Seaworthy Magazine: Thunderstorms - A Few Members' Accounts

I was spending the 4th of July weekend on my boat in the Cottage Park Yacht Club in Winthrop, Massachusetts (Boston Harbor) so that we would have a good view of the town fireworks. There was no forecast for severe weather on the night of July 3rd, so together with my wife and two children we retired to the boat late at night.

My 29' sailboat was secure in its slip with finger piers to port and starboard, port and starboard bow lines with snubbers, port and starboard stern lines with snubbers and 3' of chain for chafe protection from the dock, two forward spring lines to keep the boat from moving too far into the slip, and one spring line led aft to keeping the boat evenly spaced between the finger piers. Just the same, there were four bumpers secured to the boat, two to starboard, and two to port. The mainsail and roller furling genoa were secured as well, and all loose objects on deck or in the cockpit had been placed below to prevent the early morning dew from wetting them.

I awoke around 7:30 am when a bit of rain started to penetrate the open ports. Within minutes the rain and wind had picked up and I was able to drive the companionway hatch open and send water streaming into the boat. I secured the hatch by wedging a line along the edge of the hatch with about 1' of line hanging out so that I could remove it. A few minutes later I told everyone to get out of their bunks and have a look, the rain was really torrential. Up until this time I was perfectly happy to be snug in my boat at the dock. Then the wind picked up.

By the time I realized how bad it was the wind had kicked up 3-4' breakers and was blowing to 65 mph (according to members looking at the weather station in the club). At this point the finger piers on either side of the boat were moving as much as 4' vertically and it would have been suicide to try to get off the boat or even try to make it across the marina on the main pier. The waves breaking over the stern were not filling the cockpit but rather were being blown 30 feet past my bow by the force of the wind.

I kept careful watch on the state of my lines and saw no sign of weakness, if one or two were to part I think we would have been all right for the 15 to 20 minutes that the squall lasted. Moving the boat out of my slip if the storm continued could not have been achieved with my 12 hp Farryman Diesel working in reverse with a two-bladed fixed prop. I had no options that I could see.

Several boats in the marina had blown out dodgers and sail covers, and a few may have bumped the dock a bit more than was healthy. The heavy pressure-treated lumber picnic tables were blown across the pier, but none appeared to have been lost. The inflatables in the rack on the dinghy pier also survived, probably because of the lessons learned the previous year when the previous rack (new at the time) had been destroyed by a similar thunderstorm.

I hope I never encounter a storm like this again, but perhaps in open water I might have been safer. I feel that the care I take in securing my boat at the marina is well justified. Another unpredicted squall could happen anytime, so I prepare the boat for the worst every time I tie up.