How should we prepare for a night in a thunderstorm at anchor and minimize the risks? We have prepared tips and tricks for you that will bring you a more peaceful sleep and security when solving dramatic situations.
How can you prepare for bad weather on the boat and minimize the risks? Read recommendations from one of our most experienced captains who will bring you peace of mind while sleeping and security while solving dramatic situations.
During your summer vacation on a sailing boat in Croatia you are moored in a bay at anchor or on a buoy. There is a relaxed holiday atmosphere everywhere. You can go paddleboarding, read an interesting book on the boat deck or sit in a beautiful harbor pub with local “Travarica” and a small macchiato.
The dinghy with suspension motor floats on a line behind the yacht because the crew occasionally goes to the nearby cliffs to snorkel. Bimini and sprayhood are set up to provide much-desired shade. A large inflatable flamingo rests on the foredeck. Washed clothes and bath towels dry on the railing and the lines. There is a light breeze blowing at 5 knots (wind force 2 Beaufort), the sea is calm, the semi-transparent altocumuli slowly swim across the sky.
The sun is setting, cicadas can be heard from the shore, seagulls fly between the watercraft anchored nearby. It is early evening and you are looking forward to the next day when you can really rest again. After a few hours and glasses of a really good port wine, you can go to sleep in your stern cabin …
… Suddenly you are awakened by a violent jerk from the boat. You rub your sleepy eyes and try to perceive reality. Was that just a dream? Another twitch and the boat bends violently to one side and again to the other. You run out on deck, drunk with sleep. In the moonlight heavy clouds chase in the sky and the sea sends you its foam over the board.
The ships that you see in your vicinity lurch at their anchors or buoys and sway violently from one side to the other. Not only are your towels flying in the air, but also your inflatable flamingo, which no longer wants to sit quietly in the foredeck and plunges into the stormy sea.
The dinghy with its motor floats upside down and it looks like it is almost flying. The paddleboard moves independently past the railing. The Bimini cover tears through in gusts. Everywhere on other ships the lights of the crews’ head torches can be seen. Your crew members are walking around the deck, confused.
Some vessels are blurring with the current, some are trying to leave their berths. Empty beer cans and shards of a forgotten plate are lying around in your cockpit. You cut this on the foot. There is a hasty downpour. The boat turns with its stern towards the coast. The deck becomes slippery. The visibility deteriorates. You turn on the radio.
Confused, someone calls for help on channel 16. Your crew looks at you from the lower deck with dilated pupils. Can the ropes take it? Doesn’t the depth under the boat sink? Why is my depth gauge not turned on? Where is my life jacket? Hell, I didn’t change the batteries in my flashlight. Does the genoa hold fast?
Comfort has turned into drama, the struggle for bare survival is coming.
“The meteorological situation has changed significantly not only in the Mediterranean area in recent years. It is no longer true that the warm sea, especially the Adriatic, is just a large pond where there is no danger. Tropical thunderstorms with a completely unpredictable course have lashed these previously quiet locations in summer in recent years. The second week of July of this year (2019) is considered direct evidence. In just one week (July 6-13, 2019), more than 150 damage to the watercraft and almost 50 May-Day emergency calls were reported according to the meteo.hr server. On the night of July 8th to 9th, more than 36,000 lightning bolts struck the central and southern Adriatic for three hours. That’s about 3 flashes in a second! The thunderstorm was accompanied by torrential rain, heavy downbursts and local hailstorms. In some areas (e.g. Dugi Otok) there was up to 300 mm of rainfall in 3 hours during this time. Many ships were torn from their anchors or buoys, many of them ended up on sandbanks or reefs. Some of them ended up on the ocean floor. And there was still no mention of the material damage on the mainland. Several minor and severe injuries have been documented, thank God no one died during this thunderstorm in Adria.
The summer situation in the bay described above is by no means unreal, perhaps you have already experienced it in this scenario. If not, be sure you never want to experience it. Not the thunderstorm itself, but the hopelessness of the whole situation on the boat when you don’t know what to do first.
But let’s get back to the beginning of this story. How should one go to minimize nighttime problems in a bay? From the documentation (not only) of the marine casualties, we can see that the weakest link in the notorious chain is not technology, but people themselves. A small mistake or inconsistency can also result in great tragedy.
18 tips on how to prepare for anchoring in a thunderstorm and how to minimize problems
- Act consistently
Anyone who is consistent in their personal life should be doubly consistent at sea. Those who are not usually consistent should be at sea ten times. 🙂 If you can think of something that should be done, be sure to do it. And so on. This applies both when driving and when anchoring. It’s really worth it.
- Follow the meteorological situation
Always, even when the weather is nice, you can follow current developments. Even if you have ordered a weather forecast and regularly receive the news by SMS. Most seafarers have taken a liking to the on-line application Windy. I don’t want to advise you against it, it’s a really good application, but there are a few more things to keep in mind. Windy is a prediction program, so it does not say directly what the situation is at sea, it “calculates” the situation in the atmosphere. It is about a global forecast that works with a certain data density – according to single forecast models. For example, the GFS model works with a data density of 27 kilometers (15 nautical miles). So it cannot quite logically describe the situation in your bay, also because of the islands in the area, because it simply does not include them. Use your own Analyze and local meteorological server (see links below under the article).
- Location for the night
You choose the night location so that the intended wind orients your boat with the stern out of the bay – so that the wind pushes the boat towards the open sea rather than towards cliffs or reefs. In other cases, with strong nocturnal winds, there is the possibility that you will no longer be able to get out of the bay (also because of the weaker engines of the sailing boats). If you are not sure that you can handle the situation in the bay, better find a safe haven.
In the event that the harbors are already full or closed and there is no suitable bay in your area, go to the open sea outside the islands. Your boat cannot easily sink in the open sea. It is no coincidence that the basic rule of seafarers is: “Sailor, protect your ship from the coast, it protects you from the sea.”
- Calculate with wind reinforcements, gusts
With the storm come gusts. What actually is a gust? It is a local wind, reinforced by the orography (terrain) or by local pressure gradient intensification. Sometimes the intended gusts can be observed with the naked eye, for example in the shape of a bay or surrounding hills. In any case, a simple empirical equation applies: a gust can, under certain conditions, increase the wind up to three times. A weather forecast with a wind of 30 knots (56 kilometers per hour) can also bring gusts of 70 knots (130 kilometers per hour) with it.
- Mooring at the buoy, anchoring
Long discussions flared up among seafarers about whether a buoy or anchor is better and which procedures to choose. It really is a big topic for a huge article. In the case of a buoy, always secure your boat with two ropes, with each rope always returning to the same cleat! Every year we can read of a few cases of a boat breaking off the buoy because the ropes frayed. When anchoring, always make sure, even when the weather is nice, that the anchor will hold even with full reverse gear (depending on the motor type with approx. 2400 revolutions per minute). The chain in the water should always be at least five times the depth. The anchor must hold tight, this is the only way your sleep will be peaceful. In Croatia you do not anchor at a depth of more than 10 meters. With the anchor you also use an anchor buoy, during the day you hang up the black anchor ball. The white masthead light must shine at night.
- Underwater control
Don’t be lazy and dive to the anchor or the buoy and check that everything fits under the water – that’s another rule. If you are not fit to dive to such depths, do at least one observation with mask and snorkel from the sea level. In the case of a buoy, we not only check the lower ring, but also whether the buoy rope / chain is in order and is holding on to the concrete block. At the anchor then whether it is not lying in the water grass and whether it is holding well in the ground. Do not think that it is enough if the anchor lies calmly on the seabed and you have enough chain length.
Prepare the fenders, pick them up and place them along both the port and starboard sides. Provided that a neighboring boat loosens its anchor / buoy during the night, this will cause you as little damage as possible.
- Dinghy on board
A very popular but very bad habit on many pleasure sailing trips is to drag the dinghy behind you while driving. Also in the bays and marinas you can see dinghies tied to the bow or stern at night. Don’t be lazy and pull the dinghy onto the deck and properly secure it there with ropes. It’s just a minor thing, but it can take serious revenge. If you take proper care of the tender, it can make a difficult situation a lot easier for you. You can understand the thinking of many crews: We came from the restaurant in the evening and tomorrow morning someone is going back to the mainland to pick up fresh pastries … why should you always clear the boat? But we now know why. The dinghy belongs in its place.
- Free items on board
During a summer cruise you have a lot of things lying around on board for which there is no space on the lower deck. All should be securely attached to the board. For these purposes it is worthwhile to carry a lot of pieces of elastic rope and cord (about 1-2 meters) with you. If you don’t have them, most marinas can find these in local stores. Take care when attaching a paddleboard or the gangway – these objects should always be attached to the side where the furling line of the roller jib does not go through, so that no collision or jamming can occur. You can also tie up inflatable objects (such as the flamingo mentioned above), place them on the lower deck or deflate them. Only in this way can it not happen that z. B. the anchor box is blocked.
- Laundry to dry on board
Never let the laundry dry on canvas. It is tempting to use the sailcloth as clotheslines, but imagine what a swimsuit in a roll can do. If you need to hang something up to dry, do it on the railing and clean it up for the night.
- Cockpit and lower deck in order
Keep things tidy on board, especially tidy up the cockpit before you go to sleep. The wine glasses and peanuts scattered on the floor can become your archenemies. The lower deck must also be kept clean. Also, train your crew to ensure that nothing is left lying around on the lower deck. The storage spaces in cabins are used for this purpose, where everyone can keep order that they can endure themselves. However, the captain’s table, for example, is a place for nautical charts and ship’s diary or at most for charging the cell phones, definitely not for chopping onions or storing sausages.
- Radio and other devices
Channel 16 should be switched on all night, as should the basic units. It is mainly about Tridata (depth, weather speed …). When solving dramatic situations, our hands remain free and we don’t have to wait for the devices to start up. In advance you should find out how exactly the depth gauge is set and what exactly the depth is measured from (is that from the probe, from the keel …?). In dramatic situations, every inch can be decisive.
- Boat position, anchor alarm
It is recommended that you use the anchor alarm (a program that indicates the distance from the presumed anchor position). If necessary, you can also leave the track switched on (e.g. through the Navionics program). This is the only way to determine whether the ship is not moving in the strong wind with its anchor. When the display is switched off (from mobile or tablet), the track has only minimal power consumption and can work all night without any problems.
- Bimini and sprayhood
At wind force 8 Beaufort, or 34-40 knots (62-74 kilometers per hour), a force of up to 270 N acts on every square meter of the ship’s surface or on any object on the boat, which is approximately 27 kilograms. And that doesn’t include the gusts. Now imagine a sailing boat 16 meters long anchored or moored to a buoy. If the wind blows from the side, the force acting on the boat is the equivalent of a ton! Therefore, you should always fold the Bimini top, which is mainly used as sun protection, in good time. It breaks very easily and senselessly increases the wind resistance. You can leave the sprayhood as it is. It has partly an aerodynamic shape and is also better reinforced. At the same time it serves as a good protection against splash water.
- Rolled up genoa
Check that the genoa is properly curled and that the line is wrapped at least twice. On the Adriatic you can often see sailboats in marinas that – probably for aesthetic reasons – leave a small triangle of the genoa unrolled, from which exposed lines also lead. This small tip of the sail can cause you great difficulties in strong winds. It’s another area exposed to the wind, but that’s not the worst. The wind can unexpectedly pull the unsecured sail completely out of the furling jib, which can then seriously damage the sail.
- Night watch
If the situation so requires, keep a night watch on board. Even as captains you save energy and be ready to intervene with a clear head if necessary.
- Keep your head clear
Always keep in mind that alcohol can affect your sense of reality. Alcohol on board is a big issue, but we don’t have enough space to devote ourselves to this subject. Everyone has to consider for themselves what is appropriate and what is not.
- One piece of advice at the end – don’t panic
In every situation, even in the most dramatic, behave calmly and evenly. Confused walking back and forth can only lead to unpleasant injuries. In extreme situations, your crew is entirely dependent on you and will read everything from your face. Your basic equipment for all thunderstorms should be “poker face”. Never show that you have run out of advice on the situation. Your crew will only become insecure and on the other hand they will make you insecure. If you appear balanced, your crew will also be calmer and not panic. In the opposite case, your crew members willingly jump into the water with the sharks just to shorten their suffering :).
Preparing for a stormy night is a big issue. Try to automate the recommendations described above as broadly as possible. It brings you a more peaceful sleep and an easier solution to dramatic situations. And remember: “The meteorological dragon never sleeps!”