Dodging thunder storms

Fri 28 Sep 2012 07:31
35:37.90N 09:26.56W

A couple of weeks ago we were sailing under a sky full of stars, with only the planets to dull their brilliance, an almost new sliver of a moon appearing just before dawn. Last night, before the sun dropped below the horizon, the almost full moon dominated the sky. Crisp black shadows fell on the deck, we could even see the set of the sails from the cockpit. When I wanted to know the time, instead of popping below to the light on the chart table, I simply tilted my watch to the moon.

The streaming light revealed the clouds around the horizon too, every kind of cloud you can imagine: high wispy streaks across the sky; fluffy ones floating lower, imitating animals, the kind you get on a summer's day; dark grey lines overlaying the white behind and giant black castles building up from the horizon.

And from those castles, at about 8pm, the most marvelous light show appeared. The whole of the top part of the cloud would glow with light, whilst a vivid white scar dropped straight down to the sea. A flare would flash out sideways against a lighter cloud behind, as if a necromancer had flung open a side door. A network of glowing lines would spread out across the surface, like Frankenstein's brain when the lever was pulled. There was lightning.

Now, one of the wonderful things about radar is that it picks up rain clouds. This particular thunder storm glowed bright red on the radar and covered an area of about 4 miles by 4 miles, 12 square miles of torrential rain and streaks of lightening. We could see exactly where it was in relation to us and track it's progress: it was coming East towards us at about 12 miles per hour and keeping pace with us south at about 7 knots. So, we turned around. We headed North for about 4 miles, watching it pass below us, and then we curved around West again until we were past it and back on our original course. The center was about 2 1/2 miles from us at one point (the point we decided to head North at!) but the whole 12 square miles of it passed by without us feeling a drop of rain. It was a brilliant light show!

As that thunderstorm faded away, another started to the North West of us, but tracking it on the radar showed it was slow moving and as it never got closer than 16 miles to us so we didn't need to take avoiding action. When the sun came up this morning, although there was still the occasional flash in the white clouds on the horizon, it had all but fizzled out.

So, the morning sunshine finds us sleepy but happy, some 85 miles from the nearest land, about 4 Km of water underneath us, a lovely rolling swell a good couple of meters high and not a boat to be seen, by eye or by AIS.

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