Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Thrilla on the Way to Anguilla

Wind Microburst! 
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We have owned Genesis for 17 years.  We have always heard about “wind microbursts” affecting sailboats, but we had never personally experienced one. Until now. With dear friends aboard.  Isn’t that always the way it always happens? As Captain Ron says “If something’s gonna happen, it’s gonna happen out there!”. 

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What’s a wind microburst? A microburst is a pattern of intense winds that descends from the clouds, usually rain clouds, hits the ground, and fans out horizontally. 

Microbursts are short-lived, usually lasting from about 5 to 15 minutes, and they are relatively compact, usually affecting an area about 0.5 to 2 miles in diameter. They are often but not always associated with thunderstorms or strong rains. By causing a sudden change in wind direction or speed-a condition known as wind shear-microbursts create a particular hazard for sailboats because you don’t have time to prepare for them.

Looking Back at St. Martin on our way to Anguilla

We had a perfect weather forecast that day to sail from Grand Case, St. Martin to Road Bay, Anguilla.  

We were sailing along under sunny skies, broad reaching with winds in the 15-20 knot range. 

Perfect sailing conditions, had the main sail and the genoa up and we were having a fine time. 

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Suddenly, without warning, a microburst of wind over 60 knots descended upon us! One moment we were sailing merrily along, and the next moment the boat was practically knocked over, heeled over to 40 degrees. Although the mast and sails did not go into the water, it was damn close! This is probably what we looked like as we heeled over.

LA was at the helm. Melissa was on the low port side of the boat, fortunately wedged in under the dodger.  Martha, LuLu and I were on the high side of the boat and we were suddenly standing straight up watching our cockpit side curtains hold hundreds of gallons in them, causing the boat to remain heeled over and sending hundreds of gallons of water into the cockpit washing over Melissa’s legs up to her thighs. There was definitely a lot of “holding on” going on…Melissa was holding my waterproof camera between her feet and holding on to the dodger, Martha was holding LuLu with one hand and the lifelines with the other, and I was holding on to Martha with one hand and the lifelines with the other and Melissa with my feet. LA was holding on to the wheel and fighting it furiously. 

As LA struggled at the helm, the water drained out of the cockpit amazingly fast by the large cockpit drains. Genesis rounded up as our autopilot was no longer able to hold our course. LA was not able to control the direction of the boat with the wheel. The wind had overpowered the rudder and steering the boat was momentarily impossible. Fortunately, the boat rounded up…which is what a well-built sailboat is designed to do in these conditions.  As the boat headed up into the wind, LA quickly regained control by steering the boat off the wind to refill the sails and get Genesis back on course.  It had now begun to rain and the winds started building, so we needed to reduce our sails. We brought in the genoa, which required a great deal of strength on my part due to the high winds and stress on the boat. Time to bring out the electric winch!  

Our boat guests...true sailors! Martha and Melissa
Everything was over in a matter of minutes, but it certainly startled all of us.  In my early sailing days, this would have probably caused me to have a heart attack, as I was so afraid when the boat heeled over even 20 degrees I would start to cry. It took me a long, long time to get over my fear of boat heeling. However, not the case with Martha and Melissa! They were champs! They remained calm and handled it great.  Natural sailors, these women are!

The rain subsided, the winds subsided and we continued to sail along the coastline of Anguilla and had a beautiful sail.  The sun came out, and everything was perfect again! 

The beautiful coastline of Anguilla

It's true what they say about cruising sailing... 98% calmness and 2% fast action. It's amazing how quickly you forget about the fast action part and get back in the calmness mode.

Road Bay, Anguilla

I’ll have to admit, it was nice to get to the anchorage and have a cold beverage (or two)!


Debbie Do said...

What an amazing adventure!!Glad everyone is ok! I am having a ball following along with you!!!Hugs to you both!

wyattsailing said...

Thanks, Debbie! Glad you are enjoying our blog. You would think that I would have plenty of time out here to post new stories, but we're just having so much fun! Stay tuned. We are getting ready to leave St. Martin soon so I am pressuring myself to get caught up.