West of Darwin - Day 11 - 12 00.787S 104 31.265E

Mike and Liz Downing
Mon 16 Sep 2013 09:21
A nasty night! What were the last words of yesterday's entry: 'a very pleasant and comfortable sail'. Last night was the complete opposite - unpleasant and uncomfortable. The reason - squalls and quite a few of them. They came up behind us and brought rain, a shifting wind that generally increased into the 20s with gusts in the early 30s, and a rough, churning sea. From start to end they probably last for 30 minutes to an hour, but the stronger winds and rain usually pass within 20 minutes or so. It's not the strong winds or the fact that they shift around in all sorts of unexpected directions, nor the need to change sails/poles in the pouring rain in the middle of the night, it's actually the lulls we got just before and/or after and lasted quite a while. The wind would drop right down and not fill the sails without them collapsing, so our speed dropped right down  to 3 - 4kts and with the rougher seas, the boat would roll quite violently. Anything that wasn't well secured would take to the air, as would we if not hanging on! Doing anything was incredibly difficult in these conditions. We're having to relearn our squall tactics and getting sail back up as soon as possible afterwards and getting going does help. We've been tracking the squalls on radar and this morning actually out ran a couple. It goes against instinct and training to put more sail up when a squall is approaching, but according to radar we would be on the edge of both, so by heading north under full sail at 8kts plus, we got clear and they passed to the south of us. This afternoon has been much better, the seas have eased and with a wind of 15-20kts we've been making good speeds. However, it's remained overcast and it looks like squalls are passing quite a bit to the north and south of us. Despite all the stop/starts, heavy/light winds and churning seas, our noon-to-noon run was a reasonable 142 miles.
Passed 100 miles to the south of Christmas Island during the night. It's also Australian and given more time we might have stopped there, but we must press on. Despite the squalls there is a reason to celebrate - we have less than 500 miles to go!