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When Severe Weather Strikes

Posted by Tall Ships America on June 23, 2009

By Amelia N. Smith

 Dark clouds and lightning surrounded Schooner Virginia. It brought stinging rain in sideways sheets, stirred up the phosphorescence and decreased visibility just after dinner Sunday night. As the wind reached upwards of 55 knots, the ship’s bell began clanging eerily, adding to the chill from the shift in temperature. After 11 hours of lightning off in the distance, the sun rose in the east, a warm breeze came back and swells calmed down. Here are some thoughts and explanation from the crew about experiencing a storm at sea on a tall ship:

 Captain Edick:
 “We’d been watching the squall line on the radar for a couple of hours, and the wind shifted around west to northwest almost like it was drawing us in.”

The crew got up just in case as the cold front came in. “Over warmer water you expect pretty dramatic squall activity,” he explains. As convection occurs and cold air wedges and drives the warm moist air up until it condenses into rain and gusts of air come down.

 The foresail was taken in first, with the objective to get through the squall line while maintaining speed and reducing heel. After sailing comfortably for 10-15 minutes, it was necessary to take in the mainsail. At over 50 knots of wind, when the “rigging started to moan in a peculiar fashion, that’s when we decided to take the staysail.” 

It took about three hours to get through the squall line. Then Schooner Virginia turned west and ran parallel to where the lightning took place. “I’ve never seen anything like that,” Captain Edick says about the lightning. 

Ms. Cole (First Mate): 

“It was interesting that it didn’t all come at once and then go away.”

Though she disliked the fact that her foulies turned into a wetsuit during the first hour of watch, she liked how efficiently the crew went from lots of sail to no sail. “This boat is very prepared for a storm,” with advanced planning, experienced people and less experienced crew ready and willing standing by, she explains.

 Aaron (Deckhand): 

After seeing about three lightening strikes yards from the boat, Aaron says he tried to keep people laughing. “I felt like we were in good hands and knew the boat and crew could handle it.” Still, Aaron remembers thinking; what would happen first, “would we tip over or would we break something [and if so] what would we break first?” While standing watch for four hours in rain with lightening above making a “strobe light effect,” he thought about being struck by lightening like in the movie Benjamin Button.

 Professor Clark (Celestial Navigation Instructor): 

“I’ve never seen lightening that reminded me of a dance club before,” he says. Not a fan of sideways rain, he did however find the cloud formations interesting, especially “a cloud that looked like the underside of a breaking wave.”

 Becca (Intern):

 With winds higher than she’d experienced before, Becca says, “It was pretty miserable weather but it was also really exciting. I definitely had some adrenaline pumping. When it was over and Sarah said ‘good job’ I was really gratified and Dylan gave me a high-five.”

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