for 50+ years, the best way to handle thunderstorms for me is to look at the weather for the day on radar, coupled with a few other resources, and make sure I have enough time to get to an anchorage. Storms often happen earlier than predicted so I give myself lots of wiggle room. If it looks iffy, I stay put. I haven't gotten hit in years. I would always seem to get hit if I tried to push it.

If I did get caught with a pop up storm, I would head for shallower water and anchor.

Here is a link to an article I did for a travel blog about my almost disastrous Chesapeake experience years and years ago. Millivers Travels » Blog Archive » Dont Mess with Mother Weather
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Old 09-07-2016, 10:41   #11
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Re: How to deal with T storms on the Chesapeake

Been sailing the Chesapeake for forty years. You can expect about one a week during the summer and two or three of them every season will be fierce. I have seen the wind in Annapolis harbor go from calm to 56 knots in less than a minute, and a bright afternoon to pitch black illuminated only by lightning flashes. Most last less than an hour and usually involve a large wind shift. My practice is to drop all sail, start the engine, put in the hatch boards and head for deep water. There is no penalty for over-preparing. Captain Fred
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Old 09-07-2016, 11:40   #12
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Re: How to deal with T storms on the Chesapeake

Didn't say how long your sailboat is... Grew-up/ been sailing on Bay since 50s. While experience/ learning to see the signs of bad storm coming will/ should come pretty fast here, there are numerous aides to help you in this populated/ sailing friendly area. Being an electronics junkie... there are just so many apps available that have more than enough info direct to you that you should at least never be caught unaware. There are auto- alarms you can set-up on these apps that will trigger an alarm on your phone, even if sleeping/ or 'sleeping at the switch' for wind alerts, lightning, small craft advisories. Their wx radar maps go out several hundred miles and can/ should be checked several times a day, especially if your morning wx check calls for approaching front or T-storms during the day. These radars have/ update the cell movement vectors on every cell every few sweeps and along with watching the time lapse movements... pretty much give you fair warning/ info to base your decisions. It's good idea (wherever you are sailing) to have a general sailing plan and 'what if' plans as you go hour x hour based on where you your path. As most have said, typically these storms blow over you in 20-40 minutes. But if you get caught out in shallow water (where isn't it shallow in the Chesapeake!) it can be a very exciting 20-40 minutes! Worse, if you really get totally surprised by an initial violent wind front, it can become dangerous to try to deal with sails at that point, and lessens your immediate options. Up here in Annapolis/ St Michaels area the Bay is only 4.5 mi wide and PLENTY of bailout rivers/ creeks, and safer yet coves to get into in an hour... so no reason to tough it out and expose family & friends to events that might change their view of sailing... at least with you! If your boat is big enough to have the new flatscreen DTVs aboard (which I highly recommend), there are several TV stations that xmit 24/7 weather 'channels' on one of their 4 bonus/ multiplex over air video streams (ch 45.2 is a good one in this area... but all up and down Chesapeake there are other stations doing same). Their weather person updates the10 minute 'wx analysis' loop several times a day. Regardless of how old their analysis is... there is always a live/ time lapse wx radar loop image in lower rt corner. Happy sailing!

FYI- There is a little known 'rule' that allows any boat to temporarily tie-up to any dock in a bad storm/ emergency. Of course, it would be good form to go up to house and 'ask permission' if anyone should be home. (You would be responsible for any damage your boat might cause... so pick a strong dock!)

(FYI- A close friend of mine indeed had to do this once. Where he tied up turned out to be David Eisenhower's Summer house dock and they invited them in and for a potluck dinner while the storm passed! I was taken in by 'Microsoft Employee #7' when chased into Tampa Bay by a bad storm as we were just finishing our direct Gulf of Mexico crossing from Galveston, also complete with diner, breakfast, and laundry service the next morning! Boating people are good to each other! We've all been caught out and know first hand these situations and I think wanting to pass a previous kindness forward.)


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Old 09-07-2016, 12:29   #13
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Re: How to deal with T storms on the Chesapeake

The first thing to remember is that on a boat like yours it will be no big deal; the worst thing that can happen to you is getting your sails torn. Hence. Just make sure that you can furl your sails before the squall line hits. On radar the squall line will look like a "line of squalls." But even without radar, you are unlikely to miss the signs of a storm coming--the Western sky gets black (or very close to it) I have a roller furling genoa and a main with a lazy bag. If I have crew, everything gets buttoned up in about a minute. Regardless, you will see the storm coming on radar. I would not heave to; wind directions often shift 90 or more in a squall line. When in the storm, I put on weather gear, send my crew below, and power into the squall line. With sails secured, you have nothing to worry about. BTW, the Chesapeake is not really that shallow. There are some shallow areas here and there; but the Maryland Chesapeake has more navigable shorelines than any other state in the country.
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Old 09-07-2016, 14:36   #14
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Re: How to deal with T storms on the Chesapeake

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-----but the Maryland Chesapeake has more navigable shorelines than any other state in the country.
More than Florida? I find that hard to believe.
Unless "Maryland Chesapeake" means that if you don't have shoreline on the Chesapeake your state doesn't count.
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Old 09-07-2016, 15:42   #15
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Re: How to deal with T storms on the Chesapeake

storm is the highest weather warning/confusing /weather report chance of a storm fine else ware /confusing/fine at the marina rain else ware chance of a storm do we batten down fit storm sails and avoid anchoring at else ware the unpredictable place/storms move and change direction stay calm shorten sail rule of thumb wen offshore in a storm if you can see it you are to close/except for shelter/confusing/ shelter elsewhere
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