“Seek Shelter Immediately”

Log Book Entry Wednesday, September 9, 2015

11:45 – USCG extreme weather alert for Lake Ontario from Rochester, NY to Oswego NY – Thunderstorms with winds gusting to 40 knots, possible water spouts – mariners are advised to seek shelter immediately. Grace V diverting to Sodus Bay.

We woke up at 7ish on Wednesday morning, it was a beautiful and sunny morning.  The marina was quiet, given that it was mid week of the first week of school, no one was about.  Originally we had planned to leave Rochester at 6am to try and get to Oswego early in the afternoon, get the mast down and head into the Oswego canal before closing at 6pm.  Tim’s parents were waiting for us in the canal and we were looking forward to a rendezvous.  After a great evening catching up with our friend Joanne the night before, we decided we’d slow it down and planned to leave Rochester before 10am instead.  The canal could wait another day.  We puttered around, had showers and prepped the boat for the days sail.  We checked several weather sources to get the most accurate picture of the day and the reports were for winds building from 10 knots to 17 knots and gusting to 24 knots.  Wave height 3 feet.  Thunderstorms were likely and rain was gonna happen.  We were prepared for this, not a big deal.  We headed out at 10am on the dot.

Around 11:00 we saw the first storm cell headed our way.  Dark clouds and rain could be seen on our stern.  With wind and wave coming from behind, the ride was quite comfortable as opposed to it being on our nose.  We put rain gear on and waited for the rain.  It was over in 15-20 mins.  Tim was excited when the wind picked up from 11 kts to 18 during the rain, the boat was now surfing at 8kts!  Normally our top cruising speed is 6.5-7 kts.  We were rocketing towards Oswego!

11:45 – USCG extreme weather alert for Lake Ontario from Rochester, NY to Oswego NY – Thunderstorms with winds gusting to 40 knots, possible water spouts, the storm is travelling at 30 knts – mariners are advised to seek shelter immediately. 

This is what we heard on channel 16 just before noon.  Not good.  I have heard many times that if you sail on Lake Ontario, you can sail almost anywhere since the Lake can be wild and challenging, unpredictable and sailors often find the ocean to be less worrisome.

We were almost two hours out from Rochester, our closest safe harbour.  If we turned the boat around we’d be headed into waves that were now 4-5 feet and beating back to Rochester, a trip that would likely take 3-4 hours and we’d take the storm head on.  If we diverted to Sodus Bay, (the next closest safe harbour for a boat our size), four hours away, we’d take the waves and storm on a broad reach which would be more comfortable.  No matter which way we turned, the storm was going to reach us before we could reach a safe harbour.

I won’t lie, I was scared and regretted we had set out.  That morning I had even said to Tim, “a smart person wouldn’t do this today”.  Hmmm.

So, we prepped the boat for the approaching storm.  We could see the dark clouds behind us getting closer and darker.  The wind had dropped from 18 knots to 8 (the calm before the storm).  We reefed both sails to their third reefing points, put on rain gear, made sure the dog was safe down below and double checked that nothing would go flying on deck or below should we get knocked about.

We sat in the cockpit sailing along comfortably watching the clouds.  Tim had noticed that the clouds seemed to be moving slightly to the south and not directly at us.  He readjusted our course to head further out into the lake to see if we could avoid it all together or at least not be hit dead centre.  Within another half hour we were confident the storm was going to pass us well to the south!  Next thing we knew the sun was shining and the wind was now blowing us towards Oswego at 7 knots.  We decided to revert back to the original plan and go for Oswego.

This is what it looks like when it’s good.

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2 thoughts on ““Seek Shelter Immediately”

  1. What an exciting day of weather and sailing! You just never know what the weather is going to do while sailing on Lake Ontario.

  2. My parents called me once from the middle of the lake, I could hear booming in the background which I questioned them on and they cheerfully answered “thunder” … “thunder??!??” I asked…apparently it was very exciting and there was nothing that they could do anyways so they just “enjoyed” it…glad that you got out safe…

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