I’m wedged in my bunk. One foot against the wall, pushing my back into the cushion so my position is secure while the boat is thrown 3m through the vertical plane down each wave every 5 seconds and yaws 2-3m on the horizontal plane. Her approach to the oncoming swell is approximately 45 degrees but some rogue waves are more head on. You know when one of these hits as the bow shoots up like a rocket ship and as Ahyoka falls off the precipice, you wait, teeth clenched for the landing. The hard, loud and terrifying landing. BANG! The noises always sound scarier in the cabin, so I find myself popping up to the cockpit regularly to escape them. Is she really designed for these kinds of forces? What are the things that could go wrong and how would I fix them?
It’s been a long night. I haven’t slept (I’m writing this the morning of day 12) and I’ve been dealing with a succession of squalls and tough sailing conditions since the early evening the day before. We’re now well and truly in the Tradewinds, which means a TWD of 90 degrees. My heading to the next way point between the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea some 1600nm away is approximately 135 degrees, which means I’ve been sailing close hauled all day. Ahyoka sails beautifully in flat sees with TWS of 10knots and we made some great miles, averaging 6 knots from 8am to 8pm. As night fell, the pressure slowly increased until it was blowing a constant 20knots at 9pm. The seas started to build, both the swell and the chop and I had to bear away 10-20 degrees to flatten out our path as Ahyoka does not like these short and sharp conditions. I had the 1st reef in the main and the about half the Genoa furled so it was shaped like a number 3 jib. The first squall hit around 10:30pm and winds were well above 30 knts. It hit with ferocity and without warning. I’d been downstairs feeling the boat and the waves and considering bearing away a little more to reduce the crash landing off the back of these very steep waves. As the first big gust hit, the boat healed 50 degrees to leeward and I dashed up-stairs dressed only in a flimsy pair of board shorts, quickly letting off the sheets for both the main and the jib and dialled in a further 60 degrees downwind on the auto-pilot. There’s no fighting a squall. Like so many things in life, its best to accept it for what it is and put the wind and the waves behind you, even if that means going backwards for a while.
Once the boat is heading downwind the waves flatten out dramatically, as does the apparent wind strength, so the intensity of the moment decreases, and things calm down slightly. It’s an intense moment to achieve this though. At 30 knots the rain stings when it hits your face, making it hard to see. The evaporative cooling effect of the wind and the rain means you’re feeling cold very quickly and the noise and pressure of the moment wipes any last vestiges of tiredness that may remain.
The calm I refer to once the boat is sailing downwind is only in respect to the boat. The skipper is far from calm. You can’t see the wind, the seas, the waves and the oncoming clouds at night so all you can do is “feel” the weather, “feel” the boat and “feel” the waves, discarding any unused senses and fine tuning the ones remaining, which can help you understand what’s happening outside and therefore how you can tune the sails and adjust the boat to full effect. It means I find myself on deck most of the night sensing the wind shifts, increases and decreases in pressure and trying to sail the boat as best I possibly can. You run a fine line when things get windy and the seas build so it’s certainly not the time to let your guard down. You need to remain focussed on the task at hand. Everything else can wait.
The ocean seamlessly shifts from soothing and nurturing to indifferent and antagonising, even aggressive with little to no warning. Like the seasons, the weather and our own moods, we need to soak up the good times and hold on tight during the bad, knowing these too shall pass. I held on tight all night, accepting each successive squall with as much grace and positivity as I could muster and reminded myself to:
Just. Keep. Going.
There are many kinds of all-nighters. There’s the “staying up and finishing that assignment for Uni” all-nighter. There’s the “out with friends dancing till dawn all-nighter”, the “flying halfway around the world jet lagged” all-nighter, the “helping a loved one who’s sick” all-nighter and then there’s the Squall All-Nighter.
Unlike the others, the Squall All-Nighter is voluntary (I did choose to be here after all), terrifying and of an uncertain duration. You’re left feeling tired and hollow. The adrenalin that’s been coursing through your system for hours starts to dissipate and no amount of coffee is able to rejuvenate you. There’s the real possibility of more squalls to come, so you can’t shut down completely. You know you’re at the mercy of mother nature and so the only thing you can do is roll with it. Knowing it can’t last forever and that rest will be waiting for you when it passes.
I’m now a whole week’s sail from landfall (and therefore help) of any kind. This is the most remote I’ll be while I’m on this trip. The farthest away I’ve even been from humanity. In some respect, the Apollo astronauts were closer to mankind when they landed on the moon, at least from the perspective of how long they were away. I feel a bit like I’m on the moon right now, or a far-off distant planet. It’s hard to put into words what it feels like to be so remote. So removed. So alone. The simplest way to put it is I feel alive in a way I never have before. I don’t feel lonely. It’s weird.
It just, well… is.
I can say that your comments were a warm and welcome boost after the night I just had. I don’t have internet access so can’t view them on the blog, but Lachie emailed some through overnight and I couldn’t think of a better way to rebuild one’s spirits after a night like that than by reading your kind words. The right words at the right time have the ability to move and to inspire. Yours did both, just when they were needed. Thank you, dear Reader.