A windy night in the Atlantic

Elemiah's Atlantic Adventure
Ian Cole and Rosemary Bointon
Fri 4 Jul 2008 13:01
You can recite the wind forces, but it doesn't tell you what it is like to spend a windy night in the Atlantic.

The night is very dark under the low storm clouds and there are few lights on inside the boat because people are trying to sleep. All except the helmsman are in bed but sleep does not come easily.

You love a boat for its idiosyncrasies, the tiny everyday noises, those small creaks. Maybe the slap of a halyard on the mast - a noise I abhor for the fact that it should not be flapping but love as it is such a comforting homely sound. But tonight all that has changed.

There is the sound of Niagara Falls slopping about in the bilges beneath my bed - it is far louder than the waves rushing by outside. As the boat rolls, it slops up one side and then swishes down to mount the other side of the bilge. A moment's suspense and then it is off again. The bilge pump is working overtime - it should be employed on a beach, as it sucks up the water as it rises on one side and spits it out to slither down again as the boats corkscrews the other way.

A man appears to have taken up residence in the wardrobe - he is very busy crinkling up paper. Where did he get it from? What is he doing with it? I thought that there were only a few clothes in there. All the books in the bookshelf are scratching their backs against each other - plastic cover on plastic cover - it sounds like the screech of chalk on a blackboard. The shower head in the bathroom next door is knocking on the wall with a regular metallic thunk - at first I thought it was dripping but then realised it was just swinging and . Somebody else is throwing small stones onto the coach roof above my head. Can it be the rain, thudding so hard it sounds like a hail of gravel? Every two minutes a serious effort is being made to clean the portholes - there - another bucket of water is thrown over them with a splash and a whoosh.

Outside I can hear the topping lift flapping against the mast - it will have to wait until tomorrow to be moved. Every few minutes there is a loud thwack - has somebody taken a mallet to the outside of the boat? No, it is just the mainsheet block snatching at the constant rolling. There is the hiss of foaming water streaming past - we are going fast. The boat is twisting and diving from the motion of the Atlantic rollers whipped up by Force 7 winds. Every now and then the shouted groans and protestations of the boat against the twisting demands of the waves are punctuated by solid thuds as Elemiah falls off one of the waves into the concrete hole beneath it. Or a wave smacks on the side and the wooden hull reverberates with a hollow boom.

The pitching of the boat makes it impossible for us in our double bunk - we retreat to different ends of the bed, to slither down the slope of the mattress into separate cupboards.

There is a particularly violent lurch and a god almighty crash followed by the clattering of china. I think the whole galley has fallen onto the floor. i rush to clear up the debris, but there is none - Roger's bag fell on the floor and two cups jumped off their pegs.

I check with Hannah who is on watch and helming: she is fine, enjoying the sleigh ride. I retreat to giggle with Roger at the commotion. This is a form of fun.