Last night I did the Thursday Night casual race with my friend Mac Daddy on his cozy cruiser. Ruby came too, with a girlfriend, so we decided to deem it ladies night on Mac Daddy's boat. We insisted that he wear a temporary tattoo, and then at the weather mark we donned feather boas and gave him the pink wig to wear. It was a slow and comfortable procession around Clapboard Island for the cruising boats, while the racers went up the bay towards Diamond Island. Sunshine, a light but steady breeze, and we were sneaking up on our cruising nemesis and trying to hold off the fast racing boat that was sailing in the cruising division.
And then the sky got black to the west. Not black -- a thick, deep grey, and, scarier to me, a sort of eerie teal grey-green that you only see in serious thundersqualls. We watched it a little bit and then I suggested that we furl the jib, take down the main, and head in. We put away the boat pretty quickly. Several other cruisers were doing the same, and we could see some of the racers across the bay dropping their sails.
We were put away, sailcover on, and motoring in by the time it hit, but it hit fast and suddenly: a wall of water and instant whitecaps. The wind instrument read 31 knots when I looked at it; that was a steady speed, and I expect the gusts were higher. The rain was horizontal, and visibility was severely reduced. I was worrying about my friends who were out, on the racers' course, in an Etchells -- no motor, no cover. I called the skipper, but she didn't answer her phone. I asked our skipper if we could motor out to them to check whether they needed assistance, and radioed the race committee that we were doing so. He had abandoned the race and when I told him the location of the Etchells he drove the RC boat in that direction. Another big cruiser who'd headed into the anchorage ahead of us turned around, presumably to rescue the smaller boats who hadn't taken their sails down before the squall hit.
Our friends in the Etchells were being towed in by a J/110, we confirmed. The Race Committee spotted an overturned vessel near Cow Island and was on the scene, summoning the Coast Guard and rendering assistance. We notified them that we were standing by to aid anyone who needed it. The small boats were limping in okay. The wind dropped down to about 18 knots -- windy but manageable, and the rain softened. We proceeded to our mooring and took cover. I watched a lobster boat towing in a small sailboat. A moored boat's roller furled jib had come loose and was flapping helplessly. On the VHF radio a trimaran with a tiny outboard gave its location to the Race Committee boat to get a tow in.
We sat on our mooring for a while as it got dark outside, below deck with the cabin lights on, eating cheese and crackers and listening to the rain falling on deck. On the launch and the dock people were trading tales of near escapes. One J/24 hadn't yet come in, but the skipper and crew are very experienced and I expect they headed south or took cover across the bay. I don't know the details of the overturned vessel in Cow Island passage yet, but I think the rescue was well under control by the Coast Guard.
It was a night that reminded me how fast things can turn on the water, and how important it is to have working equipment readily accessible -- lifejackets, radio, anchor, tow lines, flares. It also reminded me of the capability and seamanship of the people in the area -- people were on hand to render assistance to boats who needed it. I've never seen a storm come through so quickly. The most casual sail can become an extreme situation in the space of a couple of minutes.
Before and after photos from the evening.