The wind remained strong and steady overnight at 20knts, though thankfully no squalls so I was able to find some rest as the boat was now settled and, in a groove, however there was no sleeping. I was way too anxious for sleep to be a possibility. Ahyoka was introducing me to all her creaks and groans and I was yet to learn which were reassuring murmurs of “I’ve got this buddy” to “get out of bed NOW and fix this”. I listened attentively, thinking through the physics and three-dimensional geometry I thought each sound represented and trying to work out what they meant.
Dawn greeted me with more rain and thunderstorms and the forecast for winds to increase so I knew I was in for another challenging day. The open ocean is disorienting at the best of times but without the sun, moon or stars to guide me, I felt quite discombobulated, though I put this down to exhaustion as much as anything else.
I hadn’t eaten properly since my “English” breakfast at the club before I departed. Boiling water is hard enough work in these conditions so for the second day in a row it was protein bars and fruit. I had to force myself to eat as I was anything but hungry. Thankfully I didn’t feel the need to throw up so I knew the nutrients I was ingesting would support me throughout the day.
I shared SMS messages with a few close friends and family in the morning and their words of encouragement and love helped spur me on. Doing a trip like this with no Sat Phone as sailors of old did is a whole other level and I know my trip is relatively comfortable compared to what they experienced. This comfort, and the words from one friend: “Everything is going to be OK in the end. And if it’s not OK it’s not the end” gave me the courage to take on the days storm. Courage I’d need at 13:30.
By mid-morning, the wind was a constant 25knts with gusts over 35knts. By 13:30 it was a constant 35knts for more than 1.5hrs with gusts of over 45knts. The strongest gust I saw was 47knts but I’m sure there were a couple of 50s in there as I wasn’t looking at the instruments. My eyes were glued to the sea state, wind and what Ahyoka needed to do to survive. It’s fair to say I was concerned. The saving grace was the wind was from astern so Ahyoka was running with the wind and the waves, which were 3m by this stage. If we’d been beating into that weather, it would have been a totally different proposition. For about an hour we were surfing down waves at 11knts and my knuckles were white as I held on for dear life, facing mortality head on. Ordinarily this could have been exciting but my mind was constantly thinking through gear failure scenarios and how I’d fix them as getting out of the relative comfort of the cockpit was something I was dreading and wanted to make sure I had a plan if I did have to step into the void and head to the bow. Sails were reefed to the same size as storm jib and trysail. I thought about putting the storm jib on, but I felt it was just too dangerous on the bow to do so and the reefed Jib was holding nicely.
At the height of the storm I saw a fin pop out of the water next to me and knew I had company as we both surfed down a giant wave together. It was the sort of company that feels like a big hug from a best friend. Seeing a fellow mammal navigating these conditions with ease was reassuring. Sensing my apprehension this kind dolphin seemed to be reaching out to guide the way, or at least that’s how I like to think of it.
It was so humid that it felt like it was raining inside the cabin. Everything was wet and the only thing I could do to distract myself from the weather was put on an audio book. The words of Joshua Slocum and his wonderful adventures from 2 centuries ago were just what I needed to calm down and re-centre. Thankfully the winds eased by 16:00 and as dusk fell, it was only 17knts with the forecast to ease even further. I dared not let out more sail though. 45knts was bad enough in the day. At 3am with too much cloth up would have been a whole other story so I was happy to move along at 3-4knts until a series of wind shifts forced me to be put the preventer on and reset the Genoa, but there was no way I was touching the third reef. I made sure I was clipped on the entire time though Mum.
At 1am I crawled into my bunk and found sleep for the first time since leaving Hong Kong. They were only 30-45-minute bursts but what restful bursts they were. I dreamt of dolphins, waves and friendship and knew all would be OK.