Sunday, October 03, 2010

We Got Spanked....HARD

Beautiful start!
Lessons learned on our first overnight*:

1)  25+ knots of wind is nothing to scoff at (yes, we read the weather report) and it might not just "blow over" and might actually sustain 30 knots for HOURS at a time...
2)  The waves produced by 25+ knots of wind (yes, even on Lake Michigan) are of the "cowabunga" variety...
3)  One of our two person crew gets violently seasick (hint: not me)...
4)  Sleep management is IMPERATIVE and...
5)  Not keeping a proper watch schedule (hence: sleep management) will cause you to fall asleep at the helm and only be able to steer in 15 minute increments...speaking of steering...
6)  Our autopilot becomes useless in waves over 8 feet (duh) and hand steering in waves that big is TOUGH, especially on zero hours of sleep...
The storm ahead
7) Checking to make sure your anchor (and any other gear) on deck is lashed down properly would be wise if you don't want said anchor (or other gear) to jump off the roller and start swinging wildly on it's chain, bashing into the boat each time the boat rears up another gnarly wave**
On the plus side:
8)  We were smart to install all our jack lines...(especially when Scott went forward to lash swinging-pendulum-anchor down)...
9)  Waves so big that they actually crash over the whole boat actually give the boat a nice cleaning (added BONUS:  and wash away said puke as mentioned in #3)...
10) Contrary to what I'd always thought, I am actually NOT a mercy puker!  Score!...
11) We did a very good job at stowing stuff and only had a minimal disaster area down below after we came in...
12) Our enclosed cockpit and bimini is AM-AZ-ING.  Every subsequent boat we own will have one...
13) Our boat handled very well and we love her.

Let me explain...

Scott and I left Milwaukee bright and early Friday morning on a beautiful glass lake and motored along ever so pleasantly.  Sure, we checked the weather and saw that a massive cold front (and associated winds) was coming through, but we wanted to be up North in Charlevoix to rendezvous with Scott's lovely mom (and our favorite first mate) on Saturday night.  First mistake:  Disregarding weather to adhere to a 'timeline' - how many times have I mentioned this rule in this blog?  At least 5!?  Yeah.  Thought so.

So we are motoring along, all is well.  I read a book.  Cook a few meals.  Do a few boat projects.  You know, the usual...Then we check the weather again.  The "storm" should blow through around midnight.  It's 6 and we're all "let's start taking watches at 9pm, we want to be together!".  Mistake #2:  Actually believing the weather people and assuming the storm would be right on cue.

It was not.

At 7pm the wind started building, along with the seas.  The sky grew black and before we knew it, we were pounding head first into waves that were anywhere from 8 to 12 feet high in wind that was a sustained 30 knots.  We had no sails up, and kept motoring on.  By 8:00pm we were in a full-on nutso storm, we couldn't see anything around us except our little navigation lights at the bow as they rose up 10-20 feet, and came crashing down, followed by a huge SPLASH across the entire boat.  Driving rain made visibility that much worse so we were just steering by the compass and the chartplotter.
Next morning, running downwind, looking at the waves so I could surf down
them rather than get broadsided...

By 10 pm, the storm had only grown worse.  We were soaking wet, tired and our autopilot had become useless meaning we had to hand steer.  The waves had grown so large that we no longer steered to any particular waypoint, but to the waves.  They were so big that if we didn't keep our bow into them (or at a slight angle to them) we ran the risk of going broadside, which would have certainly laid us on our ear.  So we kept fight them in total silence.  We just kept staring ahead, taking turns, only speaking directions; "Head up, head up, head up!" or "Down, down, down...".

By midnight I was scared.  I have done many overnight boating trips, sailed over 10 Chicago to Mac races and have never seen Lake Michigan so pissed off.  Our little boat was literally being tossed around like a cork, while Scott - poor thing - was tossing his cookies.  At least 7 times.  It was awful.  We were in full foul weather gear, soaking wet (yes, despite the bimini), freezing cold, and full-on exhausted (we woke up at 6am that morning).  This would be mistake #4:  Not prepping for storm by getting rest.

The next morning, still blowing 30, but pic does the waves no justice
Night sailing in a storm, having no clue where the waves are coming from (Lake Michigan is famous for it's erratic and choppy wave patters) and hearing the wind howling across the boat as waves crash violently across her is...frightening.  I kept thinking:  please God***, don't let the jib unfurl...Please God, do not let us lose our instruments (ugh, I know, you should never depend on them...), Please God, do not let Scott go incapacitated with seasickness...Please God, let all our new thru-hulls stay put!...Please God, let the morning come!  Yeah, lots of praying was going on.  And I sat there, shaking violently from cold, totally running on adrenaline and thought - wow, so many people don't ever experience anything like this.  So many people have no idea and cannot even imagine what this feels like...(then I thought, good grief, how am I going to BLOG about this!?).  We continued like this until 8am, when we decided to turn around (after our anchor jumped off the roller - yes, it was lashed down - and began swinging wildly into the boat), run with the storm, and head into a harbor 9 miles behind us.
The state of the interior after being shaken, not stirred.  Not too bad!

We learned some valuable lessons, for sure.  We made a ton of mistakes.  And we are glad we did.  We'll be more prepared next time.  We learned a lot about our boat and how strong she is.  My uncle Bob called us the next day, "You know Britt, it's funny.  The boat is always the strongest link.  It's the crew that gets beat up in weather like that.  Not the boat!".  And he is 100% right.  We learned a lot about ourselves, and how strong we are.  Neither of us lost our cool.  Neither of us panicked (well, I did - internally - and when I told this to Scott he just said, "Really?  Huh.  Didn't show").  We just focused, steered to our best ability, and tried to make the right decisions based on the situation. We each took the helm when the other needed and weathered the storm.  We got bruised and battered for sure but we needed that spanking.  We were going to get it sooner or later, and better to get it in our backyard then out in the Atlantic somewhere.

Safely tucked into Frankfort harbor.  Food and SLEEP.
I am writing this from the water en-route to Charlevoix (our original destination).  The forecast predicts winds out of the NE 10-15, shifting to 5-10 out of the SE.  Waves 2-4 subsiding 1-2. The sun is shining and it's a great day for a sail!

Love,

Brittany & Scott

*First overnight of this trip, not ever.
**Not fun.  At all.  In fact, downright terrifying.
***Allah, Jehova, Universe, Angels up on high...etc.  Anyone that could hear me, really...

PS.  I know I have a penchant for the dramatic, and I know so many others have endured way worse conditions than we did.  I'm not saying it was the "Perfect Storm" or anything...just one that kind of sucked.

14 comments:

Kevin said...

I checked the wave reports and was, "uh oh". I knew you guys would make it, Im sure ole lake michigan was just giving you guys a good send off. Must have been a blast when you weren't freaking out.

kerry mc said...

omg, that is so scary and you aren't even out of Lake MIchigan! I had no clue those type of storms cam across a lake! Great preparation though I suppose, for what may lie ahead. Y'all rock.

Les said...

First, Brit you writing is SPECTACULAR!!!
2nd, what a story.
3rd, "gethomeitis" was the cause of your problem.
4th, glad you got to experience the storm. The experience was invaluable on literally every level. Now you have a real insight into your capabilities.
5th, I left at the tail end of the storm (see my blog) and ran downwind for 3 miles and it was still impressive. I would not have headed into it and certainly not at night.
6th, I've only seen 10 rooters on LM one time (1985) and they are fierce.
7th, Love you both.

Karen said...

now we can TALK. haha wow. sounds like you had a crazy night!! can i tell you that the scopalomine patches are lifesavers. seriously. if you don't already have them onboard, you should. no pill to swallow that you puke back up and they seem to start working more quickly than other seasickness meds. worst side effects seem to be cotton-mouth and blurry vision if you keep it on for more than 48hrs. i put one on the day before *every* passage now and feel fine when we sail and can usually take it off later that night. i'm glad that you experienced all of this stuff in the relative "safety" of having anchorages fairly close by. it's a different world out there sometimes, isn't it?!?! but - congratulations on leaving the dock!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Erick said...

Glad you made it out of your first blow ok! Just make sure to keep all those lessons learned. Sounds exactly like my first overnighter on Windsong:

http://erickswanderlustblog.blogspot.com/2010/03/sail-log-inglis-fl-to-gulfport-fl.html

Bill said...

Wow, that sounds intense! We had 6' waves on Lake Champlain over the summer and that was rough, glad you are safe.

Way to stay positive and treat this as a learning experience! I'm glad Rasmus took care of you.

Philippe said...

Wow, it's good learning for all of us. Glad the boat did great, and the crew sustained the storm. How come the autopilot wasnt keeping up in the 8ft waves, what was happening? Thanks for the story.

Mid-Life Cruising! said...

Oh, I don't think you're being overly dramatic! Being cold and tired while fighting a storm sounds frightening to me! I keep learning from others and keep reminding Ken that when we start cruising we won't be in a hurry and I'm NOT sailing if bad weather is coming! Period! Glad to hear everything turned out okay and you're now enjoying some sunshine. At least you can now say that you've already gotten that experience.

Amanda said...

Phew! Glad you made it through - definitely sounds a little scary. It's not fun when the boat starts bouncing to and fro, for sure.

AJTYSON said...

Glad you guys are all right. I remember a Mac race 76' when I was on board Chmade, beautiful 42' Charlie Morgan design. 5 line squalls hit us on the way to Mac Island. We weren't on the race just my first cruise to the Island,what a trip.My biggest mistake was going forward to get the jib down without a life jacket on,in 10 foot seas.When I got back to the cockpit I started shaking, because it was then that I realized how stupid that stunt was.
I have never repeated that dumbness act again.What a lesson to learn. Love AJ

Dani said...

Hi Brit,
My S.O. is an old sailor but I'm new. We are currently in the Puget Sound and can get weather. We plan on practicing setting a trysail and heaving too. Is that something you guys ever do? I know you are both racers and I understand you guys are a breed apart.
Thanks for the blog I love it.

Windtraveler said...

Hi Dani -
we never practiced heaving to prior to setting sail (big mistake) but had to do so recently. I believe the post is entitled "The Caribbean Squall" if you want to search for it...I also wrote a piece about our storm sail, I believe it's called "The Gale Sail". But yes, heaving to is a very important maneuver and you should try it out on your boat! Good luck!

blackdove said...

"It's 6 and we're all "let's start taking watches at 9pm, we want to be together!". Mistake #2"

This is the best part of this whole post :)

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