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Seaworthy Magazine: Thunderstorms - A Few Members' Accounts

While sailing my Catalina 30 back from New York to its home at Chelsea yacht Club some 60 miles north of NYC, we heard weather reports of possible strong afternoon thunderstorms developing. The trip North from New York takes about 8 hours motoring, and longer under sail. I always have the radio on and monitor channel16 as well as the weather channel. Around three o'clock in the afternoon, the weather bureau broke in with the "alert tone" on channel 16 and we immediately went to a weather channel for the report. Strong, violent thunderstorms were headed east across New York State and expected in the Hudson valley later in the afternoon.

We were near Bear Mountain and had another two hours or so till we would reach Chelsea and our mooring. Since that part of the Hudson is deep and narrow with little protected anchorage, I decided that we would continue on and try to reach home before the storms hit us.

When we reached the north end of the Hudson Highlands at Storm King Mountain, (an appropriate name, considering the weather that day), it was more and more obvious that we would probably be hit by the storm. The sky to the west was black. I started the engine and we took down our main and headsail. I had all crew on board put on life jackets (they thought this was a little extreme but I insisted).

Since the storm was tracking from the northwest, I decided against trying to anchor anywhere in the area. By this time we were near Newburgh, New York. The river there is wider and any anchorage would be on the east side, which not a good place to be if it really got bad and we started dragging anchor. As the storm approached, I had already made the decision that our only alternative was to ride the storm out. Other boats in the area were quickly dashing into area slips. The local marina at Newburgh looked full and, besides, it was too shallow for our Catalina 30. I stayed close to the channel on the west shore, heading north but slow enough to stay away from the Newburgh Beacon Bridge. When the storm hit us we were as ready as we could be.

As it turned out this was no ordinary summer squall. The rain was intense and the winds were probably gusting to 60 or 70 miles an hour. I kept us pointed into the wind as we were pushed and tossed in seething foam. We rode out the storm, which only last about 20 minutes, with our navigation lights on, wearing our lifejackets on, and with the hatches secured. We learned that a sailor had died in the same storm when it reached Long Island Sound.

Did we do everything right? I believe we did. Our decision to ride the storm out was, I believe, the right one for us. Having served in the Coast Guard in Maine, I was involved in numerous rescues as the #2 swimmer aboard the CGC Snohomish. My training there and the experience of being involved in rescues at sea have always given me a base for prudence and caution while on the water.