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Wind gusts capsize boats in Solomons

The Baltimore Sun

SOLOMONS -- A sudden burst of wind overturned several sailboats yesterday afternoon in the harbor of Solomons in Calvert County, plunging students from a local sailing school into frigid waters.

It proved a good lesson in the vagaries of weather - and one that left no one injured.

Close to a dozen of the young boaters - all wearing wet suits and life jackets - found themselves dumped into the still-frigid water off the Solomons harbor, but quickly were rescued after the vessels capsized about 4:30 p.m.

Weather across the region had changed abruptly as a cold front swept through - as evident from the winds at Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall Airport increasing from 5 mph at BWI around 2 p.m. to gusts as strong as 28 mph later in the afternoon.

The National Weather Service posted small-craft advisories for the Chesapeake Bay at 11:10 a.m., warning of a wind shift from south to north with winds of 15 to 20 knots or higher with the passage of the front. Wind gusts had abruptly increased to about 25 mph at Solomons, authorities said.

According to one account, some of the rescued, youngsters between the ages of 14 and 17, were treated for hypothermia at the scene.

"The wind was coming in pretty hard," said Joe Kurley, manager of the Tiki Bar, which sits on the Solomons Island harbor. "We looked over, and we saw a boat kind of struggling to stay upright. It's one of those things. It's like a train wreck; you don't want to stop looking. And then it just capsized."

Kurley called 911, and said that within minutes rescue boats had arrived in the area.

"It was actually very impressive," Kurley said of the rescue effort. "At first, we were embarrassed that we called 911, then we knew that we did the right thing because it looked like a situation that could have got out of control."

A state Department of Natural Resources Police spokesman told the Associated Press that 17 students were on six small sailboats, called daysailers, operated by the Solomons Island Sailing Club in Solomons Harbor. A larger chase boat was following the group.

After five of the boats tipped over, crew and instructors on the chase boat, as well as crews on boats from DNR police, the U.S. Coast Guard, Solomons Volunteer Rescue Squad and Fire Company and Maryland State Police plucked 10 teenagers from the water, the Associated Press reported .

Thomas Moulds, an organizer for youth sailing at the Southern Maryland Sailing Association, said the two-person, 14-foot-long sailboats that the students were using often overturn - but not all at the same time.

"These boats are small dinghies, so they capsize just all the time," Moulds said. "But folks saw there was a problem out there, and they did the right thing."

Moulds said students from area high schools participate in the sailing lessons as a club sport.

"They were cold, which is mild hypothermia," Moulds said. "I think they all just warmed up and went home."

Max McGarry, who works at a local restaurant, said ambulances and firetrucks lined the shore while state police and naval helicopters circled overhead.

The initial report to police also brought a helicopter from a Baltimore television station.

The weather might have been the bigger story, though.

After a taste of spring, and a bit of weather that seemed suited for sailing, the winds were accompanied by a plunge in temperatures - and a forecast of considerable rain and snow behind the front.

Forecasters posted flood watches for much of the state, with a winter storm watch north and west of the Interstate 95 corridor as rain is expected to turn to wet snow later today.

Sun reporter Frank D. Roylance contributed to this article.

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