Position: April 6, 2015 8.30 am
33°00’N / 075°51’W
Wind: ESE 15-20kt
Boat Speed: 8 kt (can you tell they are riding the Gulf Stream?)
Mmm, hurricane eggs! Just polished off the last of the fresh Bahamian bread we got from Tom's baker Vernon in Hope Town. Man that's good!
We knew the weather was coming long before we ever left Marsh Harbor. It's why we delayed a day, anchored off Guana Cay to let the front get a head start on us, so it'd be weaker further south where we'd encounter it. It was a nice idea anyway.
By sunset Saturday night, the wind had gone right to the SW, a clear indication of what was on the way. Then it got very light. We motor-sailed most of Jim's watch, even doing a few 180s when the fluky wind backed the sails. Finally around 10pm it shifted to the north, increased to about 10-12 knots and we sailed happily along under staysail and double-reefed main, thinking that front wasn't so bad after all. I dozed off, one more hour to go before my 11pm shift.
At 1045, just as my alarm sounded to roust me, the boat tacked. Another fluky wind shift? Not this time. The sails were backed and the boat was pinned down, hard. I knew instinctively what had happened, grabbed my jacket and PFD and jumped into the cockpit with Jim. Rain was coming down sideways, soaking my shorts. The wind increased instantly, pressing the boat down harder on her side. 'Im a little freaked out!' shouted Jim over the noise. I told him to relax, the boat was okay, and that I'd be right back. I needed full gear for this one.
'All hands!' Dad and Les were already up of course, practically thrown from their bunks. Water poured out of the galley sink, which was now below the waterline due to the heel, and into the fridge adjacent. The lee deck was awash. I tried as calmly as I could to put my pants and boots on, and put my contacts in. With the wind, rain and spray my glasses would have been useless.
Les and I clipped in and went forward. Dad and Jim gathered all the sail ties and handed them to me in a heap. We guessed later that the wind was a steady, screaming 40 knots, the gusts touching 50. It was scary, but there was no time for that emotion.
On the foredeck, Les took position right at the bow, with me at the mast. Job 1 was to get the backed staysail down. Two thoughts occurred then, one by me, one by Les. 'Boy that water is warm,' I thought as green water poured over the foredeck and enveloped us. Les wondered when he'd ever feel the need for the harness and tethers he had on his boat back home. Now, at midnight on the foredeck, he had both clips secured.
The staysail came down easier than I thought it would. As Les gathered it up and we started lashing it down, I noticed back aft that the solar panels, a new addition mounted on a frame over the bimini last fall, had taken flight. They were either going to wreck the canvas, get lost overboard, or both. Les scurried back to secure them while I finished with the staysail.
I'd thought we'd try and put the third reef in the main and jog along, fore-reaching into the gale until conditions abated. But I'd noticed earlier that some of the batten cars were compromised, a simple maintenance issue but one we couldn't address at sea, especially just then. There was no way to re-set the sail without it flogging wildly in the wind, so we doused it altogether so that it could live to fly another day. I secured it to the boom. The four of us retreated to the cockpit, the boat lying ahull, to evaluate what to do. By now the sea had increased to match the wind, which remained consistently in the high 30s, touching 40 (this is a guess, as Sojourner has no anemometer). Les asked what I thought the wind speed was. 'Not as much as we want to say it is!' I joked.
Dad was steering up to this point, but then he locked the wheel to windward and we watched as the boat just kind of bobbed over the waves like a duck, rolling violently on occasion but not dangerously. We were well clear of the Gulf Stream and knew the wind would soon blow itself out, so lying ahull was a safe option.
We retreated below, all of us exhausted. The whole operation took an hour and fifteen minutes. I decided to just sit tight. So at midnight, we climbed in our bunks and fitfully slept.
At 7:30 next morning (Easter Sunday), the wind was still up, but a reasonable 25-30. We set the double-reefed main and got underway again. We'd lost 12 miles laying ahull and drifting downwind, plus the distance we would have covered had we been able to keep sailing. The sea was biggish, 10-feet at times, with the occasional breaking crest coming aboard. Gradually as the day progressed, the wind eased and we set more and more sail. My nerves were fried from the long night, so we proceeded cautiously. By nightfall last night we were back in the groove, and as the wind shifted around to the east and then SE, we're now back on course and sailing fast toward Hatteras, storms behind us (we hope).
There are a lot of lessons from that night I'll discuss later. I even wrote here that payment for those glorious full-moon nights from a few days ago would come due, and pay we did, a lot more than I'd accounted for. But hey, that's ocean sailing. Today's sweet sailing is now all the more sweeter baby!