THUNDERSTORMS ARE THE KING COBRAS OF OFFSHORE SAILORS
Real Ocean Cruisers know how to stay out of harm's way.
When I was sailing Exit Only in Thailand, I visited a snake show in which a snake handler proceeded to kiss a king cobra on the lips. The handler was risking it all. One mistake on his part would be fatal. Kissing cobras is high risk work and more than one person has perished in the attempt.
Kissing cobras is an exercise in denial and is pushing the limits of staying out of harm's way.
No amount of money would ever tempt me to attempt to kiss a king cobra. It's disgusing, stupid and dangerous.
The King Cobras in an offshore sailors life are thunderstorms, and I do everything in my power to stay away them.
Thunderstorms are a problem for several reasons.
First, they can be associated with microbursts that have up to seventy knots of wind - enough to capsize my catamaran. Many monohull sailboats have sunk after they took a knockdown from a microburst.
Second, the lightning associated with thunderstorms can strike your boat causing expensive damage.
Microbursts and lightning are a double whamy that can put a temporary or permanent end to your offshore voyaging.
A typical lightning strike usually does $10,000 to $20,000 damage to the electronics on board a modern cruising yacht. Say goodbye to all your electronics and autopilot after a lightning strike. That means no radar, depth sounder, gps, computer, multifunction display, autopilot and AIS. In a nanosecond, your boat goes back to a predigital age. It's time to get out the sextant and handheld compass for navigation. It's not the end of the world, but it's the end of your navigational world as you know it until you cough up another $10,000.
Radar significantly increases the odds that I will not have to deal with microbursts and lightning strikes. Those are reasons I love my radar.
Radar is our single most useful instrument to stay out of harm's way when we encounter severe thunderstorms.
When we see a thunderstorm, we turn on our radar to assess the magnitude of the challenge we are facing.
Radar reveals the size of the distrubance in miles, and it shows whether the storm is increasing in intensity or dissipating. It tells which way the storm is moving and how fast it is moving. Once the radar picture is complete, we understand whether we have a small, medium or large problem, and a course of action becomes clear to minimize the effect that the storm will have on Exit Only.
Whether you are in a storm at sea or at anchor, the size of the storm is important. If radar reveals a small squall that will be over in fifteen minutes, your response is different than if the storm is miles wide, and it will take an hour or two to pass.
When a thunderstorm is only a mile in diameter, I can take down my sails and weather the storm in less than an hour.
When a thunderstorms is ten miles in diameter, I usually take some form of evasive action, and the radar tells me the best course of action to take.
Sitting at anchor in an intense thunderstorm is risky business when you are in an anchorage with poor holding. Your risk of dragging anchor increases with intense storms having a long duration because of its large size. Radar will tell you whether you should leave the anchorage or just run the engine to take the load off the anchor to prevent dragging.
Similarly, if you are in an anchorage with poor holding, and other yachts are anchored to windard too close to your boat, the intensity of the storm will determine whether a poorly anchored yacht drags into you and damages your vessel. If the radar displays a significant thunderstorm, I will move Exit Only out of harm's way.
The type and weight of anchors deployed by other yachts in an anchorage have a great deal to do with the risk they pose to your yacht. Plow anchors deployed in a muddy or grassy bottom have a high probability of dragging in a thunderstorm. When the wind shifts in the thunderstorm, plow anchors frequently will not reset themselves. I know this to be true because I dragged a sixty pound plow anchor across the Pacific and Australia, and the anchor frequently did not reset properly in a wind shift or change in tidal current. When I am in an anchorage, and a new boat comes in and anchors, I watch what type of anchor they put down, and I make a mental note whether they are anchoring in grass, mud, or sand. Since I have already anchored, I know the type of bottom in the anchorage, and I know whether the size and type of anchor they are using is appropriate for the bottom, the wind, and current experienced in that particular location.
The new generation manson, rockna, and beugel anchors do a good job of resetting when the direction of pull changes on the anchor. I will ride out a thunderstorm in an anchorage with good holding if the boats in the anchorage are appropriately anchored with good anchors and an all chain rode.
In a marginal anchorage with marginal anchors and poorly anchored yachts, radar helps me decide whether I will ride things out or pull up my anchor to get out of harm's way.
I have sailed with yachts that predictably and frequently dragged anchor as we cruised with them up the Red Sea. It mattered a great deal how close they were to Exit Only when they put down their anchor, and if they were too close, I would move my boat to keep it out of harm's way in thunderstorms, because I knew they would be dragging their anchor.
It's not just other yachts that are a threat in a thunderstorm. When you anchor in tight bays with reefs in close proximity, there is no margin of error for the anchor dragging because you will go up on a reef. Radar helps me decide whether I should leave the anchorage to keep Exit Only safe.
Lots of anchorages are day anchorages except in settled weather. A good mariner understands the weather patterns in his location, and he might stay overnight in a day anchorage if he is 100% sure of the weather.
When sailing offshore in the vicinity of thunderstorms, the challenge is much different. You aren't worrying about dragging anchor. You are in damage control mode.
Modern radar tells the size and shape of the thunderstorm. Although size is important, the shape of the thunderstorm is frequently more important.
An elongated storm that is ten miles long and two miles wide is managed by directing the boat through the narrowest part of the storm. You navigate through the two mile part of the storm rather than punishing yourself by travelling through the ten mile long axis of the storm.
Without radar, you have no idea there is a two mile axis of escape available allowing you to avoid the majority of the thunderstorm.
Modern radar has colors that reveal the intensity of different parts of the thunderstorm making it possible to avoid sailing in the most intense regions of the storm. We avoid sailing in areas colored red on the radar. The colored display also lets you see how the storm is changing intensity, and you know when the storm is resolving. When red goes to yellow and then to green, we know that the storm intensity is diminishing.
Our radar has magnetic bearings on the screen, making it easy to tell which direction we should sail to avoid the most intense regions of the storm.
I turn on my radar when thunderstorms are ten to twenty miles away, and I usually alter course, speed up, or slow down to avoid the worst of the storm. Most of the time I can avoid the storm entirely.
When storm avoidance is impossible because the storm is rapidly bearing down us, the radar reveals how fast and where the storm is heading, and I can plot a course that keeps me in the least intense section of the storm.
The King Cobras of offshore sailors will always be thunderstorms, and I will do everything in my power to avoid them.
Awesome music video that captures the essence of what it's like to sail offshore in a catamaran around the world when conditions are less than perfect. David Abbott from Too Many Drummers sings the vocals, and he also edited the footage from our Red Sea adventures. This is the theme song from the Red Sea Chronicles.
Sailing up the Red Sea is not for the faint of heart. From the Bab al Mandeb to the Suez Canal, adventures and adversity are in abundance. If you take things too seriously, you just might get the Red Sea Blues.
If you like drum beats, and you like adventure, then have a listen to the Red Sea Chronicles Trailer.
Flying fish assault Exit Only in the middle of the night as we sail through the Arabian Gulf from the Maldives to Oman. And so begins our Red Sea adventures.
Sailing through Pirate Alley between Yemen and Somalia involves calculated risk. It may not be Russian Roulette, but it is a bit of a worry. Follow Team Maxing Out as they navigate through Pirate Alley.
Stopping in Yemen was just what the doctor ordered. We refueled, repaired our alternator, and we made friends with our gracious Yemeni hosts. We also went to Baskins Robbins as a reward for surviving Pirate Alley.
After you survive Pirate Alley, you must sail through the Gate of Sorrows (Bab Al Mandab) at the southern entrance to the Red Sea. The Gate of Sorrows lived up to its name with fifty knots of wind and a sandstorm that pummeled Exit Only for two days. Life is good.
Although I like the feel of a paper book in my hand, I love trees even more. When people purchase an eBook, they actually save trees and save money as well. Ebooks are less expensive and have no negative impact on the environment. All of Dr. Dave's books are available at Save A Tree Bookstore. Visit the bookstore today and start putting good things into your mind. It's easy to fill your mind with positive things using eBooks. No matter where you are or what you are doing, you can pull out your smart phone or tablet and start reading. You can even use electronic highlighters and make annotations in your eBooks just like paper books.