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Cuttyhunk, MA: About That 40kn Squall...

Marion, MA to Cuttyhunk, MA //


OK, so we are doing a bit of a rewind here to shed some light on that squall that we (as I like to put it) survived (I, Cynthia, can be a very dramatic person — you’ll get to know that as this blog goes on 😆) back in Cuttyhunk...

All through our sail in Buzzards Bay, the VHF radio kept buzzing with weather alerts for the area. There were tornado alerts near Pawtucket, RI, serious thunderstorms over Cape Cod, and gale warnings near Boston. All kinds of weather events going on, you name it — it was wild day out there. Naturally, as we headed past Cuttyhunk, towards Newport, RI, we saw a cell develop in the horizon and it looked like we were headed straight into it. So we decided to tack into Cuttyhunk, MA, a nice snug little harbor we had sailed into before. We went in hoping to grab a mooring to ride out any stormy weather overnight, but ended up anchored given all the mooring balls had been removed for the season. We saw another sailboat sail into the harbor earlier and anchor just behind the mooring field, and so we followed suit. We knew we would be having consistent winds around 20 knots during our overnight so we hunkered down. Come 9:30 in the evening, a strong system developed that went right above us. No alerts were issued (we kept the radio on as we were keeping a watch on all the weather alerts in the region). We heard the wind gusting and then the rain followed along with lightning. We had anchored just behind the last row of moorings, at a good distance from the other sailing vessel and from the shore behind. Nevertheless, here came a system with winds gusts of up to 40 knots (as we saw on our wind anemometer) for a period of about 15-20 minutes.

As this system went on we sat in the cabin and started getting worried the wind will drag us to shore. The boat began yawing (when the boat rocks side to side and forward and back all at the same time) putting a lot of tension on the anchor line. Tom ran up to the cockpit exposing himself to the heavy weather conditions, turned on the engine and motored forward to ease the pressure on the anchor line. He was literally riding the waves in place, because we were dragging, BAD. We saw our inflatable dinghy spin in the air behind the boat a couple of times from the strong gusts. Keeping an eye on our depth sounder, we saw the depth below the keel quickly decrease to a foot and realized we were definitely dragging into the marsh behind us. We needed to get out of there, STAT. Tom went forward to pull the anchor up, and I motored us away from the shore. Rain was pouring buckets of water over us, yet it felt like pebbles were slapping our faces. And it was blowing, the boat rocking like we’ve never experience before. And then there was lightning; we were both trying to keep away from touching the any of metal rigging — as if...

Somehow (somehow!), in all this hectic nightmare, Tom was able to pull the anchor out without getting tangled with the dozens of mooring sticks around us (at this point we were somewhere in the middle of the mooring field, or so it seemed) and I was able to steer us around said mooring field away from the shore. Still raining, still gusting and still thundering, we grabbed onto the only big mooring ball available, one that clearly read “PRIVATE,” but there was no way our anchor line was going to hold us if the winds continued through the night or if another squall were to come through.

As quickly as we grabbed onto the private mooring ball, the rain, the wind and the thunder immediately died down. It became calm, like nothing had happened. Zip. Nada. We heard a voice in the distance. The fellow sailors on the other sailboat had probably seen our frantic selves motoring about in the squall. He asked us if we were OK followed by “What just happened? There were no warnings!”. We agreed. We were thankful he came out to see us safe. After we picked up the cockpit, we realized the wooden seat in the dinghy had blown away along with our GPS cover. But we were thankful those were the only items missing. Tom figured he could scout for them in the morning. And not surprisingly, he was able to find the dinghy seat, a long wooden plank he had just repaired and painted back in Boston! The GPS cover unfortunately was to never be seen again (until we eBay came to our rescue in NYC!)

On the more technical aspects, we were using a 35 pound CQR with 20’ of 3/8 chain with 40’ of nylon anchor line. We had a ratio of 6:1 (6’ of line for every 1’ of depth, in 10’ area) Tom had been considering for a while getting more chain. Our neighbor had let out 100’ of full chain in a depth of 10 feet, so a 10:1 ratio. Immediately on our to-do list, getting more chain became a priority and, generally, a safe bet for the rest of our trip.

Sailing across Buzzards Bay towards Cuttyhunk, MA

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