Gale Sailing

Abv: The Front Approaches; Blw: It Arrives with 43+ Knot Gusts

For five, maybe six days we have known the front that raced through today was coming.

The persistent forecast of a shift from a S to SW wind made anchoring at Great Sale Cay untenable overnight. So we stayed at Mangrove Cay planning to leave so that we might be watchfully at anchor enduring an ugly south swell in the daylight hours just before the front passed there. Ha!

For three days, the front was described as a “front.” This morning it was described as a “strong cold front.” Okaaaay…. Following that a Wind Advisory for Brevard County started at 0900 and for West Palm Beach at 1200. One could geometrically infer that a similar condition would occur at Great Sale (90 miles east) around 1400. Since Mangrove Cay was no place to be in any kind of front, other than a fizzling one, we decided to leave earlier than we’d planned.

We pulled away from Mangrove Cay in winds from the SSW at 20 knots gusting 25kt. These became 25G30, 30G35, 35G40 in very short order. We started out with 1/4 of our genoa and in less than an hour had furled and changed to just 1/3 of our mainsail. A half hour later we were down to 1/4 of our main. Needless to say the boat was sailing with wings on her heels.

The bottle green water was now milky turquoise as far as we could see as the wave action in 15 foot deep water was creating a subaqueous sandstorm.

An hour out from Great Sale, we could see the tops of squall clouds behind us where they rose above the gray wall from horizon to horizon. On our radar we could see heavy rain 24 miles back approaching at 25 kts. We were going to reach Great Sale the same time the squalls did. Not good — a strong wind, a wind shift, rain, reduced visibility, an unfamiliar harbour — nope, we decided to turn toward the squalls. This would take our relative speed from 19 kts to 27 kts shortening the time we were actually in the main squall by a third.

We jibed and sheeted in to beat to the north keeping a mile and a half between us and the Cay. Three lines of squalls came through. The winds went to 40G45 and shifted 100 degrees with the first squall. We just jogged along upwind at about 2.5 kts waiting for the wind direction to settle and the visibility to improve.

The wind went back to 35G40, and we did a 180 to get back to our course line a mile to the south. A half mile out of Northwest Harbour we furled the main and fired up the engine. The sand made reading water color iffy but we have good charts for the area and anchored well the first time with 125 feet of chain out in a depth where we would normally just use 80.

More squalls blew through, and the wind gradually abated to 20G30. By sundown the sky west of us was clear and the wind had clocked from NW to NNW-N. By morning it should be NNE. It may be Thursday before things quiet down enough and the direction clocks enough for us to enjoyably sail farther east toward Marsh Harbour.

I think the weather folks may have been a bit surprised by this one.

Prelude to a Blow

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