Our first storm on lake Michigan
The day started well enough…We got up at about 5 am to make the passage from Frankfort, MI to Charlevoix, MI which is about 64 nautical miles. This is a long day for us and will take us about 12 hours to complete, which is why we are starting at 5 am.
We are bundled up since it was only 46 degrees when we left the dock this morning! We are going to need some hot coffee! Thanks Mark for making coffee!
The first part of our journey was spent watching the beautiful sunrise over the sandy dunes of the Michigan shoreline.
After the sun rose, we were better able to view the sand dunes that are part of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
Around about 11 am we started to see clouds building into the west. We knew before we left that there was a chance of showers today, but no one said anything about thunderstorms. We were watching the weather radar on our phones and we were able to see that at first it looked to be just some passing showers. We decided it was time to bring in some of our sail in case the winds picked up ahead of the showers. So, we reefed the mainsail and the jib to better handle any wind gusts we might experience.
This is what the sky looked like as the rain approached. It was still sunny to the north, south and east of this so it looked like an isolated front and on radar it was all green and a very thin line of a front. We hoped a passing shower.
Just as I finished reefing the main sail, I turned back to Mark who was at the helm and then I saw this:
Are you seeing what I am seeing? Yes, folks that a water spout behind the boat. I think I said, “Uh-oh! I don’t like the looks of that!” Which made Mark turn around and look and he exclaimed “That’s a water spout!”
We quickly decided that if there is enough wind in this storm to produce a water spout, there is likely be too much wind to have any amount of sail out. We rapidly took down both the main sail and the jib. I don’t think we have ever done that task so fast before. And since this was behind us, we decided to see how fast our motor would actually go. Let’s floor it!
Keep in mind at this point the water spout was a safe distance behind us, however we still didn’t care for the dark clouds that are continuing to creep toward us from the west that are not quite here yet. We still see clearing to the north and with the increased speed of our motor we are hoping to get to the northern clearing before we are over taken by the dark clouds from the west.
This is what the radar looked like with us being the blue dot on the map.
What was a thin line of green on the radar, erupted into a yellow/orangish blob that you see in the picture.
We were being followed by the “Maria G”, a 656 foot freighter that was about 3 – 4 miles to our stern. She would be right in the way of the worst part of the storm. As we are watching her both on the water and on our AIS, we see that she makes a sharp turn toward the east as if to avoid something. Then looking closely, we see what she was turning to avoid. Water spout #2
Not soon after her turn toward the east that water spout quickly dissipated. As suddenly as it disappeared, water spout #3 reappeared on the other side of the Maria G with a much more organized looking funnel coming down the the clouds.
All this activity lasted for about 20 mins and all of the water spouts were even before the rain or anything ever came. You could see the rain coming and we watched as the rain engulfed the Maria G and she was no longer visible to us. Then we saw the lightening and heard the thunder clap! Storms may be scary enough on a boat, however lightening is the one thing that strikes fear in any sailor. That big tall mast up in the air is like an invitation for lightening to come find you. We temporarily turned off all our navigation and VHF and get out the hand held VHF. Any electrical antennas we have at the top of our mast will also attract lightening.
When the front did get to us, it was thankfully underwhelming. Very little wind and just a bit of rain, one or two more lightening/thunder claps and the whole thing was over. We were very happy we were on the north side of the storm and continuing to head north as quickly as we could. Had we been even a mile or two south of our position back with the Maria G we might have had a different story to tell.
It took us awhile to calm our nerves, recount the story of what had just happened to each other and our family and by that time the sun was shining and we were back to sailing on the remainder of our way to Charlevoix.