The Infamous Buzzards Bay Regatta Squall Line
Posted on Friday, August 1, 2008 at 5:00 PM MST
MARION, MA -- The afternoon of Saturday, August 2 started like any other afternoon. It was a perfect day for sailing, and the talk around the club was that the sailors would stay out late to take advantage of the beautiful conditions. Just before 4:00 PM, club management informed Chris, the other BYC Launch Driver, and I, that the National Weather Servece had just placed Marion under a Severe Thunderstorm Warning. Calls then began to pour in from the various race committee boats telling us they were heading in ahead of the storm.
The first boats in the harbor were the big boats, who arrived just as the winds were starting to pick up with the approaching storm. The sail in was exciting for the big boats, heart thumping for the smaller boats, and dangerous for the 420s. The race committee did their best to shepherd the small boats into the harbor, but they eventually had to go in for their own safety. The first flurry of calls for launch service came in from frantic sailors just as the weather took a turn for the worse. Lightning and thunder exploded all around, sheets of rain started pouring down (we saw a few hailstones too), the winds started gusting, and the visibility went down to nothing.
As launch operators, Chris and I were responsible for safe mooring of hundreds of boats and safe transportation of crews back to the BYC dock. Of the five launches in the harbor, two decided to stay at the dock during the storm. The yacht club had given Chris and I the responsibility of the launches, and it was up to us as Masters to decide whether to keep running. Shortly after the calls started to rush in, we lost radio communication, as the driving rain and howling winds made it impossible to understand anything anyone said. Having spend plenty of time observing severe thunderstorms in Florida, I knew that this storm featured harmless cloud-to-cloud lightning.
This type of severe thunderstorm is rare in New England, so many of the sailors were panic-stricken and eager to get to shore, as the thunderclaps directly overhead were deafening. I felt confident running the boat in the storm and offering comfort and assistance to all the boats and sailors. As a race officer, I knew it was very important to make sure al the 420s got in safely, so we offered assistance to 420s wherever necessary. We got the last racers safely to shore just after 6:00, as the storm was finally starting to weaken and move out of the area.
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