Tag Archives: Lightning

Back in the USA

If last year’s trip back was a D-, this would be a B-.

The dash in the dark from Mangrove Cay (left at 0404) was lit by lightning flashes from unpredicted squalls –fortunately downwind and at a distance.

When we reached the edge of the Little Bahama Bank, a Gulf Stream southerly eddy had set up. We lost a knot to the eddy for about nine miles.

This year the swell were regular and from the NE only. This worked out well till we got to the fastest part of the Stream and the swell stacked up –like last year. We had to sail a more northerly course to stop the rolling. Not as much as last year, only about three hours this time (not all day).

As we exited the Stream’s main wall to the west (where it was supposed to be this time), we encountered seven lesser walls progressively farther apart as we approached Fort Pierce. We did not have this good fortune last year, and it made up for the eddy off Memory Rock.

Also making up for the eddy, we arrived securely on a flood tide — part of the plan, As a result we had a current boost all the way to our anchorage off the channel in Faber Cove. The boost in the inlet had us moving nearly 11 knots in its narrowest section. We motored the entire distance. The wind never went above 5 knots from a useful direction for more than 15 minutes at a time and there were few of those times. Still, we made the trip in only 11 minutes more than our estimate.

On reaching the coast we were disappointed by the dirtiness of the water and air. Before long we smelled scrub fire smoke, and later the AIS showed a dredge making continuous runs offshore to dump dredge spoil. This morning the water is turquoise, but it won’t be really clear until we return to the Bahamas.

We are thankful for a safe and incident free trip.

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70 mph* at the End of the Dock

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We are at the right hand paddle. Times are GMT

At 0215 EDT (0615 GMT) this morning we got clobbered — lightning, thunder, wind, rain and hail (though not much of the latter). It was well predicted, but hard to track. U.S. Doppler radar coverage doesn’t quite reach here. But these systems arrive like big logs rolling down a hillside. When you see one coming, you duck. Sometimes they bounce your way, sometimes they don’t. However, satellite imagery can offer some help. In the graphic above, blue clouds are warm and near the surface. Orange ones are very cold and tend to represent the tops of major storm cells or clusters of them. You can see why at 2300 last night we were thinking about doubling the dock lines. The storm that did hit us (22 minutes after the red framed image) doesn’t even show up here. But still, we knew the big log was rolling down on us. For once, being surrounded by breeze killing walls of large powerboats seemed like a good thing.

*Unlike 70 mph winds in a hurricane, these downburst gusts lasted a few (very long) minutes. This is our fourth experience with squall winds of this speed or greater in two years. Last year, a line like this one (about this time of year) just missed us at Green Turtle Cay and clobbered Great Guana just to our SSE — 70+ mph were recorded at Fishers Bay. The lightning looked and sounded like a Russian artillery barrage.

In June, a derecho hit us off Altamaha Sound (Georgia) where we recorded two gusts of 69 knots (80 mph). The NWS data reflect gusts of 62 knots  inland, but these things speed up over water. Then barely a month later there was the Washington DC derecho that hit us at anchor in West River — and again NWS recorded gusts were between 80-100 mph within a quarter mile of our position, but we only saw 85 mph.

Before that it was 1975…

…when God’s refrigerator door opened on us in a club-level ocean race from Port Canaveral to Fort Pierce. The temp dropped 20 degrees in less than five minutes. Air that had been lifted over Florida for an entire day was pushed east by a front, and then it fell back to earth in a single massive waterfall of air — its velocity added to the front’s. That was at night, under a dome of absolute black, under full sail on a prototype racing boat with an inadequate rudder (we found out a few moments later). All we had for weather warnings were lightning flashes and the roar of wind which could be heard far enough ahead of its arrival we were able to get the sails down before it rolled us. Those gusts were only 65 mph according to the USAF.

Five episodes in 39 years of sailing around 25-35K  miles (who keeps count?) near sub-tropical land. Not too bad, but we’d be happy to let someone else have our turn next time.

Of Grass Seed, Baptism, and Bow Thrusters

At rest in Grace Harbor.

I wrote this a few days ago. I thought it frivolous. I still do, but it fits my mood.

When I was between 28 and 40, I had a 34 inch waist (two minus in the younger years, two plus later). I ran six miles a day at lunch and twelve on Saturday. I was addicted. Sleet, deep snow and lightning and my boss were the only things that kept me from my appointed rounds, or out-and-backs is more like it.

I seriously tapered off at age 40 based on messages from my joints and my (bone) doctor. In another twelve years, distance running was no longer on my list of can dos. But, my ankles and knees and right hip no longer sent threatening messages to my head.

Well, the hip would often say, “if you’ll be nice to me, I’ll be yours forever.” Nice in this case was a hissing adjective (like precioussss in “Lord of the Rings.”). I suspected my hip was hiding evil intent.

Grace Harbor at River Dunes

On the days when the weather has allowed, I have walked around Grace Harbor at River Dunes. It’s not much, but it’s something. On Saturdays, I double the distance in homage to the days of yore.

So far my ankles, knees and hips have been silent, but I hear niccccce from somewhere off to the right. Nah, it must have been a bird. So I tried a little jog, and oh lordy, as they say ’round here. I felt like I was trying to jog with an 80 pound bag of grass seed not so well strapped to me. I am not the 5:15 per mile guy I once was.

So in recognition I have something to say about the matter, I have been consuming less calories (chocolate is forever protected from such thinking).

Now, historically, when we have wine that’s a tad too warm for the best flavor, we drop an ice cube in it. Somewhere in the 494 months we have been married, someone referred to this as baptizing the wine. It’s a Southern thing meant with no malice. It occurred to me I ought to do this all the time. Hey, those two cubic inches of water subtract something.

Being a chemical engineer with a inclination to testing (testing, not testiness). I decided to see how much filtered water I could add to the wine to reach the cross over from baptized wine to disinfected water.

Why do I say disinfected? Well aside from bringing jollity (among other, lesser things), brewed, fermented and distilled beverages earned their place in early history — particularly amongst village, town, and city people as being something one could drink and reduce the chances of succumbing to Amoebiasis, Cryptosporidiosis, Cyclosporiasis, Giardiasis, Microsporidiosis, Schistosomiasis, Dracunculiasis, Taeniasis, Fasciolopsiasis, Hymenolepiasis, Echinococcosis coenurosis, Ascariasis, Enterobiasis, Botulism, Campylobacteriosis, Cholera, E. coli, M. marinum, Dysentery, Legionellosis, Leptospirosis, Salmonellosis, Typhoid, fever, Vibrio, Illness, Hepatitis, A, Poliomyelitis Polyomavirus,etc.

The Romans (also engineers, mind you, but with a penchant for downright imperial testiness) understood these health benefits, but also understood a Legion in its cups (ebrius, crapulatus, and/or deebriatus) was gonna be missing a few Legionaires  come sunrise.* There were also circumstances where — in too much wine there could be too much truth (and other than troops might be missing come sunup).

So, they appointed an Arbiter Bibendi who controlled when wine was served, how much was consumed, and how much water was added to reduce the incidence  of Lucius’ gladius poking Pontius. The gladius was the short stabbing sword favored by the Legions (they had no slashing room in those testudo formations).

So, ens mea iudex vinum, I started testing how much filtered water I could add to my wine before I reached my yuck limit. Turns out two parts wine to one water is pretty good, if you start with a flavorful wine.** It reduces the calories and keeps ones sandals firmly where they belong relative to one’s head.

Which is useful on a boat, inclined as they are to cast inattentive, bare or sock-footed (or otherwise diminished) crew on their butts, heads, etc. or, worse, overboard. We don’t consume underway, simple as that.

But a couple of nights ago, several now that I think of it, because it was actually warm enough to intentionally be outside without a demanding task, I decided to  have my wine on deck. Soon, a transient trawler came alongside in the slip next to me, and I asked if I could assist. I got a cheery, “got it,” and a smile.

Then the skipper hit the bow thruster control and got me. His bow thruster was below the bottom of the floating dock. He had a large enough boat, he had a bow thruster of significant oomph. He gave it a long healthy tweak, and Brilliant Star seemed to jump sideways about two feet, more or less instantly. I was holding on at the solar brackets. Had I not been, I would have been swimming or picking a dock cleat out of my teeth. It was a nice looking trawler.

Like I said, frivolous.

*If a Legion (or an organizational subset of it) was found to be drunk, the Centurions would line them all up and kill every tenth Legionnaire (chosen by lot). This was called Decimare, the root of decimation, and in this case means the execution of ten percent to set an example. It was applied for drunkenness, cowardice, defeat; it depended on how irritated/embarrassed the Commander was. In general, it means reduction by ten percent. This is why when the news media say decimated, they generally don’t know what they are talking about, but then that’s redundant.

**The Romans went as far a 4:1, water:wine, but they were working with more alcoholic wines frequently garnished with herbs and containing wood resins (ala retsina). Actually, any time spent researching Roman drinking and dining makes it very clear we won’t be seeing any Roman Cooking My Way on cable. I mean deep fried mice as poppers?


The gust front hit at 68.9 knots.

The weather had been beautiful after Beryl and its lingering moisture were swept out by a cold front. But because we couldn’t turn the rental car in until Monday*, we had to settle for a forecast with “isolated thunderstorms, some possibly severe” tacked on at the end. Laying the text out day by day, it looked as if getting north of Savannah late in the night would reduce our probabilities.

Looks can be deceiving.

We left the marina in Brunswick less smoothly than usual. A current running down the SE River wasn’t particularly visible at the surface, but the keel and rudder felt it, and getting out of the 60 foot space between docks with a 45 foot boat in the grip of an unexpected current reminded me of the first time I rode a horse. [The horse won.]

Having left on time, if not gracefully, we rode the developing ebb down the Brunswick River and out the ship channel to hit our turning point 34 minutes early. Minutes like these go in the bank to be given back along the way.

We were delighted to have sailing conditions as we turned NE and shut the diesel down. Equally delightful was the long-shore current that put more time in the bank. We settled back to enjoy the cooler offshore temps, the clear sky and to dodge shrimpers for a while.

Around 1330, we both decided the sky to the west wasn’t looking quite as delightful. I put our radar in weather mode, and we looked out that direction to see heavy and increasingly organized [not good] rain showers coming together into a diagonal wall that was headed across our course at 30 knots from about 40 miles away. What NOAA had to say, confirmed what we saw. Pfui!

We decided to turn south and let them slide past us and proceed north once they had crossed. They did not cooperate. The southwest end of the wall kept propogating farther south than we could escape. So we furled the sails and made ready [not quite] to meet them head on in the thinnest part of the wall we could discern.

It was thin, but, man it was wiry… The gust front hit us at 68.9 knots [That’s 78.5 mph folks]. It ripped water off the surface and shot-blasted us with it. In less than five minutes the winds were down to only 56 knots, and the waves began to build. They had seven miles from the coast to gather steam before they reached us and were 6-8 feet high and only about 40-60 feet apart and the color of milky malachite. Their tops were a continuous wall of breaking white combers with long downwind manes of spray that hurt when it hit you.

69 knots…looking downwind

Fifteen minutes later these were 7 footers with large white manes.

We had the engine at full throttle and were able to keep bow to the waves except when the wind suddenly gusted from an odd direction, and then we would be shoved abeam and rolled. Then we would begin the slow turn back up into the waves. Every two or three minutes the boat would crest a wave and nose-dive into the oncoming wave. Then it would pop back up like a bath tub duck. Our ground speed during all of this was about a knot to windward.

And then the rain came. And then the mushy pea hail. Fortunately, the thin part of the line was thin on lightning. After distant cloud-to water-stuff before the gust front arrived, the infrequent remainder was cloud-to-cloud.

When the winds became a manageable 30-40 knots we were able to fall off to starboard and resume our course with those same waves lifting and lowering us like a giant game of blanket toss. All told, it lasted an hour. We will not forget Altamaha Sound.

As squalls like these usually do, this one had knocked the sailing winds senseless, and we motored back along our course having withdrawn 1:37 from the time bank. [The reason these times were important was our desire to reach Charleston with a favorable flood tide.]

Before sunset arrived we had wind again and were able to shut down and sail, but that lasted only a while, and again, we had to motorsail to maintain the seven knots we now needed. The moon rose full and red behind the remnants of squall clouds that now were reaching farther south than Brunswick and lighting the sky with flash pops.

We reached Savannah nearing midnight in the garden of large ships moving fast. First the King Douglas cleared out toward the sea-buoy, then the pilot boat Georgia made its way down to the Skodsborg which had hauled anchor and was building steam toward the ship channel. Then the American President’s Lines Chile came down channel at 17 knots and crossed behind us about two miles distant. Without the AIS all we would have known was big stuff was moving, and we would have had to rely on plotting solutions only to determine our actions. By being able to add the AIS information and the plotting solutions, we were able to safely transit with a lot less concern.

And then moon or not, it got really dark. From Savannah northward, there were a few lights and the anchored shrimpers’ work-lights might or might not have been shore lights. We started combat napping in the cockpit and spelling one another on about 90 minute intervals. From Savannah to sunrise was only six and a half hours.

Off Port Royal Sound, the wind returned and with authority. We had 18-23 knots of wind on a beam reach. We shut the engine down and proceeded to race through the blackness. From time to time we would surf a wave as the swells changed direction, depending on the tide flooding or ebbing in a nearby inlet. At nautical twilight—the sky just pinking in the east—we were only 12 minutes behind our time line, and that’s essentially zero given the precision of tidal current forecasting.

Off Folly Island we went back to motorsailing as the sun warming the air lifted the breeze above us. By the time we had reached the Charleston Inlet jetties, the wind had come back down to the surface and was back in the 18-23 range – on the nose. We furled and motored in on a flood tide and had the anchor down in the Ashley River not far from the Coast Guard docks at 1020.

We were napping about 20 minutes after that. We napped until 1600 and went to bed early. The next day we slept in until 1000 as nearly two inches of heavy rain washed the salt from the boat and kept us lulled. We still checked on the anchor and our position relative to other boats and obstructions on a regular basis, but we weren’t 100% till around noon.

Was it worth it? You bet. We traded 25 hours (20 actually offshore) for three days of droning tedium and badly maintained waterway. We would have gotten beaten up by the squall either way—and would have had fewer options for dealing with it in the waterway. Yes, we could have anchored if we could find a place where 60+ knot winds wouldn’t put us ashore.

The important thing to remember is that with sea room, a well-found boat with a competent crew is much safer (if occasionally less comfortable) offshore. The prevailing and squall winds were blowing from land to sea–we had 3000+ miles of ocean downwind, not mud, sand and gravel a 100 feet away and an unknown bottom beneath.

Did it go perfectly well? No. The Droid is dead, long live the Droid. I had it outside testing the limits of its coverage and forgot to stow it. It now performs like HAL after its singing “Daisy” was done. The electric flyswatter is also toast so it no longer toasts flies. [A bad, bad thing between Charleston and Gerogetown.]

But there is nothing quite like eating fresh sour-sweet cherries and tossing the pits in your moonlit wake while crashing along on a beam reach at 7.5 knots at 0200 with nothing on the radar but buoys.

*I had a vertigo attack the day we planned to start moving our car northward. So we ended up a day behind.

Roll Out the Beryl

What Beryl amounted to depended upon where one was. We had two gusts that sharply heeled, and thus woke us last night and one heavy downpour around four a.m. Otherwise, it was a quieter night than most we spent anchored at Great Sale Cay and less windy than the squalls at Green Turtle Cay on the way back to the U.S.

The closer one was to the coast, the worse the winds and surge (~4 foot) were. But nowhere was there much lightning, and tornadoes didn’t materialize, around here at least.

Now the storm is stalled and drenching some locales (mostly in Florida). We expect the rain will begin to move north and then northeast in the next 48 hours. Here, more rain is some hours off, at least according to the radar. But more is about a 100% probability.

When the time came to go to the marina Memorial Day party, a strong slate colored squall line was bearing down on our end of the marina (Dock 12). As we debated continuing, two ladies told us to get in their car, and we rode the half mile to the party. When we ran under the Dock 1 awning, the wind was up to 35 kts and we were just wet enough for ironing. An hour later it was over and the sun was out. And a good time was had by all it seemed. The steaks were tender. The potluck was lucky — especially the wild rice salad and feta Janet brought. The string combo was age appropriate and skilled. As usual we met a handful of nice folks. Unusually, we watched three manatees cruising the banks looking for freshwater run-off.

Whale of a Time

This is a good day. On a bad day people don't even come near enough to take pictures. This place has eaten ships for dinner; boats are just snacks.

Last night after dinner aboard, we sat in the cockpit and watched the light show from the approaching cold front. Fortunately, most of the lightning was cloud-to-cloud and the cells with cloud-to-ground went N and S of us. We disconnected the shore power cord in any case.

The rain brought a lot of cold air down with it, and as it spread across us we had to put on an extra layer. We are becoming tropical temperature wimps.

Nearing 2230, one vertical bolt was too close for comfort, and we went below. In less than five minutes we had a short-lived downpour that washed away a lot of salt. And then for us, it was over.

This morning the air was still and crystalline, but not all that cool. the conditions were ripe for running the Whale Passage. We checked out of the marina, bug-out style, and got off the dock at 1045. Once clear of the White Sound Channel, we called on Ch16 for any reports on the Whale. “SEMPER FI” came back with “1 foot rollers and beautiful.” With a Woohoo! we set course and had a lovely sail all the way to Settlement on Great Guana (where they had 50 mph winds last night).

The harbor was full. The water was thin. So, we backtracked to Fishers Bay which was not all that thrilling given it was open to the wind predicted for the day. The holding was good though, and once we had the anchor down the conditions weren’t much worse than Mangrove Cay’s had been. The winds are predicted to clock this evening to NE which changes this from an iffy place to a favored one. We are very glad to be on the hook again. Green Turtle Club was great, and we’ll return, but it was time to move on.

Adam Troy had a schooner. This looks more like the ship from which Ensign Pulver launched the potted palm. In any case a wide berth is wise when one of these island freighters is near.