A Black Cloud, a Rumble of Thunder, UK

Moray firth

May 30th, 2016

It was a weekend race at my club, this time scheduled to be held out in the firth rather than in the usual tidal but sheltered bay.

Eight dinghies went out in very light wind and it quickly became apparent that this was not a Weta day so I stopped racing, went for a reach and then went back into the bay. A couple of heavy showers brought a bit of wind so I stayed out for a bit, conscious that the forecast had mentioned a frontal passage with either 24kt gusts or 35kt gusts, depending on which forecast you had seen.

A black cloud, a rumble of thunder, very heavy rain and, perhaps 15kts of wind; just as I was about to unfurl the gennaker the gust hit.The wind was measured at the airfield a mile away as 43mph and reported subjectively in the bay as 'over fifty' and it lasted several minutes before dropping to about twenty. I managed to furl the jib and pointed dead downwind with about three quarters of a mile of 'sea' room (actually quite shallow inland tidal water). It was a wild ride but I never felt that the boat was going over until I came upon a capsized Wayfarer whose singlehanded occupant was in difficulties.

I managed to round up and make a bit to windward with the sail flogging. I thought the wind might get under the tramp and the spray deflectors and turn the boat over but sitting on the windward rail the boat felt steady enough - slowly headreaching and sliding sideways with a quarter plate and the sail flogging. Help arrived in the form of a rowing gig so I was able to abandon the Wayfarer. The wind then dropped a bit and I was able to bear away and run for the beach. Another big squall just as I came into some wind-against-tide white water and the boat went into 'racing submarine' mode but didn't bury her floats.

With the beach ahead I funked the gybe but managed to tack around and then slid onto the sand sideways with the board up. My auto-reefing spray decks were a great boon in these circumstances allowing access to the front beam to get off and then access to the mast to get the sail down. Out in the firth all the dinghies capsized as did a Drascombe Lugger whose elderly helm was drowned. The Invergordon Lifeboat happened to be in the area, a huge helicopter arrived and the local dolphin watch boat augmented the club's rescue RIBs. The RS100 broke its mast and was abandoned, the teenage girls in the 29er managed to sail in as did one of the RS400s but everyone else needed a tow.

The ONLY sailing boat that didn't capsize was me. Of course I wasn't out at sea where the waves were bigger and there may have been more wind - nevertheless, quite reassuring and I was quietly pleased with myself. Of course at the time I had no idea that someone had drowned.

Wind speed recorded - 56 knots

By George Morris

Ambulance on the scene at Findhorn Bay - Photo Brian Smith

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