Seaworthy Magazine: Thunderstorms - A Few Members' Accounts

Several years ago a friend of mine, a local Rock Hall man, told me about being very wary of seeing a reef in the sky. That's what the local watermen call the rolling white cloud at the leading edge of a sharply defined front. Now I know why. On a Saturday afternoon in June 1998 I was heading south from the Kent Narrows in my 21' catboat my destination being Tilghman creek when I saw, in the sky, exactly that. A reef in the sky. There had been so little air I had not put the sail up and I had time to get my foulies on so it was not a panic situation. I know these things do not usually last long and I knew I wasn't going to make Tilghman Creek, so all I had to do was follow a course of 180 past Parson's Island.

When the front hit, the wind put a good 5-10 degree heel under bare pole and the horizontal rain cut visibility to about 50'. My boat has a nice soft motion in a heavy chop. All I had to do was make destination without further trouble. Now, when I was in the narrows, I did not look at the western sky so I did not any warning sign in the sky. The following Friday I was getting ready to leave Solomon's Island and I did look at the western sky which had a dirty gray look. I left to head north for Slaughter Creek and got nailed again. This time in mid-bay in the ship channel. Once again my little ship roved her sea-keeping ability. Once again I had not put up my sail (no wind) and I had time to put my foulies on. And once again I made my destination.

Now the point of all this is not to brag about my boat or to relate a tale of poor judgement on my part, but to report in neither case was there any warning from NOAA weather radio that a front or a line squall was expected. We are constantly advised to tune in and monitor NOAA to keep abreast of weather changes. Twice within a week I had done so and twice got dumped on without any warning. So, any time anyone leaves port in any relatively small vessel, he or she had better know their vessel is strong, sea kindly, well found and skippered by someone who doesn't panic. As for NOAA weather radio, tune in your favorite music station. It may be more meaningful.