My friend Bob and I were enjoying an afternoon of sailing on the Columbia River. I
had owned the “Pondo May” for only a few months and I was slowly leaning all I
needed to know about sailing. At first I knew nothing. In fact when I bought the Sun
27 sloop it was the first sailboat that I had ever been on. I read a book and watched
a lot of people do it. I learned from all of them. Including those who didn’t always
“do” it right.
Bob and I had the sails up and were doing our best to hold our own against the slow
current of the Columbia River. It was a loosing battle and we were getting ready to
call it a day when I noticed a darkening in the sky to the west. We examined the
clouds that were building and concluded that there was a bit of a storm coming up
the river. This wasn’t too big of a concern to us because we were only just outside of
the marina entrance. It would be a simple matter of starting the motor and putting
into the slip, but we decided to instead prepare our vessel for the coming gale and
test our seamanship. This should be interesting I thought. I had just figured out how
to sail in a “little wind” and now I was getting things ready for a squall!
“Do you think we should reef the main?” Bob asked, looking to me as the captain.
“Hell.” I shouted. “I have never done that!”
Maybe we should “heave too!” I didn’t even know what that was, but it sounded
good. We were really getting into this.
"Get out the book!” I said as I pulled on my brand new rain suit from Wall Mart.
“You mean the Navy text book I brought about sailing?” Bob asked.
“Yeah, the one we used last week when we raced those guys up river.”
The storm front was racing up the river. I zipped up my jacket and started tying
things down in anticipation of what was surely going to be the storm of the year!
A wall of water was approaching. The low, fast moving clouds had already obscured
the interstate bridge a mile or so down river. I was getting a little nervous. It was too
late now. We had no choice but to get our little boat ready for the big winds that
were hiding behind the wall of water marching up the river.
I felt uneasy as the light wind that preceded the storm was just holding us against the
current. Our position was 1 mile up river from the bridge, and right in the middle of
the channel. I was hoping we had enough room to maneuver with the great speed
that was sure to come from the power of this storm.
I made sure the VHF radio was tuned to channel 16….just in case. Ok, Bob was
ready. I was ready. We were both wearing our life jackets and had tied ourselves to
a stern cleat to keep us close to the boat if we got knocked down.
The muddy brown water started to turn cold black as the huge rain drops started
pelting us. I gripped the tiller tightly. Bob had the jib sheet in his hand. I was also
ready to let the main sheet fly if things really got crazy. We didn’t say a word as the
breeze slowly built from the gentle whisper we had been feeling all day.
“Here it comes” I shouted. I didn’t need to shout though, as Bob was standing right
next to me and the wind had only pushed us a little further up stream. I guess I was
Then, with out warning, the hood of my rain suit slapped the back of my head scaring
the pee out of me. It had caught the wind a half second before the main filled. Then,
as the air pressure increased and filled the jib we were on our way! We were finally
sailing! Bob eased the starboard sheet a little and I pulled in a little on the main. We
were getting ready for a long race up the river. I hadn’t even thought about how we
were going to turn into the huge wind that was starting. I hoped we would be able to
get the sails down later that night and get home. I could still look into the marina and
see my slip, but it was going to be disappearing behind us shortly.
“How fast do you think she will go?” Bob asked as he tied off the jib sheet.
“I think the guy who sold me the boat said the hull speed is 7 knots. We should at
least get close to that…..if not more!” Fear was no longer part of the day. Adrenaline
was steering the boat and trimming the sheets. The storm was almost upon us. We
were getting drenched by the rain. Our eyes were watching the water for signs of
white caps. Surely, whitecaps would start before the force 5 or 6 winds would get to
us. Everything was happening so fast. We had a definite heel to starboard. And a
small wake was clearly fanning out behind our stern. It was here!
Bob and I both took a deep breath and held it as the great wind pounced onto us!
Bob and I both let out the breath as the sails strained for almost 30 seconds then fell
limp. The rain had stopped and the sun was warming our shoulders again. It was
Just like that, the great storm came and went in all of about 4 minutes. The deck
was already drying, and I was loosing the battle with the current again. I looked off
to starboard, and there was the marina and my slip.
“Well……….um…….I guess we should……ah……..head back in now?” I said
“Yeah.” Bob said. He sounded almost as disappointed as I was.
We had survived our first storm. It wasn’t at sea, or at night, and I guess it really
wasn’t even a storm. BUT for the two of us new sailors we sure did let our minds get
carried away with the fantasy of being on the open ocean during a storm. Ah well,
maybe next time!
Ready for the