Oops! Spoke too soon.

Where Next?
Bob Williams
Sun 29 May 2016 01:22
Noon Position: 31 40.0 S 158 05.0 E
Course: South by West Speed: 3 knots
Wind: West Sou’ West, F4 – moderate breeze
Sea: moderate Swell: North West 3 meters
Weather: sunny patches, passing showers, mild to cool
Day’s run: 86 nm sailed, minus 10 nm made good

Yesterday evening, just on sunset, I cast an eye to weather, as one does at sea on a pretty regular basis, and there lay a large dirty grey cloud, one of the ugliest most ominous looking clouds I have ever seen. It towered into the heavens, all grey and black and then reached out grasping smoky tendrils from its peak. That, I thought, is not supposed to be there. But it was and I knew that what was to come was not gong to be nice. I reduced sail to the triple reefed main and staysail, shut everything that would shut, and secured things down below … and waited.

As we approached, the wind started to gust, rain began to fall, and balls of lightning could be seen erupting deep within the cloud, glowing rather than flashing. I was hoping this was just a local anomaly, a disturbance in the atmosphere that would pass and then conditions would continue to improve, but that, perhaps unsurprisingly, proved not to be the case. The wind picked up to forty plus knots. Sylph laboured with the triple reefed main and staysail, a rig that has stood up to most conditions that I had encountered in the past. The large swell running did not help. It was dark and difficult to see what was going on. I dropped the mainsail altogether, struggling to lash it to the boom, leaving Sylph to fend for herself under staysail alone. Once the main was secured I removed the vane from the self-steering, for fear that the wind might rip if off. I lashed it to my wrist before removing it from its mount, worried that the wind might tear it loose from my grip. I lashed the wheel to keep Sylph’s head up as much as possible and still have the staysail draw. With only the small staysail up she tended to strike a balance point on a close reach, her movement through the water and the pressure in the small sail helping to hold her steady to the wind and waves. Satisfied that I had done as much as I could for Sylph, I retired below, securing the storm boards behind me.

Sylph rode the night out untended. I stuck my head out the companionway every now and then, to see whether conditions had changed and to make sure nothing was coming adrift, especially the staysail. The conditions did gradually moderate as the night wore on, but remained blustery, with rain squalls passing over on a regular basis. I did try to set the main at one point as we were losing a lot of ground, but as I did so another squall struck and had Sylph laying over, lee rail well awash, flying up and then falling over the waves, burying the lee rail deep into the sea after coming off each crest. It would not do, so I secured the mainsail again, and decided to let things be until dawn..

This morning, feeling a little depressed at the hard won ground that we had lost so quickly overnight, I chose to look after crew morale before attending to things on deck, and had some breakfast and a cup of tea. After the reinvigorating cuppa, I once more donned clammy foul weather gear and went on deck to survey the situation.

There were still a few squalls about, but conditions had moderated significantly. I set the mainsail with two reefs and after contemplating that for a bit, decided we needed the yankee as well. That set we started to make some ground to windward but our heading was still east of south. I tacked, but then we were going in the opposite direction, almost north, definitely the wrong way. Sylph was having difficulty holding her head into the wind with steep swell and seas. I tacked back to the south then shook out another reef which helped give her the drive she needed to get up and over the seas and swell.

We continue on – what else?. The weather has not been kind, and we still have a couple more days of headwinds to endure before the wind turns to a more favourable quadrant. How long it will remain fair for I do not know, at least a couple of days I hope. We will just have to wait and see and make the most of things to the best of our abilities.

368 nm to Sydney.

All is well.