The Alba Chronicles
Neville Howarth
Sat 27 May 2017 02:52



15:45S  068:34E


So far we've done 705 miles with 395 miles to go. We did 135 miles in the last 24 hours.  We have 100% cloud cover and 25-35 knot SE winds.  We’re on a beam reach with 4 metre seas.   Here's what we did yesterday and overnight.


26 May 2017   Chagos to Rodrigues (Day 5)

At 07:00, we’d done 570 miles with 530 miles to go – over half way, Yahoo!  By staying hard on the wind for 4 days, we’d done most of the hard work and could now look forward to easing the sheets and hopefully have a more pleasant run down to Rodrigues.


It was a lovely morning with fluffy clouds in a blue sky.  After breakfast, the wind was 15-20 knots and we were managing to hold our desired course of 190°.  Unfortunately, the wind started to drop and, by lunchtime, we only had 10 knots of wind. To make matters worse, the wind also veered so that we could only hold a course of 215°. We pulled out all of our sails and bobbed along at 4-5 knots.  The strange thing was that the sky above us was solid blue, but we could see cumulus clouds miles away surrounding us.  It was like we were in our own private high pressure system.


When I went for my afternoon nap at 13:30, the wind had returned to 15-20 knots and backed to south-east so that we could hold a course of 195° again.  As the afternoon wore on, Glenys watched the approach of a bank of clouds with a high, grey stratus layer. This turned into a dark line of clouds bringing 25 knots of wind as it passed over, forcing me out of bed when I heard Glenys reefing sails.


We were still 20 miles from our next turning point, but with the heavier winds, we bore away and head on a new course of 220°.  Unfortunately, this 20° degree change wasn’t enough to put the wind abaft the beam, but at 70-80° apparent it was much better than being hard on the wind.  As the front passed overhead, we had lashing rain, so we zipped the various rain panels onto our bimini and prepared to hunker down for the night.


The next five hours were miserable with the wind strength varying from 5 knots to 25 knots and the direction swinging between north-east and south.  The seas became very unsettled, it kept raining and, as night fell, it was as black as the ace of spades.


We had a rain shower at 18:30, after which then dropped to nearly nothing, so we turned on the engine and motored for an hour.  There was an ulterior motive for this – we wanted some hot water.  It’s been getting steadily colder as we head south and it’s becoming tough to have a cold shower at night.  It was cold enough on my 7-10 night watch to wear a fleece jacket.


At 20:00, we had 25 knot winds from the south-east for 10 minutes. Then within 1 minute, the wind  backed 60°, dropped to 12 knots and then slowly continued to back until it was from the north-east!   I had to steer south to make sure that the main didn’t gybe.  Finally by 21:30, the stars peeked out and the wind settled back to 15-20 knots from the south-east.  By the time that I went off watch at 22:00, I was sick and tired of reefing and adjusting sails.


Glenys’ 10-1 watch was even worse.  The wind would drop to 10 knots, so we were hardly moving and then go up to 28 knots, so she had to run down wind and reef the staysail.  Finally, at 00:30, she was hit by lashing rain and 35-40 knot winds.  The wind veered by 30 degrees and was so strong that the autopilot wasn’t able to overcome the weather helm and the boat luffed up.


I leapt out of bed when I heard her shouting and the sails flogging in the gale force winds.  It was mayhem in the cockpit.  I dashed behind the wheel, turned the autopilot off and managed to turn the boat downwind.  Unfortunately, the boat turned too fast and before I could blink, the main sail crash-gybed. 


Fortunately, I’d put a preventer on the boom, which slowed down the gybe a little.  I crash-gybed the main back to port tack and ran with the wind on my port quarter, switching to the autopilot which steers better than I do. The 35 knot winds and rain continued for ten minutes before gradually backing and dropping down to a more manageable 20-25 knots, allowing us to resume our course of 220°.  Glenys went to bed and I started my 1-4 watch.


It was nice for the first 30 minutes, with 17-22 knot winds  Then I felt a strong gust and rain pelted down.  I dived for the wheel and steered west, heading downwind as another 30-35 knot system hit us.  For the next hour, I stood behind the wheel with winds between 25 and 35 knots, helping the autopilot in the bigger gusts. When the wind finally dropped to 20-25 knots, I went on deck, put the fourth reef into the main sail; and returned us to our course of 220°.  Thirty minutes later, we had another 30 knot spat, but with the heavily reefed main, the boat felt a little more in control.


It was very frustrating because there was no moon and it was pitch black.  We couldn’t see anything outside the cockpit and had no indication of an approaching squall. There was seconds between the first gust and the gale-force winds.  Once running downwind, we had no outside reference to steer towards and had to rely on our instruments.


At  the start of Glenys’ 4-7 watch, it was obvious that this horrible weather was here for a while, so I rolled away all of the main sail, leaving only a reefed staysail.  It meant that we were only sailing at 4-5 knots, but at least we were heading in the right direction and wouldn’t need to keep running downwind every time the wind increased.  Glenys had similar conditions for her 3 hour watch, with 22-35 knot winds and growing seas until dawn.