Seaworthy Magazine: Thunderstorms - A Few Members' Accounts

A few years ago we were out on a friend of mine's 50' sailing catamaran on a very hot and humid summer afternoon in Charleston Harbor, S,C. The boat was a USCG certified passenger vessel but on this day we were just out sailing with the gang. As usually happens on a boat this large (she was certified for 49 passengers) our friends show up with their friends. This day, one fella came aboard who fancied himself quite the salt, a conclusion we all reached based on the way he acted, telling us how he does things on his boat, etc… We all know the type.

Rather violent afternoon storms are never a surprise to us in a place as humid as Charleston. At about 1600 hrs, right on schedule, we could see the ominous approach of a black squall line out to the west. At that point we were well across the harbor to the west and the captain decided to head back to our dock, which was to the east. We knew we would be overtaken by the storm and it would hit us hard, but not until we reached a small island on which we always beached the boat on trips with paying passenge. The plan was to continue running downwind to the east, then as we passed the beach (leaving it to starboard), we'd come about hard to starboard, put our nose dead upwind, glide right up onto the beach, drop the sails, and wait for the storm to pass. We'd done the maneuver dozens of times with no problems.

We secured everything on deck, dropped the main, and watched as the low, black storm veil continued gaining on us. We could clearly see the rain curtain coming across the harbor and were quite pleased with our timing. It was all going according to plan.

Just as the rain torrent reached us, we got the added boost of a 50 knot puff, which powered up the jib, just as we had planned. We were preparing to make our final tack when a know-it-all bozo panics, runs for the jib halyard, and lets it loose! With no power now and a gale on our stern, we were blown right past the beach. As a result, the storm stuffs us right into the marsh and there we sat with an ebbing tide. A few boats came by and gave a ride to most onboard (the bozo was the first one off the boat) while we waited for the tide to turn and eventually kedged ourselves free.

The moral of the story is that when you are about to get hit by a storm (or any out-of-the-ordinary situation for which you have a plan that may not be obvious to the rest onboard), make sure that you tell everybody onboard EXACTLY what you're plan is, otherwise the best thoughtout plans can go awry if someone doesn't stick to the playbook.