We are still having everything thrown at us in terms of weather. As I write this the weather outside is like a North Walian day in the mountains, cold, damp, rainy and misty. We have a distinct lack of wind and are bobbing around with the cold and damp seeping into our bones. We are only a few wiles from land yet cannot see it due to the blanket of cloud that surrounds everything. Yesterday we managed to fly our spinnaker for 2 hours, giving us some increased speed, only to have to take it down again as the wind shifted. A bit of a disappointment as we had spent a humorous 3 hours playing human twister untangling the anti-wrap net – oh the irony, before we could hoist the spinnaker in the first
Over the last few days we have experienced a complete turn around in weather from a beautiful sunny day, where we basked like lizards in the sun and lay out our kit to dry (my soggy mattress included). It was absolute bliss to re-charge the solar panels after 12 days of constant wind and waves. The boat was relatively flat and the breeze pleasantly from behind. The salt began to seep to the surface of our wet oilies and boots making it look like we’d all had a flour fight. We trailed a fishing line (no joy) and had music on deck for the first time this leg. It was relaxing to have a watch where we were not marking the time to get below deck and could enjoy a pleasant chat with the other watch when they came on deck instead of the usual melee of people squeezing up and down the companion way like soggy Michelin men. That night we had one of the most beautiful evenings, the likes of which we have not seen since the way to Rio. With a poled out headsail and an eased main we glided through the starry night sky identifying constellations and marvelling at the size and clarity of the moon. The stars at sea are endless and the milky way seems to stretch endlessly across the heavens. It was the perfect romantic evening for Neeps watch – I’m sure we were all thinking about our partners but we just had to make do with each other and tea instead of a nice bottle of wine.
Our spell of bliss was most definitely the calm before the storm as the following day we were hit with gale force winds again as we crossed a shallow bank south of New Zealand and Stewart Island. We moved from being in 2700 metres of water to 140. In a gale this is not ideal as the wind whips the waves up even more as we were to find out. Our 50 knot gusts were accompanied by big swell and unpredictable waves which threw us up in the air and dropped us into big holes in the ocean. We were sailing with 3 reefs in the main, and a staysail. It was like being on a rollercoaster that had come off the tracks, all we could do was hang on and hope to stay upright. As darkness fell we were enveloped in complete darkness, no mast in sight far less bow or waves! It was definitely sailing by using the force. Without doubt, this is the most extreme sport I have ever done and, other than climbing, the one that is so reliant on others playing their part in keeping us all safe. The helm has such a task to control the boat and the rest of the team working the sheets to give as much control to the helm as possible. We have a strong team on our watch, all playing our part, looking out for each other, ready to jump to any job at any minute and to hold on to each other as another huge waves smacks us full force on the back and washes us across the deck. I am once again so grateful to be with such an amazing core team. When getting muddy and wet mountain biking there is the warm shower when you get home. Skiing in a whiteout brings you down the mountain to a chalet, warm meal cooked by someone else and a vin chaud. Surfing, then struggling out of a wetsuit ends with a dry towel and clothes from the car then sitting there with the heater on. Hill walking in the cold, wind and rain takes you to a warm pub and a good pint. Sailing in the Southern Ocean and being kicked again and again by gale after gale does not end. There is no getting off. Only struggling out of your cold, wet, salty kit, hanging it in the never drying wet locker, crawling cold and tired into a damp bunk where you will be tossed around in the dark for 3 hours, rolled from one side of the bunk to the other and occasionally flung in the air. To get up again, struggling into that cold, wet, salty kit to do it all again, for watch after watch, day after day. Stamina, patience, determination and commitment are a must – there is no option, seeing the rest of my watch standing along side me, each being there for each other is what gets me through.