Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Night to Remember

Yesterday had been a pretty easy day really. I had my dinn er and tidied up and lay down to rest about 7.30, and I was asleep a little over half an hour later when abruptly all hell seemed tyo have broken loose. I was woken suddenly by the contenets of shelves opposit e tumbling across the cabin along wirth a hellish roar of wind and sea as the boat seemed to suddely be about to capsize, lying over on its starboard side at a crazy angle. It was pitch black, and I woke in a hell of a panic, quickly grabbing my headlight and gloves and tether and sliding back the hatch to see what had happened. IT was pretty obvious - the wind had leapt to 29 knots massively over powering the full main and all the headsail and the boat was pushed over side ways so the chaotic sea was crashing along past the starboard toerail ; I couldnt believe the change had happened almost instantaneously and now if something else didnt change almost instabntaneously I could see things breaking, damage and mayhem all round. And then thunderous rain started bashing down on me. It was a frightful experience - my first action was to release the main sheet - the main wasnt all out as to do so would have the sail chafing on the spreader but i let the rest of it go - to hell with the sail I thought - and the boat came up a bit bu still the entire headsail - which is a No 2 genoa - was still poled out to port but tearing and straining at the forestay, backed and ballooning in towards the mast. I had no idea what direction we were pointing or where the wind had come from but the thought of getting that sail in filloed me with dread - I could see it getting out of control and flailing wildly and dangerously untl it flogged itself or something else to pieces. I wrapped the furling line around my gloved wrist and braced myself with my feet on the edges of the cockpit and a winch and using my foot to control the easing of the sheet to the sail let a little out and pulled and heaved as hard as I possible could - the line dug inot my wrist but it felt as if the line was a steel wire attached to a ten ton weight - no movement in the slightest. I let a little more line out with my foot and heaved again ; again nothing - how the hell was I ever going to get this sail in - and all the while we are crashing along in big seas and rain. At that moment with a lurch the sail flapped momentarily and I reeled in a quarter turn - and immediately lost it again as the wind slammed back into the sail - but now I knew what to do! I waited and with the next lurch pulled again and kept the turn, and again with the next one until as the sail got smaller I was suddenly able to wind it all in, straining and panting and gasping, my mouth as dry as if it ha been wiped out with blotting paper. And now Sapphire was almost perpendicular again, but the full main was way out to starboard. The wind was still howling and the rain punding down, the sky pitch black, but with the headsail contained everything was stable. I went below to look at the chartplotter to see where we were being blown and to see where the nearest land was - it was 60 miles away - a small island and we werent being blown towards it anyway, so I waited to think what I should do next. I imagined this must be a rain storm, a squall that would soon blow over so decided not to do anything with the main - it was too hazardous for me to be out on deck in these conditions, and I hoped it would all be over in an hour, or maybe two, so I sat in the cabin listening to the howling wind and rain, the rattling halyards slamming back and forth on the mast, the occasional flap of he sail and the intermittent thump and occasional crash of a wave into the hull, the contents of lockers and storage spaces banging back and forth which each lurch and roll. Its easy to imagine disaster at times like this, to remember stories of shipwreck or loss in the night but I kept saying to myself - "The boat is strong, she is tough, she can handle this, we've been in sea like this before, it will blow over, just stay calm, nothing is broken, the boat is dry, its just a squall the boat is tough, she can handle this..."

But after two hours - which seemed more than an eternity - nothing had changed except that the rain had stopped. ANd looking out I saw stars. I then began to realise this was a front passing across, a trough that had been mentioned in weather forecast earlier but had been expected to pass further north of Fiji. We had considered delaying departure for this front but decided to go when its projected course moved north! So I was going to be in this for the long haul - well all night at least I imagined - and still the whole main sail was out. Try as I might I could not summon the necessary courage to get back out to try and rein it in. The boat was being pushed in a safe direction at about 1 knot, and nothing was broken, and I convinced myself to stay in bord. So there was nothing more to do - I lay on my berth and tried to ignore the chaos and racket around me, and eventually had some sleep. Every time I woke, it was the same, the same noise, the same motion and clattering, the same howling wind. My plan was to get the main in at first light. And how long was that night! The hoped for easing in conditions, the hoped for return of daylight seemed never to come.

But, inevitably it did. By morning the wind was 22 knots and as soon as I could see everything, donned the safety harness and gloves and went up top to finally reef the mainsail - I took in two - reset the Hydrovane and suddenly we were off again, surging down and over and through these wild swells, overjoyed to be on our way again and over the horror of the night just gone. Later I took the pole in and noticed the headsail was as tightly wrapped around the forestay as a cigarrette paper around a needle, I had never seen it so tight. And later I found that one of the sliders on the main had broken but I made a temporary fix with a short length of cord.

And now, right now we are 100 miles from the bottom end of Kadavu, and its about 100 miles ffrom there to Lautoka. I have one reef in the main and we are making 5 to 6 knots in about 16 knots of breeze, the sea state is much less chaotic, and I feel tired, but OK.. The headsail is still wound up.

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