A lovely evening after a Sunday sail–earlier this year.
Our good friends, Rob and Deb, were on their normal Sunday afternoon sail in and around Santa Barbara Harbor when a freak “microburst” hit. Read more about the storm here.
Rob grew up sailing as a young lad in Australia and he and Debbie are skilled sailors. The first time we visited them in Santa Barbara, we found ourselves in a yachting race—and my husband and I had no clue what we were doing.
Here’s Debbie’s account of their harrowing ordeal:
She said the clouds were white and puffy above the mountains and she remembered pointing them out to their three guests. She watched as they turned from white, to gray to black. Then, she remembers Rob pointing out a line of rain coming at them across the water. One of her friends said, “Look there’s more coming behind it!”
The next thing she knew they got hit by 80 mph winds and their boat fell over flat. At the time, Debbie was standing on the bow pulpit—that railing that extends beyone the bow. She said she was hanging on for dear life but was able to push herself upright while the boat was on its side.
During this frantic time, one guest fell overboard and the mainsail flapped around in the air and water.
Debbie said there was zero visibility with pelting rain, hail and wind and they had lost control of their boat. When the microburst hit, they were turning left into the harbor by the pier. Debbie’s thoughts were for the group of kids who had been sailing in the harbor. There were dozens of kids as young as 10 in a youth sailing group capsized and hanging onto the centerboards of their boats. Debbie was afraid they would run over the kids as their boat spun this way and that. She said they did hit a paddle boarder, who dove off his board to avoid them.
Unsure how long the ordeal lasted, she said Rob was able to gain control of the boat eventually and sail it with the jib since they had no motor power. They avoided hitting large yachts, the rocky breakwater and various other hazards. Debbie said the harbor was filled with floating items like shoes, umbrellas, boat cushions, ladders, etc. She wanted to get towed, but Rob said no, that they were okay and other people needed to be pulled out of the water and rescued. After the storm passed, they were able to dock at Marina One. Their overboard companion called and said he had been rescued by people in a dinghy and for some reason his cell phone was still working.
Rob, Debbie and their guests worked for the next hours cleaning up the mess inside their boat with it taking on water and everything tossed around. Later that night, Rob returned to their boat with their old mainsail and with the help of friends returned their boat to their slip. Debbie said her friends all said they’d go sailing with them again.
Debbie and my daughter on a sail in August.
I’m so thankful they survived and that even though dozens of people capsized or fell overboard, everyone was well and accounted for. We almost joined them for the weekend but decided instead to escape the desert heat up at Big Bear rather than trekking to Santa Barbara on a holiday weekend and fighting traffic and the fire through Los Angeles.
Am I grateful for that decision, especially after hearing Debbie’s harrowing account of their afternoon sail! I don’t know if I could have stayed calm like Rob and Debbie were able to. When we drove home from the mountains on Sunday, we got hit by a flash flood in the high desert–at about the same time as our friend’s storm in Santa Barbara. I was so freaked out driving into blackness, thunder, lightning, and rain pelting down in buckets. We lost visibility and I was afraid we’d be swept away. And that was on a highway in a car—not out in the ocean on a boat! I think watching all the devastation in Houston has me hypersensitive to disasters.
My nervousness has been memorialized by Rob during a sail years ago in a video with me repeating in a frightened voice to my kids, “Here comes a wave!” The sea doesn’t back up my fear—it’s glassy and calm.
Like I said, I’m thankful my friends and everyone in Santa Barbara are okay!
Have you been caught in a storm or natural disaster? Did you stay calm?
Rob at the helm, giving my daughter instructions in August. Below are dolphins we followed a few years ago.
Debbie on the bow pulpit, exactly where she was when the storm hit.