Storm Sail (Part 3 of 3)

The answer my friend, is... Blowing in the Wind

Torrential rain and hail blurred. Despite the obstructed view, it was clear, the mainsail had to be secured. Loosely tied, it pulled free, raising itself during the first gust. One tie held, creating an improvised storm sail, but even that proved enough to bury our rail. It was beyond heeling. The wind won every attempt to come about – and worse, the precariously close bridge, was getting closer. 

Crawling on deck, drenched to the bone, I centered the traveler, secured the boom, and held on for dear life – all while wrestling canvas. The wind resistance would not allow the sail to come down. As well, Joey had unknowingly cleated the mainsheet partially raised. He clung to the mast, quickly un-cleating, releasing the line… letting the end out of his grip. Another slow motion movie – that of watching the line blow off the boat. Frank yelled, “Noooo!” But it was too late. 

Seventy feet of rope, was now blowing parallel to the water, from the tip of the mast, no matter what angle. I had to consciously ignore it. “Pull down here… hold that… don’t let go of the boom…. tie this, remember how to secure the strap!” Joining forces, Joey and I struggled, as Frank made another attempt to come about. Strong gusts continued to fill untied portions, making it impossible for Avalon to turn. We were running out of runway. Determined, Joey leaped on the boom, hugging the sail down with his body, while I secured straps. Success!

He hurried below. I remained holding onto the boom, turning my attention to the next potential problem. Between the 53 foot mast, and the 70 foot expanse, the risk of snagging approaching pylons was real. Now that the sail is secured, I thought, ‘we should be able to turn… but the line. Was the line going to get caught?’

Not willing to risk it, I clung to stanchions and lifelines, making my way to the tippy-tip bow. Hugging the jib – while Frank screamed at me to, “Get below!” – I watched the pattern of the wind upon the rope. Don’t ask me how, but when the wind hiccuped, the line dropped. I jumped, and grabbed it. Rapid fire lightning struck the water. Frank ordered me off the deck. I quickly cleated the line, gladly heeding his words. His second order, however, to close the galley, was denied. No way in hell, was anyone putting the door slats in! Especially after he just told me, “If I can’t make this turn, I’m gonna try to hit the bridge on the starboard side, maybe we can heel sideways under the bridge. We’ll lose the mast, but should come out the other side okay. Be ready to get off the boat!” I understood the logic – the boat will naturally tilt, as sailboats do, and drag the mast along… But, “be ready to get off the boat?” Are you freaking kidding me?! Then order the door sealed? I’m opting not to write my reply... Electronics getting wet, and heaven forbid, malfunctioning, was a valid concern. It was also met by Grandma – my claustrophobic, not about to be closed in, mother – now armed with rolls of paper towels. She kept that electronic board bone dry. 

With a facial expression far from carefree norm, in a now or never spirit, Frank yelled his last order, “Everybody, hold on!” Heaving the steering wheel, we heeled, and – FINALLY – rounded into the wind! 

The change of direction, gave Avalon all she needed to keep us safe. No longer thrashing, we were steady. The bow cut through gusts. We now had the power and control to steer. Given circumstances, the ocean was a much safer option, Frank plotted a mental course. I peeked up from the entrance to see a more typical demeanor, though I can’t say anyone was thrilled about heading out into the ocean. “We have a much better chance. We can’t stay in here.” No one disagreed. 

A few, sans chaos, moments passed. We gathered our wits, readying, both them and the boat, for the next possible need. Through the engine and wind, I heard a whistle. Frank was so focused on getting out in the ocean, he did not hear. A second whistle sounded – that of one of the other sailboat Captains. The horns of the drawbridge quickly followed, announcing the bridge could finally be opened. 

Avalon filled with audible sighs of relief. More than a bridge opening… this signaled that the storm had passed. Without issue, Frank brought us about. Cheers greeted us as we passed under, along with the waves of a very relieved drawbridge operator, who helplessly watched Mother Nature toss us around like a tub toy. Once safely on the other side, Frank began to hoot-n-holler. “That was GREAT! Let’s do it again.”

From the cabin, a second holler, “Are you kidding me!” My mother threatened, “FRANK!! I’m going to CASTRATE you!”

Laughter offered much relief. 

To think of all that could have gone wrong. Of course, we had plenty to contend with, but in truth we were incredibly lucky. The channel was narrow. Thankfully, Avalon turned within her own length. We didn’t beach ourselves, intentionally or otherwise, nor run into pylons, nor the two other sailboats having their own serious issues. Drawbridges can’t risk opening during extreme wind. Given that, we were thankful it opened at all, and that the other Captain took the time to whistle. (He had his radio on, and hence, spoke to the drawbridge operator.) We didn’t run into the bridge – surely we would have been de-masted, or worse. (Although, had the ‘sideway’ plan materialized, we, in theory, could have sailed the entire channel.) The engine ran great! Not one hitch. We didn’t get hit by lightning, no one fell off the boat, none of the lines got snagged, I was even able to grab the airborne line, we didn’t take on water… (My mother even figured out where the water was coming from… the bucket left in the sink.)

Ronnie, clearly cut from the same mold as Frank, remained ridiculously calm throughout. Joey totally stepped up. This was no easy situation for the most seasoned of sailors, much less a first timer. Once he knew what to do, he did not shy away. Further proof of which showed up the next day. He was bruised on the underside of his arm, as well as, up and down his ribs. The guy took a beating. Mom and Alex stuck together, literally, through thick and thin. My little man did not cry once… and, yes, I think we all deserve credit for the same. Frank, a.k.a. Captain Gallego, stood dead center amongst lightening bolts and thunder claps, enduring a fury of golfball sized hail upon his flesh, yet never left the helm. As for me… Well, I can’t say this experience did anything to help my neurosis issues… that said, my intuitions could not be denied. And yes, Joey hugging me, took back his doubting words.  

Avalon. Avalon, our gallant lady, proved her worth! Amidst pure chaos, she endured the most violent of thrashings… and still kept us safe!

We pulled into our slip. Ever present, Steve was tending to Wind Song, as well as the other boats and dock lines. There was no need to wonder what we went through… he laughed as soon as he saw us… then went back to the needs of the marina.

Turning the engine off, Frank called out, “Who wants a hamburger?” I suppose he earned a meal.

“Hamburger?” Pffft, “I want a drink!” I’m quite sure we earned several!

Ronnie, Joey, Frank and Alex


Side Note: 1955 Wind Song #903, J Aldens, dropped her six ton keel in her slip and was written off as a total lost, either that or a refit costing over $500,000. She was donated to Wounded Warriors sometime in 2011. The vista overlooking the marsh will never be the same. It’s not often you get to see the glory of an authentic 50’ wooden schooner. (   /

Side Note 2: The date was September 7, 1998 (Alex was 2 years, 2 months old)

The storm was Named: The New York State Labor Day Derechos

Two storms – one from the northwest, the other from Ontario – converged, causing a violent collision between a late-summer heat wave and the leading edge of a cold front.

This pattern is called Derechos (Derecho is Spanish for ‘straight,’ whereas Tornado means ‘twisted.’)

Derechos are widespread, long-lived, straight-line wind storms, associated with a land-based, fast-moving group of severe thunderstorms.  They cause hurricane-force winds, tornadoes, heavy rains, flash floods. Winds, at least 50 knots, span the entirety of the front. This storm traveled faster than expected, taking even the weatherman by surprise.

We entered the Atlantic Beach channel early afternoon – between 2-4 p.m. News reports confirm how we were greeted – thunderstorm cells, a quickly traveling squall line, rapid fire lightning, as many as 10-20 times per second, balls of hail, wind gusts of 60, 77, 89, 115 mph. (actual documentation)

Four small tornadoes spawned from the storm – an F2 tornado touched down in Lynbrook, 6 miles from us. It caused $1 million in damages and injured six.

Ours was not the only harrowing tale. One man was trapped in the winds while parasailing – he suffered a fracture skull. Another man was adrift in the Atlantic Ocean for 2-1/2 hours, after his 36’ sailboat sank – he was hit with a line squall/60 mph winds.

Three people were killed in Syracuse. Four were killed in New York – 62 were injured.

100 boats overturned. The New York Coast Guard conducted water and air rescues.

Trees were downed. Homes destroyed – people had to seek refuge in temporary shelters. 300,000 lost power for five days. There was one distress call after another.

This storm was no joke. Each one of us was happy to be alive – and alive we were!


New York State Labor Day derechos –

4 Are Killed As Storms Lash The Northeast –

Channel 9 News Labor Day Storm Special –

Several videos of the storm, thanks to ProudAmericanArmyMom:

Part 1 – Tornados, water spouts, a guy trying to dock, canopy ripped off, lightning, golf ball sized hail –

Part 2 – Hail

Weather Report – (start @ :39)

West Indian American Day Parade – Labor Day 1998 – Emergency Weather Report – (Start at 37:13) –

This video is titled ‘Labor Day Storm 2013’ – however I would not be surprised if the year actually 1998. This dark monstrous mass is eerily similar to what we encountered –


Storm Sail:

Part 1 of 3 – First Mate Disorderly

Part 2 of 3 – Caught in a Vortex

Part 3 of 3 – The answer my friend, is... Blowing in the Wind

{I think it’s safe to say, there was a fair amount of Triple L involved!}

2 comments on “Storm Sail (Part 3 of 3)



    1. Nancy

      I’m so glad you enjoyed. Love that it moved you… although from one boat owner to another, I understand how this would. Our vessels not only house our beings, they house bits of our hearts.

      Yes, this experience was not easily forgotten. The more I wrote, the more I remembered. It kept unfolding and evolving.

      Thanks Paula! (ps – had to look up raconteur – love it!)

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