Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Top 10 Tuesdays: Top 10 Lessons Learned during our first BIG Caribbean Squall

Not "our" squall, but a squall - just off St. Georges, Grenada
Scott and I have sailed in our fair share of nasty weather - if you want to live at sea, it is nearly impossible to avoid completely and knowing that we will have to weather a few storms is the price we pay for a life less ordinary.  This past week we think we might have sailed in our nastiest weather yet when we got completely clobbered by two monster squalls on our return trip home between Carriacou and Grenada.  Luckily, we are both much better sailors than we were even a year ago, and we took it in stride, largely because of our solid boat and Scott's expert boat handling skills (and -okay - I'm not too shabby myself).  A separate post will be up tomorrow morning describing the squall in greater detail, but for now - here are some things we learned:

Top 10 Lessons Learned During our Worst Caribbean Squall

  1. The old adage of "don't be on a schedule" still rings true!  ...but sadly, when it comes to having guests it doesn't always work to abide by this rule.  Scott's Mom had to fly out Monday and Sunday's forecast was the same as Saturday's so we decided to go for it on Saturday.  We knew we were taking a risk, and prepped the boat accordingly.
  2. Caribbean Squalls come up on you fast and don't always blow right over.  We have been through a bunch of squalls over the course of this last year, some last 5 minutes some last 25 minutes.  This particular one seemed never ending and I recall thinking at the apex of it, "later tonight, this will just be a story when we are at our slip, this will end...later tonight this will just be a story..."  but 25 minutes of really nasty weather is like an eternity!
  3. Prepping the boat for heavy weather is important.  Like I mentioned, we knew we were heading into some weather so our boat was stored with extra care.  Everything battened down, any items that might fall in an extreme heel were pulled down and put away, our veggie hammocks were bungeed securely so they didn't swing wildly and so on.  We checked all items on deck and made sure they were lashed down properly.  The last thing you want when you are going through a hellish squall is to have your boat become a disaster area when all of your belongings go flying.
  4. Having safety gear within arms reach of the cockpit should be a necessity.  We put on our life vests after we realized the severity of the first squall and we have all our safety gear right in the cockpit, within arms reach of the helm.  Trust me, the last thing you are going to want to do in a nasty squall is go down below and rifle through a locker to get what you need.  Better to have it near, better yet to have it ready ahead of time.
  5. Shorten sail early.  Again, because we have the luxury of forecasting assistance from Chris Parker  we had a good idea of what we were in for and went out with our main double-reefed (our main has two very deep reefs, not three like some other sail plans).  It would have been near impossible and INCREDIBLY dangerous for us to reef when that storm hit us (our lines do not run aft, meaning one of us has to go forward to the mast to reef).
  6. Driving rain can be blinding.  We experienced almost total white-out conditions.  The tops of the waves were blown right off and, at one point, the sea went almost flat.  We were SO thankful to have AIS and radar to know that we were not in the traffic line of any other boats.  If we had been, there would have been no way to see them until it was too late.  Not to mention in those conditions, controlling the boat becomes difficult at best.
  7. Heaving-to works.  Though I hate to admit this, we had actually never done this drill until we had to.  This is not ideal as some boats do not heave-to well and it can actually take quite a bit of practice to master.  During a squall like the one we were in is no time to practice, but luckily for us it worked perfectly and our boat speed was reduced from 7 knots to about a half of a knot (which is more or less the point of heaving-to, for more information check this out).
  8. Severe squalls are scary, no matter how good of a sailor you are.  They just are.  And it's not scary because of what is happening, necessarily, but because of what could happen.  A boat in winds of 30 knots and over is under an incredible amount of stress.  You pray that you don't lose your main sheet, that your jib car doesn't give, that your stays don't snap, that someone doesn't slip overboard...in a situation like we were in, any of those circumstances could be dire.  A squall we can handle, but a squall with a boom wildly swinging in the wind or a line wrapped in the propellor is another story all together.  If you aren't concerned with any of these things in a severe weather situation, you are either more confident than I am or stupid.
  9. A boat really can lay on her ear.  At several points we had our entire railing in the water with salt water gushing into the cockpit and, while we were not completely on our ear, we were closer than we've ever been before.  I think it was at this point that Scott made the call to heave-to.  The next morning, Scott's arms actually felt a little sore from the workout he got to keep the boat in control.  
  10. Having a crew who knows what they're doing and a boat you can trust is everything.  The fact that our boat has proven herself again and again, and the fact that we put so much TLC into her and maintain her with such care really pays off in a rough weather situation.  In addition, I trust Scott implicitly and he is truly a fantastic sea captain - I cannot imagine being at sea in a severe weather situation with someone with less expertise.  We work very well together as a team and as long as we are in our sturdy little boat, we feel confident and safe.  I've said it again and again, but take care of your boat - and she will take care of you!
Brittany & Scott


tassio said...

nice stuff windtravelers!! nice stuff
On #2 I remembered Claudia's face with eyes wide open saying to me - this is not a squall, this is not a squall!! :D
At the airport now on my way to st. george.
Keep those sails full,


Tytti said...

Must have been a ride!

Thinking about the baby in her own watery environment moving in one direction and still moving when a wave throws the boat in another.
I felt it like having an aquarium in your lap, when in a car. The water keeps moving, when the car stops. And a boat does extra rolling compared to that. Some cradle :).

What are those cans you keep on the deck for ?

Windtraveler said...

@Tassio - thanks - looking forward to having you guys back here!
@Tyttie - Jerry Cans of extra diesel, gasoline and water...pretty much every boat down here carries at least 5 gallons extra of each on deck.

Anonymous said...

Could you cross-post this on Sainet? Smackdaddy would likely pirate the actual squall write up for the BFS thread.

Excellent story, I'm looking forward to reading the full account.

Paul from NWOnt

fairwinds4linda said...

Nice post, Brittany!

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