The Front

Where Next?
Bob Williams
Mon 28 Jan 2013 04:32
1200 Position: 37 26.7 S   139 29.0 E
Course: East sou' east
Wind:  South sou'east, F6 Strong breeze
Moderate sea, swell: southwest 2 meters
Weather: Overcast, mild
Day’s run:  100 nm
Some wind returned in the early afternoon and had us sailing again with the mainsail, number three headsail and staysail - Sylph was transformed from her usual sloop rig to a psuedo cutter.  Overnight the breeze slowly veered into the west which allowed us to ease sheets a little and make ground to the south and west of our planned track.  When the  front did come through and the wind swung back into the south we might then have some chance of clearing Cape Banks without having to tack.
I was expecting the front to come through around 4 a.m. but, to be safe, I put a precautionary reef in the mainsail at midnight. Not that I was too worried about being caught unawares, the night was lit by a brilliant full moon so I was confident that I would see the front in good time as long as I kept a reasonably good lookout.   As it turned out it was not until dawn that the first signs of the front appeared.  The signs were unmistakable, dark bulging clouds hung low across the western horizon, the dawn flushed red to the east and bayonets of jagged steel blue slashed the southern horizon.  I put a second reef in the main, furled the jib and prepared the third reef in the mainsail.  At 6.35 a.m. the first edge of the front hit. As far as fronts go this one was a gentle, no massive downthrusts laying us over, just a cool freshening of the breeze as it quickly but steadily increased in strength and backed into the south.  I put the rhird reef in the mainsail and Sylph coped easily.  The seas were still relatively smooth and despite her minimal sail area she rsuhed into the breeze, careening along close hauled at six knots.  The scene was a display of power and balance.
The initial thrust of the front is over now, the skies are clearing, the sun is shining, the wind has eased a little, and we are now back to a double reefed main and have dropped the staysail and set the jib in its place.  The seas have picked up quite a bit so, despite the extra sail area, Sylph has slowed appreciably as she punches into them.  Unfortunatley we are not going to clear Cape Banks and will have to go about and head back out to sea in a few hours.  But it should not be for too long.  The wind is expected to ease a little more and veer back into the west which will be perfect for entering Bass Strait.
All is well.