3333 miles to go to San Francisco, and it can’t some quick enough. The Pacific Ocean is showing us exactly who is in charge. I’m not sure my blog will ever quite convey to you what the last 24 hours have been like for us, like all good sunsets, the picture never does it justice!
Last night around 11pm we were cruising along with 24 knots of wind and a bright starry sky having a conversation about shaking one of our 3 reefs out to give us more speed, there was lightening in the sky and a few clouds ahead. When we reached the few clouds, accompanied by lightening overhead, we hit the most almighty hail storm. High winds accompanied shards of ice hitting the deck with spear sized force as we were all drenched and left listening to the tinkle of ice on metal as they hit the pushpit. Eventually the hailstorm abated leaving behind winds of up to 39 knots and big seas. The boat was now heeled over enough to have me hugging a winch to stay upright and everyone in the cockpit bracing themselves for balance. We moved up the deck to unhank the Yankee 3 in exchange for the storm jib, leaving it lashed to the deck in readiness so that left us flying just the staysail with 3 reefs in the main. Drenched and weary everyone returned to the cockpit dragging their safety lines with them and braced ourselves for an uncomfortable ride.
The weather has continued to increase since then. We now have 44 knots regularly across the deck, the wind whistles all around and is so loud you can hardly hear yourself think, talking is minimal and messages have to be relayed through 4 people just to travel 15 feet. The wind is accompanied on occasion by rain and extremely regularly with waves sweeping the deck. The sea state has picked up to present us with huge waves which slam into the boat from the port side. Being on the helm is quite an experience, our helms face huge walls of water riding towards them and have no option but to hold on as the boat swims up the face of the wave and then, if we are lucky, slides down the other side, or more often than not in the last 24 hours, drops with a loud bang and shudder into the hole that is left behind the wave. It is this banging and shuddering which loosens sail ties and deck fittings setting things free on deck and breaking lines. This afternoon I was heading for the foredeck to tie down the clew of the Yankie 3 when we were hit by one of these huge waves, it broke the deck and washed me back to the shrouds. I was clipped on, so no chance of being washed into the sea but it was quite an experience to hear 2 loud bangs near my head and find myself constricted and short of breath as my life jacket went off. Trying to stand up wearing a huge yellow scarf which is determined to stop you breathing and throw your head forward is no mean feat. I have every faith in our life jackets at sea but comfortable day wear on the deck they are not. Moving Michelin like, I finished the job in hand before descending below to deflate, fold and repack my life jacket once I’d inserted a new gas canister.
To add to the joys of our wet, cold, leany and bouncy afternoon, our watch had the pleasure of doing the bilges. So imagine, you are on deck being wave swept every 15 minutes, bracing yourself for each drop of the boat or bounce from a wave, the banging as the hull hits the sea is louder than any drum, your hands are barely able to move because they are so cold and wet, your oilies are a river of water, you can’t feel your toes, you can’t talk to anyone else on deck and everything around you is grey, now, you have to go below decks into the depths of the boat which is bouncing even more than upstairs and empty the bilges of all their water. This entails opening crash bulkhead doors, lifting floor boards, canting bunks, bailing water with a bucket from one place to another and trying to manage it all without overfilling anything or spilling it anywhere. The whole time you are working around the sleeping off-watch, stepping on and around sails and only have one hand to hold on with as the 45 degree lean becomes airborn and you try to keep yourself upright whilst holding onto he contents of your bucket. Ninety minutes later, Janet, Triinngg and I emerge from below having got rid of all our bilge water. I could say jubilant and make light of the situation but in truth we were just exhausted and had to head back up on deck for more holding on and getting wet. And so the time slowly passed ’till we could escape off deck to our bunks. Sadly this brought no respite either. The boat is lurching and spending so much time in the air that sleep is impossible. Add to that the noise as she slams down from the top of a wave, the constant creaking and moaning of the staysail car which needs attention (and has already snapped one sheet in the last day), the shaking of the rig and the panting of the staysail and you have a vague idea of how impossible it is to rest. I have never been in a washing machine but I guess it would be similar.
When I got up from 5 hours of being shaken and stirred it was to find Triinngg in the saloon (as, with sore ribs he hadn’t made it into his penthouse bunk at the pointy and even more bouncy and slammy end) and Scarlet alongside him with a swollen ankle (don’t worry Mummy Scarlet, it’s just a sprain) from twisting it on the foredeck as he again tried to secure the sails that were making a break for it for the third time. Back into wet oilies again (with wet midlayer arms too from all the water that sloshes coldly up them and wet feet from boots that were once waterproof before they took a lifetime’s battering in just a few months) and the struggle on deck for more of the same. This time I didn’t even make it all the way out the hatch before being swept by a wave and Triingg’s lifejacket did not make it past the immediate cockpit before self-inflating from all the water.
Our skipper has the right idea when bad weather hits – hide in the nav station or your cabin and don’t make it on deck for 24 hours. It remains to be seen whether or not we will see him ‘upstairs’ tomorrow!
San Fran seems like a long way away right now, as does a bed and a duvet, dry feet and terra firma, we have no choice but to plough on and inch them a little bit closer each day.