By Alice Sadler, Vice Commodre
[Note: We will include pictures in this post soon. We would have posted it earlier, but are experiencing technical difficulty with our website content management system.]
In 2002, I learned to sail through trial and error after accompanying a friend on day cruises on several occasions. After 2-3 times out I reasoned “I’ve got this” and bought my own boat. While I managed to get around the bay on various boats I owned, when I came to ANSA, I realized that I had very little actual knowledge about how to sail.
On July 9 &10, I volunteered to be a crew member on the Watch Captain and D-Skipper training cruise – both of these are leadership courses and I reasoned that the students would need a deckhand to boss around.
Since it was a scheduled maintenance day for FANTASEA, Gary and Kathy Pritchard were kind enough to allow this rigorous training sail to take place on their Catamaran GONE AWAY. With the requirements ahead of us, we set sail for a 30-hour training cruise with two four-person watch crews who would take 4 -hour shifts of piloting the vessel.
ANSA Commodore Dave Chappell and Rear Commodore for Operations Vilma Baez coached the group in Piloting and Navigation Training , which is a core skill required for Watch Captain Certification. The training plan was rigorous with four hours on-watch during which 3 direction sighting to points on land had to be taken and recorded on the chart every 15 minutes and the navigator had to project out the course headings while tracking position on the chart
Piloting and Navigation (P&N) activity alone kept two crew members busy, then one crew member served as lookout and the other Piloted the boat per the Navigator’s directions
We knew some thunderstorms might pop up as we headed south on the first leg of the cruise. Using an app for a smartphone, we tracked the Doppler radar track for a storm that appeared to be well behind us. We were were sailing southeast with the jib and main reefed once. We could see a thunderstorm, maybe 5 miles north of us moving from west to east. Suddenly, and without warning, the wind proceeding the rain changed from 15 knots to at least 25 knots. Too strong to furl the jib or drop the main, we pointed into the wind and let the storm pass . Drenched crew members attended to Todd’s every order. Gary provided some guidance, too.
I remained at the NAV table as it was my turn to track position. Jim, unaware of the dire situation on deck, prepared for his watch cycle. Gary noticed that the Starboard Jib sheet was missing. We thought we broke it, so ferocious was the buffeting winds. Jim poked his head through the Companionway saying something like “Did we beat the storm?”
Nope. Amy, who sailed quite a bit in adulthood with her father, was not so sure that was funny. She served wonderful Jambalaya for dinner. Shortly thereafter, the crew discussed the storm activity aft of GONE AWAY suddenly showed signs of coming Our Way!
With further foul weather predicted, Todd and Gary determined we best head for the Choptank River, for the protection of the enclosure around Choptank Light House. There we could go from navigation aid to navigation aid, and practice plotting and predicting forward motion. WHICH WE DID. ALL. NIGHT. LONG.
Taking Jim’s advice, I immediately went to sleep after my first watch ended at 2200 hours (10 PM.) The weather was difficult for the guys on the 2200-0200 shift, and it was foul initially as the ladies shift to over at 0200. Sailing in one direction and motor sailing as we went between Nav Markers, we practiced Navigation time tracking over a known course.
Again I went to sleep directly from shift change at 0600. Later in the morning, Todd provided an absolutely marvelous egg, potato, and turkey sausage casserole. Cutting my sleep short I came out to eat.
We started heading for Broad Creek as we crossed the Choptank River, but changed course to Harris Creek because we thought it would provide better protection from the forecast higher gusts expected in late morning. After anchoring in Harris Creek on Sunday morning, we took the opportunity to clean up and batten down the boat. Gary offered me the helm to navigate through the anchor recovery process and to get GONE AWAY a-going home. Since this would be through the Knapps Narrows Draw Bridge, I motored to the segment of Broad creek that approached the bridge across to Tilghman Island. Vilma did a fine job of hailing the Bridge tender on VHF Channel 13. Vilma also provided sandwich wraps and I shared a honey dew melon to top it off and restore hydration.
We finished our sail pretty much on time according to Todd’s sail plan. I was humbled and amazed at how much I learned in just 30 hours of exposure to American Sailing Association standards and methods. Even at the most harrowing moments, everyone was polite and kind, and a team grew where previously there existed only individuals.
We discovered afterwards that the wind was gusting up to 36 knots according to conditions recorded by Goose Reef Buoy, which was near out position when the thunderstorm hit . In email discussions following the voyage, we identified eight lessons learned:
- If we know that it is an unsteady weather day – thunderstorms expected, keep PFD’s handy and rig lifelines.
- Rain gear should also be handy. Even though it’s warm, it’s also humid which means clothing won’t dry quickly if at all afterwards.
- If a thunderstorm is at least 5 to 10 miles away, immediately start the engine and get underway by motor;
- Ensure that lookouts keep an eye on squall lines so that they don’t sneak up on you.
- When squall/storm is visible, clouds, rain falling, obscured shoreline, all crew don PFD’s.
- Motor away from the storm and if the storm overtakes, motor into the wind to control the boat.
- Minimum crew stay in cockpit so more can stay dry and come on duty when storm passes.
- Don’t risk people trying to furl the sails when the wind is blowing hard: reef to the worst case scenario that day, not the best case scenario.