Concordia, sailing ships and microbursts

Captain William Curry of the high school tall ship Concordia that sank on Wednesday reports that his ship was a victim of a weather phenomenon called a microburst. However, Concordia is not the first victim of this type of extreme weather.

On May 14, 1986, the topsail schooner Pride of Baltimore sailed into a microburst 250 nautical miles of Puerto Rico, capsized and tragically lost 4 of her crew.

On May 2, 1961, the brigantine Albatross also encountered a microburst 125 nautical miles of the Dry Tortugas and sank almost instantly taking 7 souls including 5 high school students. In 1996 Jeff Bridges starred in the Ridley Scott movie White Squall which is a fictionalized account of the Albatross story.

In order to get a better understanding of both of these incidents, pick up a copy of Captain Daniel Parrott’s book, Tall Ships Down : The Last Voyages of the Pamir, Albatross, Marques, Pride of Baltimore, and Maria Asumpta which does a great job analyzing these and several other tall ships catastrophes. You can also find it on Google Books.

Here’s a video of  Warning Coordination Meteorologist, Dan Gudgel, National Weather Service, Hanford, CA describing a microburst and it’s cause and effect. Make sure you stick with the video to the very end in order to see the incredible power and speed of these types of weather events.

Last year the Dallas Cowboys training facility was the victim of a microburst and this weather report video does also does a great job in explaining how microbursts occur.

Here’s raw video of the incident as it unfolds.

It’s not hard to imagine how a sudden powerful weather event like this could have caused a stout sailing ship like Concordia to capsize. It’s really a miracle that this didn’t happen in the middle of the night when students would not have been in above deck classes with easier and quicker access to escape the sinking ship.

Published by

Peter A. Mello

Father, son. Lifelong mariner, student of leadership, photographer. Professional creative placemaker.

5 thoughts on “Concordia, sailing ships and microbursts”

  1. Thanks for the great article and references. That microburst video is a scary piece of footage!

    To E.C. Britton, if she did indeed get caught in a microburst with 80+ kt winds, even a very modest amount of canvas would be a huge problem. When hurricane Georges rolled over Tortola in ’98, the 120′ brigantine I was on got knocked on her beam ends at least twice under bare poles! It does sound as though the captain had reduced canvas to an appropriate level in anticipation of the weather.

    If one of the portholes in her topsides failed completely, I am amazed that they had as much time as they did to get off the ship. I couldn’t tell for sure, but judging from the pictures I found online it looks like she had 10″ portholes along her topsides. If she ended up on her beam ends and one opened up completely, the initial flow through a 10″ hole, 10 feet under water would be over 19,000 gallons per minute! (calculated using a formula found at the Boot Key Harbor website)

    Congrats to the professional crew aboard for getting everyone off the ship and into the boats safely!

  2. Every sailing vessel on the high seas had better anticipate a knockdown at some point, with known limits of angles from which it can recover.

    How much canvas did this vessel have on at the time?

    Large above-deck cabins — raises center of gravity.

    And did I hear that porthole window glasses broke out? That should not have been allowed to happen.

    1. Thanks for visiting and commenting.

      These are early days in the investigation of what exactly happened and what were the circumstances leading up to the casualty. The crew just arrived in Canada yesterday after what anybody would consider a grueling week and from a report I read this evening, the owners don’t yet have answers to the questions that you ask. Time will tell.

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