Storm Force 10 in the South Atlantic
Position: 49:33.84S 059:02.33W
Date: 21 November 2011
Time: 1445 L 1745 UTC
Sorry about not blogging yesterday. Just idleness really. So a bit of a catch up. Two days ago (19 Nov) we had a simply fabulous day. The sky had not a cloud in it, we had moderate winds from the side (the best and fastest point of sailing) and we were surrounded by hundreds of birds. It was Snoopy’s turn to cook dinner. It was a bowl of Winalot followed by a pig’s ear each for pudding as a treat.
Yesterday was good as well, but we were slightly apprehensive waiting for the wind to start picking up – the start of the stronger winds that were forecast. As the evening progressed, with a fantastic sunset, followed by a brilliant ceiling of stars, the wind slowly crept up.
I was alone on the midnight to 0300 watch when the trouble started. We were bowling along nicely in a little under 30 knots of wind from the quarter (back of the boat). We had the full yankee and staysail and a reefed mainsail. I had just popped down below to put on my foulies when I heard a shrieking noise and the boat started shuddering. I leapt, half-dressed, onto the pitch black deck to find that in the space of one minute the wind had rocketed from 30 knots to more than 60 knots. I had never been in a 60 knot wind before (about 70 miles per hour). It is the sort of wind that is so powerful it knocks chimneys and slates off roofs, and fells trees. With some difficulty, we rolled both headsails completely away with the large acres of heavy sailcloth whiplashing around with the crack of pistol shots. The wind quickly fell back, but in the twelve hours since then it has never been below 40 knots (Gale Force 8). For quite a lot of the time it is in excess of 50 knots (Severe Gale 9), and on several occasions it has been more than 60 knots (Storm Force 10). I would like to tell you the highest wind speed we’ve had, but I can’t. Our wind speed indicator is digital and the designers obviously thought that no one would be mad enough to be out in winds this strong so it just stops at 60. In the old days we had analogue wind speed indicators with a needle and dial. This is the equivalent of the needle spinning round the dial twice and then falling off.
With high winds come high waves. I can not tell you how awesome are the waves around us. They tower above us as high as a three storey building, surging towards our tiny boat, lifting us, spinning us like a twig in a river, and occasionally dumping large quantities of water on us.
None of us have ever experienced anything like this. I’m not sure if John and Linda realised they were signing up for this, but they have both been brilliant. It is difficult enough standing up in these winds, let alone working on the foredeck, but sometimes we have to. It is like being driven in an E-Type Jaguar at the national speed limit, climbing over the windscreen and wandering about the bonnet, whilst being driven over a series of humpback bridges, at the same time having an icy cold fire hose aimed at you. The experience is on the one hand exhilarating but, on the other hand, at times not a little scary. We are very isolated out here, still 150 miles from the Falklands and any kind of help. And things can go wrong. But we passed a oil rig support vessel an hour ago and radioed him for a more precise forecast than we have access to. We were relieved to hear that the wind should start moderating after midnight tonight. Let’s hope so.
For Mina2 this is probably just a dress rehearsal for the double crossing of Drake Passage to and from Antarctica in January, the roughest and most dreaded passage of water in the world. I have prepared her as best I can over the last few months for exactly these sorts of conditions. Let’s hope I’ve done enough.