Riding a Storm Front

Weather is an unavoidable phenomenon to the cruising sailor. Day sailors have the luxury of choosing which days they wish to leave their marina berth to go sailing. Cruisers, on the other hand, are always out there. On blustery days, they will have to hunker down in a protected cove or rage on with their storm sails flying proudly.

Weather doesn't just creep up out of nowhere though. It comes in and goes out in a manner that is very visible. We found ourselves sailing along down the Chesapeake Bay between Chesapeake Beach and the Potomac River. This stretch of water offers few opportunities to duck in and wait out the weather, so we had to continue on as we saw our sky deteriorating.

We started off sailing along under clear blue skies without a cloud to be seen. As the day progressed, whisky cirrus clouds began to roll in and soon the front of a low pressure was chasing us. I laid down on the bow of the boat and stared up at the front, noticing that the clouds were moving at roughly the same speed we were, and if we could keep our speed, we might just make it to the anchorage ahead of the storm.

Usually, we reef down as a storm front approaches, but in this case, we kept on under full sail, riding along on a beam reach as the low pressure behind us slowly crept up. All went well until sunset. All of a sudden, the winds died down and our speed dropped. The moon became obscured by hazy clouds until it was fully blocked out. We were nowhere near our anchorage, but we lost the race with the sky. The low pressure front crept over us and we were now in its grasp. We quickly reeled the sails even though the winds were light because we knew that at any moment, strong gusts would start coming our way and we had nowhere to hide.