Vineyard memories: Wayne Hubbard

My most memorable Vineyard race was in the early 1990’s when I was in running Commodore Bob Lawson’s NAIAD, an Ericson 39,which was moored at the yacht club. I assembled a crew which included one of Bob’s teenage sons who also invited one of his friends.

I brought the Naiad to the dock early on the day of the race, loaded it with food and ice and brought it back to the mooring. The weather was a humid southwesterly with fog and there was a severe thunderstorm watch for the Sound. The plan was to assemble on the boat and leave the mooring a couple of hours prior to the start. The entire crew did not make it to the boat on time, we were missing the teenagers. Instead of waiting at the mooring, I brought the boat back to the dock to save the time of waiting for launch service. The two teenagers came rolling down the dock on skateboards with back packs on. They jumped on the boat stowed their skateboards in the cockpit locker, looked at the weather then reclaimed their skateboards, said they are not going and skated off down the dock.

We decided to go without the extra crew as the wind conditions were light and we had sufficient crew. We had a good start and stayed close to the Connecticut shore. A few hours into the race the clouds darkened then took on a greenish tint. Everyone put on their foul weather gear, it looked like a downpour would hit us. We were located off Fairfield, in fairly good visibility when a wind noise started, then the wind hit us and the temperature seemed to drop from the eighties to the fifties in seconds.  The broadside blast of cold air that hit us may have been more than 50 knots continuous for less than a minute. It was very localized, occurring over what appeared to be a mile radius on the water. We had a #2 genoa up when the gust hit us. The winch holding the jib was under water and the jib trimmer was climbing vertically to the opposite side of the boat. The boat stayed on its side and scooped water into the cockpit then into the cabin for a few seconds until we released the jib. The wind stopped a few seconds later and the air temperature warmed. We dropped and folded our sails. Enough water made its way into the cabin to float the floorboards and half submerge the engine. Our only damage was a broken upper mast spreader. We were relieved that the half submerged engine started, we bailed the cabin with a bucket and the electric bilge pump was on. The mast was loose, moving side to side due to the broken spreader, therefore we headed back to the yacht club with tightened halyards supporting our mast due to the unsupported port rigging. The electric bilge pump required a long time to remove water from the boat interior.

 We believe we were hit by a microburst which is a small column of fast sinking air from a high based thunderstorm cloud. Once the air hits water or ground it rushes horizontally producing strong straight-line winds. Microbursts are reported to occur over small areas, quick to dissipate and are accompanied by large temperature drops. The visibility during the incident was a few miles in haze. The wind appeared to begin within half a mile of the boat unlike a storm front which visibly approaches from a distance. Fortunately we had easily repairable damage and no one was injured.

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