Today was a wet weather jacket, shoes, PFD and glove day. That is to say, hard, wet sailing. The wind was 12knts at dawn and the sea state fairly flat, so we made good progress early on, moving along at an average of 6.5knts. However, by late morning the wind had increased, and we’d already been hit by two squalls. Wind was a stead 18-20knts with gusts in the squalls getting up to 30knts. Seas started to build, so sailing hard on the wind started to get challenging. Ahyoka is still having issues pointing but the bigger issue was that the periods between the waves were so short and the waves so high, that as Ahyoka’s bow was going down a wave, her stern was going up a wave creating the feeling like a horse trying to buck you off. Her rump would pop up, often at an angle creating quite a unique feeling requiring constant handholds. It also resulted in boat speed being seriously impacted so we were only making 2-3knts SOG.
After a quick lunch of salmon and couscous I took over steering as the auto pilot couldn’t handle the choppy seas. This turned out to be a blessing as 20 mins later another squall hit.
It’s easy to see wind gusts coming towards you by the change in colour and texture of the water so when a squall is bearing down, I always find myself trying to read the water in the hope of gaining a better understanding of what I’m in for. Off in the distance I could see what looked like a solid white wall coming straight towards us at a rapid pace and the water underneath it was a deep grey and very different to the surrounding water colour. I’d never seen this before so was immediately on guard. I quickly put the engine on and turned head to wind. 5 seconds later it hit with such violence that I just stood there holding on tight, focussing on keeping the boat straight while any exposed skin felt like it was hit by a high-pressure hose. The water moved horizontally through the air and it sounded like a freight train it was so loud. I was too shocked at how quickly things escalated to be scared. I just knew I had to keep the boat head into the gust otherwise, with only one reef in the main and the genoa only partially furled we’d be in bad shape.
As quickly as it arrived it was over. I looked behind us and the sea was pushed entirely flat. It was a dark, milky grey and all there was on the water were long thick streaks, lines almost, of white foam that had been blown across the top of the water. The gust had made its mark, both on the ocean and my consciousness.
I immediately put the third reef in, furled a large portion of the headsail and bore away. The wind was coming from exactly where I wanted to go, meaning when I had my back to the wind we were going in the wrong direction. I stayed on this course for an hour, hoping the wind would die down, but after it became clear it was going to remain like this for some time, I furled the jib entirely, put the engine on and slowly motored into the wind and the waves so at least I could make some positive Nms, but it certainly wasn’t smooth going. Some of the waves by this stage were quite big and it took two boat lengths to ascend the face of the wave, putting the engine under strain to get us to the apex, then falling from the top, more often than not with a loud crash.
In the middle of this, while I was doing my best to practice acceptance of the day I just had, and without any ceremony or pageantry, we sailed across the Mariana Trench, the deepest place in the ocean anywhere on the planet. An abyss of 10.9km. I looked out at the grey sea surrounding me and pondered the fathoms below us. I was cold and tired but not beaten. No, it was just another day and I was now another day closer to home.
Tonight, was the full moon, one of the times I was really looking forward to being out here as I could watch the sunset and moon rise together. Sadly, there was nothing but storm clouds in the sky, so I ate my dehydrated chicken curry and tried to distract myself by watching a movie – Kon-Tiki. While I loved the spirit of adventure and triumph in the face of adversity, I also found the protagonist, the scientists and explorer Thor to have many failings. Failings I often see in myself. An over reliance on optimism. Unwilling to listen to the advice of others, often those more experienced and a blind pursuit of goals sometimes at the expense of relationships. I reflected on how often externally perceived achievement and success are simply down to dumb luck.
I slept on the floor of the cockpit again (strapped in) as it was the most stable part of the boat and furthest away from the noise of the hull slamming into the sea as she fell off a wave. I napped there for a few hours, waking up to check instruments every 20 mins until I was so tired, I knew even the chaotic movements and noises down stairs wouldn’t inhibit sleep, albeit fitful. As I drifted in and out of consciousness, I hoped for some dumb luck and calmer weather tomorrow and wondered where my friend the dolphin was.
Oh Rory. A Challenging day for you indeed.
I was looking at your track and the weather and your route plan earlier today just as you tacked, and wondered why, as the wind seemed to be a constant 10-15 knots. But this explains it.
Much as forecasts and route planning are essential and great tools, the local reality can be, and often is different. As you did, you have to read the weather, sea state and the winds as you see them.
Heading straight into the waves you avoided a potential broach. Well done for your quick decision making and getting those sails in, and ultimately bearing away, with the safety and security of the engine to ride out the waves.
I wonder if the Mariana Trench often has this localised effect?
I hope things have calmed down now and you can get some well earned rest?
I am sorry you missed the Strawberry moon tho.. that would have been truly awesome on the Ocean, but we missed it here in Scotland too, due to rain clouds and a cold and wet front… staying with us for the best part of next week.
Hang onto your trusty steed and hope the jumps are quite a bit lower now, and remain so, to allow you to make good VMG homewards.
Stay safe my friend. We need you to inspire ypo 🙂