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Sailboat racing through the squalls

Published on August 31st, 2022

by Dave Flynn, Quantum Sails
Anybody who sails in North America during the summer months has probably encountered powerful localized storms. Those who raced in the 2022 Chicago Mackinac Race got an abject lesson in just how big and scary a factor they can be. Aboard Sledd Shellhorse’s well-traveled Carkeek 40, Meridian XI, our day started with one of the most terrifying weather briefings I have heard in a long time.

Mark Thornton, Great Lakes weather expert, gave a private chat that let us know that with as much certainty as any forecast could that we were going to get pounded. A perfect mix of warm and cold fronts was going to come together directly over our projected path and create a line of organized squalls with potential winds of 40-60 knots, driving rain and two-inch hail. Good times. As we sailed towards the potential maelstrom it was hard to imagine what was coming as we enjoyed idyllic downwind conditions in 12-16 knots of breeze and plentiful sunshine.

There was plenty of discussion, however. Ron Mclean, a veteran team member, made the comment that if we were just cruising, we would roll up a couple of turns on the sails or maybe just take them all down and cautiously prepare for the worst. I recalled teaching a Safety at Sea lecture on heavy air where the first lesson upon facing a forecast like this was simply to say “no.” The wise thing is just to stay home and wait it out. In fact, some of the very smart money aboard several top programs did just that. We were determined to race and charged on. Here are some thoughts on how to survive when you are unlucky enough to get caught out but want to keep on racing. – Full report

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