Cruising Tips: Spouting Off

Waterspouts are not just “tornadoes over water.” Meteorologists admit they still have much to learn about these phenomena, but there is a typical “waterspout cloud” that usually generates them. These dark, flat-bottomed cumulus clouds generally get no taller than 20,000 feet. As clouds go, this is noticeably low. Waterspouts get their energy from heat in the water, so they are most frequently
Author:
Updated:
Original:
CTWaterspoutsPhoto1

Waterspouts are not just “tornadoes over water.” Meteorologists admit they still have much to learn about these phenomena, but there is a typical “waterspout cloud” that usually generates them. These dark, flat-bottomed cumulus clouds generally get no taller than 20,000 feet. As clouds go, this is noticeably low. Waterspouts get their energy from heat in the water, so they are most frequently seen in warm waters when winds are light. They are most prevalent in the Florida Keys from May through September, averaging 500 per year there, but they also occur in the Caribbean and in the Atlantic hundreds of miles off the U.S. East Coast.

Waterspouts vary greatly in size and shape, and they move in a relatively consistent direction at speeds from 2 to 80 mph. Favorable conditions for waterspout formation can persist for days, and it is not unusual to see several at a time. Some dissipate after a few minutes, others last for hours.

Some sailors erroneously believe that waterspouts are harmless. Packing winds up to 200 mph, they have, however, capsized many boats and have swept the crews of others overboard. Their formation can’t be predicted, nor can they be detected by radar, which means weather services cannot issue warnings. Once a spout is spotted, however, warnings are usually relayed via VHF radio by boaters and weather stations.

If you see a waterspout, even at a great distance, you should start securing items on deck. Drop and tightly furl your sails. Place all loose items down below. Keep a lookout for other spouts that may form closer to you. Any crew who must remain on deck should be secured to the boat in a harness. You cannot count on being able to outrun a waterspout, but their paths are generally straight. You should try to follow a course that is 90 degrees to the spout’s path to increase the chance of it missing you. If you hear a hissing or a roar, everyone aboard should go below.

Related

Waypoint.image.cd

Say No To Waypoints

Ever since they first appeared in my navigational toolbox decades ago I have been wary of waypoints. They certainly do seem helpful, these electronic flags we plant in the ether to guide us to where we want to go. But I noticed early on they also tend to distort our perception. ...read more

Lead-shutterstock_429247

A Cruise up Florida’s St. Johns River

The chart showed 45ft of vertical clearance, and I knew the boat should be able to pass under the bridge. Still, there was that nagging voice in my head that wouldn’t let me be. “What if your air draft calculations were wrong?” it said. “And if you’re just a little too high the ...read more

pic00

Installing a Helm Pod

Our 1987 Pearson project boat came with an elderly but functioning Raymarine chartplotter, located belowdecks at the nav station. Since I usually sail solo or doublehanded, it was of little use down there—it needed to be near the helm. When I decided to update the plotter along ...read more

Panamerican

Pan American Game Success

Team USA’s young sailors went to the quadrennial Pan-American Games in Lima, Peru this summer with high hopes, and returned with a good haul of medals—two Golds, three Silvers, and two Bronze. Gold medals went to Ernesto Rodriguez and Hallie Schiffman (Mixed Snipe) and Riley ...read more

190916-AC75

U.S. Team Launches First America’s Cup Boat

Fast forward to around 2:25 to see the boat in action. First day out and already doing full-foiling gybes: not too shabby! Hard on the heels of the unveiling of New Zealand’s first AC75, the New York Yacht Club’s American Magic team has now launched its first America’s Cup ...read more

GGTobCaysHorseshoeColors

Picking a Charter Destination

Picking a destination should reflect the interests of your group, says People often ask about my favorite charter destination, and invariably, I sidestep the question with one of my own: “Well, what do you want to do on your vacation?” Most often I hear an incredulous, “Why, ...read more

sinking

Waterlines: Chasing Leaks on Boats

Chasing leaks on boats is a time-honored obsession. Rule number one in all galaxies of the nautical universe through all of nautical history has always been the same: keep the water on the outside. When water somehow finds its way inside and you don’t know where it’s coming ...read more

BestBoatNominees2020-Promo

Best Boats Nominees 2020

Bring on the monohulls! In a world increasingly given over to multihull sailing, SAIL magazine’s “Best Boats” class of 2020 brings with it a strong new group of keelboats, including everything from luxury cruisers nipping at the heels of their mega-yacht brethren to a number of ...read more