Seaworthy Magazine: Thunderstorms - A Few Members' Accounts

Bout 1985 or 86, my wife and I were sailing down the Susquehanna River headed towards the Sassafras River on Chesapeake Bay. We were in our Compac 23/II sailboat and were on a run to the Bay. We had about 6 knots of wind on the stern and we saw two very black clouds on the eastern side of the bay, one to the north and one to the south. This was not long after Tropical Storm Bob had gone thru. As we approached the mid channel buoy, the two clouds met over the Sassafras and the gentle breeze turned from 6 knots on the stern to 30 knots on the bow. Following the rule, "Reef when you first have a thought to reef", we dropped the genoa just as the strong winds hit. We started the outboard and dropped the mainsail in the driving rain. I installed the drop boards, turned on the running lights and made a 180 degree turn to head back towards the buoy. Visibility was as far as the bow of our boat from the cockpit - about 20 feet. The rain stung and may have had some hail in it. I had noted the course on our ship's compass as we were sailing down the Susquehanna so getting the reciprocal was pretty easy. As we approached the mid channel buoy, we spotted another sailboat that didn't have its running lights on. Fortunately, the visibility improved near the buoy to where the sailboat was visible. The winds died just beyond the buoy and the sky became overcast all the way back to Havre de Grace. We heard of others out that day that lost their sails due to the strong winds and having not reefed soon enough.