of swell squalls and stowaways
Kirsty and Lee's Excellent Adventure
Sat 10 Nov 2012 19:46
Well we're not on the boat at the moment we are in a bar, an Irish one(...well yet again its got a celtic symbol outside and serves Guinness so it must be Irish) we are drinking and eating chips watching England play Fiji on the tele. If you zoom in on our current position it will give you the bar! It's a bit like being back home on a Saturday in the galleon except without our friends we miss so much. (oh and its Lanzarote and its 78 degrees and we're in shorts and tshirts again hoorah!) ( oh and no shouting how great God is! 5 times a day)
Its been a hell of a few days. Most of you have been following our progress and updates anyway. For those of you who just want the high (low) lights close the window now, you've already read them. For those who relish all things nautical and tales of daring on the high seas ......I will recount the whole dark story! ...are you sitting uncomfortably?.... then I'll begin...
We woke up Monday 5th in Rabat at about 4am ready to go through the ridiculous leaving procedures imposed by Customs Police and the strange unsuited guys who were in charge. The customs guy was actually quite sweet and seemed apologetic for the hassle we were being put through but... can we search the boat anyway...I said yes .... he came on, said whats in that locker....I said tools and stuff, would you like to look, he said no no thats ok thanks a lot climbed back into the cockpit and then asked genuinely interested questions about our voyage and left!!
We were one of 15 boats leaving that morning, it was the first time the winds were in the right direction and the swell was small enough to leave Rabat marina in 2 weeks and we realised we had been there 18 days!!! This was not planned, but Morocco was a blast Mad Marrakesh, Fantastical Fez, Rabat clean and cosmpolitan. We sailed 1700 miles to barter in souks, eat street food, stay in Riads eat cake and drink coffee endlessly,and who could forget Ricks Cafe in Casablanca I wont ever forget that night with my new Fiance......, wouldn't have done it any differently. We loved Morroco... we will be back.
We slipped the lines and as, for a parting present, a huge mossie took 2 massive bites out of my arm...(they itched for 3 days and I still have the scars!!!!) We motored out into the river with a little apprehension. The "formalities" had taken a long time again and we were 90 minutes past high water. Rabat is a dangerous harbour with any kind of swell running and the longer you leave it after high water the worst it gets. We were to be guided out by the harbour office guys on their launch. They came and met us and then said"....come quickly ....go very fast!! " we floored the engine and headed at nearly 7 knots towards the entrance and swell. It was a bit uncomfortable for a time but we got out. Our friends Nancy and Tim followed a short while after as they hadn't been given the correct forms and were held up by the same officials who should have given them the forms in the first place!!
I hadn't slept well for a couple of nights probably suffereing from thinking about the journey and lack of good beer so I was tired on leaving, we knew we had bad weather ahead, probably about tuesday afternoon, so I said to Kirsty she could take control Monday and I would rest a bit and mentally prepare for the weather. As usual the best laid plans and all that... after 2 hours of light winds we saw a line of clouds in the distance and as we hit them, we hit fresh winds which increased to strong in a short period of time. The seas steepened and we flew down the coast. Kirsty got a bit sea sick but being the trooper she is (and being a woman) she battled on as we shook out reefs, put reefs in endlessly as thunder clouds and squalls came and went. That night the winds lightened and went on the nose so we motored for 8 hours a bit of relief except for the fishing vessels with their random lights we had to negotiate again. With both of us not on full form it was a long night. Down here you get 12 hours of darkness and 12 hours of light so the night shifts seem to go on forever. By Tuesday morning the strong winds hit our stern again and as we flew out into the ocean the seas became big, I reckoned the swell to be 4 to 5 metres thats waves about 20 feet high.
Big seas are not a problem in the ocean as the wave period is long and an you just roll with them but we were in that zone where the continental shelf ends and you go from 100m water to 2000m in a short distance. So although the force 6 winds weren't causing us a problem the sea state was, as black mountains of water attacked our quarter. As usual Jon Jon said thanks very much I can deal with that(especially with Steady Eddie, our hydrovane, steering) until, as I was down below just beginning to think all would be ok, I heard the sound that all sailors dread. It is the sound of a train coming towards you ... a breaking wave and it hit us broadside and we slid, leeward windows underwater down the face of it. I jumped up and checked Kirsty was ok, I asked what was that .. she said.." it was a big wave!!! " not stating the bleedin obvious. Eddie recovered the helm well and we carried on. The next 24 hours were like that, squall after squall hitting us driving the winds up to 30 knots and gusting gale force. Everytime I tried to rest and Kirsty stood watch the winds would increase forcing me on deck to do another sail change. We both got very tired.
I will interlude here and explain why we left (as Im sure our parents and friends are wondering ) if we knew that was going to happen. Firstly the winds were with us, for 2 weeks before that they were against us and that is much much worse. If we had stayed in morroco we may never had left, I felt the winds a few days later would be against us and after years of watching weather (and a degree in physics) I was right. And there is the chicken harbour effect. If you wait for perfection and nice conditions on a 4 day passage staying put at any bad weather signs you will never leave. We had a great boat, an improving forcast after tuesday, and good experience and well.... we wanted to get out there!! After all this is just a warm up for the big one, and you cant forecast weather for 3 weeks
Tuesday day and night we battled heavy winds and squalls even putting int he third reef which I've never used before. Thunderstorm after thunderstorm passed over us during the night (I hate lightning at sea), Kirsty stayed on deck for her shift getting very wet even though she felt rough.... she is tough as nails!, I on the other had took a different tactic. The boat was moving well, there was nothing on the radar and the rain was so heavy you couldnt see past the bow anyway so when the rain and lightning hit on my shift, I sat on the engine boards down below watching the radar! nice and warm! About 5am wednesday as we started to break away from the coast the winds lightened to force 5 (18 knots). It was a relief for us both, lack of sleep was causing us both a lot of anxiety. We were in touch on the Radio with Nancy and Tim on Larus who had lost their autopilot the night before and were having to steer by hand. Tim who is a great sailor managed to fix it at sea and he reported that it was all good and were flying in front of us some 12 miles away. All seemed good for once, I shook out the 3rd and 2nd reef and we took off. After about 1 hour, Kirsty had been sleeping, the skys once more darkened. The wind picked up and I saw the sea in front go white. I shouted to Kirsty to help put in a second reef again, when up at the mast I could see the sea change dramatically in front of us. I shouted to Kirsty we were going to drop the whole main (in a very calm collected manner with no swearing or shouting....NOT) when we were hit by a violent squall. We had managed to get the main down past the third reef and had a small genoa when it hit but the boat still slewed up into the wind and broached. I gripped the mast as hard as I could (I was lying on it!!!) I shouted to Kirsty to drop everything and just hold on. I knew the boat would recover and we have become disciplined enough to attach ourselves to the boat with harnesses and lines in any bad weather so I knew were were safe but to say it wasnt scary anyway would be a lie. Our wind instruments were not working and neither were Tim and Nancys but they were in touch with a boat who claimed the wind hit 50 knots when he went through it. All I know is that I've been on Jon Jon in a gale with 2 reefs in, no problem downwind. This was something else. For what was seconds but seem liked enternity I looked at Eddie to see if he could bring us around and upright, when I saw his big red tail move up and Jon Jon right herself I took one last big breath and with the wind forward of the beam heaved the last of the main down.
We checked the main and we had a small tear near one of the battens and we left it down and ran on the genny. The winds finally lightened, wednesday afternoon and we taped over the tear in the main but we were faced with a dilemma. With squalls becoming less frequent and severe but still threatening, do we put the main back up in the dark and risk getting hit again at night or just leave the genoa up, (an easier sail to handle) at the risk of going slowly but allowing us both to rest.
We took option b and for the for the first time in 3 days I had 3 hours sleep in a row! The price was we only made 4 knots and lost touch with Tim and Nancy (they are on a much bigger boat) but it meant Thursday when the sun came out we started to really enjoy the sail. We were visited again by dolphins, I tested out our new towing generator and Kirsty started to play mom to a few migratory birds who literally landed on Jon Jon to take a rest! To repay her kindness one decided to land on her coffee mug lid and have a poo! I told her to avoid that in future, the next time a bird came close to the boat swing the boat hook at it. She was not impressed and said it had been a 'cute poo' One bird had managaed to hide on the leeward side of the boat. I didnt know this until I accidently knocked the padlock off the liferaft and I suddenly saw a bird appear out of the spray hood and fly off. It left behind all the sweetcorn it had been storing in its wings.....ok ok I did feel bad about that.
2am Thursday night the wind died right off forcing us into deciding do we float around at 1-2 knots or do we put the engine on..plan b again! We motored at 5 knots the lights of lanzarote in the distance, a clear dark night beautiful stars illuminating the way again and we'd both had 7 hours sleep in the last 24 hours and we were both really elated.
We arrived at the marina about 10 o clock the next day, with some relief but ...and this might seem odd... we both agreed that if we had got to carry on it wouldn't be a problem. Jon Jon for us is our home at the moment and she is happier at sea even in bad conditions than in harbour where her fenders rub and she gets knocked about and dirty. So we have to go with that. We are looking forward to getting back out there again and even better with Steve who will make (a Louis Walsh) 1000000% difference in that we will be able to sleep better (not forgetting his good humour and strength) However for now we have canned any more plans for sailing around marinas, here in the canaries they are all full anyway of boats crossing the Atlantic making getting a space a hassle and the winds are not settled enough to rely on anchorages and...most importantly this marina (puerto calero) is fab with loads of bar restaurants supermarkets chandlers and the volcanoes/beaches near by which we want to explore. So we will have a very British 2 weeks in Lanzarote before we set sail for the big one. Now the Ireland South Africa game has just come on..... time to drink more beer!
Lee and Kirsty