Coming alive as a sailing community

Published on August 30th, 2020

The microburst on August 25 will be a lasting memory for the Rhode Island boating community that were on Narragansett Bay, but beyond the damage was a silver lining that Kate Wilson shares:

For starters, it was one of the craziest storms I have ever been a part because how fast it came and went while leaving a trail of destruction behind. According to the plotter on our Swan 42 – one of the largest boats out there that night – the wind went from 5 knots to 45 knots back to 5 knots all within 3 minutes.

Hundreds of sailors were on the water enjoying what was a sunny evening as Jamestown Yacht Club and Newport Yacht Club hosts Tuesday night racing for about 30+ boats each, with race courses overlapping alongside the many boats simply out for a sail. And then the storm hit.

We suffered severe sail damage to our main and jib with the battens ripping right out, while most everyone I spoke to enduring some type of sail damage. My dad was on the Ensign that nearly sank (see story), and I had friends on the Alerion Express 28 (above) and S-Boat that sank in about 50 feet of water (which were luckily salvaged a day or so later by divers.) Madness!

However, the more amazing part was how the community came together that night as Newport quickly sprang into action to support those in need.

From competitors to race committees, Sail Newport and NYYC chase boats to passing fishing boats and cruisers, there were heroes everywhere you looked that night rendering assistance, highlighted in the Providence Journal.

Interestingly, I checked the radar at race start around 1800 myself and there were no storms on it yet. We were in a “thunderstorm watch” but the radar was clear for our area. It popped up without a developing thunderhead. By the time we saw the first lightning strike, heading for the barn wasn’t even an option as it moved so fast.

We were just off the Jamestown shore about to finish and didn’t have a chance to see it on the water for more than a few seconds before we were engulfed in a white-out of hail and rain and knocked down just outside the mooring field.

The crew just held on with our skipper who was trying to get any steerage to prevent us from hitting any moored boats or competitors (we knew there was at least one port boat out there we couldn’t see.) We couldn’t have even gotten to the halyards to drop any sails.

The fact is no one was hurt, the sails and boats will be mended, and there were many heroes that night. Newport came alive as a sailing community.

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