Situation: A crew of four including the Skipper were on a Chesapeake Bay private charter in June. The boat was 34’ with in mast furling and roller furling and was less than 2 years old. We all wore PFDs while on deck. Thunderstorms were forecast for the afternoon. The morning sail was uneventful and very pleasant with winds 10-12 knots. We were using our phone weather radar app to monitor possible thunderstorm activity.
We hove to for lunch and resumed sailing.
We could see a line of storms and estimated we had several more hours before the line of storms arrived. We would be safely back in the slip well before the storms arrived. We don’t recall hearing any weather warnings on the radio.
We could see some dark clouds in the immediate area but they did not appear threatening. Winds after lunch diminished and we were sailing along with a full main and full 110 genoa.
Winds continued to diminish and then suddenly became totally calm.
Shortly after the winds went to zero we experienced a loud thunder clap followed immediately by a flash of lightning. Winds went from calm to 40 + knots in a matter of minutes and soon we were experiencing a heavy downpour. The boat heeled over and soon we were moving along at close to 7 knots. The sails and rig were under heavy strain.
Action Taken. We started the engine and tried to furl the sails. This didn’t work so we headed down wind and ran with the storm. Fortunately we were in the middle of the Bay and had plenty of room.
We all had our PFDs on.
With the thunderstorm,all but one crew member, the helmsman, went below.
Running before the storm worked and there were no injuries and there was no damage to the boat. We all got quite a fright out of the experience, especially one crew member new to sailing.
The storm passed as quickly as it developed. We had enough adventure for the day and returned to port. We docked without incident.
What we did right:
- wore PFDs
- ran before the storm when we couldn’t furl the sails.
- started the engine.
- luck was on our side in that we were in a place with plenty of room.
Lessons Learned. Don’t rely entirely on your phone weather apps. Ensure you monitor and pay attention to conditions around your boat. In retrospect, since the atmosphere was generally unsettled we should have reacted to the sudden decrease in winds. We learned firsthand about the calm before the storm.
In mast furling can be tricky to operate in strong winds.